Mon. Jan 17th, 2022

Apple wants you to know that buying a $400 smartwatch can be a matter of life and death — and it’s brilliantly, horribly captured in a new TV ad.

Titled “911,” the one-minute ad spot doesn’t show any of the gory detail — you just hear three phone conversations between 911 operators and people who managed to use their Apple Watch when they were seemingly imminent: one that could drown in a sinking car, someone who fell from a great distance and broke his leg, and a paddleboarder who was dragged into the sea.

They all have happy endings, Apple said: “With the help of their watch, Jason, Jim and Amanda were rescued within minutes.” But the underlying message is brutally clear: If they hadn’t had this miraculous life-saving product on their wrists, they could have died alone. Apple is known for running gut-wrenching ads, and this one is no exception: it’s painfully easy to imagine myself bleeding to death or drowning, with no help along the way, as I listen to their terrified voices.

I’m torn about this marketing because it’s partially true. You don’t have to search long to find people who believe that the Apple Watch really saved their lives. I almost bought one for my dad a while ago, believing it was a small price to pay in case it made a difference. (He declined; for starters, he uses Android.) While there are other smartwatches that can theoretically make emergency calls, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say an Apple Watch is the obvious choice, especially if you believe that the fall detection, irregular heartbeat marker and gait stability indicator can also help.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Apple now resells you fear, to enter the shady territory of insurance sellers to do so. It’s a good ad, but it feels a little shameless.

By the way, the feature Apple is showing off here is still a phone call — something you can also do with a phone. This is an optional, expensive gadget you’ll have to remember to wear on your wrist, compared to the phone every Apple Watch customer already owns and carries, except perhaps in the middle of a car accident or paddleboard excursion.

If I was in a life or death situation, would I really call 911 from my watch? Maybe I would, and be thankful. But I think it’s more likely I’d have my phone, rather than the Apple Watch that spends most of its time forgotten on my nightstand.

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