Apple Watch: My first week
29 May 2015
There have been so many bad reviews of the Apple Watch that I had started to feel very nervous that I’d made the wrong decision to jump in and get one.
However, during my first week I have discovered that although it is a bad wrist-phone, it’s an absolutely brilliant watch.
It has one serious flaw, which I’ll come to in a minute.
Prior to the Apple Watch announcement, my previous wearable experience had been negative. Two years ago, I bought a Jawbone Up. After enjoying the initial buzz, to get up and move around every hour, I got pretty bored of the meaningless stream of data it pushed at me.
A few weeks passed, and we had stopped communicating, I think it knew deep down that we’d fallen out of love. It refused to take a charge one day and was laid to rest in the kitchen drawer with other redundant items too precious to bin – anonymous keys, inkless pens, redundant wires and now a lifeless fitness band.
When the Apple Watch arrived, it was clear others in the studio had read the reports too.
We opened the box together, some of us with wide-eyed excitement and others with stand-offish ambivalence. After the Apple trademark, slow motion unboxing, the watch finally appeared from its shiny, white, rectangular, suede-lined egg.
I chose the stainless finish and Milano Loop band. It really is a beautiful thing to behold. I think even the doubters agreed with that. And then out popped the fold-up plug – perhaps even better than the watch itself. Those prongs! That movement!
Ok so now everyone was convinced.
Putting the watch on, it felt quite light but perfectly proportioned. The beautiful pure black screen reminded me of the mysterious digital watches that appeared in the late seventies that rewarded a firm button press with a furtive, red read-out of the exact time.
When the screen came to life in this case, the read-out was as beautiful as any iPhone – so crisp and distortion-free that the image felt imprinted on the surface rather than rendered in light.
My first impression of using the watch was an immediate sense of the fiddliness of the small screen compared to my phone. However once you master the digital crown, and the fact that it acts like a back button rather than a home button, it’s actually pretty easy to navigate.
I have to confess, however, I haven’t mastered making and receiving calls yet – I really prefer to do this on my phone.
That leads me to my first issue with the watch. There has been a lot of comment about Siri being the killer feature of the Apple Watch. I’m not convinced.
Although I’m well aware it could be an age thing - I’ve noticed my son has no problem talking to Siri - for me, voice command functionality is a million miles from what I would call a positive technology. It’s a bloody awful control interface that’s actually humiliating to use in public - there’s lots of work to do here.
My first week with the watch was spent doing a lot of travelling – we had three pitches in Dubai – a long haul and a different time zone, providing an ideal test.
The first thing I set up, in advance of travelling, was the watch face, as well as selecting the look of it. Why on earth Mickey Mouse is there is beyond me, it must have been approved by the same idiot that put a U2 song on every iPhone.
You can select which features show on the dial – sunset time, battery level, fitness goals etc. I chose the second time zone feature which turned out to be great when working abroad.
I don’t usually move around very much, which is probably why the Jawbone didn’t work for me. However when travelling, I was quite proud to be told that I’d hit my step goal for the day. The trouble is, the fitness tracker on the watch is flawed in the same way as the Up. It looks nice, but it delivers no insight. With so much fitness data being collected around the world, there should be no excuse. Perhaps there are lots of graph-loving fitness freaks out there. Sadly, I’m not one of them.
It was late when I got to my hotel room. The first thing I do is get on the Wi-Fi and then look for a place, hopefully by the bed, to plug in my phone. This ritual now has to include my watch.
Here’s a new issue to solve for the next-gen watch - you have to have a phone to make the watch work, you have to charge them both every night, you need carry around two wires and two plugs to do this – it’s terrible.
My hotel only had one outlet by the bed so I had to put one of the devices on the other side of the room – not an ideal set-up. It would be superb if it was possible to charge both devices from the same plug/wire. Something for the next-gen product – or Belkin!
The big thing you notice when wearing the watch for a while is the notification buzzing. It can do an audible ping, but you turn that off pretty sharpish. I read in one review that it gives you an even more acute sense of the number of people you’re ignoring. Quite true.
During the week, when travelling with my phone in my briefcase, the ability to check emails and texts quickly on my wrist was really nice. And the hand-off to the phone, although a little buggy, is a great idea for when you want to reply.
The only usability issue I found was that the actions for an email are at the bottom. This is a problem when deleting or dismissing corporate emails that often have long chains of discussion as well as terms and conditions. Force touch should be usable in this scenario.
Of course, in my spare time, I scoured the App Store for new apps to try out on the watch. I found a few that were quite good.
Firstly Tripcase was great for managing my travel plans – just being able to quickly access live flight details on the watch alleviated my time anxiety on route the airport.
I really like Bring, the shopping list app, as its interface and function are really well suited to the small screen area and the ‘glance’ style of interaction.
Twitter is pretty well suited to this style of interaction too, and I like the instant notification of trending content. However, there’s a big opportunity for someone to create more watch appropriate Twitter management tools.
So this brings us to the one serious issue with the watch. The problems I mentioned above, bar the shortcomings of the plug, are all interaction issues. They are issues because the watch is really a very different device from the iPhone.
It reminds me of the early days of the iPhone – when there were no really useful apps. I remember everyone getting really excited about one that used the phone’s advanced internal gyroscope to enable you to drink a virtual pint. Since then, things have changed. Many apps have become indispensable parts of our lives.
The watch environment, surprisingly, is different enough that those apps do not always work. Instagram was one of the first to launch on the watch – however it’s comically ridiculous.
This new paradigm is really exciting – it creates space for a new generation of big app players. What sort of experiences will succeed I’m not sure. I feel that there are interesting opportunities around using the watch as a game controller for another device. That smarter time and calendar management tools would be really useful – and let’s face it, the iPhone calendar is pretty dire. Obviously, more insightful health management apps could be really powerful as there’s a wealth of data there for the analysing.
For me, the most exciting thing is the potential for the watch to become an access point to the internet of things - the idea of a simple tap on the wrist operating home or car functions is quite compelling.
IFTTT could be one of the leaders here with its Do It button App that allows you to create bespoke interactions between your digital services and physical things.
As we move from a digital world of websites and applications, to a connected ecosystem where interface is replaced by more intelligent forms of interaction between people and things, this little device could really come into its own.
In sum, I love it. It’s crap if you wanted a Dick Tracey wrist-phone but it’s as brilliant an advance on the watch, as the iPhone was on the telephone. It won’t be long before we see what it is really capable of. The most exciting thing is that this challenge is in the hands, or on the wrists, of the tech community – we need to create what this beautiful new platform is really good for.