The Apple Watch is the newest product from Apple. It requires an iPhone and thus can be viewed as an iPhone accessory, much like you might have Bluetooth headphones that work with your iPhone. But it has so much computing power that it can also be considered an independent device, alongside the iPad, iPod, etc. After three days with the Apple Watch, I am incredibly impressed. For those of you wondering whether you should get one, hopefully my initial experiences will help you to make a decision for yourself.
The model that I have is the Apple Watch 42mm Stainless Steel with Black Classic Buckle. I ordered it just a few minutes after Apple started taking pre-orders on April 10, 2015, and my Apple Watch was in my hands around 9:30 a.m. on Friday, April 24. My first three days with the Apple Watch have been different types of days. Friday was a work day, so I was mostly in the office. Saturday I was mostly at home, doing errands and playing with my kids. On Sunday I was at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, so I was outside most of the day and doing a lot of walking around and receiving and sending a lot of text messages to make plans with others at Jazz Fest. These three very different days gave me the opportunity to really understand how the Apple Watch excels and what its limitations are.
The Apple Watch is not an iPhone
It definitely takes some time to get used to the Apple Watch, much like the first time that you ever used an iPhone when you had to get used to gestures such as pinch to zoom and swiping left and right, up and down. Many of those iPhone skills that we all now take for granted don't work on the Apple Watch, so you need to get used to a new set of skills. For example, there is no pinch to zoom, nor would such a gesture even make sense on a screen this small. And even though you can flick up and down on a screen to scroll much like you can on an iPhone, you quickly learn that it is better to use the Digital Crown because that way your finger does not obscure the entire screen while you swipe, plus the Digital Crown is a more precise way of scrolling. And you need to learn that if there is a red dot at the top of your watch face, that indicates a new notification. You can swipe down from the top of the watch app to see those notifications (like an iPhone), but you can also swipe up from the bottom of the watch app screen to see Glances, from apps that provide them.
The Apple Watch also has force touch, the ability to touch the screen and then push a little harder to cause some secondary function. There is no on-screen indication of when you can force-touch so you just need to experiment to see when it works, but you quickly learn when to do so, such as force-touching on the clock face to change the clock design, or force-touching on the list of notifications to see an option to clear them all.
But it is not just the way that you interact with the Apple Watch that is new. My first instinct was to treat the Apple Watch like a small iPhone, one that I would use to run lots of neat apps and to consume information. But I quickly learned that the Apple Watch is not a small iPhone, but instead is a different type of device, one that excels at providing you with small bits of relevant information, and can also be a very useful remote control. Let's explore those functions a little deeper.
Small bits of information
I stopped wearing a watch a few years ago because I was looking at my iPhone all of the time anyway and, in doing so, I could always see the time on the iPhone. But before the iPhone, I had worn a watch every day for around 25 years. As I think back to how I used that watch over the years, it would always be for quick glances to get small bits of information; a quick glance would give me the time, or the date, and then I could go back to whatever else I was doing, armed with that information.
When I was in high school, I wore a Casio calculator watch. I would occasionally do more than just glance at that watch — sometimes I would use the calculator to perform simple math — but even then, I only used the watch for a short period of time, maybe 15-20 seconds, to get information. Once I got that information, I was done with the watch.
This is where the Apple Watch excels. You can quickly raise your arm to look at your watch, which causes the screen to come on, and then you can get information. Often the default is for my Apple Watch to display a clock, so a quick glance gives me the time and date and any other small bit of information that I choose to display on that customizable watch face, such as my next appointment, or the weather.
But unlike a traditional watch, with the Apple Watch you are not limited to glancing at the time and perhaps the date. The information that the Apple Watch can provide with that quick glance is infinitely customizable. Of course you can modify the watch face itself, adding what is called "complications" in the watch world — the additional information displayed such as the date, or the weather, etc. But with that quick swipe down from the top of the watch I can also quickly see recent notifications. Those are the same types of notifications that I can see by swiping down from the top of my iPhone screen, but to do that I need to first take my iPhone out of my pocket and unlock it. The Apple Watch is so much faster and more convenient; just raise my wrist and swipe down.
This is a good point to mention that there are two types of settings on the Apple Watch that I really like. First, there is the Brightness and Text size setting. From here, you have the option to increase screen brightness, increase the font size and make text bold. I quickly made my text as bright, large and bold as possible, which makes it so much easier for me to see read words on the screen. (I wear glasses; for those of you with better eyesight, you might be comfortable with the default sizes, or something between the default and my setting.)
