Living with an Apple Watch: Our impressions
Apple’s Watch is the highest-profile – and highest priced – piece of consumer wearable technology to arrive on the market so far. But how easy is it to live with? To better understand its impact on the market, we spent a couple of weeks getting to know the Watch.
Our strongest impressions so far are generally positive: The Watch can be incredibly useful. It can also be an incredible pest. Learning to live with the Apple Watch is partly about working out when you don’t need it for anything more than telling the time, and in making sure you don’t use all those notifications just for the sake of it.
When you’re busy, preventative action is required – otherwise the Watch is super annoying. For example, if you’re on a call – especially on any other line than your cellphone (which is of course linked to the Watch) – then prepare for a regular flow of buzzes and chimes as Watch tries to get your attention.
We discovered two ways of fixing this. The first is to put the Watch into “do not disturb” mode, except that this also puts your iPhone into the same mode, which is far from perfect if a cell is your primary business phone. A second, short-term fix is to power off the Watch. We’d like to see Apple introduce a Watch-only DND function, to solve this issue.
Choose your notifications carefully
Watch users should also be strict in choosing exactly which notifications they carry over from phone to wrist. Most native apps are a sensible choice, but be diligent in weeding out alerts from third-party apps such as Evernote, Amazon, your preferred airline, Shazam and TripAdvisor.
We’re not saying that these and other third-party apps aren’t incredibly useful, but it’s more important to keep the number of Watch notifications to a minimum. Otherwise you’ll just end up ignoring them all, which defeats the object.
Small nuggets of packaged information
When you do need it, the Apple Watch is great in the timely packaging and presentation of small nuggets of information on your wrist, and for providing convenience in situations where you’ve got your hands full, or are in a hurry, for example in moving a Passbook ticket to your Watch, or providing an at-a-glance reminder of your next meeting, or latest incoming email.
Although much has been made of the digital crown, we’ve found ourselves swiping and tapping more. It’s even possible to take a screenshot – try doing that on your Rolex.
Using the Watch to filter incoming information is especially useful when you’re doing something else, but not so when you’re fiddling with your iPhone. It’s less of a disruption to simply glance at your wrist than to dig into your pockets – or handbag – to find, pull out and unlock a smartphone. Although this may sound silly to a hillbilly, the additional convenience is less of a hassle and enables a Watch user to get on with what they’re doing.
Critics may sneer that it’s hardly any gain to move your email from your phone “all the way” to your wrist, but we disagree – this is useful if you’re doing something else but still want to keep an eye on incoming messages. Our current iPhone mail app of choice is Microsoft Outlook, which has just been updated to include a Watch app.
In idle moments, a quick glance at Watch shows not only the time but also up to five more info snippets in “modular” mode, which is great for a busy business day. The additional info we’ve found most useful so far are next appointment, the day and date, the local outside temperature, progress on steps and movement so far today, and a battery life indicator.
Oh yes, battery life: It’s certainly not spectacular, but then – as we remarked previously – neither is your mobile phone’s battery. On office days, our Watch could get through two days when worn from waking to sleeping, but we noticed that additional movement quickly takes its toll, so plan for a daily charge. If you’re interested in tracking how much you’re moving and shaking, then the native Moves app is good and of course works seamlessly with Apple’s health app – which is something that Fitbit still can’t do.
Unlike most smart wristbands, Apple does not even include a native sleep tracker app with the Watch, and so far we haven’t bothered with the third-party apps that have secured Apple’s approval- because wearing the Watch overnight is going to mean the battery’s flat by 11am the next day.
Talk to your wrist
Getting the maximum benefit from the Watch means you’re going to have to come to terms with talking to your wrist – Star Trek style. Siri is perhaps more at home on a watch than an iPhone. Some apps, such as Skype, allow you to dictate a short response to a message – using voice-to-text technology. Popular IM app What’sApp is read-only so far.
You can also make calls from the Watch, although we’ve found that this is a cause of nearly instant arm-ache, as well as feeling and looking foolish. But hey, remember those days when we all thought people walking around talking into Bluetooth headsets looked weird?
The first Apple Watch accessories have started to show up – mostly focused on replacement straps and chargers. Except for the bizarre “Bumper”, which adds a new level of chunkiness to what’s already a fairly sizable device. The brainchild of Italian designer Ivo Guiliani, Actionproof managed to pull in crowdfunding of more than $16,000 and is intended to “give superpowers to your Watch” by encasing it in a rubber bumper.
Meanwhile, despite its possible ulterior motives, the Cue app is surprisingly cute, and much more usable on the Watch than the iPhone version. It’s very simple – just providing a gentle nudge to stretch, get up and move, or even drink some water – and it’s very effective, too, helping to complement the native Apple Moves app. Thanks to this, Cue has become one of our favorite Watch apps.
There are many little touches that show Apple focused on attention to detail when developing the Watch. For example, access to the digital crown for southpaws is much more comfortable since the Watch settings allow the display to be rotated through 180 degrees.
In fact it’s an Apple hallmark to have thought about the little touches, across their product range. One annoyance is that the Watch cannot be turned off while charging, and, just like the iPhone, will power itself on when connected to a power supply, if it is switched off. Since my phone is usually off at night, at least the Watch manages a silent night although it would be nice to at least have the choice of powering it off when not in use.
Ultimately, it’s the simplicity that shines through in making the Apple Watch a smart companion to your digital lifestyle. You’ll probably find yourself checking your phone less often, too.