It’s funny how lately any criticism of an Apple product comes back to the iPhone. The iPad was doomed to fail because it was “just a big iPhone.” Likewise, the Apple Watch is doomed to fail because it’s “just an iPhone on your wrist.” What’s amusing about these claims is the Apple Watch has a dependent relationship with the iPhone; it can’t operate without it. Saying an Apple Watch is operating without an iPhone is like saying a car coasting downhill is operating without gasoline.
Apple has said the Apple Watch is “Our most personal device yet” and to a certain degree it’s true. You can get an iPhone in any color you want, as long as it’s Silver, Gray, or Gold. The Apple Watch comes in over 30 watch and band combinations. It’s personal in the amount of data it displays. It’s personal in that it says a lot about your personal style. I got the rubber – I’m sorry – fluoroelastomer band. There are rare occasions I need to put on the monkey suit, but looking at my wrist I can see where if I need to don the formal wear, I might want a different band.
I started this review back in April. While I loved the Watch, it was clear to me that there were shortcomings (notably activity tracker and 3rd-party apps). I decided to wait until watchOS 2 was released before publishing my findings.
THE PRE-ORDER/ORDER EXPERIENCE AND INTERNET REACTIONS
I ordered my Watch at xx:05:10 on April 10. Because I ordered the Space Gray – along with half the Internet – by that time my order had slipped to the 4–6 range, or the May 13–27 range. My first reaction was, “Wow, already? That kinda sucks. Oh well.” The second was, “the MacRumors forums are going to lose their shit.” I promptly spent the next hour reading the forums as they did, in fact, lose their shit.
I was surprised that the Apple Watch slipped shipping ranges so fast. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been. Reading through the iPhone 6/6+ pre-order threads it looks like that device slipped date ranges in 19 minutes or so. Usually, pre-ordering an Apple device in the first 5 minutes means you are getting a device on launch day. That clearly wasn’t the case here. Cue 2 weeks of a lot of forum posters acting like Violet Beauregarde.
It’s hard to tell why it sold so fast. It could be demand was off the charts, or if there were yield issues (the Space Gray Watch and Black and Pink bands seemed to be constrained), or there were large issues with the taptic engine. I am somewhat surprised Apple offered so many bands, especially in the Sport line. It would have been very Apple-like to offer a Silver/White Band and Space Gray/Black band and then soak you $50 if you wanted a different colored band. The yield issues (or at least the demands must have died down because now you can get bands in additional colors.
In any event, instead of having to wait 3–4 weeks, my Apple Watch showed up on the 28th. Two business days after launch. Not too shabby.
THE OUT OF THE BOX EXPERIENCE
I picked up my Watch at the UPS will-call. When I got back to my car I opened the box and started the initial setup. The pairing went very easily and I walked through the handful of prompts. After I told it to auto-install all the apps, it started syncing. This looked like it was going to take a bit so I started to drive off. About 5 minutes down the road it finished syncing. Then my phone started vibrating with a lot of notifications.
I thought I’d done a good job at eliminating most of the notifications I get on my iPhone. After a few hours with the Watch, I learned I needed to refine them even further.
One of my favorite bits is George Carlin’s “I place for your stuff.”. Watch it; it’s good. I took the same approach with notifications. In the depths of my iPhone is every piece of information that comes my way. All my emails, calendars, texts, Twitters, Facebooks and the like hit my iPhone. I just don’t want to hear about all of it. On my iPhone I get notified if a VIP emails me, upcoming calendar appointments, calendar invites, text messages, my IM+ notifications, and @replies and DMs in Twitter.
Obviously, I don’t want all of these on my wrist. My sole goal with notifications on my Watch was to make sure there was a 90% chance of the alert actually being something I give a shit about.
Here’s an example. A few months ago my band rented a sound stage. All the band members are on my VIP list. When I was setting up my gear I had my iPhone in my jacket on the other side of the room. When I was done, a few members of the band had shown up so we started setting up more gear. During all this one of the members (not there) had emailed with a crucial question. By the time I got my iPhone is was too late. If I had my Watch, I would have received alert and looked down and read the email. Then I could have grabbed my iPhone and replied to it.
I also want to get access to a few pieces of information without dragging my iPhone out of my pocket. Pre-Watch, if I was out to dinner and my mate asked “Have you heard from your mom about (whatever)?” I’ll take my phone out, check that there were no new messages from my mom. I’d then take a quick look at Facebook. While I was at it, might was well read Twitter because that’s where the cool stuff is anyway. Next thing I know, I’m reading an article about the plight of the Kurdistan Muskrat while I’m being shot daggers from across the table. Now, with the Watch, I’ll look down at the Messages app and answer “No.”
