By Dan Moren
September 23, 2015 2:05 PM PT
Five months in: What I use my Apple Watch for
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Apple Watch lately, especially as watchOS 2 arrived earlier this week. I’ve heard from a number of friends and colleagues about what they use the Apple Watch for, how they feel about it, and where they think it’s going.
Given that, I figured five months in is a good time to take stock of exactly where I am in regards to the Apple Watch.
This still remains the heart of the Apple Watch. In that sense, it doesn’t differ much from the Pebble I used to wear–before it died and I didn’t bother replacing it–except that it looks nicer, and plays better with the iOS ecosystem, for obvious reasons.
That’s not to say it’s perfect, though. The relationship with notifications is a bit inconstant. Sometimes I get a notification first on my Apple Watch, but more often than not, I see it pop up on my Mac or iPhone. Granted, in many of those situations I’m sitting in front of said device, so it makes sense that my Watch shouldn’t be triggered. But sometimes my Watch buzzes me minutes later. In general notifications seem inconsistent.
Being able to respond to texts–and now, as of iOS 9, emails–from the Watch is downright handy at times, but for anything longer than a quick reply I still end up going to my iPhone or Mac. Even on the iPhone, I can type faster than I can tap through to the dictation screen.
The usefulness of third-party notifications varies tremendously, and I have very few that I actually pipe through to my Watch–most of the ones I’ve kept are about delivering information, not being interactive.
The Taptic Engine’s silent notifications remain one of my favorite features of the Watch. They’re not disruptive, they are subtle enough to not be startling, but–usually–noticeable enough to not be missed. And they simply feel less urgent than a phone on vibrate: less “Look at me, look at me, something’s happening!” and more “Hey, just thought you should know.”
In addition to a Pebble, I used to have a Fitbit–like the Pebble, it fell upon some hard times, and was eventually consigned to the dustbin of history known as my office. I liked the end result of the Fitbit, that it made me more conscious of being active, getting up and walking around, but it was plagued with reliability issues. It also had a strong social aspect, a feature that’s disappointingly absent from the Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch takes a slightly different approach than the Fitbit, as far as metrics go–tracking calories, exercise, and standing time, rather than simply steps. (Though you can see the steps in the Activity app, or in a third-party app like Pedometer++.) A lot of people have lauded this as the Apple Watch’s killer feature, and I don’t dispute that it’s pretty great, but it remains to be seen if it’s appreciably better than what competitors like the Fitbit offer.1
I really like Apple Pay on the Watch, and find myself using it even more than on the iPhone. My only outstanding complaint about it remains that I wish it worked in more places. But it’s been consistently expanding availability since its introduction, and I can say that, for me, it’s been flawless pretty much every single time I’ve used it.2 And, hey: I use it frequently enough that it’s made my top three use cases for the Apple Watch.
It’s been years since I’ve regularly worn a watch, and the Apple Watch has definitely changed that. Is it for the better? I’m not convinced. But at least I can tell the time without taking my phone out of my pocket. So, I guess that’s something.
Complications remain perhaps the best feature of the Watch, because they don’t require any extra interaction–they simply present the information I want to see. Apple’s standard offerings are fine, if not mind-blowing, but I’m eager to see what third-party developers can come up with in watchOS 2. So far, though, I’ve only got one–Dark Sky–and it hasn’t provided me with appreciably better information than Apple’s own usual Weather complication.
All of this might seem a bit like damning with faint praise. After all, the Apple Watch does so much in addition to all of this: lets you draw pictures and send them to your friends, make and receive phone calls, listen to music, use Siri, and, of course, run apps.
In practice, I use almost none of them. Sending sketches fell by the wayside a couple weeks in. I take the occasional phone call, but doing so on the Watch is almost never the best experience3. Siri generally takes a couple tries to respond, so I end up using my iPhone, or, well, Alexa. Most of the apps are too slow and too limited to be of significant benefit to me. I vastly slimmed down my number of Glances, both because having a huge number of them was practically unusable and because most of them took too long to be useful. (I may have to revisit both apps and Glances under watchOS 2 to see if they deliver on promised performance improvements.)
A few weeks back, I went on an overnight hike and left the Watch at home, figuring that there was a good chance I would trip on a rock and smash it, but also because I wasn’t sure how useful it would be given the lack of cell signal–plus there wouldn’t really be any way of charging it. To be completely honest, I didn’t really find myself missing it at all.
Is that a problem? Maybe, maybe not. I like the Apple Watch just fine, but when random people ask me about it–and fellow Apple Watch wearers, you know what I’m talking about–I want to be more enthused than I am. I want to love the Apple Watch. But right now, as the lady once said, there’s no there there.
[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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