What do I think about the Apple Watch? I get asked this question every time someone spots this little bugger on my wrist. I don’t actually find the question annoying – it’s just difficult to explain everything in the 20 seconds you have to chat with a stranger.
It’s been nearly 2 months since I first received my Apple Watch. In that time frame, I’ve been wearing it everyday, addicted to it as if it’s a 2nd iPhone. I notice when it’s gone. And I barely notice that it’s there. It is the most unassuming gadget that I own and I still love it dearly.
But I’m not under the delusion that an Apple Watch fits all lifestyles and all wallets. It doesn’t. The current gadget is made for a niche customer (although the ~3 million estimated units sold to-date might indicate otherwise). Until the WatchOS 2 release hits this fall, I expect folks to be skeptical and remain undecided. I would even encourage it.
Normally I’m not an early adopter. From my career experience, I’ve learned to wait for version 2 of everything. I did this with the iPhone, Kindle, and iPad…but I had a pressing need this time. I needed my Apple Watch for KScope15. (For those of you who don’t know what ODTUG‘s annual KScope conference is, here’s a video recap of KScope15 and here’s a link to KScope16…shameless plug, I know… 🙂 )
I work in the technology sector. This means that I’m somewhat of a workaholic, a gadgetophile, and I can’t be parted very long from the internet without getting agitated. During the KScope conference I knew that I’d be in sessions all day long and running from dawn to midnight. I wanted an unintrusive and discreet way to be notified of emails and text messages. There is a lot that happens behind the scenes at this monumental event and I’m more than willing to play my part on the coordination and resolution team. But I didn’t want to interrupt the conference presenters and anyone that I was interfacing with. With the exception of the cell phone service issues at the KScope15 venue, the Apple Watch stepped up to the challenge and performed well.
The Apple Watch also has many useful features for me simply because I’m a woman. I wear a lot of pocket-less dresses and skirts, so it’s often hard to find a place to put my phone. I drop my phone into my purse and hate to fish it out unless I have to. (Pause…let’s be clear here – you do have to use your iPhone multiple times a day even if you have an Apple Watch. Having an Apple Watch does not mean getting rid of your iPhone.) I also find the various bands – both 3rd party and Apple sold – to be a great fashion accessory. Form and function in one neat little package on my wrist.
The Apple Watch is far from perfect, though. I initially bought it, fully intending to return it after the 14-day trial. And then…it became a part of me. I have become addicted to the private notifications that are pushed to me on this wearable device. I appreciate the persistent messages telling me to get off my butt and away from the computer once an hour. I love the fact that I can track my heartbeat in both resting and active states without wearing a chest strap. And I rely on the silly little “complications” embedded into my watch face to give me a static place to see what meeting I have next. I don’t have to use my iPhone for any of these things. This little awesome gadget helps me be more productive and receive push notifications with only a wrist lift.
So how do I use my Apple Watch? I use it 3 main ways:
- Staying on top of my meetings
- Getting important notifications (you can configure which ones get sent to your watch so you can prioritize the ones that are “VIP”)
- Working out. The specifics of this task can be a bit disjointed since integration with other apps is not there yet…but I’m happy because I can see that the future of this is going somewhere positive
Other features that I love about this watch:
- Customizing watch faces by function. I have one for my regular workday, one for exercising, and one large time clock for social situations. Each has its own set of complications based on need.
- Haptic response. This silly little feature is how the watch notifies you beyond sound. You get a “tap” on your wrist for notifications that you program. You can also change whether or not it is a regular tap or a prominent tap.
- Accuracy of the heart rate sensor. This is not perfect and it does not work well for all types of exercises, but it does for 3 that I participate in most: running, elliptical, and general strength training. I’ve compared the Apple Watch to other heart rate monitors and they are usually within 1-5 beats of each other.
- Durability. I decided to go with the middle tier model because, frankly, I’m a klutz. I’m glad I did. I hit my watch face on something everyday. I still don’t have any scratches on it…
- Apple Watch native music option. This is still pretty limited, but if you’re in a situation where you don’t want to bring along your iPhone, the Apple Watch can sync one playlist and store that music on the watch. You will need a set of blue tooth headphones to listen to your tunes, however.
- Text dictation. This works nearly flawlessly for me. Obviously, proper nouns and slang can be a bit of a challenge. My friends with accents claim that they have some issues, too. Go go gadget Apple Watch!
- Battery life. At the end of each day I still have 25-45% battery life, usually close to 30%. I’ve tried stretching it to 2 full days and it can’t quite make it. That’s what Power Reserve Mode is for, however.
- Apple Pay. This is a feature that I just started using. I used it at Starbucks and it worked pretty well. The security features with the Apple Watch are still a bit lacking, but these are expected to be enhanced in the next major OS release in the fall.
- Timer complication. You can currently embed many helpful complications into your watch face related to time: sunrise time, sunset time, timer, stopwatch, alarms, and world clocks. However, I love the timer feature. With one tap I can quickly set a timer for cooking, etc. With my iPhone I would need to turn it on, unlock it, hit the Clock app, tab over to Timer, and then set both hours and minutes. On my Apple Watch face I just wake it up, hit the Timer complication, and then roll the digital crown to the desired amount of time. Half the steps.
