The Apple Watch is much like the Velvet Underground: just as it was famously said by Brian Eno that not many people listened to the original VU albums, but all of them started their own bands, so it is true that “not many” people are buying the first generation of the Apple Watch, but all of them are writing their own reviews of it. And so here’s mine.
I’m a fairly tech-savvy guy who already has at least one of just about everything Apple makes. I’m six feel tall. I walk and run, but not competitively. I’ve worn a watch all my life.
I ordered the 42MM Steel Case with the Milanese Loop. Anything smaller would have looked silly on my big wrist. The steel case seemed much more like a real watch than the aluminum sport model. And I like the infinite adjustability of the Milanese loop, as opposed to some of the others. I also purchased a black Sport Band to use for running. And I also got a mophie watch dock to use for overnight charging.
After reading other reviews, I finally concluded that there were no fatal flaws in the Apple Watch, but there were also no “killer apps” that made it a relative necessity to purchase one (as in, “I’ve gotta have one of these things right now!”). And my own experience has shown both of these statements to be true. Battery life always lasts longer than I do in any given day. The fit and finish are great. Legibility is fine, other than in bright outdoor light. At the same time, there is nothing about the Watch that makes me wonder how I ever lived without one.
I’ve heard several criticisms of the Apple Watch. Let me address them one by one.
Hey, it sits on my wrist and it tells me the time, just like every watch I’ve ever owned. How intuitive is that?
I can talk to someone with it, just like Dick Tracy did in the comic strips. When I want to say something, I hold my mouth close to the watch. When I want to hear what the other person is saying, I hold my ear close to the watch. Pretty darned intuitive, I’d say!
Beyond these two basic functions, it’s hard for me to say what “intuitive” would mean when it comes to wearing a computer on my wrist. I don’t know any way to “intuit” how that kind of thing would work.
The display is very nice looking, and interaction with it works very well, but it’s very small. That’s not a criticism, that’s just an attribute of the device type. Would I want a bigger screen on my wrist? No! Heck, I haven’t even reconciled myself yet to the size of the latest iPhone screens. Those things are huge! They’re like going to a drive-in movie, and trying to carry the screen in your pocket!
On the other hand, I think many elements of the Watch user interface are very clever and very useful. The haptic feedback is great. The tap on your wrist is hard to ignore, yet very unobstrusive.
Does it take a while to learn how to use this entirely new device type? Yes. On the other hand, it follows the general rule that simple things should be simple, and complex things should be possible.
So overall I give the UI of the device a big thumbs up.
The watch tries very hard to only turn on the display when you actually need it on, in order to conserve battery life. In some cases, this means that the watch doesn’t show you the time when you’d like to see it, or it turns the display off while you’re still looking at it. I don’t find either of these behaviors particularly annoying. I confess that once or twice I felt some annoyance when I tried to see whether I was late to a meeting when I was running down the hall at work, and the display remained dark. But overall, once you adjust to the idea that you are now wearing a computer on your wrist, instead of a mechanical device, you learn how to move your wrist so that the watch knows you’re looking at it. Overall, I’m OK with the trade-offs here.
Hey, it’s a chunk of metal with a display on the front, some buttons on the side, and a computer inside, and it sits on your wrist. It’s shiny. It’s got rounded corners. What did you expect? Is it the best looking watch in the world? No. Does it look pretty good for a “smart” watch? Well, yes, I think so.
The area of physical design where I think Apple really shines is with the bands for the watch. The way you attach and remove them is really very clever, and works extremely well. Both of the bands I have look great, feel great on my wrist, and fit really well. They are definitely the best watch bands I’ve ever owned, in terms of looks, and in terms of functionality. I don’t think Apple is getting enough credit here.
If you are a competitive runner, then the Apple Watch is not going to be part of your training regime. And one can question the accuracy of the various measurements and calculations the Watch produces. But, hey, for an average guy like me who is just trying to stay reasonably fit as he ages, the Watch works pretty well. It reminds me to stand once an hour. It reminds me when I haven’t been moving enough, or getting enough exercise. And it does all this regularly and unobtrusively, yet insistently. So I find it works pretty well for me, and it eliminates the need to carry another device around with me just to do fitness tracking.
From a strictly utilitarian point of view, there is no reason to have an Apple Watch in addition to an iPhone. On the other hand, from a strictly utilitarian point of view, Apple has no need to exist. People don’t buy Apple devices just for their utility. Is there value in having some of these functions on your wrist, instead of in your pocket? I think so, just as there is value in having some of these things in your pocket, instead of on your desk or your lap. Do you need to have a computer on your wrist? No. But as Ruthie says in the Dylan song, “Your débutante just knows what you need, but I know what you want.” And so, while it’s true I don’t need a computer on my wrist, I do find that I want the one that Apple has fashioned for me.
I’ve been surprised at how handy it often is to take a quick phone call on my Watch. Often, in cases like these, by the time I got my iPhone out of my pocket, I would have missed the call. And the sound quality of phone calls on the Watch is surprisingly good. I can hear the other person well, and so far no one has said anything about the sound quality of my voice on their end, and I’ve had no one say, “What did you say?” or “Come again?”
It’s handy to be able to check the current date without having to get my iPhone out.
I’ve used Apple Pay with my Watch several times, and it’s pretty cool. I don’t have one of the latest iPhones, so this is a new capability for me.
It’s handy to be able to get Dark Sky weather alerts on my Watch.
It’s very handy to get turn-by-turn directions on my Watch when I’m the one who’s driving. I’m never comfortable taking my eyes off the road to look at my phone in these situations, but I find the Watch is ideal for this, since the smaller screen actually focuses my attention quickly on the critical info I need to know, and it’s closer to my line of sight than my phone would be, and it’s already right there at the end of my arm.
I think the concentric rings in the Activity tracker are really brilliant. They’re very satisfying as a quick fitness dashboard I can refer to throughout the day.
I could probably go on a bit here, but you probably get the idea, and your particular mileage may vary anyway.
All in all, I’m very happy with my Apple Watch purchases. The watch, the bands, and the mophie stand are all great.
Am I waiting breathlessly for the new features of watchOS 2? No, not really. There may be some cool new apps that come along, but I’m not really expecting the functionality sitting on my wrist to expand by leaps and bounds. I’ve still got my iPhone and my Mac, and the Watch is great at what it does, but that by definition is a pretty small incremental addition.
So do you need to rush right out and buy one? No, definitely not. Is it the Next Big Thing? No, not really. But if you’re ready for the Next Little Thing from Apple, then you’ll probably be pleased with it.
So if you happen to come across Ruthie and me dancing in her honky-tonk lagoon one evening, you can be sure that, no matter what else we may (or may not!) be wearing, that gleam you see from one of our wrists will be that Panamanian moonlight reflecting off of the steel case of my Apple Watch.
July 29, 2015