Rings of ire – Frank McNally on the limitations of smart watches

It doesn’t help that the watch communicates exclusively in Californian

In California last year, during a moment of weakness, I bought an Apple Watch, which has been annoying me ever since.

Yes, it’s an elegant device, like all Apple products. And yes, it has many useful features. But it nags me constantly about health and fitness, in ways I just find irritating.

It’s not that I’m uninterested in fitness. On the contrary, I try – for example – to go for at least one 10-mile run every week, as measured by the same timepiece (credit where it’s due).

But despite knowing this, the watch still also insists on congratulating me for such other achievements as standing up occasionally, an event it always greets with at least as much excitement as my latest 16.1km gallop around the Phoenix Park.


If I haven’t stood up for a while, it badgers me to do so, even if I’m busy with something important like watching a football match. Then, once a day it will announce proudly that I have reached my “stand goal”, whatever that is.

Meanwhile, the 100 press-ups I also did earlier will have gone apparently unnoticed, because that doesn’t suit the watch’s fitness regime, which is all about “Rings”.

There are three notional rings on an Apple watch, headlined “Stand”, “Move”, and “Exercise”. Each is declared open every morning and must be closed by end of day.

And this is somehow annoying too, partly because I’m too busy doing actual athletic activities – usually far in excess of Apple’s requirements – to be bothered finding out what the watch’s daily quota for standing or scratching myself is.

Instead, I get reminders like: “Frank, there’s still time to close your Move ring”. At which point I just hit the “dismiss” button, never any the wiser.

It doesn’t help that the watch communicates exclusively in Californian. Not that I expect an Apple device to be familiar with such Dublin slang expressions, as, say, “I puked me ring last night”. Even so, the watch’s obsession with its user’s ring-related activity sometimes borders on indecent.


Running 200-metre sprints in Stephen’s Green the other day – another thing that doesn’t quite fit with the Apple ring obsession – I was intrigued to see the Garda Band leading a parade of mostly blond people wearing national dress and waving flags.

I stopped long enough to watch them pass towards the bandstand, noticing it was the Norwegian flag they carried and realising – as my watch was able to confirm (credit where it’s due again) – that they were celebrating Norway’s national day.

But speaking of ring cycles, there must have been something Wagnerian about the scene. A passing workman peered through the nearby gate and asked with obvious concern: “What’s that about?” When I explained, he looked relieved. “Jayzus,” he said. “With the big flags, I thought they were f**kin’ Nazis.”


Attending my youngest child’s pre-Leaving Cert graduation ceremony on Wednesday, it was hard to believe 19 years had passed since I also attended his birth in Holles Street hospital.

I’d been left holding the baby then – it was a C-section so his mother was in recovery for several hours. And he was like a good novel: you couldn’t put him down, if only because he bawled every time I tried.

Meanwhile, preparing me for another two decades of parenting anxiety, my car was parked on Merrion Square: clamper central at the time. I had to ask a nurse to hold him briefly at one point while I dashed out to feed the meter.

I wondered briefly on Wednesday about the wisdom of having a graduation ceremony before big exams. But of course it was the right thing to do.

The kids all seemed so talented: singing songs, playing music, and speaking their various parts with complete self-assurance. Their confidence was simultaneously humbling and uplifting. The school’s job was already done, exams or no exams.

My Apple watch was unmoved, meanwhile, apart from nagging me to “stand up and move around a bit” at one point when that would have been inappropriate. Still, its influence lingered. It was with a mixture of pride and sadness that I realised my secondary school parenting ring had just been closed, permanently.


Flattering and indeed charitable as Brian Falter’s letter on this page was yesterday, suggesting that “Frank McNally’s new colour byline photograph still shows no sign of his ageing”, I’m afraid I can’t help with his search for an explanation.

Like my hair these days, the effects of ageing are a grey area. Perhaps in this case a Dorian Gray area, except that the byline photographer (Dara Mac Dónaill) may have kept the true portrait in an Irish Times attic.

As for Brian’s guess that the picture portrays a man “at peace with himself and the world”, I’m afraid not. At peace with the world, maybe. At peace with myself? That’s a ring that, even with the help of an Apple Watch, I won’t be closing anytime soon.