The irony of the Apple Watch is that the quicker you can forget about it and let it work between your phone and computer usage, the better your experience is likely to be. But at least initially, all you want to do is stare at the tiny screen and play with it.
Apple’s new Watch may be small, yet there’s a lot of facets to it. First, there’s the consideration of looks and style which contrast the previously more important technological aspects to Apple’s products. If you’re going to wear something on your wrist, it better look nice—no matter how many cool things it does.
The biggest concern people seem to have with Apple’s new device, however, isn’t with its looks or with its advertised features, but rather: why do I need this watch when I have an iPhone?
It’s a fair question, but one I think is simpler to answer than most people realize. You don’t need a smartwatch, just like you didn’t need an iPhone. But just like an iPhone, I have a feeling a lot of people are going to want a Watch and then its place will get figured out later.
Your computer could do everything an iPhone could do, better in fact, but even a laptop isn’t as portable and convenient as the iPhone. Likewise, yes your phone can receive notifications and shows the time, but to see them instantly on your wrist is that much more convenient. Isn’t it handy to have controls on the car steering wheel even though the stereo is 12-inches away?
Everyone’s must-have features will likely vary, but if enough people get hooked on the Apple Watch, it will start a network effect that will rush over the holdouts.
The question shouldn’t be what the Apple Watch can do for you that you can’t do a different way, it should be: will enough people find something neat the Apple Watch can do for them personally?
It likely won’t matter how many pictures you’ve seen of Apple’s Watch, seeing it in person will certainly change your opinion of it in one way or another. There’s something about its size and shape that are hard to photograph, but seeing it in-person is a different experience.
With the different models and their materials—aluminum, stainless steel, and gold—there’s a look most people like. I’d imagine it’s hard to design a watch that 100-percent of the population finds attractive, but Apple did a fine job getting close—most people interested in its functionality also like its appearance.
The two unique features of the Apple Watch, from a hardware perspective are the digital crown and the way the bands attach.
The digital crown is the spinning knob which acts similar to the iPod’s scroll wheel. Its function does change depending on context on-screen, but for the most part it’s a way to scroll up and down so that your finger doesn’t block the text on the small screen.
It takes some getting used to, of course, mostly because we’re so used to just touching everything directly with our fingers now. However, the crown really does feel great great. It’s incredibly smooth and works well in most of the functions it’s used for. Again, you’ll have to train yourself to use it, but I found it to be as natural as anything else pretty quickly.
The other neat hardware innovation is the quick-release way the bands connect to the watch. Even if using a standard watch pin allowed for more choices for bands, it was often a pain to get them on and off—in which case people rarely switched bands freely.
Apple Watch’s quick-release button is still a wait-and-see in terms of pervasiveness. It would be really nice to see third-parties adopt it and make a wide range of bands for the watch—just like iPhone cases have become a huge business—but that has’n’t quite happened yet.
You’re not meant to see the taptic engine, but it also plays a large part in this first version of the Apple Watch. It’s what alerts you to notifications and is also something you do have to experience in person. It really feels like a tap on the wrist as opposed to a buzz or vibration.
Those taps on your wrist will also take some time to get used to. Not because they feel weird, but because you might not notice them at first. Without the notification sounds turned on, they can be easy to miss until you become tuned into the feel.
The Apple Watch is complicated, or at the very least I can see it being overwhelming for some people. Besides the watch face which is the main screen, there are notification which you get to by sliding down on the screen, and glances which you slide your finger up to see.
If you push the digital crown button, you get to the screen showing all the apps available on your wrist. This is interesting, but it shouldn’t be thought about in the same way as your phone’s app home screen.
Glances are simple one-screen windows of information. You can add, remove, or reorder them from your phone’s watch app. To get the most out of them you probably want to trim the amount of glances down to a manageable level to quickly scroll left and right through them.
Some of the glances are great, for instance the music controller “now playing” one is very handy, while others like the Chipotle one don’t do much in the single-pane window. (If you’re curious, the Chipotle glance just mentions how far away you are from a restaurant—not even the name or location of it.)
As far as notifications are concerned, they work differently than other smartwatches like Pebble and Android Wear. Instead of buzzing your wrist and displaying the alert, Apple Watch taps you on wrist while keeping the screen off. If you raise your wrist to look, it then turns on and shows the text or whatever it is.
