Anyone who follows me on Twitter/Facebook (@BenLaneHodson) will know my reaction to the launch of the Apple Watch. Yes, I’m an Apple fan, writing this post on my MacBook Pro with my iPhone in my pocket, but my initial assessment of the Apple Watch was confusion, then later frustration.
I didn’t understand why Apple had made a Watch. It seemed like the company was reacting to the shouts of media pundits who declared that Apple “had to get into the wearable market.” In addition, nothing about the early marketing on the Apple Watch made any sense. I couldn’t see a clear use case.
My First Exposure to the Apple Watch
I remember going into an Apple Store a week or so after the watch was released. The tables containing the watches occupied a place of honor in the middle of the store. I glanced at the devices under the glass, their tiny displays flashing unfamiliar apps that didn’t look anything like the apps I’d been using on my iPhones for years. I watched the little canned demonstration, even talked to a sales rep, and walked away still having no idea why the device existed.
And here I am, typing out these words with my very own Apple Watch strapped to my wrist. How could this be?
In my defense, part of the blame lies with Apple’s marketing team. They did a poor job of explaining why I should own a watch, what utility it would bring, how it could impact my life. All I saw were, almost gimmick-like features. The ads all focused on the watch “doing things on its own” but that couldn’t be farther from the truth of what the device really does well. Maybe the blame doesn’t all lie with marketing. Even after using the Apple Watch for a couple of weeks, I still have few ideas as to how I would go about marketing it to the masses.
There’s many features in the watch that are downright counterintuitive. On top of that, I had to actually use it for a few days before the utility became clear. At the bare minimum price point of $350, that’s a tough sell for the average Apple Store patron.
So why am I wearing an Apple Watch?
It all started with a realization one evening. I was reading some articles on Engadget and it occurred to me that they were devoting a lot of coverage to wearables. The thought came to me that I really had no idea about the wearable market. I’d never used a wearable device. I hadn’t even tried one on. I didn’t understand why someone would use a wearable device.
But being left behind in a segment of technology wasn’t enough to make me run out and buy one. The next morning, I woke up to some new app updates on my iPhone. As I loaded them in, I noticed that most of the updates were for my favorite apps and the updates all had to do with adding Apple Watch support. Hmm.
That afternoon, I was driving in my not-new car. It’s reliable, gets good gas mileage, and I actually fit in it. But it has no electronic amenities (ie: bluetooth) beyond a CD player and radio. On the freeway, my pocket started buzzing. I frantically fished my bulky phone out of my pocket by the fourth ring, nearly running off the road in the process. After I hung up the call, I remembered the Engadget article I’d read that morning, describing one of the features of the Apple Watch. Phone calls on your wrist. Hmm.
I came home later that night and decided to do a little more research on what an Apple Watch could do. After reading several blogs, I still wasn’t clear why someone would want one but I was growing increasingly curious about the device because of all the mentions in these articles about useful things it could do. Hmm.
We had a work conversation about what our app could do with the Apple Watch. There were some interesting ideas thrown out. I decided it would probably be worth getting a watch down the road to play with. No hurry but something to keep on the radar…
Late that night, I woke up, unable to sleep, a brainstorm churning in my head. I had an idea for an app. I dug out my Mac at 3:00 AM and started searching the app store for any apps like it. Nothing. I Googled for hours coming up with nothing. I’d been wanting to do some more coding and was interested in learning the new Swift programming language. This little app idea seemed like a great project to do it with. But there was a catch, my app idea’s most useful feature would require an Apple Watch.
Ok, fine. I’ll try one.
Giving it a go
That weekend, I was down at the Apple Store, getting fitted for my Apple Watch, still unsure if I would be returning it in a week or so once I found it was pretty much useless.
I was wrong. Not only did I not return it, in a matter of only a few days, the watch became exactly what Jonny Ive had described it as: “the most personal device Apple has ever made.”
One of the main reasons for my change of heart had to do with a fundamental misunderstanding of what the watch is good at. All of Apple’s marketing shows you constantly interacting with the watch. It gives the impression that this device will make you more connected, more plugged in, more beholden to your electronic devices. That’s not appealing to me at all. I had the perception from all the videos that the watch screen was just a substitution for my iPhone screen. I couldn’t comprehend why someone would want to leave their beautifully designed phone in their pocket and instead interact with this tiny device on their wrist.
What I didn’t understand is that the watch really isn’t about any of those things. Where it excels, where it really shows its true value is in quick notification interactions and convenient utility features that help you get things done faster and easier than you normally would. It’s all about getting lots of little things done faster, easier, and amazingly, with less overall device use.
So what do I like so much about the Apple Watch?
