A Week With the Apple Watch
With the end of the academic year I haven’t had much time for keeping the blog updated but I have intended to do a write up about my experience with the Apple Watch. I’ll start by saying I honestly had no intention of buying one. My high school tech club even spent an afternoon debating the merits of it after seeing the first keynote demo and the consensus was not positive. Then again, half of them waste their time trying to sell me on the ‘benefits’ of Windows so the quality of opinion has to be called into question. But on preorder day I was with my brother-in-law who was pretty enthusiastic about it and before I knew it, I hit the order button (in fact, my first purchase using the Apple Store App). It’s not every year Apple releases an entirely new product line, especially one this anticipated, and that was all the excuse I needed. I ordered the cheapest 38mm black Sport with black band over breakfast GMT and by then my estimated shipping was already late May. But it arrived ahead of schedule on May 4th and I spent a week getting to know it.
I have no desire to do a full review of the Apple Watch. There are plenty of websites out there that have done a thorough job of that. The interesting thing for me to talk about is why it’s no longer on my wrist. At the end of the week, the Apple Watch was voluntarily given to my daughter who also gave it up after a week and it is now being ‘sported’ by my wife who I suspect feels some sort of obligation to use it because of its price tag. I guess once you get past all the pent up hype surrounding the new Apple device it simply comes down to how useful it is to have a remote control for an iPhone that’s already in your pocket. For me it was not worth the effort.
As we expect from Apple, it is beautifully crafted. I like the design and it has a quality, satisfying feel on my wrist. The user experience is also everything you’d expect from Apple. Even the packaging was a site to behold and I understand the Sport edition I ordered provides the least of that ‘out of box experience’. The Watch OS seemed well polished for version 1.0 and I experienced only a single lock up during the week using the watch as a camera remote. The bluetooth connection with the iPhone is solid although it did seem to eat around 20 percent of my precious iPhone battery life at the end of each day. If I had to sum up my experience with the Apple Watch it would be this: It’s a well executed, first generation product that struggles to find relevance.
The iPhone completely revolutionised personal computing for me. It’s the reason I stopped wearing a watch in the first place. It does so much to enhance my daily life and it’s always with me. It keeps me up with a myriad of social media with instant notifications. I can keep on top of important emails and surf the web with a capable browser. It notifies me when one of my servers is having problems. It’s an instant messenger. It provides GPS navigation both online and offline when needed. It provides entertainment by way of films and TV. I can watch the morning news and I use Spotify on the morning commute. And as I proved recently on a trip to Exmoor, it’s a capable video and still camera. The list goes on. It also tells time.
The biggest thing that got me excited about the Apple Watch was the heart rate monitor which the iPhone can’t do without an accessory. This proved almost worthless. It could take a measurement while sitting still but while out on a jog I could never get a reliable reading. Maybe my arm is too hairy but I wasn’t keen enough to get that feature working by shaving my arm. In fact, the whole activity tracking functionality seemed a bit gimmicky to me. I quickly lost trust having it report that I had achieved my standing up goal for the day while my arm was hanging off the side of the couch. But the biggest pain was having to take the thing off every night to charge. Sure, I could pay for Starbucks with a barcode on my wrist and it certainly was a conversation starter and centre of interest for the week I wore it. But I almost felt a sense of liberation when I handed it over to my daughter as if I had expended more effort looking after the watch than the watch looking after me.
Maybe there’s a place for it in my future but I can’t imagine that ever happening as a mere accessory for the iPhone. I want the watch to be the phone! I want the Apple Watch to be my core communication device that can make calls and receive notifications all by itself. Siri and I would certainly develop a much stronger relationship than we have now. I want to leave the house with nothing more than the watch and retain that core functionality (and not have to worry about battery life for days or even weeks). I can even envision tiny bluetooth type hearing aid(s) that are always providing me with audio feedback from the watch; ‘You have a meeting in 5 minutes’ or ‘Take the next right’. Need a keyboard or bigger screen? Now your iPod Touch or iPad or MacBook become an add on accessory to the watch and provide additional functionality to the core communication. I see that making far more sense although battery and radio technology just isn’t there to provide this. Not yet anyway.
I’ve been an Apple loyalist since the 1980s and I hope Apple sees success with the Apple Watch. I’m sure it will initially with so much pent up demand. But the watch feels like it was born out of market demand more than the revolutionary rethinking for which Apple has built its reputation. The giant Samsung-ish iPhone 6 felt much the same. I sincerely hope that Apple will continue to truly innovate going forward. I still want the insanely great.