Climbing the Apple Watch learning curve
How easy is it to get started with an Apple Watch? The New York Times described a “steep learning curve” before its reviewer fell head-over-heels in love with their wristwatch. We wanted to find out just how hard it is to get started with the Watch before resorting to RTFM.
Getting the goods
The days of waiting two months for delivery are over. Already. In fact you can even buy a used one on eBay for less than the original retail price – something that doesn’t usually happen to Apple products.
It’s possible to walk into an Apple Store and buy most models over the counter, so to speak – except that Apple stores don’t have counters. The Apple website lists availability, per model – so narrow down your list and head over to your local store, if you live close enough for this to make sense.
In stores, Apple is pushing out the boat, offering buyers the chance to test out a variety of models, and even a no appointment set-up session with an expert.
We turned this down, since we wanted to find out how difficult it is to skip all this and do it ourselves – then, later, check back to see what we’d missed. We cover that in the next part of this post.
First step: Buying
This wasn’t quite as easy as expected – despite hanging around in the Apple store looking intently at Watch models for 15 minutes, we still needed to approach a sales assistant.
As you would expect for a premium product, the sales assistant was keen to help but rather surprised that we didn’t want any of the support services.
They even offered that, if we got stuck, we could come back another time. We walked out of the store with a 42mm Sport model, which retails for $399 in the US, excluding tax, and around EUR 450 in Europe, including sales tax. It was a close run between the blue and black straps but in the end we went for the baby blue.
Second step: Unboxing
After ripping off the packaging in an excited frenzy, we fitted the watch to our tester’s wrist. It’s a snug fit. A bit of random button pressing and the usual Apple logo appeared – it was time to reach for an iPhone and find the Watch app, which we’d hidden away so far in a “junk” folder.
Third step: Syncing
This was a doddle. The Watch displayed a funky-looking QR code, we pointed the iPhone camera at it for a nano-second and got a “sync complete” message in double-quick time: Impressive.
Next was the downloading of apps to the Watch, we had an a-ha moment later when realizing that all apps that come with a Watch version are automatically synced to your watch. (Don’t worry, it’s easy to disable notifications or even uninstall unwanted Watch apps).
Syncing took quite a while and we decided to give the battery a quick blast while waiting.
Fourth step: Customizing
One thing is clear from the start, the Watch is hugely customizable. There are 10 default watch faces and each can be customized.
Of course we chose the classic Mickey Mouse, to get started … our default was a detailed info screen showing date, time, outside temperature and upcoming appointments.
You can also choose Moon phases, battery percentage, step and movement counts, stock tickers – plenty of selection. On many of the watch faces, the colors can also be tweaked.
Living with the Watch
It didn’t take long to get used to the basics. We started by turning off a bunch of unnecessary notifications, which is a key part of getting the balance right: Make sure you only carry over the notifications that are really helpful.
There are around 10 standard screens showing info varying from battery life, world clock, stocks and connectivity – and many more from the already thousands of apps. Apple’s Handoff function also works, but only for a host iPhone (as far as we can tell) and not an iPad or MacBook.
Once you realize that the Watch is best for consuming information, and not creating it, it can become a time-saver. First world problems we know, but not having to pull out your phone to read an email is a boon.
Ease of use quickly shines
We’re wondering about the legalities of glancing at your Watch while driving, to read the first lines of an email, a Tweet or a What’sApp message. Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road – and remember that once you’ve glanced at a message on your mobile device, it’s easy to overlook taking action once you’re back in work mode.
It’s also possible to make calls direct from your wrist – press the oblong button below the crown and choose from a jog dial of up to 12 frequently dialed-numbers.
As long as your phone is within Bluetooth range, it’s possible to have a conversation while talking to your wrist, although it looks pretty dorky. But then again, so did making calls on mobiles in the 90s, and those large Bluetooth headsets will NEVER be cool.
One thing to note is how closely the apps on your Watch and iPhone are paired – of course, since the Watch is a tethered device, getting all its data from your host iPhone.
One thing we hadn’t considered – even though it might be obvious – was that if you want the app on your Watch, then you also need it on your phone.
The iPhone Watch app
This is easy to use and more convenient than fiddling around on the Watch screen, although the Watch is made for swiping between screens.
Swiping down reveals notifications you may have missed – but only if you don’t then see them on your phone, in which case they’re deleted. Swiping up takes you to the main menu with one screen per app. Double tapping the watch face screen shows apps.
The crowning glory
There’s been loads of hype about the crown function, allowing you to zoom in and out, scroll, etc. Yes, it’s useful but we’re not yet convinced HOW useful.
Before getting a Watch, we’d thought it would be more a part of the core user interface – instead, that’s been predominantly through swiping. Some apps swipe in more than one direction, which takes a bit of getting used to.
Battery life: A daily charge, for sure – but so’s your mobile
The number one comment we’ve received from friends and acquaintances, on spying the hard-to-miss bright blue watch is: Has the battery gone flat? So far the battery has lasted a full day’s use, which is more impressive than the iPhone 6 it is paired with.
Step tracking and counting sheep
Overnight charging means we’re not going to get to test the sleep tracking, but there are better, less obtrusive sleep trackers, such as our favorite, Beddit. However, the Watch does excel in tracking your personal statistics, such as steps and movement.
The native Activity app tracks calorie burn (via movement), steps, and how long you’ve been standing up – and can be set up to provide cues to get up and move if you’ve been sedentary too long. Maybe it’s an oxymoron but we’d like to see integration of the Fitbit iPhone app on Apple Watch.
One area where Fitbit is really losing out is in integration with Apple’s Health app – of course the Watch syncs directly to this – and provides one of the most-accurate heart-rate monitors available in a consumer device today.
Unlike trackers like the Fitbit Charge HR, which continually monitors heart-rate, the Watch does so only on demand but logs this straight to Apple Health – while it looks like the step counter overwrites the native iPhone count.
So, how easy is it to get started with an Apple Watch?
A doddle, we’d say. Just like with any complex piece of tech, there’s bound to be a wealth of functionality that a newbie hasn’t discovered, or understood. We’re on that learning curve, but so far it’s not steep at all.
Look at me!
And finally – we were curious as to how people would react when they see we’re rocking an Apple Watch. There’s certainly not the same levels of curiosity that surrounded the original iPhone. Most people have certainly reacted when they’ve spied it – but less of the “oh wow” and more of the “hmmmh, you didn’t”… but maybe that’s just us.