Apple Watch IRL: 9 Weeks On My Wrist

IRL = In Real Life; A occasional series (inspired by Engadget.com) on the reality of using gear or running a project or anything film related after the initial excitement has worn off.

I received the beautiful 42mm Apple Watch Stainless Steel edition on April 24th 2015. I have now been using it and wearing it daily since, and now with just over two months in I feel compelled to write some real thoughts about using it. (I have since updated this post a month after THIS for even more info, at the end.)

You can read great overviews and reviews at places like imore.com. I will spare you all of the technical jargon and get to brass tax - what it’s really like in the life of a busy creative who works 12-18 hours a day.

Design

Apple Watch is beautiful. I enjoy the design a lot. It still looks like a tech watch, don't get me wrong, but it’s a classy one in the shape and form of the classic iPhone. OLED retina screen is absolutely beautiful and so incredibly sharp it looks like brightly colored glowing paper. If paper glowed.

Apple Watch is powerful. This thing is loaded with sensors for your heart rate that are extremely accurate and compare to dedicated chest straps. It's it pretty decently accurate exercise and movement tracking device as well, with accelerometers and so forth built. It has essentially the same exact processor, storage/RAM, and GPU hardware as the iPhone 4, which is stunning for a relatively small watch. It has very strong Bluetooth and you can use wireless Wi-Fi hotspots to communicate with both your watch and to get messages and other various bits of information. 

And the digital crown and force touch features work extremely well. Overall can't fault the hardware.

Body wise, the sapphire glass on the stainless model seems perfect despite having been bumped up against metal, etc. a lot in my travels.The stainless steel case itself however scratches easily with a bunch of micro scratches that show up under light. Now, it’s easy enough to buff to a near perfect shine again with some mag wheel polish, and I have done so twice already. But at this point though I think I will just accept the “patina” of shiny stainless steel watch wear, and shine it when it gets real bad. If you want a perfect surface, get the aluminum watch. 

Speaking of aluminum, my wife has the 38mm and she’s got her hands busy with our little boy, household chores, etc. so it's well used. Even after all of that, it looks brand new two weeks later. It holds up extremely well, yet is light and frankly, still looks real nice. It’s also a reasonable price ($400 vs $700 for 42mm) The downside to the aluminum? The screen can have minute scratches over time as it’s the same glass as the iPhone. The best of the lot for imperviousness to scratches AND long lasting looks is the “space black” stainless steel model. 

I would buy the aluminum space grey model in the future. It looks just as sharp fashion wise, and my iPhone screen has held up just fine. All the watches have the exact same electronics too.  The stainless steel, while looking nice, is way overpriced for what it is. I bought two watches initially and sold one for almost a 100% markup, otherwise I would have not purchased the stainless steel model.

PS: I recently added an Apple Milanese Loop Stainless Steel band to the pile. It's wonderful. Looks great (elegant), easy to size/re-size, matches the watch very well, and won't wear down like leather. Oh, and it breathes. Love it.

Battery

It’s great. With average use including looking at the thing every time it buzzes, a workout a day, and so on I usually have anywhere from 15-40% battery remaining at the end of the day. And that’s running it from 4am to 9pm. A very long day.

Why own an Apple Watch?

I guess the biggest question comes along is why would you want a watch like this? What exactly is the purpose of this thing? Is it a timekeeping device? Is it a notification every broadcaster? Is it a miniature iPhone on your wrist? These are all important questions to consider.

It tells the time.

First and foremost, the watch is a timekeeping device. It is a reconfigurable, easy to change the look and feel of (through watch faces, and bands) device. The most frequent thing I find myself doing with the watch is looking at the face and checking out the time, what my next appointment is, what the weather is, and what my movements status is. These are critical pieces of information that I used to pull out my phone to look at that I no longer have to do. I have them all the time. Even when the phone is nowhere near me.

A level deeper are the glances what your also on the front watch face Which is really the primary screen for the phone. With the swipe up I find a load fairly quickly on the latest watch OS 1.01. I can check the weather, and see what's going to happen a few hours. I can see how much data is left on my wireless plan for the month. I can change my music, even if my phone is nowhere near me but attached to a speaker somewhere. I can see when my package is a scheduled to arrive. I can check my heart rate. I can check my home camera. All of these things load relatively quickly (not speedy but not so slow you want to pull out the phone), and are incredibly useful to have within a few swipes.

