After three weeks with an Apple Watch, I am beginning to see how it fits into my daily routine. The pros, cons, delights and disappointments.
The heart of Apple Watch is the iPhone.
Configuration of the watch is accomplished through the Apple Watch app on the iPhone. Most settings for notifications, applications settings and general configuration are done in the iPhone app. The iPhone is also where most of the work of the watch is done as well. While there are some applications specific to the watch, all third-party applications and some of the native Watch applications actually run on the iPhone and in a sense, use the watch as a second screen. This is true for the Apple supplied calendar app as well as the awesome Dark Sky weather app. This will change; Apple has just announced a native app development toolset for developers this month but, for now many apps, and in general, Watch apps are limited quick “glance” and notification based applications. This is not necessarily a bad thing. You really don’t want to read long emails on your wrist or write much of a reply.
The watch takes some getting used to. Some trial and error with configuration so that it is helpful with appropriate but not overwhelming notifications, and not yet another annoying, dinging device. While you might not mind notifications for each email on your phone, you will want to limit that behavior on your wrist. Thankfully you can customize the watch on an application by application basis. You can configure the which apps notify you on the watch and what types, and in cases where appropriate, from whom, those notifications are triggered.
For example, on my iPhone, I get notifications when I get a new email. I have multiple email accounts and depending upon the account, it may show a notification banner and/or play a sound. On my watch, I do not want my wrist buzzing with the same frequency. In the Apple Watch app on the iPhone, I set email notifications to only come from those on my “VIP” list (a feature of the iPhone — not specific to the watch). I added some additional people to the list so that I get some work emails as well but have kept the list generally short – only those who if I get an email, I want to know about it and may want/need to reply quickly.
For some applications, such as mail, this is a fairly easy process to figure out. For others such as as calendar and Facebook notifications it takes some work. Interestingly, Facebook does not have an Apple Watch app. You can’t browse Facebook on the watch but, you do get notifications if they are set on your iPhone. So, there are really multiple places, all on the iPhone, that you may have to go to configure notifications; (1)The Apple Watch app for native and third-party apps with Apple Watch apps, (2) The Notifications settings on the iPhone. (3) The app on the iPhone. It is not always obvious or clear where you have to make the change.
Input and interaction A full keyboard on the watch would not be practical. Most interaction with the watch is via voice, limited touch (though adding a new “force touch” gesture and canned/predefined text. Voice command and interaction uses Apple’s Siri “intelligent assistant”. While frustrating and limited on the iPhone and iPad, Siri works quite well on the watch. This is partially because the domain for interacting with the watch is in general more limited (there is no web browser). But also clearly Apple has done some work optimizing and improving Siri since iOS 8/iPhone 6 development.
Force Touch, pressing a bit harder on the screen, is a new technology that takes some getting used to and will take some time for developers to figure out how best to use it. It is often used to access secondary menus in apps. The problem is, unlike traditional screen or hardware buttons, it is not obvious that it is available.
There are two physical “buttons” on the watch. The first, called the “Digital Crown”, is the primary button on the phone. Sort of, but not really, the “Home” button. The second, the “Side Button” (though the Digital Crown is on the side as well so… A better name could have been found, is used for communications. It provides quick access to your favorite 12 contacts. Pressing the side button displays a watch-like display with the initials of your favorites around the dial. Navigating around the dial using the Digital Crown or, by direct touch of the initials icons, brings up a details screen with a picture of the contact along with options to either message or phone the contact.
The built in Apple apps can be divided into several categories; communication, payment, health & fitness and timekeeping (It is a watch after all). This is a non-exhaustive description and review of some of these apps.
The primary communications app is the Message app. Message mirror the iPhone app though in this case shows a real advantage over the phone in your pocket. The ability to see messages, both iMessage and text (sms/mms) messages with a quick flick of the wrist shows the advantage of wearable technology. Responding to messages is accomplished via some predefined responses (Ok, busy, etc) a list of which grows and learns context, animated emoticons or by dictation which can either be sent as an audio clip or translated to text. The transcription, using Siri, is surprising accurate and effective. It works well in less than ideal environments. I’ve used it on subway platforms and noisy street corners in New York.
Multi-contact messages can be responded to, but not initiated on the watch. Location can be shared (a use of Force Touch). Images are displayed though cannot be saved to the watch nor can you send images from the watch. The built in Mail app is pretty week. As mentioned early, you need to configure notifications so that you are not overwhelmed by email on the watch. Currently there is no ability to reply (coming in Watch OS 2); you can simply mark message as unread, flag a message, or archive/delete it (depending upon the mail account type). Reading messages is limited. Text appears, no attachments. Obviously formatting is an issue. There are some third-party mail apps that do currently allow some limited reply capability. This will improve overtime but for now, it is limited and best used in a limited fashion. The Apple a Watch is not a phone but as it is so closely tied to your iPhone, it can be used to initiate and answer calls on the phone. Calls begun or answered on the watch can be easily transferred back to the iPhone (but not the other way). Like messages on the go, the phone feature works very well to answer a call when your phone is in your pocket, bag, or charging in another room. Both devices need to either be on the same Wifi network (the watch is automatically joined to wifi networks along with the phone, or within Bluetooth range (about 30 feet). Sound is good. I would not want to have a long conversation in public without a Bluetooth headset without which, the watch is a small speakerphone.
