Since getting my Apple Watch I’ve gone from “meh” to eager anticipation of the development of the Apple Watch ecosystem. This post captures the background of my optimism.
If I remember right the Apple Watch (AW) was available for order at 3AM (Eastern) on April 24th. I set an alarm to wake up and order one. Regrettably, I did NOT get up, ended up waiting, and placed my order around 10AM. Mistake.
As a result I found myself at the end of a long line of people that would be waiting until early June to get their AW. Ugh.
The watch came in by FedEx the first week of June. As a long-time Pebble watch lover I was initially impressed but not blown away with AW. If the AW was your first experience with a smart watch then you’d have (rightly) been more impressed.
Dan Morrison (Twitter: @DanCitizen) wrote a then-accurate characterization of my AW experience on LinkedIn. At the time I WAS “meh” on the AW.
Having recently crossed the 45-Day mark with the AW I’m ready to update some of my reactions and opinions.
Durability (Grade: A)
I’ve taken pains to NOT treat this watch any differently than other watches. I’ve done yard work, car washing, boating, exercising, motocross riding all while wearing the AW and it is NONE the worse for wear.
There isn’t a scratch anywhere on the watch. The band has some marks on it but nothing it doesn’t deserve given how and where it has accompanied me.
Aesthetics (Grade : B+)
A lot of people I’ve talked to don’t love the AW’s aesthetics. While I don’t LOVE the looks either it is definitely a “nice” looking watch (I have the 42mm black sport watch/band). I’ve worn it to the pool and to an important meeting in NYC. In no case has it been out of place – either under-dressy or over-dressy.
Initially, I was not fond of the band/clasp mechanism. 45-days later, I like it. Easy to put on, easy to take off and more secure than I expected it to be. Despite rough-and-tumble use the band hasn’t come undone once.
Battery Life (Grade: A)
Predictions about poor AW battery life were WRONG WRONG WRONG (who writes these things, meteorologists?).
Headline: I can get two (2) days of use from a single (full charge).
I still have a metric ton of notifications being sent to my watch (literally, every app that CAN send notifications to my AW, I allow to do so). Why? Two reasons:
- I “do software” for a living and I appreciate seeing how different software products use/leverage/fail-to-leverage the third-screen, and
- It’s part of my constant personal-trek to optimize how I spend my time – what tools work, what tools don’t
So, even with all this notification chatter I still manage around two days of battery life (though just barely).
That said, there are some things you can do with your watch that will make it deplete battery more quickly.
Apps that open and preserve a “live connection” to the phone (e.g., maps and GPS applications) consume battery quickly. I was recently in NYC having arrived at Penn Station LATE. The city is eerily quiet at 1AM on a weekday so I chose to walk to the hotel and enjoy the relative silence.
My AW came to my assistance. I asked my watch (yes, I talk to my watch) to take me to the Hampton Inn Chelsea and it started giving me directions.
Hey Siri, navigate to Hampton Inn Chelsea.
Subtle haptic notifications let me know when turns were coming up. I glanced at my watch and would make the turn. Three or four turns later and I and walked straight into the lobby of the Hampton Inn. WAY better than staring at your phone for walking directions!
Health / Workout Functions (Grade: TBD)
Having had a Fitbit for a long time I had high standards for the fitness/health component of the AW. I’m still evaluating this. I will update this post or write a new one when the jury is in on this central promise of the AW.
Functionality (Grade: A-, will be rising to A+)
The AW is a pretty deep platform and it’s UI is (IMO) difficult to discover so I was missing out on functionality. This is a problem for Apple. If, as a technophile, I missed out on difficult-to-discover functionality there are others out there that won’t discover stuff for a while (if ever).
So, what have I learned in the last 45 days?
- Apps need an update from the app developer in order to provide AW functionality (yes, obvious in hindsight)
- App updates appeared quickly after the AW’s general availability
- The notion of what constitutes appropriate watch behavior is evolving quickly as product developers benchmark against one another’s released software
- The interplay of the side button press, side button double press, watch face, Force Touch, bezel rotation, bezel click, bezel double-click makes for some learning. These interactions will, over time, become second nature (just like the unnatural gestures to which we’ve become habituated on the iPhone).