So, on my Watch, I get notified on VIP emails, the activity app, Messages, and upcoming calendar appointments. In most cases, this works. The only outlier is my boss is a VIP so I know when he emails me. It’s not always relevant, but I like getting them. During the day when I’m in the office it’s not big concern. When I’m out of the office, I care a little more. I could move him in and out of the VIP list, but that’s too much of a hassle.
One curious thing is how the OSs handle Notifications. It seems as if I’m not actively using my iPhone, the alert will pop up on my Watch. When this happens, the badge icon on my iPhone disappears. This is fine in most cases. Where I ran into a problem is on the way home. When I’m driving I put my iPhone in the car mount and listen to music or podcasts. If I get a text message, I use Siri to listen and respond. One night driving home I noticed the Watch thought I wasn’t using my iPhone and the alert went to my Watch. I couldn’t use Siri to read unread messages. There might be a way to do this with Handoff, but I’m not sure. It’s something I need to look into.
I had bariatric surgery in August. As a result, I need to track a lot of data. Stuff like how much do I weight, have I gotten enough protein in? Is it time to eat again? Did I take my vitamins? Have I had enough I have alerts for most of these on my watch to make sure I don’t accidentally miss a task.
What I also like about the Watch is when you get a notification, it doesn’t light up the screen or do anything do let people know you’ve gotten alert. You just slightly turn and raise your wrist and see the notification. I’ll get into the social contract later.
If it’s not real obvious by now, pretty much the one job Watch has is to forward information from your iPhone to your wrist. There are some exceptions, like the Workflow app, which allow you to do actionable items, but for the most part you’re triaging information. One way this happens is Notifications. The other is Glances. You access Glances by swiping up on your Watch. This is the opposite of Notifications, where you swipe down. Swipe up; swipe down.
The Glances I have on my Watch are Battery, Heart Rate, Activity, Calendar, Dark Sky, MLB At Bat, and OmniFocus. The heart rate I keep for one reason: I had the Workout app screw me out of a workout because the sensors had frozen and required a Watch reboot. Now, before I start a workout I make damn sure the heart rate monitor is actually working.
One thing I advise is to keep your Glances to a minimum. Going back to George Carlin, the stuff I want to see on my Watch is the equivalent to going across the island in Maui – I just want the stuff that’s really important to me.
While you can control your music and podcasts from the Watch, I don’t care to. When I’m walking my iPhone is in my hand and it’s easier to switch songs right from the device.
The primary reason I bought the Watch was for activity tracking. Sure, I could get a Fitbit, but I’d rather get something that integrated fully with the Health App. As a fitness tracker, I’ve found the Watch moderately successful.
The biggest issue I had is identifying what counts as exercise. The Apple Watch considers exercise anything that has a sustained heart rate over a certain amount. This amount is determined by your sex, height, and weight (which are defined in the Settings app). This is lofty goal, but given my general lack of fitness, I’m defining exercise as an activity I’m going out of my way to do.
Here’s an example. The place I work has a large parking lot. From where I park my car to the front door is about a quarter-mile walk. If I pull in and grab the first available spot, I don’t consider that exercise. However, if I park in the back row and walk the extra bit to the door, I do consider it exercise, even though I’m not elevating my heart rate. Likewise, if I take a walk at lunch, I’ll consider that exercise.
Because I’m not having a sustained heart rate over 100 BPM, the Outdoor Walk workout won’t track every minute. A lot of this is a strong desire to not walk back into work all sweaty. So, I use the Other workout to track this. It gives me my Move and calorie goals. One downside I’ve seen is that while there is a setting to discard the data after you’re done with a workout, the data doesn’t really go away. A few times, I’ve left the Workout app running longer than I intended by a few hours. This obviously messed up my goals. When I ended the workout, I chose to discard the data but all the activity still showed in the rings. What I’d like is some intelligence where the Watch would detect “ok, your heart rate is still at resting, and you haven’t moved for a bit Are you really exercising?” and give me the option to purge the data.
A lot of these issues are gone in watchOS 2. An excellent addition is the watch seems a lot smarter about tracking exercising without needing to launch the Workouts app. Over the last few days I’ve noticed that when I take a brisk walk around the building or walk from the end of the parking lot, I’ve had the exercise ring move on its own. What’s even better is the numbers it is generating actually seem to represent how much exercise I’ve gotten.