It keeps you in the loop without taking over your attention completely.

The next level of usefulness, and primary I believe after the initial watch face, are notifications. You can see and respond to text messages. You can see and respond to any actionable notification from your phone actually, (like a tweet), and it comes up instantly on your wrist. You don’t get sucked into a time whirlpool of then looking at Twitter, CNN, or your friends. If you're using the phone, they don't show up on your wrist and vice versa. It's very elegant and a very easy way for me to keep in touch for with the various and sundry things going on in my day without having to constantly pull up my phone to see what buzzed. It’s huge, really.

You don’t need your phone immediately nearby.

My phone is not always physically available. With the watch, I can keep my iPhone (a huge 6+ model) plugged in at my desk at work, or anywhere in my home, and not have to keep in nearby. I know I won't miss any critical messages, or phone calls, even if both of my hands are full or mostly full (such as when shopping or cleaning). I find the Bluetooth range is very good covering most of the floor of my office at work, and at home it piggybacks on Wi-Fi and covers everywhere in and around my home. In the winter, or for women that have purses while wearing clothes/dresses with no pockets, this can be extra useful because you don't have to pull your phone out and you won't miss anything. 

I find when the phone is not physically nearby that's when I use the applications on the watch. I'm a talk little bit more about that, otherwise I don’t, not yet anyway.

It can save your life, or at least help you act healthier.

Finally, the watch is an extremely good fitbit/activity & exercise tracker. All its information automatically synchronizes to the phone in a great application called Activities, it gives you great colored feedback as to how you're moving in all kinds of progress updates, and it also feeds the Apple Health database on your phone. This information is shared with other applications such as myfitnesspal, and lark, and has helped me tremendously in my goal to lose weight – 27 pounds as of 6/26/15 and counting so far. It's say the Apple Watch is as good as any fitness tracker for anybody but the most competitive and athletic, who may want more purpose-built devices such as those from Garmin.

It’s all about short quick bursts of information.

So we have established that the Watch is primarily good at telling time, tracking your movement & heart health, notifying you of things that happen in your electronic life such as your email, and so forth, and it's very good at keeping you in touch with text messages in any notification you get on your phone. It is essentially a great remote screen for your phone, and a great place to collect little bits of information on the watch face through what Apple calls complications.

The watch is great at 1-3 second interactions to gather or share quick bits of information. If you get a phone call, you can tell the person in your own voice that you'll call them back. If you want to check the weather it takes one second. If you want to check your calorie count for the day, you can look at your watch (when third-party complications are added in version 2.0 software available for all Apple watches this fall for free), and so on. 

The problem with V1.0 software: speed!
(Or the lack of it)

Of the most useful functions of the watch come from native Apple applications that run directly on the watch. Things like calendar, contacts, Siri (which is surprisingly very accurate on the watch and primary means for communicating with it), Messages, Photos, music, and so on or all native applications on the watch and they run and load quickly. The only waiting encountered is for data to move through the phone to the watch because the watch does not have its own Cellular radio.

Everything else, has to run on the phone and then transfer all of its information through that relatively slow link to the watch. This means that even though there are some great third-party applications out there, inevitably when you click the button to launch them you have to wait. And wait. And wait. Sometimes the wait is only 3-5 seconds, but most of the time it's more like 10-15 seconds and sometimes it never loads all. The result is that I don't actually utilize many third-party apps, except for the glances which tend to load relatively quickly the apps themselves. The only time I use third party apps is when my phone is not nearby. For example, I can run my Philips Hue lights through my watch and call up 10 of my most favorite scenes. This is great when my phone is not nearby, but far slower than just grabbing the phone otherwise. Must run my Nest thermostat in the same way, also look at my covert and overt CCTV cameras. But all of these are too slow if your watch is in your pocket or right next to you. And many of these apps present long articles which make no sense to read on your wrist. Between the delays, and way too much information being communicated on such a small screen, you basically start asking yourself, why do I want this?

The watch’s entire interface model is built upon speed. Quick glances of information, seconds of interaction. If you have to wait for too long there is zero advantage to the watch. Now, there’re some very good applications out there but they are currently too slow to use unless your phone is not nearby. 

