My Week with an Apple Watch

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I’m not a watch person. I haven’t worn a wristwatch in many years, and it’s become less of a need with a phone in my pocket. I just don’t need this constant reminder of the time, and if I need to know the time there are many easy ways to find it. But of course, being an Apple Developer, the announcement of the Apple Watch intrigued me; in fact, I found myself unusually excited by the prospects of Apple Watch.

The announcement came and went I didn’t mind it too much; I had other pressing matters to tend to and would get to Apple Watch as soon as I could. However, a few weeks ago, Apple sent an email to Developers giving us a chance to test our apps on Apple Watch (because there are some things that you can’t do in the simulator). It was an opportunity to put your name into a random drawing for one Apple Watch Sport 42mm Silver Aluminum Case with Blue Sport Band. The kicker? It was guaranteed to ship by April 28, 2015. So I said what the heck and entered my name.

I won. 🙂

Well, all I won was the opportunity to buy that particular Apple Watch and have expedited shipping. Still, it’s what I do for a living so I placed my order and my Apple Watch arrived.

The fortuitous circumstance? I was about to travel to Dallas for a few days on business, so I figured that would give me a unique opportunity to try Apple Watch outside of my usual circumstances.

First Impressions

The first impression was how large and heavy the shipping box was. Apple has a thing for packaging, but this just seemed like a lot. But thinking about most any other Apple product box and it really wasn’t too far out of line. But it was striking.

This is the first time I saw Apple Watch in person. I was surprised at how large the 42mm was. It’s not too big, but I have small wrists so you can see in the picture it appears a bit large on me. I did swap the band for the shorter one, which was easy to do. I am going to look at buying a black Sport band because while I like blue, this blue isn’t my style. The band is surprisingly comfortable. I do wonder how well the band will hold up long term, in terms of stretching, wear, sweat, the “clasp” maintaining integrity, etc..

It didn’t take me long to figure out how to operate Apple Watch, and to get my iPhone 6 Plus paired with it and everything set up and functioning to my liking. It was pretty easy to do, and somewhat fun. I did play with the watch faces, and what I liked the most was the ability to customize what I wanted on the display to what’s relevant for me. I’m not that upset about the lack of 3rd party watch faces; I can understand Apple wanting to control the initial user experience and like they have done in the past I’m sure in time this will open up.

It Just Worked

The first cool thing I experienced was the next morning I had the watch on when 6:00 AM rolled around – that’s the time my app, PanemQuotidianum, posts a notification with the daily quote. I had been thinking Panem was a good app for me to add Apple Watch support to, but to my welcome surprise the notification popped up right on my phone! I didn’t have to do anything special, it just worked.

Awesome.

Yes, I do actually plan on adding explicit Apple Watch support (probably a “glance”). But simply that by being a good iOS citizen and taking advantage of iOS technologies, things just work. That’s great.

I Can Feel It

One big part of Apple Watch is the haptic feedback, or as they call it, Taptic Engine.

This is big.

How many times have you missed a call? or missed a notification? Oh sure your phone was in your pocket and buzzed, but you didn’t feel it.

You feel Apple Watch.

Yes, the first time or two made me jump a bit because I didn’t know what to expect. But it’s just from the novel surprise. It’s not obtrusive, it’s not painful, but it is just enough to help you notice. I never missed a notification, a phone call, whatever came through I sure knew it was there. And that… is both a blessing and a curse. Now you will notice everything, even the things you didn’t want to notice. People are going to have to increase their self-discipline so that even if your wrist vibrates you don’t make a habit of looking at it and responding to it – the person you are face-to-face talking with won’t appreciate it. But this isn’t an indictment of the technology, it’s a need for people to foster better discipline and habits.

While I was in Dallas, I needed to use navigation to help me walk around (I was in a part of town new to me). So to help me navigate from hotel to restaurants or whatever else was needed, I used the maps and navigation support. The way it works today is you have your phone and either figure it out and memorize the route so you don’t have to pull out your phone, or you have to keep your phone in hand and constantly refer to it as you go along. I prefer the former but it’s not always feasible, and the latter isn’t the smartest and safest way to get around. But now the phone stays in my pocket and the Apple Watch tells me what I need. As I approached the end of the block and needed to turn, a simple bit of tapping on my wrist let me know what to do. Admittedly it still used Apple Maps so a couple times I found myself being told “You have arrived at your destination” when it was still a block or two away. Not sure exactly where to lay blame for that (just bad data? not enough accuracy in the gps? I don’t know).