With these learnings and a blizzard of app updates I’m getting the utility from the AW I had anticipated.
What (cool) stuff can the AW do?
I accept that I am not mainstream so take that into account with the following list… The AW is not just a watch, alarm, stopwatch, countdown timer… in one device I can also:
- tweak my thermostat temp (Thessa),
- check our cloud-sync’ed shopping list when I stop-by Giant Supermarket on the way home from work (Buy Me a Pie!),
- get distance-to-the-pin on my wrist (Golfshot),
- get geo-reminded (OmniFocus) when I drive by the dry-cleaner,
- play-pause Apple TV (Remote),
- NOT over- OR under-cook the burgers, chicken and/or steak, (iDevices bluetooth grill thermometer)
- find my phone from my AW (built-in & immensely handy)
- Check on the status of deliveries (Deliveries)…
I could go on ad nauseum. I think the point is made that you gain a convenient access point to a LOT of stuff from the AW.
The Future is Bright
watchOS 2 is due out “this Fall” and has a lot of new features. My (current) most-anticipated:
- more customizable complications (ugh, “complications” is an accurate but unfortunate term…)
- time travel
- nightstand mode (this will be great for travel!)
- native apps
The value of this this last one, native apps, is hard to overstate. An always-available third-screen will change (again) how we interact with technology. Watch-native software combined with the Apple and Android smartwatch hardware ecosystems will spark cool new innovation at existing tech companies AND precipitate a new wave to “watch-first” products from startups.
This is also part of Apple’s wrist-dominance plan.
How many Independent Software Vendors are there on the Fitbit platform? Exactly…
How many developers are there on iOS?
275,000 registered developers (c. Jul 13, 2015) just in the US! Fitbit is a fine (nice, great, I had/have one!) product but it’s not a platform. The iOS and Android watches are part of a massive ecosystem.
Note: A MASSIVE fail in the Pebble is the fact that you can only load eight (8) apps on to the watch at any one time. If you have eight loaded and you want to try and ninth you have to de-load one of your apps and install the one you want to tinker with. Pebble has taken some clever steps to optimize this but it’s a sad thing nevertheless.
Annoyances (Grade: N/A)
If my report card stopped here, I’d give the AW an “A.” Below are some leading annoyances that result in an “A-.”
- Erratic behavior activating the display. The AW turns the display off at the “right time” to conserve power. It relies on its accelerometer to determine when to reactivate the display to let you see the time/date, etc. In some cases the wrist turn you make to view the watch face is too subtle to activate the watch face. This happens to me with some frequency while driving. Moving from hands-at-10-and-2 while driving to viewing my watch often fails to activate the display.
- Siri needs a (too) quiet environment to work properly. Remember the story about my happy walking navigation from Penn Station to the Hampton Inn Chelsea? I started trying to get it to work while inside Penn Station (a noisy place, even at 1AM).Siri was repeatedly confused or non-responsive until I made it to street level where it was quieter. The next day, at full Manhattan-level street noise, AW Siri had REAL problems responding to voice commands.
- My AW “home screen” is gets crowded. The AW home screen is current a single, flat space. This will need some UI love SOON (e.g., favorites/groups/nesting) as more and more apps offer AW integration.
- The AW’s must get better at anticipating what a user wants to do so that we’re not searching around for the right app.Case in point… This past weekend we grilled burgers. I broke out my handy bluetooth thermometer and fired up the grill. In my pre-AW days I’d open my iPhone, search for
grill, find and launch the iDevices app. Why? I have a lot of apps and the iDevices app’s icon:
does NOT make me think of the barbecue, hamburgers or steaks.Today, post-AW, my iPhone is on my desk. I raise my AW, the display activates, I press the bezel to view my app collection and I stare at a pentagon of microscopic app icons. Hmm, which one is it? I pan and scroll around a bit and accidentally find the iDevices app which, even on the AW, doesn’t make me think of barbecue, hamburgers or steaks.
Overall (Grade: A-)
I like my AW more each day that I use it. It’s cool to see how different developers use and abuse the AW screen so I’m really optimistic that smartwatches in general and the AW in particular will be successful.
Would I buy it again? Absolutely.