But the setting I really want to focus on right now is located under General and is called Activate on Wrist Raise. Here, you can choose to have your screen come on when you raise your wrist (which is the default option, and the one that I recommend that you use) but you can also choose what happens when you lift your wrist: either display the clock app (to see the time etc.) or display the last used app. I typically keep it set to clock, but at various times during the day I will change it to Last Used App. That way, raising my wrist and a quick glance shows me information other than the time.
For example, this past Saturday night I was doing other activities with my family so I wasn't watching the game, but I was curious to see how the New Orleans Pelicans were doing in the NBA playoff game against the Golden State Warriors. The ESPN app on the Apple Watch is perfect for this function. The watch app already knows my favorite teams (because I have that entered in the iPhone app), so when I launch the clock's ESPN app it shows me the current score for the game that my favorite team is playing. By changing the wrist raise setting to the Last Used App, every time I raised my wrist, I quickly saw the current score of the game. This was much, much faster than having to take out my iPhone, unlock the iPhone, and then look up the score. Unfortunately for those of us in New Orleans, the Pelicans lost, but the ESPN Apple Watch app worked like a charm.
I haven't yet traveled with the Apple Watch, but I look forward to using some travel related watch apps when I do travel. For example, I have a Delta flight next month, and I look forward to seeing how that app gives me the key information that I need for my trip. A TripIt app may also be useful, and similarly faster to use as I am walking through the airport versus fishing out my iPhone. I suspect that I will pick the most useful travel app and choose to have my Apple Watch show me that app when I raise my wrist so that, for example, I can quickly see my upcoming flight status, gate, etc.
I have no doubt that in the future I will find additional useful apps, apps that quickly show me whatever information I need at that very time, simply by lifting my wrist.
Lifting my wrist to get small bits of information is useful and nice, but even better is the push notifications feature on the Apple Watch. Instead of me deciding that I want to raise my wrist to glance at information, with push notifications, my watch tells me that I should raise my wrist now to see something.
I don't like it when my iPhone makes noise so I always keep it muted, and on Friday and Saturday I also muted my Apple Watch. (On Sunday, at Jazz Fest, I turned on noises — there was enough sound around me that the pings didn't bother anyone else, and they helped to make sure that I noticed every notification.) I love that, even when the Apple Watch is muted, the watch has another way to grab your attention: the Taptic Engine, which produces haptic feedback. What this means is that the Apple Watch taps your wrist when it wants to get your attention. These notifications are discrete enough that nobody else will notice or hear them, so you won't have to worry about being embarrassed by a notification while you are in court.
I found that I preferred for the tap notifications to be a little more obvious, and there is a way to adjust this. In Settings -> Sounds & Haptics, you can dial up the Ringer and Alert Haptics and can turn on Prominent Haptic.
Notifications could drive you crazy if you have too many of them, but I already had my notifications tamed on my iPhone, and they are similarly tamed on my Apple Watch. Thus, my watch doesn't tap me every time I get an email, but instead only when I get an email from a person who I have designated as a VIP — which is a very small group of people. My watch does tap me every time I get a text message, but that works fine for me because on most days I get texts pretty infrequently, and when I do get one it is often my wife, in which case I virtually always do appreciate knowing right away that she was trying to tell me something.
But yesterday at Jazz Fest, I received lots of text messages throughout the day. It was wonderful to be walking from one stage to another, feel the tap on my wrist, and then raise my wrist to see that I was getting a text from a friend, and a second later see the text itself — such as a message that someone just got to a certain spot and will meet me there. It was much easier to notice the notification when there was a tap on my wrist versus my iPhone buzzing in my pocket. And it was much easier to read the notification by raising my wrist and glancing versus pulling my iPhone out of my pocket — especially if my hands were full because I was carrying food or drinks in both hands.
I also have notifications turned on for Twitter. I'm still trying to decide whether I want to let my notifications be handled by Tweetbot or Twitterific, both of which seems to be useful on the watch. I like that my watch taps my wrist to let me know that someone has sent me a reply or mentioned my username on Twitter. I'll rarely act on that information right away, but it is nice to get immediate notification that it happened.
