By Dan Moren
April 30, 2015 8:17 AM PT
Apple Watch watch, week one
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
I never really wanted a cell phone. Back in college, I bought the only PDA I ever owned, a Handspring Visor Pro. I really coveted a Palm VII, with its built-in networking capability, but I settled for the Visor as it was cheaper and had the Game Boy-like expansion slot, and I thought at some point I might be able to afford the modem add-on. Because even then what I really wanted was a way to stay connected to the Internet, no matter where I was. Now I not only have that in my pocket, I have it on my wrist.
It’s been years since I wore a watch, but I noticed something funny the other week when I was at the Star Wars Celebration out in Anaheim. While we queued for the opening ceremonies, the convention staff handed out paper wristbands indicating that we’d been in line. Nothing fancy, just those adhesive ones that you’d get at parties to indicate that you’re over 21.
Despite those years of not wearing a watch, the muscle memory was ingrained so deeply in me that even that minute tactile sensation on my arm had me checking my wrist easily half a dozen times to see what time it was. The wristband, unsurprisingly, did not provide that information.
When I last gave up wearing a watch, it was in part because I didn’t like that I ended up checking it constantly; it had become a sort of non-verbal tic. In more recent years that has been replaced by feeling too beholden to pulling out my phone, but that’s a much more involved process, so it’s easier to check myself before reaching into my pocket.
During the past week, I have found myself fiddling with the Apple Watch a whole lot. Part of that is sheer novelty—I’m still trying to figure out the how and why of this device. I’m still getting attuned to the different patterns of haptic feedback, though I can now recognize when the Watch is telling me “it’s time to stand up” and “incoming text message.” But in the same way that novelty of the phone wore off as it became a fact of life, I expect the Watch too to fade into the background as time goes by.
A few stray observations:
- I keep the Watch exclusively on silent mode. To me the entire point of the device is to be unobtrusive, a goal that is completely undermined if it starts chiming and beeping all the time.1 The Taptic Engine is, simply put, genius. Far more subtle than even a vibrating phone, it’s also a surprisingly powerful way to send different types of messages. I’m kind of dumbfounded that tactile feedback has been so under-utilized to date.
Glances feel like they have potential, but their slow update speeds and the annoyance of swiping through any more than three or four of them negate almost any utility. Having to remember where various Glances are in your ordering is a pain, as is having to swipe all the way back to the first one from the last one and vice versa. (My Rebound co-host Lex Friedman compares them to Today widgets, which is pretty much spot on.)
- So far, I’ve pretty much stuck to the Utility face, with a green second hand and complications for activity (top left), weather (top right), date (middle), and calendar (bottom).2 Like Jason, I wish that the calendar line would go blank rather than telling me that there are no more events, but I understand why Apple made that choice. I’d actually like to have the timer widget on there too, because it would be handy to have one-tap access to it, but right now I fall back to Siri.
Speaking of Siri, the Watch version is really, really good; I’ve only had a couple of transcription errors. But it sometimes feels slow to respond; like on the phone, you kind of have to barrel through and trust that Siri is listening, because if you say “Hey Siri” and wait, sometimes it gets confused. And sometimes it doesn’t respond at all, for example when you’ve raised your arm, but the Watch’s display turns off before you can make your query.
The lack of a Reminders app seems like an odd oversight, even though you can get notifications for reminders and view or add to them via Siri. I’d like a full-fledged Reminders app that lets me view my list and check off completed items.
The Calendar app is not the best. I appreciate the scrolling list of events, but the individual detail view isn’t super useful, and even weirder is that when you go back up a level to see the monthly calendar, it only shows you the current month (the event list shows you the next week or so). So if I just want to know what day of the week May 17 is, for example, I’m out of luck if it’s not currently May.
I like the “raise arm to turn on Watch display” option, but when combined with the Watch’s aggressive display-off mode it can be irritating. Sometimes it flits on and off depending on how I move my arm. If your arm is already up, you have to shake your hand or press a button to turn the screen on. I appreciate the battery savings, but I think a future version of this device is going to be able to keep its screen on all the time and we’re not going to look back.
The friends interface is just bizarre. Again, I understand what Apple’s trying to push here, but a few things: I rarely initiate texts or calls from my Watch. Those are tasks that I go to the iPhone for. Which means that the only reason to go into the friends screen is to send sketches/taps/heartbeats to people. And none of the people who the Watch automatically added from my Favorites also had a Watch, so I had to go through and add people I knew had a Watch to test the Digital Touch features, because otherwise there’s no way to access them. In short: the interface itself is a fine idea, but devoting an entire button to it? Wishful thinking on Apple’s part. But a week in I’m also not sure what else I would devote a button to.
On the whole, I’m bullish on the Watch. It’s a gadgety sort of thing, but I love gadgets, and as our friend John Gruber succinctly points out, “It’s about desire, not necessity.”
This surely won’t be the last I write about the Watch, but I think I still need more time to see whether it successfully becomes part of my life once the initial curiosity has worn off.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @email@example.com or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]
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