If you’re busy and you don’t raise your wrist to look at the notification then it just files it away in the pull-down notification area and leaves a red dot on the screen to let you know there are missed notifications for you. At first this was weird, not to see the screen light up when I got tapped. After some use, however, I think I prefer it to Pebble and Android Wear. Maybe Apple did it this way to conserve battery power, but it also gets back to the question of wearing a smartwatch at all.
If this is just notifications in a new place—on your wrist—then it may not be beneficial, but if this is more about managing notifications better and putting a person in more control of their time, then it works great.
The notifications, glances, and watch face will be far and away the places you spend most of your time with the Apple Watch, with the watch face being number one.
There are a handful of watch faces that come pre-installed, but no way to add more at this time. While it may seem kind of limiting at first, most faces will let you customize them which means you can change the color and add items like weather, calendar, sunrise/sunset, and lots more. There are probably thousands of different combination in that regard.
You will find something you like throughout the selection. The neat thing is that you can scroll over to the end of the face options and click add “new” and you can customize the same face different ways and have quick access to the different versions. So if you want three different modular faces with different colors and tweaked items you can have those ready to go.
I have no complaints about the watch faces although I would like to see more items available to add. For example if third-parties could hook in then you could add the baseball game score right to the watch face. Or you could add a play button which could start playing Pandora even quicker.
Right out of the game, developers created about 3,000 apps which were available on launch day. There are some useful ones and not so useful ones. For example, it doesn’t make sense to me to have a real estate watch app.
However, others like the MLB app are great. I love being able to have quick access to the Padres game. Evernote works well to dictate quick notes and have them saved in your notebook. Even though Instagram sounds like a ridiculous app to have on a watch, it’s actually pretty handy. Instead of constantly checking the phone app, you can do a quick glance to see if anyone has posted a new picture.
Third-party apps right now are all about seeing what works and what doesn’t. I’d say give it about two months to see what gets tweaked about what really just doesn’t work to have on your wrist. It’s a good start, but nothing mind blowing about these initial apps. Although I did order a burrito from my wrist and it then showed a countdown until it was ready to be picked up, so don’t count anything out just yet.
Considering a lot of the developers who released apps for the Apple Watch didn’t actually have an Apple Watch themselves, don’t expect a lot from every app you download right now. Ultimately though, the app store is where I expect to the biggest amount of growth in the coming months—and if the iPhone can serve as an example, I can’t wait to see what developers do.
One of the more interesting aspects is the activity tracking. Apple Watch is regularly tracking your heart rate. It’s reminding you to stand up and move around. It’s also helping to track specific types of workouts.
Although the Apple Watch is fairly simplistic in the health area overall, it’s nice that this watch also doubles as solid activity tracker. There’s a new activity app on your iPhone which will display and keep track of your movement, while heart rate and steps get logged in the iPhone’s Health app.
If the only reason you’re interested in Apple Watch is for its health functions, there are less expensive options out there. However, as an added benefit to its other functions, the activity monitoring is well done and a nice bonus.
Should you buy an Apple Watch? I’ll try and help answer that to some degree in this wrap-up. The Apple Watch hardware is great—there’s no question about that. The bands both feel and look good and the actual watch is attractive and very well built.
Apple Watch is great for a first generation product, but it’s definitely not for everyone yet. Like I said, it can be a little overwhelming to get the Apple Watch setup with so many different options and customizations. It can also be a little overwhelming to get acquainted with its functionality if you’re only a casual user. It’s a big leap up from something like Android Wear, which has a fairly minimal list of features and use cases. This makes the learning curve for the Apple Watch pretty significant, especially for those who haven’t used a smartwatch before.
I think, right now, the first question you need to ask yourself is if you’re someone who’d benefit from having a watch to tell time. Because if the answer is no, then Apple Watch is a tough sell. If you do want a watch or like the idea of one then you can start digging into if things like quick access to calendar, weather, texts, and other notifications is something you want.
In the end, it has to be said: the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch you can buy today. It’s far from perfect, but it’s working towards a more convenient future and I think it will get there sooner rather than later.