At the time of writing this chapter 2 portion of my ongoing Apple Watch review, Apple’s wonder wrist gadget has been on the market for only 10 days, and at the time of publishing this article I’ve worn the watch for almost a month. I’ve had the pleasure of wearing and using the Apple Watch in a surprising number of circumstances in that short time, including traveling, exercising, hiking, urban walking, dining, schmoozing, and wine tasting. That’s given me a lot of time to experience the Apple Watch, but to also chat with a lot of people about it and consider some of the more difficult-to-answer questions, such as “does the Apple Watch threaten to replace my traditional watch?” In this second part of my review, I’ll cover a lot of these topics, and I think this review in particular is the most important for people who are traditional timepiece aficionados.
Even though the Apple Watch is still on back order for many people, that doesn’t mean a lot of people don’t already have one. In my long experience as a watch reviewer, I’ve never talked about anything with such a wide audience. The reality of luxury watches is that they are not only priced for the few, but only a limited amount of people have a serious interest in them (even if they can casually appreciate them). That is all entirely different with the Apple Watch because it is the type of product which is very much on the mainstream mind.
Earlier today, I was in the TSA security line at LAX, and as I took off the Apple Watch to put it through the scanner, the agent smiled and said “hey, is that the Apple Watch?” I confirmed his suspicion, and he proceeded to explain his jealously that I had mine because his would not be arriving until June. The guy seemed genuinely excited, and never before have I been able to connect with someone so totally different than me about something I was wearing on my wrist.
Later, while waiting to board my flight, I noticed more people wearing the Apple Watch. The variety of versions was impressive, as both men and women of various ages and backgrounds wore Apple Watch Sports and Apple Watches in steel. While the Apple Watch is still a rare commodity, I am living in this perfect moment of it being new enough and exciting enough that it is cause for conversation. It feels like an exciting time to live.
A few nights ago, I was at dinner with about 20 family members – each of whom are intimately aware that “Ariel does something with watches,” and for convenience tend to refer to me as “the watch guy.” I’ve attended family dinners over the years with any number of exotic or expensive luxury watches that mostly go unnoticed. Sometimes, a stray cousin or two interested in making conversation asks about what is on my wrist to see my horological explanation performance, but on this night, almost everyone wanted to know all about the Apple Watch. “Can I make calls with it? Do I need my phone? What does it do? Can it make me breakfast?” In fact, the vast number of questions people have is directly related to the sheer potential of the smartwatch – a notion that I have been trying to advance for a year or two now. Looking at it from Apple’s perspective, I can totally understand why their marketing on various elements of the Apple Watch’s functions is rather vague. This is, in fact, a complicated product to wrap your mind around.
In order to better understand what other people do with their Apple Watches, I simply ask them. From neighbors to strangers on the street, I’ve been anything but shy in asking people, “how do you like your Apple Watch?” People tend to like the attention, and I’ve heard a lot of interesting opinions out there. I’ve seen comments online where people claim to have returned their Apple Watches for various reasons such as “when I realized it needed to be around my iPhone all the time, I didn’t want it anymore,” or “Apple doesn’t tell you that you can’t type on it, so I returned it.” However, in real life, I’ve never heard people express these sentiments, and I am pretty doubtful that many people are truly vexed by these issues.
What do people say about their Apple Watches? I’ve heard “the battery life isn’t really that bad… I look at my phone less… I like seeing information easily without having to use my hands… I’ve started to not be able to live without Apple Pay…” Some people really don’t have much to say other than they like it and are interested in its potential. So do I share these sentiments? More or less, I do.
I really have no significant complaints about the Apple Watch, to be honest. That isn’t to say there aren’t loads of features I’d like for it to have, and I am curious to see how Apple develops both the hardware and software – but for a smartwatch, this little thing is incredibly impressive.
Let me tell you the most important test that the Apple Watch passed in my experience. Until now, every smartwatch that I’ve used has almost immediately proven that it is not reliable. Let me explain. The purpose of a smartwatch today is to connect with your mobile phone as a host, and use that phone to offer notifications and other information. The Apple Watch and other smartwatch devices do this via Bluetooth. In my last couple of years playing with smartwatches, I’ve found that smartwatches almost universally have tremendous issues connecting with their host phone. Sometimes, it takes several attempts to initially pair a smartwatch with a phone, and other times it becomes a horrendous pain in the ass to reestablish the Bluetooth connection if you (heaven forbid) walk too far from your phone with your watch and you simply wait too long.