I'm still trying to decide the other apps to which I will grant permission to send me notifications on my watch, but even after just a few days, I really love this feature. For example, I mentioned how easy it is to receive a text message on the watch, but it is also easy to respond to a message on the watch — especially if one of the default responses like "OK" or "Thanks" suffices. When it doesn't, I found that tapping the microphone icon and dictating a short response for Siri to turn into text worked quite well. There was one time at Jazz Fest when I intended to text someone to say that I was headed to the Blues Tent and instead my watch thought I said Blues 10, but the other person had no problem understanding what I meant. Other than that minor hiccup, Siri's voice-to-text translation worked incredibly well for me. I was especially impressed how well that Siri on the watch worked even when I was in the crowded and loud environment of an outdoor festival.
Another feature that I've quickly grown to love on the Apple Watch is the ability to have apps that let you control other tasks, working as a remote control of sorts. For example, I listen to a lot of podcasts, and my favorite app for doing so is Overcast. If I'm alone in a room, I'll often just set down my iPhone on a table and listen using the iPhone's built-in speaker or using a Bluetooth speaker. Other times I'll listen using Bluetooth headphones or I'll have my iPhone in my shirt pocket and use the white Apple headphones.
If I am listening to a podcast and I realize that I missed something, the Overcast app on my iPhone includes a button to rewind, which I have set to 15 seconds. Another button skips 30 seconds forward, useful for skipping a commercial. But it is not always convenient to reach over the to my iPhone to use those buttons — especially if it is on a table across the room. But with the Overcast app on the Apple Watch, I can just lift my wrist and tap those buttons, which then tells my iPhone what to do. I can also lift my wrist to glance and see how much longer the podcast will last, or to play/pause.
This is another example of a time that I often set my Apple Watch to show the last used app, instead of the clock, when I lift my wrist. That way I see the Overcast app every time I lift my wrist. But even if I forgot to change that setting, you can always quickly switch from the clock to the last used app by pressing twice on the Digital Crown.
Similarly, it is nice to use the Remote app on the Apple Watch to control my Apple TV, especially if I am sitting on the coach and I realize that my kids have left the Apple TV's physical remote somewhere else in the room.
Also, while I have only started to play around with this app, I see that there is a Camera app on the Apple Watch that controls the Camera app on my iPhone. I can prop up my iPhone somewhere to take a picture of me and others, then I can walk away and use the watch app as a remote viewfinder, so that I can make sure that we are all in the shot. When everyone is in place, I can either press one button on the watch to take the picture right away, or another button to wait three seconds and then take the picture. My iPhone then quickly takes a burst of 10 pictures, useful if someone is blinking during one of the pictures.
Because my Apple Watch is always on my wrist, this means that I always have easy access to any of the apps with a remote control type of function. I look forward to trying out other apps that let my Apple Watch act as a remote control.
Interact with others
I've already talked about some of the ways that the Apple Watch can help you to interact with others, such as the notifications of emails and texts, and the ways in which you can quickly respond to text messages. The Apple Watch also has some unique ways that you can interact with others who also own an Apple Watch, such as by tapping on your watch, which causes your friend to feel the same taps on their wrist, or by drawing a very simple picture on your watch that then displays on your friend's watch.
In the future, I can see this being useful and fun, but at this point so few people have an Apple Watch that I haven't been able to test the feature very much. I did annoy Florida attorney Katie Floyd on Friday afternoon by sending her some silly finger drawings, and she drew me a smiley face in response. I look forward to the day when I can be in court and someone can send me a quick tap to alert me to something, such as the need to object as soon as opposing counsel finishes answering a question. Another often-cited example is a previously agreed upon sequence of taps during a party that allows one person to tell another person something like I'm ready to go, or please come rescue me from this conversation that I'm having. Suffice it to say that I can envision this feature being useful in the future as more folks get an Apple Watch.
Another feature of the Apple Watch that I haven't tested out yet is using it for fitness. Right now I just have the leather band that came with my model, and that's not a good band to use when sweating. But I ordered a Sport Band as an accessory the same day that I ordered the watch, and I may receive it as soon as this Friday. I'm encouraged by the initial reports from others, such as Katie Floyd's take in the post she wrote after her first 24 hours with the Apple Watch.
I will say that the Apple Watch seemed very impressed with all of the walking around that I did yesterday at Jazz Fest. I haven't had the heart to break it to my watch that (1) I don't walk nearly that much every day and (2) the food and drink I had yesterday made up for much of that walking around.
The Apple Watch as Jewelry
I realize that I am still in the honeymoon period with the Apple Watch and thus it is still the shiny new toy, but something else that I really like about the Apple Watch is how it looks and feels. Much like any other nice jewelry, the Apple Watch looks very nice, both to others and the person wearing it. (And much like other jewelry, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I recognize that others might disagree that it looks good. But I certainly like the look.)
