By Jason Snell
April 27, 2015 1:06 AM PT
Apple Watch weekend: My initial reactions
My Apple Watch came Friday. Well, not my Apple watch. I ordered the space gray Apple Watch Sport with the black sport band, and it was back-ordered until mid-May. Fortunately, a friend of mine ordered a watch he didn’t want, and decided to let Six Colors purchase his Apple Watch Sport with a green sport band. After a quick exchange on a little street a couple of miles from my house, I was in business.
I spent two and half days with the Apple Watch without writing a word about it. I was talking to my mother on the phone today, and she asked what I thought of it—and I told her I couldn’t really say. It’s complicated.
This is a new product. Like, a really new product. It’s not like any product I’ve used before, though it has echoes of my old Pebble and of iOS devices, of course. But my built-up skills in using iOS were no use to me when I started using the Apple Watch. This is not a tiny iPhone on my wrist. This is something new.
It might be good. It’s certainly impressive. But it’s new, and it’s going to take some time to figure out quite what it all means.
So, in the absence of that sort of revelation, what am I to write about? Let’s take my rapid-fire observations and present them in a hail of bullets…
Can anyone out-box Apple? The watch comes in beautiful white box with a long plastic watch case inside. Is this packaging a tad wasteful? I suppose, but a $400 product probably demands more than a blister pack. The unboxing experience was really excellent.
I was impressed by the setup experience. Pairing the phone with the watch by taking a picture of a pattern displayed on the watch face just felt cool, and not having to type in a pairing code on the watch face certainly made the whole thing seem more civilized.
As will come as a surprise to no one who appreciates Apple’s prowess in crafting objects out of aluminum, the watch body itself feels fantastic. I prefer the anodized aluminum look to that of the more expensive stainless steel model. I’m still a little worried about the dent resistance, as well as the shatter resistance of the Ion-X glass face. But this is an incredibly solid piece of kit.
I’ve worn a watch for most of my adult life, and so it means something when I say that wearing the Apple Watch feels like wearing a watch. I didn’t feel like I had strapped some hockey puck to my wrist, or weighed my arm down with something heavy. Now, my wife—who rarely wears a watch—tried it on and complained of it being heavy. But if you’re used to wearing a watch, this one won’t faze you. I was also concerned about the device’s thickness, but it doesn’t feel thick at all. Coming from a Pebble and a Rolex, it just felt like another watch.
I love the Digital Crown hardware. I love how it spins, with just a little bit of resistance. I love scrolling through lists or picking complications by pushing my index finger forward and letting the crown run up the length of my finger. But I don’t think the Apple Watch software takes advantage of the Digital Crown often enough. This feels like a fun, sensible input device. Every time I use it, I feel delight. I want to use it more.
I have no idea what I’m doing when I press the two buttons on the watch. Maybe it’ll all make sense eventually, but right now I find myself pressing the lower button as if it’s the iPhone home button, which it isn’t. And I find myself pressing in the Digital Crown in an attempt to get back to the watch face from an app, which would usually get me there if I pressed it three times.
The most important gestures on the Apple Watch are the swipes up and down from the watch face screen. As an iPhone user, you expect that pressing on the Digital Crown and launching apps would be important, but it feels to me a bit more like a last resort. When you swipe down, the Apple Watch displays notifications. When you swipe up, it displays Glances. These, along with the watch faces themselves, feel like the heart and soul of the Apple Watch.
Glances are like the Dock on iOS or OS X. They are the place you put your most important stuff. You don’t want too many Glances, but you want the stuff that’s important to you. I turned on the MLB At Bat Glance, so I can check in on my favorite team 1 with a couple of swipes. If I want more information, I can tap to open the complete app. Glances are little tidbits of information, but in most cases they’re all I need—or want.
I think Apple has done a good job with the stock watch faces, but there aren’t enough watch face choices. If I want a digital time display with a few additional pieces of information, I’m basically limited to the Modular display, which is futuristic but kind of ugly. More face choices would be good and more options to customize faces would be even better. (I do love the customization options on some of the faces, including both information density and color highlighting.)
I spent most of the weekend using the Utility face, which reminds me of the pleasures of using a watch with analog hands, namely that when you glance at its face you don’t try to read that it’s 12:37 p.m., you just read that it’s roughly a quarter until one. Analog hands require a little more brainpower at first, but they’re also kind of great at taking you out of the down-to-the-minute mindset that’s so easy to fall into.
I wish watch face complications were smarter. I love the idea of adding little bits of information, like the current weather forecast or your next calendar appointment, to a watch face. But that calendar complication continues to display even when all it can tell you is that you’ve got no future events, when it should probably just get out of the way. I don’t love that your World Clock options come from the Clock app on your iPhone, but you have to use the Apple Watch app to set their abbreviations. I’d like the option of displaying any current timers or alarms—but only if they’re set or running, not all the time.
I get frustrated by switching between apps and the watch face, and can’t figure out what happens when and why. Sometimes I’m using an app, and I look away for a minute and it’s been replaced by the watch face. (There’s a setting to make the Apple Watch display remain with the currently running app rather than return to the watch face, but I don’t want to set it, because I do want the watch face to return most of the time.) For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to pop back to my most recently used app, but it turns out it’s a simple answer—you double-tap on the digital crown to switch. I didn’t figure this one out until Benjamin Mayo told me on Twitter.
The Apple Watch seems to turn its screen off too aggressively. I’m all in favor of saving battery life, but I can’t show someone what’s on my watch without it turning itself off. And I find it turning off when I’m using it—even to dictate text!—much faster than I’d like. It seems like Apple has done a great job of ensuring all-day battery life, but a little more leeway here might make the experience of using the watch a bit more pleasurable.