People like to throw around the fact that, until recently, most smartwatch users would abandon their new found wrist device three or so months after first using it. My sincere suspicion is that this is because of reliability. If your smartwatch and phone do not play nice and fail to reliability connect all the time, then of course you are going to lose faith and ditch the device. Think about if your smartwatch fails to register 1 out of 4 notifications (or worse). You’d be pissed too, right?
Well, I am sure the Apple Watch is not flawless, but in my 10 days of experience thus far (again, at the time of writing, rather than of publishing), it has yet to not reliably connect or fail to display a notification that it should. So, unlike pretty much all other smartwatches I’ve personally experienced, the Apple Watch is the first one that doesn’t completely suck right out of the box. Yeah, I know, that’s a high bar to surpass, but Apple has proven that with a closed and controlled ecosystem, Bluetooth does not need to be something I (and perhaps you) need to frequently get annoyed or aggravated with. I will be the first to admit that as a consumer, I don’t always like the hermetically sealed ecosystem that is much of Apple’s software and hardware – but it does have its distinct benefits. Again, this is why I always tug around both an iPhone and an Android phone: I feel that there are pluses and minuses to everything.
Speaking of that, I am looking forward to a future when the Apple Watch can handle incoming alerts and information from more than one device. There are a lot of people who have two or more phones, and I hope that in the future our smartwatches will not only serve as extensions of those devices, but will help us consolidate them. It is further true that with the first generation Apple Watch, you are limited to one watch. I mean, you can have multiple Apple Watches if you really want to, but you’d need to un-pair them and re-pair them, and doing so would be a hassle. Right now, you need to be a one Apple Watch person and your Apple Watch is a one phone watch.
It isn’t difficult to think of features that would be amazing to have in the Apple Watch. Of course, Apple will say that over time with software updates and new apps, the Apple Watch will become so much more than it is today. With that said, I have intentionally not focused on the apps in this review because I feel that, while there are some good apps available for the Apple Watch, Apple still has the door closed on many types of apps. For instance, you can’t yet modify the face of your Apple Watch beyond those that Apple offers right out of the box, and you also can’t use apps to modify the core functionality of the Apple Watch. This is perhaps very understandable, especially this early out of the gate, as Apple carefully monitors Apple Watch usage. If anything, the company’s legendary conservatism toward allowing outside influence in their product experiences is probably good for consumers, but of course, Apple is still made of humans and from time to time, official Apple updates have had bugs in them.
So far, I haven’t seen any software bugs in the Apple Watch. It also hasn’t crashed on me or displayed any type of software or hardware anomalies. Well, I take that back – sometimes the activity monitoring apps likes to tell me it is time to stand up when I am already standing up (but I appreciate the suggestion anyway).
I think the fact that I and others are even talking about such minor elements of the Apple Watch’s functionality is a good thing. That means, for most people, the overall software and hardware experience is so reliable that we can laugh about the little things like the watch sometimes telling you to stand up when you are already standing up. With other products, I’ve found myself getting frustrated way too soon to even see how I feel about small quirks – so the fact that I am even talking about this with the Apple Watch can be seen as a positive remark.
So, I’ve established that the Apple Watch is reliable, but that still doesn’t answer the question of what I do with it. Pundits speaking against the Apple Watch from even before its release claim that Apple has yet to explain what will make the Apple Watch “stick” with consumers. Some said it was the convenience of Apple Pay, some said it would be the notifications, and others said that Apple would win people with the Apple Watch’s fitness tracking features such as the heart rate monitor and GPS tracking for your movements.
Are all or any of these features actually useful? I do plan on writing more in the future about the Apple Watch as an activity tracking and fitness device. I could easily dedicate an entire article to that, but I will touch on it a bit. Apple certainly has me wearing the Apple Watch a lot because I want to maximize my ability to fill those little daily rings that urge you to stand enough, walk enough, and vigorously exercise enough. I do take the precise accuracy of these measurements with a grain of salt, but I trust that they can track trends – and will be able to accurately tell me if I have been much more active one day over another.