My only remaining complaint about the Activity tracker is the weekly summary. Every Monday I receive a notification about how often I hit my move goals the previous week. If I don’t hit the goal a lot, the Watch will suggest a lower move goal for the coming week. This is fine, except it just checks to see if I met the goals and not worry about if I exceeded them. Here’s an example: I have a move goal of 240. If I exceed it and hit 330 5 days, but only get to 239 twice, it may suggest a lower move goal. I would rather the algorithm be based on a percentage (either above or below the target) and base its recommendations from that number. The
THIRD PARTY APPS
With watchOS 1 the experience with 3rd party apps was miserable. For instance, by the time MLB at Bat loaded on the Watch, I could have just taken my iPhone out of my pocket and checked the score there. That said, even the watchOS 2 version of the MLB app seems slow. Other apps like OmniFocus seem to work fine with the new OS.
I’ve intentionally kept apps like Twitter off my Watch. Again, this about quick glances: do I need to be somewhere, do something, get a text someone is going to be late? How am I doing on my exercise goals? These are all areas I want to have brought to my attention. Not if I’ve gotten a DM or a reply to Twitter. That stuff can wait. During baseball season, I care about the Red Sox score.
The App screen to me feels very un-Apple like. It’s not clean. Tapping apps is like playing darts blind. I’m often tapping on the wrong app icon. I know I can use Siri for a lot of it, but I feel like Dick Tracey talking into my phone. Instead I use Complications and Glances to see info and launch apps. I use a timer a lot, so I have the “start timer” complication on my Watch Face.
THE SOCIAL CONTRACT
The Watch reminds me of that person whose job is to whisper into the president’s ear. Sometimes it’s to mention who is next in a reception line. Sometimes it’s a more urgent matter. While the Watch is great at helping you determine if a notification is something you need to act upon, looking at your watch in the presence of another person doesn’t convey “I’m curious if my mom has an urgent matter.” It broadcasts “how much fucking longer do I need to listen this person?” This is often not a desirable outcome. As with looking at your iPhone in the company of others, make sure that glancing at your watch is appropriate at that time.
After all this talk about what the Watch does, I almost forgot to talk about the device itself. John Gruber said in his review: There are two types of people in the world: those who wear a watch, and those who don’t. I am not a watch wearer. I used to wear a watch, but after I got a cell phone (even my small Ericsson mini phone) I stopped wearing one. Having the Apple Watch on my wrist has forced me to remember that I kinda miss having a watch. It’s easier to tap (or flick) my wrist to see the time. I’ve noticed that when I’m out with Trish she will tap my wrist to see what time it is as well.
Since I’m not a watch wearer, I can’t really comment on the feel of it compared to a mechanical watch. The last watch I wore was almost 15 years ago. I do find the Watch to be very comfortable for extended periods. It’s a lot thicker than some mechanical watches, but it doesn’t feel like it throws off the balance of my wrist.
I only own a Sport Watch with two Sport Bands: the black and the midnight blue. A few weeks ago I switched to the midnight blue band and I love it. The original blue band was too cartoony. The midnight blue band is much more subtle. It’s a dark blue that’s almost a black. The midnight blue also goes well with most of my dress shirts, and is a tad more formal than the black. David Chartier posted about a $45 Milanese loop that might work better for some formal occasions.
I’m calling this out in its own section because it’s a frequently-asked question. In the 5 months I’ve had the device, I’ve never wanted for more battery. After the first week I’ve pretty much stopped looking at the Glance other than idle curiosity. I charge it at night (and use it for my alarm clock), and it would go well into the following morning without a charge. In average, daily use, I could get between 18-20 hours of use. I haven’t done an all-day type of activity — like a long run or bike ride — so I don’t know it will affect that. The closest comparison I have is a few all-day walks in Boston and I still had tons of juice when I got home that night.
I’ve had the Apple Watch for almost five months now. This has easily been the most challenging review I’ve ever done. I love the Watch. I wear it every day and will go home and get it if I leave home without it. I’m constantly monitoring how much I’ve moved, where I need to be, what tasks I have and if the text message I just received is informational or if I need to act on it.
The Time Travel feature (added in watchOS 2) still feels a little gimmicky. Basically, you can spin the digital crown to move the time forwards or backwards and the Complications will change depending on the data it has for that time. It’s great if you want to see what the weather is like tonight, or when your meetings are. That said, I think it’s easier to just launch Dark Sky or the Calendar app to see the data instead.
However, when people have asked if they should get one, I’ve had a hard time answering. For fitness tracking you can just use a Fitbit. If you don’t maintain your schedule and to do items electronically the Watch is of little value to you. However, if, like me, you use digital tools to manage your entire life, the Watch can be a very handy tool.