Another useful part here was at the gym. Between sets I would use the Apple Watch timer to time my rest periods. I found this easier to do than work with the rest timer in my workout app (RepCount). It’s nothing with RepCount itself, just it was far more convenient for me to lift my wrist, tap tap, and then wait for my wrist to buzz. Again, the haptic feedback was quite nice because I didn’t have to look.

And not looking is big in my book.

Look, Ma! No looking!

As much as I love my iPhone, I still have one problem with it: there’s no tactile feedback.

When it was first announced so many years ago, the flat/glass screen was my biggest complaint. We call it “touch typing”, and it succeeds in part because there is feedback from touch. But with this flat glass screen, there’s no feedback, there’s no indication by touch as to what you are doing. And despite all the advances of the past few years, this remains a problem across the entire smartphone and tablet landscape.

We can do many things without our eyes because we have our hands, our sense of touch to provide us with the necessary feedback. The “hands free” radio controls on a car’s steering wheel often have particular shapes, bumps, dents, and other textures to provide a way to know what you’re doing without having to take your eyes off the road.

That’s part of why using devices while driving is such a dangerous prospect, because they force us to take our eyes off the road and focus instead on the device.

This is where I think Apple Watch and other wearables could have an advantage.

While packing for my Dallas trip I saw the weather reports of lots of rain, especially on my drive home (thunderstorms). I figured I might be stuck on I-35 at some point, so my usual thing to do is call my wife to keep her abreast of my situation. I already use Siri as much as possible to do things hands-free (to make calls, to send text messages), and that’s a great boon. But the Apple Watch can be even more.

I can use my hand to feel for the watch. I can use my fingers to feel for the Digital Crown (press and hold for 1-2 seconds to invoke Siri). When Siri starts there are 2 taps to let you know. There’s a microphone and speaker in Apple Watch from which I can tell Siri to call my wife, then I can keep the call going through Apple Watch itself without ever having to get out my phone and fumble with it.

And never have to take my eyes off the road.

I like that.

But it’s a 1.0

But it’s not all roses.

I found with all this hands-free, there was still too much need for interaction. I really wanted the whole text message thing to be a bit more automated. IMHO there’s still too much I have to do manually and too much interaction. I mean, just send the text already! There should be less taps involved, and frankly more ability to do it 100% by voice control.

Some interactions are a little rough, but I think this is all new. We have to try things, see what works, refine when it doesn’t. That’s ok, that’s the iterative process. It takes time.

I might want more control over notifications and other “noises”. Like I thought it might be cool to have Do Not Disturb be more integrated with geofencing. So say when I’m in the office it’s quiet but at home it could make noise. That maybe there’s integration with Calendar so when I’m in a meeting it’s DND and when I’m not it’s whatever is the right setting for where I am. I found that I wanted noises sometimes but there are times I just need it to be quiet. It’s easy to deal with muting your phone, but not as easy to mute the Watch.

I debate about the batter indicator. First, I had no problems with battery life. Put it on the charger before I go to bed, take it off and wear it all day, never had a problem and still had lots of battery by the end of the day. I wanted the indicator on the face because battery is something we all obsess over, but then I also didn’t want it because I didn’t want to obsess over it. I wonder if there’s some way to not have the indicator on screen but still get notification when battery life gets below a certain threshold (even one that I could configure).

Verdict

Like I said, I’m not a watch person. But I suspect I may become an Apple Watch person.

If all you use it for is telling time? It’s overkill and nothing you need. You can find much better timepieces for a lot less money and a lot less hassle.

But for me, it’s far more than just telling time. Yes, not having to pull my phone out of my pocket is a big deal. It’s less obtrusive, and more direct. It’s handy to just look down, maybe tap or flick something, and be done with it. It moves and operates fairly naturally.

Oh and the fact you can talk into your wrist and look like David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider (remember, that’s how he communicated with KITT), hey… how cool is that? 🙂

I will keep wearing my Apple Watch; this is an intriguing experiment. As a Developer I think it’s a duty for me to continue to explore the platform, because it’s the only way to really come to understand the nuances which then lead me to develop better products. But even as much work as it may be, I have to admit… I kinda like it.

Time will tell.

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