- Remote picture taking. There is a camera app on the watch that will allow you to take pictures on your iPhone from the watch. You can even get a live view of what the picture will look like. It’s remote viewing from your watch. This is great for group shots from across the room.
- Some apps. Some app companies just get it. They understand how apps should be used on the watch and they built them right. A few of my favorites: Starbucks, Uber, Yo, Dark Skies, Deliveries, and Instapaper. I also like most of the native Apple Watch apps.
- Apple Maps turn by turn navigation. Ok, so I’m not an Apple Maps fan in general. I’ll choose Google Maps over it any day of the week. But Google Maps does not integrate with the Apple Watch…yet. When I’m driving and I need a reliable GPS (translation: anything is better than my built-in Toyota GPS), I usually turn to my iPhone. But looking at your iPhone all the time becomes a safety hazard. With the Apple Maps watch app, I get turn by turn notifications directly on my wrist. I receive a tap when I need to turn and I can see what I need to see without having to get out my iPhone. I haven’t had the opportunity to use this while traveling for work yet, but I imagine this is going to be one of my most used features while in road warrior mode.
- Apple Watch vs. iPhone notification management. One of the features that is completely seamless is how well notifications are managed between the watch and the iPhone. It took someone else’s review for me to understand the genius of how this was crafted. Apple does this perfectly. When I get a text message, Apple understands if I’m currently on my iPhone or on my watch and pushes to the appropriate device. It then checks the notification as complete on the other device. This was done so well that I didn’t even realize it was happening.
- Siri. I just lift my watch, wait 1-2 seconds and say “Hey Siri”. Most of the stuff I need her to do can be fulfilled from my watch. More complicated tasks (internet searches) require hand off…see below.
- Hand off. Sometimes your watch just can’t handle what you need. So it does a hand off to your iPhone and points you in the right direction. The hand off is a new icon that shows up in the bottom left-hand lock screen (opposite the camera icon). It sends your iPhone straight to the necessary app after you unlock it.
What gets on my nerves:
- Load time for some apps. The loading screen seriously drives me crazy. I get it on about half of the apps at some point. Over time I’ve started to learn which apps I just don’t have the patience for and I’ve removed them from my watch.
- Required minimum distance for iPhone. 300 ft is claimed, but my watch can’t see my iPhone when I’m across the house (<150 ft). I suppose there are a variety of factors at play here.
- Some apps. Some app companies just don’t get it. The Apple Watch is not a replica of the iPhone. It’s a different form of information control. Apps like Feedly, Twitter, Yelp, Shazam, and Meetup drive me batty and I uninstalled them almost immediately due to poor execution.
- Phone calls. Update: thanks to the Reddit users who pointed out that my assessment of this feature was wrong. I have updated this section. This feature does not work like I want it to so I don’t use it. When you receive a phone call, both your iPhone and watch notify you. Great – no complaints there. However, if you choose to take the call on your watch the person on the other end may not be able to hear you. I don’t know why. I have given up. I’ve heard that I either sound very echoey or I can’t be heard at all. I’d rather just use my iPhone for calls (and do).
- Cost of Apple Watch bands. I originally purchased the Sport Band with mine because I knew I would use it for fitness and I didn’t want to splurge on the native bands until I had a plan. With the non-Sport Apple bands costing anywhere between $149 and $499, I was priced out quickly due to base cost of the Apple Watch alone. Luckily, I’ve come across some very reasonably priced 3rd party band options. I now have a red leather band and a Milanese loop knock off that I alternate between, based on occasion. Each cost me less than $40 and I really like them!
- The drain on your iPhone battery. I used to be able to get 1.5 days out of my iPhone. Now I’m at 1 day. Note that I have an iPhone 5S.
What people need to understand about the Apple Watch:
- It’s not meant to be an iPhone replacement. This is a largely misunderstood concept. Case in point: you can’t surf the internet or reply to email. There is no keyboard. Phone conversations are severely limited.
- It’s a wearable device. This is a completely different way to control and push information. It’s meant to be discreet and unintrusive and does not require much interaction.
- As far as I can tell, in the foreseeable future this device will rely on the iPhone in some form or fashion. The watch can work around most needs through native wifi and a GPS tracking device, which are imaginable in future software/hardware releases. However, until data plans are available for Apple Watches, I don’t see how the dependence on the iPhone can be fully lifted. Note that this is a problem for pretty much all wearables.
- The future for wearables (and specifically the Apple Watch) is open and greater than what we can fully imagine at this point. The challenge will be to get other companies to stay interested and remain aboard. I expect that this interest will be driven by consumers.
Surprisingly, I know very few women who have an Apple Watch. Hmmmm…in fact, I know only one. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps this is a sign that the watch was released before its time. Or perhaps it’s evidence of the harsh reality that this gadget is just not made for everyone. I get it, I do. That’s why I wrote this blog post – I wanted to give an in-depth perspective of where I believe it fits in well.
I hope one day to see an emergency app that I can activate quickly from my watch. Safety is always a priority for me. I also hope to see native wifi and Apple Watch apps built in so I can avoid the annoying little loading screen. I also wish to see all the health statistics integrated into my fitness and food tracking apps. Finally, I want to be able to run outside without having to take my iPhone for GPS purposes. Then I really will have everything I want and need from this device to feel productive, physically active, and safe.
So, to answer the question “what do I think about the Apple Watch”? It’s pretty awesome…but wait for version 2. 🙂