If I get a call on my iPhone while I’m driving, my watch taps my wrist. I can then hit the Answer button on my watch to answer the call and even better, I can talk directly into my watch and hear the caller on the watch’s speaker without ever pulling out my iPhone. This is especially useful while driving or when my phone is somewhere else in the house. If you have a great bluetooth system built into your car, this is maybe a little less exciting while driving but I still love the ability to just turn my wrist and see who is calling.
2) Remote camera
This is one of my absolute favorite features of the Apple Watch. I can’t tell you how many “half-family pictures” we have. Our family goes out somewhere interesting, we are all there together, but one of us is missing in nearly every picture. The only times we are shown all together is when a kind passerby is around to take a photo of us. Not anymore. On your iPhone, open up the camera app and find a makeshift place to set your phone so it is pointing where you want the picture to be taken. Then open up the Camera app on your watch. It shows your iPhone’s screen. Everyone poses in the picture and you can monitor how you are framed right from the watch. Once you’re ready to take the photo, there are two buttons on the watch: 1) take the picture right away or 2) take the picture after 1,2,3 of the phone’s flash. I’ve used this many times with great results. You can even monitor the picture taken from your watch to make sure it’s perfect before collecting your iPhone.
3) Taps not vibrates
I don’t know about you but when I’m talking to someone and my phone starts ringing and vibrating in my pocket, I get immediately distracted. If I don’t want to answer it (or can’t yet), I become increasingly stressed out by the vibration. But with my watch, I get a gentle tap (it really feels like someone is just tapping your wrist with their index finger). It’s also much less distracting to just glance at your watch instead of pulling out your phone to check who is calling and dismiss the call.
Siri works so much better on the watch than on the iPhone (and Siri is already pretty good on the iPhone/iPad). I’ve yet to see it get something wrong. Even better, you can interact with Siri just by speaking “Hey Siri” (no button pushing necessary). There is a “Hey Siri” feature on the iPhone but sadly, it only works when your phone is plugged in (which is the least likely time I need that feature). Big upgrade in usability & comprehension on the watch.
5) Faster reminders
It’s really nice to just twist your wrist to see a notification instead of having to pull your phone out. The notification taps your wrist. You check it by turning your wrist, then either respond to the notification or put your wrist back down. Simple, efficient, fast.
6) Less iPhone usage
One of the interesting side effects of the notifications feature is that I have used my iPhone less. And I didn’t replace that extra time with more watch usage. By making things faster, I don’t need to pull out my phone as much. One of the curious things about pulling out my phone is that I tend to go down rabbit holes. I get my phone out to check my notification, then notice some other app I haven’t checked in a while, then another, and another and suddenly, I’ve wasted 15 minutes staring at my phone. That’s happening a lot less since using the watch.
7) Move & health goals
Apple designed the health features in the watch to be timeless and really handy to use. It basically tracks how often you stand up during the day, how much exercise you get, and how much you get moving. Even more useful, you’ll get a tap reminder if you haven’t stood in an hour and a really clever circles system to show how close you are to your health goals for the day. Not annoying. Just helpful and with reminders and goals that give just enough encouragement to motivate.
The Workout app included on the watch is intuitive and customizable. When you start a workout, the app will provide you with a list of common workout types such as fast walking, running, weights, etc. During the workout, the watch tracks your heart rate, calories burned, steps taken, distance traveled and many more. All of this information is then fed into both your daily move & health goals (along with motivating achievements) and a detailed summary along with analysis is compiled in the Health app on your iPhone. It’s the the most comprehensive I’ve seen and really works for my routine.
This the fancy term for all those little pieces of information you can show on the watch face. Instead of having to open up the app on the watch, you can “pipe in” data from your apps straight to your watch face’s home screen. Right now, the complications are limited to a useful but sparse few conveniences. After the new release in a September of WatchOS2, you’ll be able to add a lot more complications from all kinds of apps. Right now, I really like having the weather, date, next upcoming appointment, timer, and daily move goals.
10) Activate on wrist raise
With a simple turn of the wrist upward, the Apple Watch is smart enough to turn itself on. I don’t have this turned on all the time. When I’m typing at night on my laptop or sleeping, turning on the watch face in the dark doesn’t make sense. But man is this useful when both hands are full (or I’ve got messy hands) to be able to quick check a notification or even just see the time.
11) One-handed interaction
This is a small thing but has really come in handy. Several times, I’ve had both hands full or been holding onto something (steering wheel, heavy box, etc.) and I either needed to check the route for my directions or I’m talking to someone on the phone. Normally, I’d only have one free hand because the other would be holding my phone but with the watch, your device is strapped to your wrist so you can, for instance, be talking on the phone while still using both hands (and not kinking your neck to smash your phone between your shoulder and your ear).