The good news is this is all about to change. This fall, Apple will release watchOS 2.0. It will be free to all current Apple watch owners. Along with fixing a bunch of things that the watch needed fixed, like being able to add your own photos to the watch face, being able to see third-party complications (which is a major advance), and being able to reply to your email (right now you can only reply to messages and notifications for some odd reason), native applications will be allowed. What this means is that the code that's currently resides on the iPhone and transfers over to the watch will finally be allowed to run natively on the watch and talk to the Internet or other apps by themselves.

And it's very easy for developers to move to the new model without having to re-author all their code. The results will be thusly if authors change their code in the fall, what takes 10 seconds to load up my Phillips lights on the watch now take 1-3. When I have to wait 2 to 3 seconds for a glance to load off of my watch face, it will load instantly. Will also be able to use all the hardware on the phone, so for example, you will not be tied into using Apple's workout app to gain real-time heart rate information and to feed your stats to apple health. Someone would be able to use the digital crown on the speaker to play anything, whereas right now that is not possible. Native applications will far increase the utility of the watch when they come out, but we are not there yet. They are on the way but they're not here yet and as a result the watch feels like a very much a version 1.0 device as far as software goes. Is my feeling that watchOS 2.0 should have been the first release for the watch.

The problem with V1.0 hardware: your phone!

Notice that even when the Watch OS picks up native 3rd party applications (I can't wait...), the watch is almost always reliant on your phone for an internet connection. If you enter a wifi area you have previously used with your phone, the Watch will know about it though, and use it for mail and messages, voice mail and a few other things even if your phone is off. And WatchOS 2.0 will expand that network stack to 3rd party apps, which (if written correctly) will be able to talk independently to the Internet via wifi too.

However right now, watch independence from the iPhone is quite limited to the aforementioned messages, emails, and activity tracking with watch-stored music. That's it. While WatchOS 2 will improve this, to really get along on its own the Watch will need its own built in cell radio. This is only a matter of time, though I think it'll be a couple of years.

Summary: It helps you pay more attention to your real life without missing your digital one.

Perhaps the best way to think of Apple Watch is the first V1.0 iPhone, for which it shares its design ironically. The original iPhone was very good at phone calls, maps, mail, surfing the web. It was good at a few very core functions that it had native applications for. The rest was delivered through so-called web-based applications that showed promise per or otherwise too slow to load to be useful.

Version 2.0 of the iPhone operating system came out, native applications were allowed, and everything changed. Over time as hardware became more capable, apps could do more and more things, and now over 100 Billion applications have been downloaded as of today. iOS 2.0 changed the entire world and how it operates and communicates, moving our primary computing power to our hands versus boxes on the desk. It was brilliant.

I do not see the Apple Watch going in the same direction. It is not meant for that. It is not designed to be, should not become, and was never intended to be an iPhone on your wrist. It is a wearable, secondary computer designed to give you the most important information to you at a moment’s notice without having to pull out a machine from your pocket to do that. It's your constant companion and link to the digital world while allowing you to keep your eyes on the real world and in more immersed in it.

It guides you, notifies you, and helps to be healthy and more productive. And it does all of this, while staying out of the way so you can enjoy real life more. However, it is not at this point in time a necessary gadget to have to help you run your life. It's just that you will certainly enjoy having it if you can afford to do so. 

This is just step/version one. I believe in time, Apple will add more functionality to the Watch (as evidenced by OS 2.0), more sensors to better track your health, and the ability to not have to be tethered at all to the phone. In the end, though, the watch will always remain a companion to you and your phone. It should be. That's what it's meant for. 

It is, after all, a watch.


UPDATE: 7/13/15:

Now a full three months in, am I still using the watch? Yes, every day. But I will say this, honestly: for the price Apple is charging only the most die hard Apple fan should get this thing. $350 is simply too much to charge for what is essentially an iPhone accessory.

Now don't get me wrong - I love it. But I have found that 90% of the time I use it as a notification engine, iMessage companion, a calendar, and as a time piece. It's a fancy, brilliantly designed, super expensive Pebble/fitbit. That needs charging every night. I am not sure it's worth $400 never mind $700 to most people at that price vs utility.

I do hope that native apps change the game this fall, as the current apps (aside from Apple's) load just too damn slow, if at all, to be of any real use. I only bear to use them if my iPhone is nowhere nearby.

 

Thoughts? Share them below!