The calendar app is limited. You can create appointments using Siri. There is no reminder app built in. It is easy to create reminders using Siri. Reminder notifications appear but, you cannot look at a list of reminders without pulling your phone out of your pocket. There are third-party calendar and reminder apps though, generally that means buying into the third-party vendors universe across devices. The Remote app is useful if you have an Apple TV and keep losing the remote control. The music app allows you to control music on your phone and to download a limited amount of music to the watch. To listen to music on the watch requires Bluetooth headphones. The app is primarily useful when exercising so that you do not need to directly interact with your iPhone. Payment Apple Pay is built into the watch. Credit cards are added via the Apple Watch app on the iPhone. Cards that are authorized in the iPhone Apple Pay app, have to authorized again in the Apple Watch app on the phone as for security reasons, authorization is device specific. The process is simple as is actually using Apple Pay on the watch. To pay, you double-tap the Side Button and hold the watch up to the vendor NFC reader. I’ve used this in NY taxis, retail stores and airports.
Security requires that the watch have a passcode set (a good ideal in general). The code is validated via entering a passcode on the watch once you are wearing it or, with an iPhone 5s or later, using the Touch ID on the iPhone to unlock the watch when placed on your wrist. Each time the watch is removed, it requires unlocking before it can be used (beyond telling time). Passbook works similarly as implemented of the iPhone. Passes are displayed either manually or situation/location based. I have used it for TSA check-in (though at least for JetBlue, it does not show TSA PreCheck). It is also a bit of a contortion act to get your wrist in the appropriate orientation. I tried to use it to board a JetBlue flight but found I could not get my wrist and watch under the JetBlue scanner. So far, I’m sticking with my iPhone. Health and Fitness The watch has several built in sensors and apps for health and fitness. There are heartbeat monitors on the back side of the watch which periodically and on-demand monitor and record heart rates. This information is used by the activity application and passed Along to the companion activity app on the iPhone (installed when the Apple Watch is set up) and to the Health app on the iPhone.
The Activity app tracks three things; Movement, measured in “active calories”. Exercise, measured in minutes. Standing, measured in how many hours a day you stand at least once during the hour. Movement and Standing. Make sense. They use the sensors in the watch to determine if you are moving. I don’t know if the actual “active calorie” count is accurate but it does show more calories consumed, the more you move.
Standing works well. It will ding your wrist when you have been sitting for too long (a bit annoying when at a performance or movie) but a good and useful reminder when on an airplane, at the desk or sitting on the couch.
The Exercise Ring is a fraudulent councilor in Dante’s 8th circle of hell. OK, maybe a little harsh but still, I walked over 7 miles through Central Park and NYC, and got credit for 16 minutes of exercise. I was up and down hills and up and down subway stairs. While I wasn’t running, I wasn’t crawling either. Another day, using a treadmill I got credit for 3 out of 30 minutes of consistent activity. Is it heart rate that counts the most? Arm movement? Does GPS come into play? I have no idea. How does it integrate with the Workout app? Does that impact how much exercise you are credited with? Anecdotally I understand it does. I hope with Watch OS 2, Apple clears and cleans this up. Timekeeping The Apple Watch is yes, a watch. There are multiple watch faces, many of them customizable with “complications” (a watch term for widgets such as day/date, weather, stocks, and activity). There are chronographs with timers. There are world-clocks and stopwatches. The watch face appears when you raise your wrist (you can turn this feature off on the Apple Watch app) or when you tap on the screen. Default behavior is for the Apple Watch to return to the watch face each time it wakes (instead of opening in the last app – another setting that can be changed in the Apple Watch iPhone app).
It is easy to switch between watch faces; a simple Force Touch and swipe. Customization is equally easy using the digital crown to change any particular complication. There are a limited number of watch faces and not all support the full range of complications. Some such as “Astronomy” shows darkness and light on earth, moon phases and has a mode that turns it into an orrery showing the relative positions of the planets to each other. An other has high definition movies of butterflies, flowers, and jellyfish (yeah, interesting choices). There is of course Mickey Mouse tapping his foot to keep the time. Additional watch faces have been promised for Watch OS 2. Developers will also be able to add their won complications to watch faces (flight times, weather, etc). Though they will not be able at least not in the current or next version of software to create their own watch faces.
So, good, bad, pros cons. This is a new device and in some ways like the original iPhone it will take some time to see what it’s capabilities will be. Apple Watch 2 will be better than Apple Watch 1 with I would presume additional sensors and capabilities. That said, the current watch is a capable device that is a great companion to the iPhone. Messaging on your wrist is great. Answering your phone on your wrist cuts down on the “where did I leave my phone” dance – oh, and there is a ping my phone feature as well so at you can find it. third-party apps have a way to go. Watch OS 2 will move them along very quickly. Do you need one? No. Do you want one? Sure you do. Now it’s time to stand up and see if I can beat the damn exercise ring.