12) Easier timers
I love to cook and make dinner almost every night but I rarely have my iPhone with me while I’m cooking. Whether I’m baking, soaking, marinating, or frying, there’s constantly a need for a timer. I also use the timer for laundry so I don’t forget and leave wet clothes in the wash. With the watch right there on my wrist, I can easily set a timer, walk away, and get a series of taps to let me know when the timer is up. You can spin the digital crown to set the timer. Even better, with my constantly messy hands, I can just say “Hey Siri, set a timer for 15 minutes” and never even touch the device.
13) Better wake-up alarms
Waking up to loud noises, blaring music, or vibrating tabletops is not my idea of a good morning. Getting a gentle tap on the wrist that slowly increases in intensity is much less jarring. It’s a nice little benefit of the Apple Watch’s alarm features.
14) Turn-by-Turn tapping
While turn by turn voice navigation is awesome, sometimes it’s hard to tell where exactly the turn is. By the time the voice finishes explaining where to turn, I might have already passed by. When you use the navigation features on the Apple Watch, you get a tap when it’s time to turn in addition to the voice navigation. It’s subtle but works well and is a nice extra convenience.
15) Upcoming appointment at a glance
I have a busy schedule so being able to see my next upcoming appointment whenever I check my watch face is super convenient. If I tap on the appointment, it automatically jumps into the Calendar app on the watch and navigates me right to the day/time of the appointment where I can see more details as well as other adjacent appointments.
How many times have you left your iPhone somewhere in your house (or in someone else’s) and can’t remember where you last had it? Happens a lot. Sure, you can have someone call the phone over and over, hoping it’s not on silent mode as you search the house but there’s a better way. The watch has a little iPhone button that you can hit and your watch will start beeping loudly, helping you locate it fast.
17) Apple pay on my wrist
I wish every business supported Apple Pay. No pulling out my wallet, no swiping credit cards (or insecurely handing them to the cashier), no checking ID signatures, and no entering my ATM pin (while trying to hide the numbers from prying eyes). I love Apple Pay and more businesses are rolling it out each day. While taking my phone out of my pocket, using Touch ID to unlock my phone, and putting the phone up to the electronic scanner isn’t a burden, just holding my wrist up to the scanner, is even easier. I don’t even need to have my phone with me to do Apple Pay on the Apple Watch.
18) Apple TV remote on my wrist
Who hasn’t lost the weird-shaped Apple TV remote (hopefully that remote design is changed for the next update) countless times? It almost seems like it’s made to slide in between couch cushions. Being able to use the Apple Watch to control my Apple TV is super handy and I never have to worry about where the remote is.
19) Wrist detection & security
There’s some great security features built into the watch including wrist detection. If I ever take my watch off, it goes into a protected mode where if someone else were to steal it or even just put it on their wrist, they would be unable to login without knowing my passcode. The watch is smart enough to know when it has been taken off and immediately secures itself.
There’s no sleep button on the watch. You can force a hard reboot by holding the digital crown and the button down for 15 seconds but there’s no sleep switch. So when you are done interacting with the watch, one really neat feature is you can just cover the watch with your palm and it will immediately turn off the display, saving valuable battery and dismissing the currently open app. I found this to be very intuitive and a lot easier than hunting for a power switch every time I finish checking it.
Why not Pebble Time or Android?
The biggest factor in choosing Apple Watch over the plethora of alternate wearables on the market will depend on if you have an iPhone or not. While Pebble and some Android devices have longer battery life, nothing is as tightly integrated with the Apple experience as the Apple Watch. But if I had an Android phone, I would definitely have bought a Pebble Time (my top Android wearable pick and the second best watch for Apple devices).
So what’s not to like?
There are, of course, several things I’m not as excited about with the watch.
iPhone always with me
The inability to do many things without having to keep my iPhone with me is annoying. While I’m not going to read the news, an eBook, a digital comic or play virtually any games on my wrist, there’s a lot of other apps that would be really useful to keep up with on the go, without having to keep my iPhone with me. Thankfully, this is being addressed in the WatchOS2 update coming out in September.
Another baffling feature missing from the watch is Reminders. Sure, I can use Siri to create a reminder and that’s fine. But I can’t actually see the reminders I have on my watch. I only get notifications of reminders that are coming due. Hopefully, this gets rectified in an upcoming update.
While generally the watch is snappy and within an acceptable range of taps to screen changes, many of the third party apps (and some of the Apple apps like the Calendar) take too long to load.
The battery life is shockingly better than you’ve been told but still not as good as I want it to be. With regular use, I can get 30+ hours of life.
Overall, I’m sold
But despite these few annoyances, the Apple Watch is a surprisingly big success for me. I could have never predicted how much I’d enjoy using the device and all the little daily conveniences it provides. I’m not sure the Apple Watch is as ubiquitously useful for everyone as something more mainstream like the iPhone but if you give it a shot, it just might turn out to be your “most personal device” too.