It’s been a month now since I’ve had an Apple Watch, and I feel I’m in a position to speak pretty well about the experience.
I’d written earlier about my predictions for the watch, but now I’ve used it I can testify more… authoritatively.
There’s been a ton of Apple Watch reviews and I’ve read a few, but most seem to miss the few things I find most interesting about it.
So here goes…
The first thing that becomes clear when wearing an Apple Watch is that people notice the watch very easily, if only a glimmer is actually showing. I’ve quite consciously avoided ‘displaying’ it, long sleeves etc, but people notice it every time.
For most it’s their first time seeing it, which has been surprising, particularly living in San Francisco. With the release of a new iPhone for example, everyone in the city seems to have one very quickly, the Apple watches on the other hand are thin on the ground.
When people ask about the Apple Watch, and so far they always do… the one thing people universally ask is ‘What can you do with it?’ or… ‘What do you use it for?’
Lately I’ve taken to saying… “Well first and foremost… the Time.”
I’m only being partly facetious… I have a ‘designer’ watch, that probably cost 3x the Apple Watch, and it only tells the time. (I’m not a watch nut, but for a few years I’ve had one decent watch).
For me everything else with the Apple Watch is thus a bonus. The design is superb of course, and I love the (Milanese loop) strap. It has much of what my ‘designer’ watch has, and then some.
Moving on from telling the time, my next go-to answer is Notifications.
A watch is always on your wrist – there’s a reason it was put there 500 years ago – and it’s the easiest thing in the world to turn your wrist to glance at it. We forget how instinctively natural this is, because most of us have stopped wearing watches.
When you are wearing the watch, notifications that would otherwise go to your phone, come to your wrist. It seems to know when you are wearing the watch (it actually does…) and in that intelligent Apple way, it just works how you’d expect it to.
So if for example a text message comes in, you get a teasing buzz to the wrist (no sound from your phone), fashion a quick glance of the eyes… and you immediately know whether it’s something you need to interrupt what you are doing to deal with.
I mentioned text messages… I get around 20 a day, and for me I find that the majority do not require a response. For example…
So for perhaps 70% of my incoming messages I only need to read the message, not reply to it. This is a perfect use-case for the watch, and means that 14 times a day I no longer need to hunt for my phone.
I’m not tethered to my phone, and this is particularly the case around the house and office, so the watch has a real benefit here. The phone is always ‘somewhere else’, the watch is always on my wrist. I get to see messages quicker and more reliably too.
When I’m wearing the watch and the phone rings, the watch rings too. This can actually be really useful when your phone is somewhere else, or not convenient to reach for. You can speak to someone through the watch, it has a speaker and microphone. I’ve used this in the car on a couple of occasions to avoid reaching around the trays and footwells for my phone. I used it in the basement the other day when I’d left my phone upstairs.
I tend to be pretty desk-bound and my decathlon days are behind me, so the ‘Fitbit’ functionality baked into the Apple Watch has, no exaggeration… been good for my health.
In the past month, the little notifications from time to time – every hour to stand up for a minute, you’ve done X mins of exercise, X number of calories burned – have all caused me to change my habits… a bit.
I’m not talking huge changes, but I have stood up and walked around most times it’s buzzed me to do so, and those times I’ve exercised, I’ve done it longer.
That is no… small… feat, and I could see how with improvements to the software (a web interface with pretty graphs), some more ‘addictive’ ‘gamification’ features, it could motivate me even more.
The separate little app that comes with the watch that shows you your heartbeat is also really neat. I was skeptical it would even work, but I’ve used it a few times now to check my heart rate, and most of the times it seems to work well and accurately. One time it couldn’t detect my heart beat which was a little troubling, but seemingly I’m alive and well.
Some people are genuinely surprised when they realize you can install custom apps. Not everyone instinctively knows this, and I think its Apps, just like the phone, that will ultimately take the Apple Watch into ‘really useful’ and eventually ‘indispensable’ territory.
I’ve not installed many apps – about 10 so far – and most have not been something I’ve tried again, mainly because they seem very limited in function at this early stage. Developers did not have actual watches to test the app on when developing them, only a PC based simulator, and it seems very few developers have been able to imagine correctly how the watch will work for people in actual practice.
One app that I have used is my (progressive) bank’s watch app which seamlessly installed in the Glances section of the watch, making it simple for me to check my bank balance, and even transfer funds between accounts. As notifications get added to the mix (they are not in place now), I can see the potential for having every financial transaction of any note buzzing my wrist, as a kind of added security measure / timeline of transactions.
Instagram has been neat for its notifications. If you have likes on your photos, these come through. You can also see a stream of recent Instagram photos, small as they are.
Other apps I’ve installed (and used little) are a tic-tac-toe game (not bad – but always a draw!!), a game called Lifeline (interesting), Shazam (it works – I just haven’t used it much this month), Guardian (good, but only one story?), News360, OpenTable, Twitter, Uber and TripAdvisor.
I’ve only tried the Maps app once, which comes with the watch, but it worked surprisingly well… If you set a destination on your phone, and are wearing the watch, it begins to give you turn-by-turn notifications as silent buzzes to your wrist. Walking around downtown this worked impressively well, and I was able to learn the two buzzes (left and right) to be guided silently around the streets from my wrist, with my phone obligingly going silent at the same time. This was pretty cool.
It’s clear that a LOT of time and effort went into the buzzes and sounds that emanate from the watch. They match each other (sound and buzz) so perfectly sometimes, it’s hard to know where the buzz ends and the sound begins, and while it’s hard to recognize individual types of notification (I’m starting to recognize some of them), they are all curiously delightful, perhaps because of their diversity, but mainly simply because of their attention to detail.
I was surprised one day to be going through the Glances on the watch to see a display showing the music I was playing on my iPhone (elsewhere in the house). It was a remote control, and I could pause the music and restart it, although the volume didn’t seem to work for some reason. I can see this being useful.
Speaking of volume, my never ending desire for a global mute button, that can instantly mute or dim all sounds in the vicinity, whatever device they’re coming from, got a little closer to reality for me with the Apple Watch. It’s not quite there yet, but a prominent ‘Do not Disturb’ button, easy to activate when you’re putting your watch on charge at night, has the effect of muting not only the watch but also the phone. Extend this to every other device that makes a beep or a noise while I’m sleeping, and I’ll be in heaven!
A couple of days after getting the watch I had a mild panic as I thought I may have made a mistake in buying one. I couldn’t immediately see the usefulness of it. But like the beginning of an interesting relationship, the more I’ve spent time with it, the more I’ve grown to like it, and since everything else from here is mainly software, I’ve no doubt that it will swiftly increase in usefulness.
I was at a movie (the new Mad Max movie) at the cinema the other night and I must have received 5 text messages during the movie. In each case I was able to glance down at my wrist and see what it was about, no fumbling around to silence a beeping phone, along with its bright screen. Not one message required a response. No one around me noticed.
Its use cases like this that I keep finding every week, which make me continue to put it on every day, and I look forward to it just getting better with time.