My New Wrist – The Apple Watch

I can't remember the last time I wore a watch. But I remember liking thin, simple, elegant ones. I knew the Apple Watch wouldn't fit that bill. I read a lot reviews before I could get my hands on one. They are beautifully made, but bulky. They are big. But not big enough to type on, or to pinch and zoom.

As a person who turns off most notifications on my phone (and all on my Macs), this didn't bode well. I don't want my devices to inform me, or notify me. I want them to deliver information when I ask for it, and help me keep track of my life.

There is a device hierarchy in my world: My desktop computer is the center point of my technical life and business. With it, I store information, research, create, organize, test software and solutions, and communicate. 

With my iPhone I keep track of what is happening (email, calendars, texts, voicemail), take photos and videos, and listen to audiobooks and music. But I also use specialty apps like Voice Memos to record my thoughts and others. I use Square to take credit cards, Mactracker to look up the specs of any Mac. It is the GPS for my car. The list goes on.

The iPad fits a special niche: I watch movies on planes and in hotels. The iPad can sometimes function as a larger iPhone, and can replace my laptop in a pinch. It has got two irreplacable functions for me: I use it as as an ebook reader, and to access my TIVO recordings remotely. 

My laptop is an 11" MacBook Air. When I am onsite with clients, it is a multifaceted tool. I use it to research, demonstrate, troubleshoot. When I write, I am usually writing on it. When I travel it takes on a much bigger role, acting like my iMac. I can also watch movies on it.

So, what would be the purpose of adding yet another entity in this array of overlapping devices? When I bought it, I couldn't really find a reason (beyond learning it to provide support for my clients with Watches). After wearing it for a week, I still didn't know. Yet I began to feel a sense of joy in wearing the Apple Watch. It is a little hard to understand... it is an Apple thing.

The setup for my new Watch was pretty easy. Disappointment came almost immediately when I found that the "millions of different appearances" boiled down to 10 clock faces, and only one that I found both practical and appealing. Configuring its options (called "complications") left me unimpressed. I could have the temperature on another face but not on the one I chose. I could have the battery status but not large enough to read it. In fact, it was all a bit hard to read anything except the time, and I decided I would have to get stronger glasses to use the Apple Watch.

I have been wearing the Apple Watch for about two months now. I turned off the ringer on my iPhone and the sounds on the watch. I let the pattern of subtle (haptic) vibrations notify me of a call or text, or when it is time to turn my car when using the GPS. What surprised me is how natural it is to look at a watch to see certain things. When a call comes in, I look and see who it is. When there is a text, I can see who sent it and can easily read it on the watch if I want to. (The problem, though, with looking at your watch, is that people think you are checking the time and need to be somewhere.)

GPS actually works better than on the iPhone (it vibrates a beat earlier than the phone, which is often a beat too late). I like looking at next turn on my wrist, especially at night.

I had to turn off the passcode after a few days. I like to wear a watch loose, and let it slide around on my wrist a bit. And that triggers reentering the passcode. Entering a passcode is hard. The keypad is just too tiny. Without a passcode you cannot use ApplePay. So I don't. 

The whole fitness aspect of the watch is not quite compelling for me. I let it show me the progress I am making toward its goals. But I mostly ignore it. I get to the gym almost everyday and I do have goals, but not ones that the watch seems to understand. I do love the fact that I can display my heartbeat while exercising, and I tighten the strap to make it more accurate when I workout. 

The Apple Watch is slow – not inaccurate slow – but unresponsive slow. That fact has irritated traditional watch wearers. Apparently, battery technology is responsible for both the bulk and the slow operating speeds. Apple may have "turned down" the Watch processor to allow for more battery life.

Although I expect I will enjoy a thinner, quicker Watch in a few years, I don't mind the pace of the Watch. I turn my wrist, and half a beat later, I see the time glow into life. I turn my wrist and my GPS directions come up, then a couple beats later, the distance to my next turn. Launching apps can take a long time, a frustrating beachball sort of long time. But I am not doing that much on my Watch yet, so it is not a problem.

In fact, there is a lot that I haven't explored. I don't know another Watch owner, so haven't sent my heartbeat or made sketches to send. I haven't even tried Siri on the Watch. It is supposed to be an improvement over the iPhone, but I am so used to having Siri not understand me, that I just don't use her.

I have only used the Watch as a phone three times. The first time was an experiment and it was cool to have that Dick Tracy experience. With the other two, I didn't take the time to reach into my pocket to answer on the phone and I was trapped into having a public conversion with my wrist held to my mouth. I know I can send the call to my phone, but I hadn't looked up how at that point.

When I am cooking, I use the Watch as a kitchen timer. It is a super simple to use. It is also my favorite timer in the gym as well.

Battery life has been adequate. It needs to be charged every day, but it should last all day if you don't play with it a lot.

Random thoughts: 

I like being able to see my next calendar event on the Watch face, but I'd like it a lot more if I could scroll through the whole day. There are calendar apps, but I'd like more options on the face.

Although Apple says the Watch is only water resistant, and doesn't warranty damage from swimming, I have read about tests showing that it functions fine in a pool. Squaretrade offers a warranty that covers accidental water damage. They consider accidentally swimming with your Watch something that doesn't void your warranty. I found an excellent article by Craig Hockenberry that discusses how the Watch interacts with water. 

Apple has announced that developers will be able to add Watch face complications to their apps. That's a big step forward. I hope Apple will also allow developers to add Watch faces.

My Verizon iPhone 5S cannot do GPS and phone calls at the same time. If you make a phone call while using the GPS, the iPhone GPS will stop working but the Watch will continue to provide directions.

If you have trouble seeing the Watch clearly, you can make several adjustments in the accessibility settings. Most of these settings are on the Watch, while some are located in the iPhone's Watch app.

There are legions of disappointed Watch buyers who didn't get what they were hoping for. For them, the Watch too passive, limited, unresponsive. To me, it is a seductively beautiful device that offers something unique. I appreciate leaving my phone in my pocket most of the time, turning off ringing and sounds, and being able to just look at my wrist to see what is going on. It feels natural to have a watch on again, and to use it in this way. I look forward to discovering more about what the Watch can do, and to see it evolve as it participates in more and more people's lives.