boy oh boy! it's the apple watch!
The future is here!!! That's how I want to start this because, despite constant use of my laptop, tablet and smartphone, never has a piece of technology ever given me this feeling of excitement, awesomeness and outright, "Holy shit, this is so sci-fi!" One of the coolest experiences I've had recently was riding my bike down the street as I usually do, receiving a text and replying to it using Siri and talking into my wrist. Watch out Star Wars! (Puns!)
I can't emphasize how awesome this thing is, especially in the first few days! Yeah, there's a lot of cool gadgets out there (Google Glass, I'm looking at you!). And there's a lot of even cooler ideas that are starting to be seriously developed commercially (3d hologram projections - coming to you real soon!). But the Apple Watch is all that awesome stuff of our imagination... here, now and on your wrist. It's undoubtedly going to be a game changer for the wearables industry. But it also lives up to being a first-generation new Apple product.
Let's get one thing straight: this thing is beautiful. It's clear Apple design, through and through: minimalist but friendly, sleek and sexy, it pops out while at the same time retaining a sublime subtlety. Almost every bit of the design is so smart and well thought out such that using the watch is an intuitive experience, rather than one of manuals and guides. I'm a bit skeptical when it comes to the crown - in my time with the watch, I haven't used it once because all its functionality (minus button push) is replicated with onscreen touches. Basically, regardless of whether the rumours of Steve Jobs setting Jony Ive up to do what he wanted in Apple are true or not, it's clear that Jony didn't just dip his fingers in the Apple Watch pool; he plunged straight in and splashed around like a rambunctious ten year old would bully his little sister in the pool. And speaking of Steve Jobs, the Apple Watch had a lot riding on it, being the first new product from the company since the tech icon shuffled off his mortal coil, in terms of whether Apple still 'had it' when it came to releasing new major innovative products. And on that score, the Apple Watch doesn't disappoint.
Got it on release day (birthday presents, woo!) and I've been wearing it daily for the past two weeks - enough time for me to get a really solid idea of what it's about, what it offers, upsides, downsides and everything in between. (Should I, before we go on, make a disclaimer about the fact that I'm a bit of a Machead? Yeah, I'm plugged into the Apple ecosystem: Macbook, iPad, iPhone, iPod Shuffle. Got nothing against Windows; I just happen to prefer Apple products in that respect.)
First off, I should mention that I am not someone who wears jewelry because I don't enjoy the feeling of that stuff on me - I don't wear rings, I don't wear watches, I don't wear necklaces, bracelets or other adornments - so I was a little hesitant at first about wearing a watch. Having said that, it was really easy to wear the Apple Watch. It's not at all heavy (I have the 38mm model) or cumbersome and I was used to it on my wrist within a day or two. If you're the type of person that is used to wearing this stuff, you won't even think twice about it (but you totally will because it's so awesome to check!). The sport band is comfortable; it doesn't cause weird rubbing sensations; it's great. The screen itself is also fantastic: colours pop, text is crisp.... the standard quality you expect from Apple, but it's somehow more impressive seeing how much they've managed to cram into this tiny thing.
Pairing the watch with your phone is pretty awesome too. There's this weird rotating globe that's really a code and damn if I didn't feel like James Bond getting excited over cool gadgets when I saw it pair. To say I had a massive grin while it happened would be like saying that Pompeii's getting covered with volcanic ash was a slightly dusty day. Then comes the setup and customization - arguably a geek's favourite part. I got down and dirty with it. Report: it's also great! Easy to do, but lots of options and you can really make it your own. Much fun was had!
And now we get to the meat and potatoes part of the Apple Watch experience: using it on a daily basis. If you're interested in features or how the watch works, I'd highly recommend other reviews that talk about that kind of stuff. In fact, I'm assuming you've already read some of those and are familiar with the features as I talk about them, because I'm more interested in sharing what it's like having and using it. And I can sum up that experience in three words: Awesome! but unfocused.
What is the Apple Watch? At the moment, it's a remote screen for my iPhone... or its kind of like a tiny iPhone. It's absolutely fantastic in that capacity, but it feels a little... thin. For example, it has notifications for everything: mail, twitter, Instagram, text messages, this, that, the other! And it's great having that, but if you want to check some stuff, you have to pull out your phone and do it there. Mail, for example, only gives you a short preview of the message. If you want to read it all, you have to press the crown, go to the mail app, open it, and then read it there on the screen. Great, but I can already do that more comfortably and effectively on my phone. And I can reply from there, whereas I can't from the Apple Watch. Seems odd. Or take Strava: I cycle a lot and keep track of it with Strava. In theory, starting Strava on my watch is really awesome. Buuuut, I have to be logged in the app on my phone to do that. So if I'm not, I have to take out my phone, password in, open Strava, put the phone away, go back to the watch, back to the Strava glimpse, and then start it. Hmmmmm. Or take Huffington Post: I open the app, select an article, read the first few sentences, and then I see, "Continue reading on your iPhone". Well, why didn't I do that on my phone in the first place?