I'm really glad that I spent the extra money on the stainless steel model, which I think looks and feels nicer than the aluminum model. (Although I will say that the Space Gray version of the Apple Watch Sport has a certain appeal to it.) You can tell that an incredible amount of craftsmanship went into the Apple Watch. It feels like a well-made device, with amazing fit and finish. This is something that is likely to be on my body all day long, every single day, so it is nice to have something that I like.
And I'm not just talking about the physical features of the watch, although I really like those. I also love the display. While small, it is really beautiful and fun to look at, no matter what the watch is dispaying. Indeed, the watch face that I mostly used on Friday and Saturday was the Mickey Mouse one. The first watch that I ever remember using was a Mickey Mouse watch, and there is something about seeing Mickey smiling and tapping his foot (to count the seconds) on my wrist that makes me smile. And unlike the watch I used as a child, it is fun to see that Mickey shifts his position and the way that he is facing depending upon the hour that his hand is pointing at.
When I was at Jazz Fest yesterday, there were parts of the day when the sun was very bright. Thus, I switched to the X-Large display, which has numbers that are comically large, but when you are outside on a bright day and it would normally be hard to see the Apple Watch, you can always easily see the numbers on this display.
My only small complaint about the Apple Watch is that I might consider getting a different band for the watch. The Classic Buckle feels really nice, but right now one of holes sometimes feels a little too tight, and the next hole sometimes feels just a little too lose. I'm going to wait and see if I get used to this over time (and perhaps as the leather stretches) — I liked it a lot more on Sunday than I did on Friday and Saturday. But I can see myself down the road getting one of the bands that uses magnets and can be adjusted to any size at all, such as the Milanese Loop or the Leather Loop. And I also look forward to receiving my Sport Band, which I would have used instead of the leather band at Jazz Fest yesterday had mine arrived because it was a hot and sweaty day.
There is so much more that I have to learn about the Apple Watch, so I'm sure I will have more to say in the future. But for now, here are a few more thoughts.
First, I was concerned about the battery life on the Apple Watch, but so far it has been fine. As much as I used the Apple Watch yesterday at Jazz Fest — not only because it was useful, but also because folks kept asking to see it — I still had 40% power left at 10pm last night. Three days is not enough to reach a definitive verdict on how long the battery lasts each day, but so far I'm very impressed. And it is easy to charge the watch at night by placing it on the charger; a magnet causes it to snap into the right position, and the watch is fully charged every morning.
Second, while there are already a lot of Apple Watch apps, and you know that we will have thousands more in the near future, I've discovered that only a small set of apps make sense on the Apple Watch — especially those for whom glances, notifications and remote control functions make sense. For example, I have a useful app on my iPhone that displays a weather radar, and while it also works on the Apple Watch, looking at a weather radar on the tiny Apple Watch screen seems sort of pointless. For this task, I'll want to use the larger screen of my iPhone, or maybe even my iPad. Of course, developers are also just now getting an Apple Watch to use, so over time I'm sure we will see more apps that make sense given the advantages and limitations of a device on a wrist with a small screen.
Third, I have found that the raise your wrist to glance at the Apple Watch feature works great most of the time, but every once in a while it doesn't turn on the screen. At first my instinct was to raise my wrist again more violently, which did work but made me look like I, or at least my arm, was doing the robot dance. I quickly learned that you can also just tap the watch screen to turn it on.
Fourth, I haven't had a chance to try Apple Pay on the watch yet. It works so well on my iPhone that I'm sure that it will work on the watch. Having said that, it's not really that inconvenient to pull out my iPhone to pay, so I'll be curious to see how much better it is to pay with my wrist without having to reach for my iPhone at all.
Over the coming weeks and months, developers will come up with even better apps for the Apple Watch. Not every app makes sense for the Apple Watch, but for the ones that do, it is often so much nicer and more convenient to use the Apple Watch version of the app. And as I use the watch even more both in and away from the office, I'm sure that I will find new ways to use the watch that I'm not even thinking of yet.
But even with just what I know and what I can use the Apple Watch to do right now, I can see that I'm going to be a big fan of this product. What it does is often something small, but it does it so darn well, giving me exactly the information or controls that I need with extreme efficiency and minimum fuss. Apple created a really impressive device, one that a lot of people are going to really enjoy using.