Article: Initial Apple Watch Thoughts
Unfortunately, the big media conglomerate known as SchwarzTech is still not exclusive enough to get early access to Apple’s products, so I spent much of the last couple of weeks reading through all of the various reviews of the Apple Watch, especially as mine was still in transit. About a week and a half ago, mine finally arrived, so I’ve been getting used to a very different operating system from Apple.
Like many geeks, I haven’t worn a watch in years—my guess is about fifteen or so. A watch gave way to a Palm Vx, which was replaced by an iPod, then a Sony Ericsson T616, a few other phones and iPods, and eventually some sort of iPhone. What’s the point of having a watch if you have some other device on your person that offers relatively quick access to the date and time?
Maybe it was Apple’s marketing, my general urge to play with new toys, or maybe just money burning a hole in my pocket, but I decided to order an Apple Watch. The decision came after a few weeks of waffling, generally leaning on the “no” side of things, but was mostly solidified with the try-on appointment I wrote about earlier. I did flirt with other wrist-bound gadgets more recently, namely a sixth-generation iPod nano and a Jawbone Up. The iPod’s lack of water resistance always resulted in me being extra careful and the Up was mostly uncomfortable and annoying to keep synchronized.
As preorders began after as the try-on appointments, I missed out on the 3am Eastern order frenzy and instead placed my order on April 25 (there were a few earlier ones, but those were canceled). I went with the 38mm Sport model with the accompanying blue band. After having not worn a watch for years, the 42mm model still felt just a tad too big for me. That being said, the wrist-size-range for both mostly put me in the middle. I opted for smaller and cheaper.
As always, I thought that Apple did a great job of making the unboxing experience great, and the Sport model’s plastic box gave it more the feel of a Swatch than a “traditional” piece of jewelry. I doubt I’ll necessarily keep my watch stored in the box, but it will be a nice place to keep additional bands (especially third-party ones) or items when I travel. Although I could use either the S/M or M/L bands, I find myself using the M/L for the little bit of extra clearance. I’ll keep the S/M as a backup or eventually trade with a friend for wacky two-tone Sport Bands.
The hardware itself feels excellent, with the precision of every other Apple product. At the moment, I am trying a wet-apply screen protector, mostly because I don’t trust that I won’t scratch the oleophobic coating from an errant arm swing. Based on the materials, I suspect I’m being extra-careful.
Admittedly, my immediate thought is that the Apple Watch Sport looks like it should be sold alongside the original iPhone, although Apple’s design language shifted back to rounded devices with the iPhone 6 anyway.
In terms of controls, I find myself wanting to use the side button as a sleep/wake button much like my iPhone, and I still haven’t quite gotten used to using the Digital Crown as a home button all the time. The Digital Crown has a bit of resistance and just feels excellent, not unlike a volume control on a quality AV receiver. Basically, training myself not to think of things in terms of iOS on the iPhone or iPad has been the easiest way to get used to Watch OS.
In addition to navigation mistakes that will eventually go away, I find myself fiddling with things to get them just-so, namely the arrangement of app icons and the style of watch faces. I didn’t install apps for everything I use, but rather found things that I’d really need on my wrist. The same goes for the Glances I’ve selected. As for watch faces, I’ve been switching between Utility with activity, temperature, and calendar complications and Modular with those plus a battery meter (I know that this is really unnecessary for most users, but I’m keeping it until I get used to the Watch’s normal behavior). I might find a less information-dense version for weekends, although still haven’t settled on a primary watch face.
Speaking of watch faces, the initial ones are quite nice, although the iPod nano-as-a-watch user in me wishes for more digital options.
After about a week of using the Watch, I have found that it already feels pretty darn polished for a first-generation Apple product. In some ways, I suspect it will mirror the evolution of the iOS-based Apple TV models—software will add features and capabilities, but the attached iOS device will do the heavy-lifting. Apple could make the second-generation model thinner or more efficient, but this version could stay relevant for awhile.
Early complaints about apps launching slowly had some validity, although it wasn’t unbearable. I suspect this is a mix of the app running on the paired iPhone, but also developers creating apps on simulators. Additionally, I suspect if and when Apple offers the ability to have native apps, this issue could completely go away. Otherwise, the device feels very fluid and snappy. I don’t like the lack of transparency in terms of geeky things like how the Watch is getting its data at any particular moment (Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi). A few settings and options I’d like to see added include point change on the Stocks list (as opposed to only percent), pattern haptics for contacts, more watch faces, and a louder alarm. Still, for a product that is entirely new, it does a lot and has a healthy amount of room for growth.
The Sport Band is surprisingly comfortable and I find myself really enjoying it, although depending on the time of day, I sometimes loosen or tighten it a notch. I’ll probably grab a couple more and look at what third-party options become available in the future for more professional situations.
There have been a few instances where Siri hasn’t quite understood what I wanted, or directed me to my phone via Handoff, but I have found most things to work accurately and quickly, especially if I use “Hey Siri” and immediately follow it with my request, rather than pausing. I have noticed that the dimming of the display, and Siri’s “listening” time are both aggressively short, probably to squeeze out extra battery life.
There are a few things that I think Siri should be able to answer on the Watch, but instead I’m directed to look on my phone. Handoff is nice, but I wish there would be a more obvious division as to why. One example I can think of right now—asking to identify a song points me to the iPhone, yet I can use the Shazam app on the Watch.
I’m enjoying the gamification of activity, especially seeing how active I am on a daily basis. Due to a busy week at work, I haven’t had a chance to try the capabilities for workouts other than a run, but it seems functional enough to keep me motivated. I realize there are more comprehensive products for those who are serious, but for the casual user who wants to get off the couch every so often, it’s enjoyable.
Other Odds & Ends
I did use the Watch with Apple Pay, although I doubt it’ll be my primary device for this task. Living in the Midwest, I have found that paying with your phone is still a rare occurrence, so my watch will probably only be used at self-checkouts or gas pumps. The same goes for Passbook.
Battery life has been surprisingly good, despite using it more than normally expected (see the tinkering aspect of app icons and watch faces above). When I call it a night, I’m usually somewhere between 10–20%.
In terms of included apps, I did find a few choices that Apple made quite odd. I don’t quite know why there isn’t a Reminders app, since checking off items can easily be done on a small screen (Realmac’s Clear comes to mind). I also am surprised at the lack of FaceTime Audio calling, since the Watch can be used to make traditional phone calls.
The Taptic Engine is still something that I’m getting used to since it feels more subtle and precise than the iPhone’s vibration motor. Force Touch didn’t take much effort to get used to, and if these features make their way to the iPhone or iPad, it will be a welcome addition.
At this point, I’m the only person I know that has an Apple Watch in my group of friends and family, so I haven’t been able to take advantage of some of the Digital Touch features. I’m looking forward to more developers sinking their teeth into capabilities and Apple refining an already pretty good bit of software.
The interface and overall feel of the device is minimal and clean, like all of Apple’s other products, but there are moments where it has a bit of playfulness. OS X as a platform is very mature and used for a wide variety of tasks, but mostly work-centric. When you use it, it’s a very intentional moment. The iPhone is sort of a Swiss Army knife of gadgets, but is mostly based around getting things done, even if the things are entertainment. The iPad fits somewhere in between the two. In regards to the Apple Watch, I haven’t subscribed to the idea that it needs to replace my phone or even force me to use it less, but it certainly adds convenience with everyday tasks. With that and the promising potential, I’m excited about what the future has in store for Apple’s smallest iOS-based device.