Every day for the last year I have worn a tiny computer on my wrist.
The Apple Watch is the kind of thing that people notice because, to be honest, as hard as Apple have tried to position it as a fashion item it's not quite there yet. I often get asked about it and the response is a mixture of excitement, bemusement, skepticism and genuine intrigue. It's a high profile device and it's been around a while,1 yet there's still a degree of mystery surrounding it. It doesn't have the ubiquity to not demand questions.
It arrived with all sorts of bells and whistles. Apps, glances, complications, pulse reading, wrist-tapping, step-tracking. It can take phone calls. It can send tiny doodles to your watch wearing friends. It is almost useless when out of range of your phone. You need to charge it daily. It was clear when the iPhone arrived why it was an improvement over what came before. The Apple Watch seems perplexing by comparison.
So in order to demystify it, this is a list of everything I still use it for after a year.
The best feature is it's fitness tracking. I believe Apple Watch is at it's core a really good FitBit. Without the fitness features it becomes, for me, a much less appealing device.
Apple doesn't get enough credit for creating a fitness tracker that is so 'sticky'. Fitbit devices have a reputation of losing their novelty after a few months but I've found Apple Watch's fitness rings to be a persistent motivator - even after a year I am still a bit obsessed with trying to fill them.
It's one thing to have a general sense of how active you are on a given day; it's another thing to have that visualised every time you glance at your wrist. In no small way this has changed my day to day life - motivating me to walk when I might have been tempted to stay in or take a bus. I dutifully oblige in the office when it reminds me to stand up every hour.
It does a decent job at logging runs but it doesn't have GPS so those who are really sold on the idea will still need to look to dedicated running watches.
The Apple Watch sends me a silent tap on my wrist for certain notifications such as text messages, Facebook messages and important e-mails. It's hard to describe why this would be useful because to most (normal) people it sounds incredibly aggravating. After all it's not doing anything my phone wasn't already capable of.
But checking a notification on your wrist is a significantly different interaction than checking it on your phone. I can process it, but I don't have to let it disrupt me. If a notification requires a yes/no/emoji response I can reply with the click of one button.2
The nature of the device means I can't get immersed into it or too distracted from what I am doing. It's a way to triage the many ways my phone is always asking for my attention.
Anywhere that accepts contactless cards will also accept Apple Pay. You would have thought the novelty of contactless would have worn out but it still feels like future sci-fi magic.
Apple Pay on the watch has some slight advantages over using a contactless card; it's technically more secure, you can spend more and you don't have to fumble with your wallet. That is how I justify it to myself at least; honestly the main reason I pay for things with my watch is because it's quite a lot of fun.
Time and Weather
I stopped wearing my old analogue watch 8 years ago when I got an iPhone. In the rare moments where I haven't worn my Apple Watch I find myself constantly staring at an empty wrist. I check the time a lot more often than I realise. Having information there is useful.
When you scroll the dial on the side the watch 'time-travels'; it can show you how the weather will change or if you have upcoming meetings. This is one of my most used interactions; as I leave the house I can very quickly get a sense of the next couple of hours.3
All the Small Things
- Music Controls: I spend a lot of time listening to audio. The watch is my go to remote control when wandering around. Skipping adverts in podcasts, adjusting volume. It's particularly handy when it's raining and I don't want to get my phone out.
- Directions: If walking somewhere in unfamiliar surroundings, you can program the Apple Watch to display where you need to go and tap when you need to turn. It makes you look less like a tourist. At home I've found the most useful aspect is being able to glance at my wrist and get an updated ETA, thereby allowing me to see if I need to up my pace.
- Finding my Phone: If you have a tendency to lose your phone behind the sofa cushions the Apple Watch can ping it. This has saved me a lot of frustrated searching over the last year.
- Timers/Alarms: I make a lot of coffee. A watch is a pretty good place to set a timer or a stopwatch for espresso. There's a satisfying silent vibration once it's finished.
- Siri: I use Siri fairly often to turn on and off the lights in the flat.4 Occasionally I will ask Siri to play particular music when I'm out walking.
There are, however, many aspects of the Apple Watch which are fundamentally broken leading some to give up on it completely. I've basically stop trying to use third party apps. They are slow, unreliable and developers don't seem to be pushing them. I forget that glances exists because I use them so infrequently and they update inconsistently. I've never opened the 'Photos' app on my watch. Digital-touch, the little miniature doodles you send to friends is a ridiculous feature that Apple should quietly hide or remove.5
Apple could, and probably should, have limited it's scope and released a more focused device. But the broken parts of the operating system don't detract from the parts that work. You can pretend they don't exist and they won't frustrate you. I enjoy using my Apple Watch by ignoring large parts of it's functionality.
Damning with faint praise perhaps, but at the end of the day wearing the watch still wins over not wearing it. If it broke I'd buy a new one without hesitating because I've grown so accustomed to all the small gains it brings during a day.
I feel apprehensive about ever recommending it to people. A recommendation feels like an affirmation that this is a revolutionary product in the same vein as an iPhone. It isn't. At least not unless Apple significantly re-thinks aspects of it.
It's a fun accessory but it certainly isn't essential. At £300 (and upwards) that's a tough sell for a lot of people. If you're in the market for a fitness tracker you should consider it. Just don't expect it to come close to replacing your phone. Yet.
- It was first unveiled in late 2014; Scotland was in the midst of a big vote, the new Star Wars film didn't even have a title yet and Donald Trump was still just making The Apprentice. ↩
- If you've asked me a question and received a creepy animated hand emoji as a response, this is why. I'm sorry. ↩
- There are plenty of third party complications to display this information but the only ones I use are the snarky weather app by Carrot and calendar app Fantastical. ↩
- This is pretty much as ridiculous as it sounds. Yet I still do it. ↩
- If you compare the current Apple Watch website with the initial marketing material you get the impression that Apple has already sensed this. ↩