There's another minor thing: for a watch, it makes me do an awful amount of waiting. Loading apps, loading data, pictures, and especially loading location data takes a long time. 3 seconds here, 5 seconds there. The occasional load, nobody minds. But when it happens constantly, you really notice how it adds up and, more importantly, makes what is an incredibly cool user interface, feel.... slow. Now this is a hardware issue and when, say, the Apple Watch 5 is here, that will be a thing of the past, what with technology developing at the pace it does. But it's definitely something that detracts from the current experience.
One of my biggest worries was that getting the watch would make me a worse companion. I am ferociously aware of how rude it is to check your phone when spending time with someone and talking to them. Working in a bar, I see it so often: friends, dates, business dinners, etc., more wrapped up in the screen in front of them than the person beyond it. So I was worried that, as a notification device, it would take me out of the moment too frequently. And it does. But only if you let it.
See, I'm not someone that gets a hundred e-mails a day, amidst tweets, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. There's notifications for everything and, at first, it's a bit maddening. With some work and decisive pruning, I turned off the sound for most notifications so as not to be distracted. And I only left notifications on for text, e-mail, and Facebook (which I also eventually turned off - too many posts!). It's way better - although, I'm still a bit put off by it because when I get a notification from the Taptic Engine thing, I'm aware that I'm ignoring it. (By the way, the Taptic Engine is SO AWESOME. It really feels like someone is tapping you gently on the wrist but at the same time... not. It's a weird feeling to explain but it's very natural and not at all what I thought it would feel like - which was like a phone vibration. Kudos to Apple for it.) Because I don't want to look at my watch and make the person I'm with feel like I'm not paying attention to them (the act of checking your watch implies you want the meeting to wrap up, psychologically). So now I'm aware that I'm ignoring someone that's trying to reach me. It's weird.
Of course, you might say, well, isn't your phone the same? My personal answer is no. I get text notifications, but I've set everything else to silent on my phone so I just see that stuff on my screen when I check it. But my phone has a reason to be in my pocket other than just notifications. The Apple Watch.... kind of doesn't. Checking text messages and e-mails by glancing at the watch saved time and was convenient, but then I had to choose where to take action: reply to texts on my watch (using customizable 'quick phrases' or with Siri) or on my phone? I eventually found a balance between the devices but it felt like I wasn't doing the Apple Watch justice. Yeah, the health app slash activity tracker is awesome and, yeah, it tells the time, but what is the reason to have it? That's why, to me, it seems unfocused. Of course, that could merely be my opinion. It may be that for you, this is not something that's bothersome. So it really is a matter of personal preference here because I know that there will be people out there that will obsess over it and love it unquestioningly.
I wanted to make a special note that I'm very impressed with battery life. I'm at best a medium user, but generally, probably on the light-to-medium side and my battery lasted 7-10 hours with at least 10-30% to spare at the end of the day. This included days with lots of checking the watch, with heavy activity and exercise for it to keep track of, and so on. Basically, days where I was making a conscious effort to use it and put it through its paces. However, it is another thing that you've got to plug in nightly. I don't know whether that bothers you. I'm okay with it, however, so I don't see this as a downside. (The magnetic charger is pretty nifty as well!)
Now I don't want to make it seem like I'm against the Apple Watch. Because I'm not. I love it. In fact, I think it may be one of the most revolutionary devices when it comes to the wearables industry. It has the potential to really change the way we interact with technology on an hourly, highly personalized basis. More potential than anything else that's out there or on the immediate horizon. And it's from a company that's got the smarts to do it. I've tried a few smartwatches and they all pale in comparison to the Apple Watch in all categories. So it's without a doubt the best smartwatch in the world. Look, Apple's strength, as a company, is in taking products that exist in a primitive or tentative fashion and putting its design and marketing muscle behind them in order to create a product whose end-user experience is ultimately what makes it a success. It did it with the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and the Macbook Air. These were all markets that existed before Apple came in with their version; but their version just did everything better for the user and thus took that, often, niche market and exploded it into a commercially successful venture. The Apple Watch... I don't think it's any different and foresee it having the same impact. Of course, only time will tell (More puns!).
Either way, Apple is sure to move millions of units because as a product, this thing is.... superbly excellent. No other way to put it, really. Every millimetre of the Apple Watch oozes attention to detail: from the responsiveness of the screen to the way numbers come up individually as part of a whole numpad to enter your password after having removed the device from your wrist. It is an absolute pleasure to play with and, two weeks down the line, I still feel excited whenever I use it. I'm in a tizzy to see everything that developers will do with it and how it will become another awesome component of the ecosystem that Apple has carefully constructed over the years. And everytime I use it, I'm so eager for the Apple Watch 3 because of all the potential I see in it to mature as a product and become more fully featured. I can't wait for the Apple Watch to be improved in everything it already excels in and then some. But I also can't wait for it to become much more focused and have a clear purpose. Because, while I really, really, really want it (yes, three reallys), I'm not convinced why I actually need it. Well, at least, not yet.
P.S. I tried really hard to watch it with the clock puns because they really tick me off. To my alarm, a few snuck in at the last minute. You've got to hand it to me, though: I've pointed them out so that no-one gets wound up over them.
P.P.S. What did one clock say to the other? "Hour you?"