I have no complaints about battery life. I’ve been using the Apple Watch normally and it feels like I haven’t come close to running it down. As I write this, I put the watch on 16 hours ago fully charged and it now says it’s at 46 percent. Seems pretty good to me.
The force touch gesture takes some getting used to. I kept wanting to tap the screen harder, but that’s not how it works—you’re supposed to tap normally and then just push in harder. Once it’s a part of your gestural lexicon, though, it becomes as natural as a two-finger click on a Magic Trackpad. It’s fun!
I took a shower with the Apple Watch, and both of us survived. In fact, the touchscreen worked even when it—and my fingertip—were soaking wet. Look, Apple’s statements about the waterproofness of the Apple Watch are all over the map. The company rates the product’s water resistance as IPX7, which equates to a claim that it can be immersed to up to 1 meter of depth for up to 30 minutes with no ill effects. Yet on Apple’s marketing pages, the company says “Apple Watch is splash and water resistant but not waterproof. You can, for example, wear and use Apple Watch during exercise, in the rain, and while washing your hands, but submerging Apple Watch is not recommended.” Tim Cook has said that he showers with Apple Watch. My guess is that Apple doesn’t want to tempt fate by encouraging people to swim with the Apple Watch on, but that under normal circumstances it will perform just fine if you get it a little bit wet in a shower, or a rainstorm, or washing dishes.
I hate rubber watch bands, but the fluoroelastomer sport band is pretty great. It’s soft and pliable and doesn’t make me want to rip it off screaming, even though I prefer leather bands. (I couldn’t shower with a leather band, either!) I still think the way the sport band attaches—popping a pin into a hole in the band—feels weird and backward, but perhaps I’ll get used to it. Also I’ll point out for people who are freaked out by the idea of using a leather band with stainless steel with an aluminum Apple Sport watch: the sport band on these aluminum models has a stainless steel pin. Oh, horrors, the fashion faux pas!
The third-party story is going to be huge as time goes on. Current third-party apps are okay, but they’re incredibly limited. With some of Apple’s built-in apps, you can get a better sense of what might be possible on this device. But I have to admit, I’m most excited by the idea of third-party watch faces or, at the very least, third-party complications for existing watch faces. I’m not convinced that developers will make pretty watch faces—I’ve seen all the awful third-party Pebble faces—but I do want more variety in my watch faces. I’d be fine if Apple took a strong hand with faces and only approved a very small number that passed a very high bar. But I’d be okay if Apple kept tight control of the faces… if developers could provide data from their apps as complications on existing faces. I’d love to plug in my Weather Underground temperature, for instance—today Apple’s standard temperature widget was a full ten degrees off of the actual temperature in my town.
Third-party apps are better than I expected. I really thought that WatchKit efforts were going to be so hamstrung by Apple’s initial developer limitations that they’d be almost useless in most cases. Perhaps by lowering my expectations, I was allowing myself to be pleasantly surprised? In any event, I loved being able to send tweets with Twitterrific and read Slack and get a pitch-by-pitch update from MLB At Bat. Like I said, I think that Glances are more central to the Apple Watch experience than apps, but the two work in concert. There’s a whole lot of potential here.
I appreciate the embrace of voice recording and speech-to-text. I love that when I’m sending a message to a friend, I can choose to send it as an iMessage audio attachment or just use the built-in speech-to-text engine to send it as text. I also love dictating messages in other apps, including Slack and Twitterrific. Dictating a message from my watch and watching it appear as text in a conversation somewhere—that’s a real feels-like-the-future moment.
A bunch of Apple’s technology investments over the past few years really pay off on the Apple Watch. Chief among them is Siri, which is the perfect technology for a device this size. But Apple’s Health app, Photos, iMessage, even the Remote app—by building a connected set of tools and a syncing infrastructure to power them, Apple was able to bring a whole lot of functionality to the Apple Watch that would have been much harder to build from scratch. (It’s almost like Apple had this whole thing planned out, isn’t it?)
The friends interface feels half-baked. For such a prominent feature—it’s what appears when you press the non-crown button on the side of the watch—it’s kind of weird to use. I’ve sent my share of digital scribbles this weekend, but I can’t imagine that I’ll keep doing it after the next week or two. It’s hard to draw anything in such a small space. The tap-on-the-wrist version of the same feature feels like the equivalent of a poke on Facebook—namely, a feature we’ll all regret. And most of the sketch messages I received strangely came from phone numbers rather than Apple IDs—so I didn’t know who was sending them until I did some research 2.
I appreciate how the Apple Watch truly feels like an extension of my iPhone. When I get a new phone, I have to spend time logging in and authenticating all sorts of apps before I can start using them. But I didn’t need to do that with the Apple Watch, because in most cases my iPhone vouched for my watch.
I was skeptical of the idea of giving my Apple Watch a passcode—what a pain to put a passcode on a watch—but once I realized that I’d only need to enter the passcode once so long as I kept the watch on my wrist, it was no big deal. I really like how the Apple Watch trusts you as long as you haven’t taken it off. And I didn’t feel that I needed to make the watch super tight in order to keep contact—just a normal amount of contact between the inside of the watch and my skin did the trick.
- I bought some cheese with my watch. It turned out that we were out of mozzarella, which I needed to make pizza on Saturday night, and so I walked down the street to my local Whole Foods and bought a package of cheese by double-tapping the watch button and pressing the watch to the payment terminal. It felt weird—I don’t know if I needed to contort my wrist quite so much to get the watch in proximity to the terminal—but it worked flawlessly. Once I can acquire a jet pack, I’ll be fully in the future.
That’s what I’ve got so far. I’m going to keep this thing on every day for the foreseeable future, and of course I’ll write more as I go. So far, I’ve enjoyed my time with Apple Watch. But as with any new relationship, it’s a good idea to be cautious. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship…
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