Until I get a chance to test an Apple Watch, I don’t have a very detailed opinion about it. Within a reasonable distance there is not even a possibility to try one on, yet. In the meantime, I can write about my previous experiences with watches, what I’m currently expecting from a “smart watch”, and my initial thoughts on the Apple Watch.
Personal Watch History
One of the early watches I was wearing was a cheap Casio with analog and digital watch faces. It had a rubber band, which eventually broke. As a result and due to the discovery of a nickel allergy wearing a children’s watch years earlier, I subsequently carefully chose stainless steel watches and link bracelets.
The successor—the first watch I bought myself—was again a Casio model, an all digital Wave Ceptor. At the time, precision down to the second was most important to me. I liked knowing exactly when public transportation was supposed to depart. The watch calibrated itself automatically by synchronizing with an atomic clock via radio signal. It wasn’t one of those with integrated calculator and many buttons. A colleague of mine had one back then. The interface seemed very clunky.
When this watch failed after several years of use, I intended to replace it with a similar one. It didn’t happen. Mainly because there wasn’t a design available that I liked. I probably would have replaced it with the same model if it still had been sold. But something else had happened before it failed. Cell phones had become ubiquitous and the clocks on them had gotten reliable and precise enough for my taste—partially due to synchronization with cell networks, I believe. Only the handling of checking the time wasn’t as convenient as quickly (and discretely) glancing at the wrist anymore.
Time passed until I one day—after the smartphone era had started—saw a watch with a design I really liked. It was completely different from the previous one. It had an analog watch face with Roman numerals and was an automatic with a mechanical movement, not requiring a battery. Even though a quartz movement would have been more precise, it was more expensive and didn’t have the same appeal as the mechanic movement. In my opinion, precision down to the second also only really makes sense when the time is displayed as digits.
The entire reason behind owning a watch had changed for me from utility with fashion aspects to fashion item with utility aspects. Ever since, I have been wearing the watch—a Tissot Le Locle—whenever I felt like it. Only in one particular case—during exams—I could not rely on (smart) phones and was glad to have a traditional watch.
Most of the time I’m too annoyed to wear the watch. I don’t like that I have to take it off and store it somewhere during sports. I always take it off for showers, tanning, cooking etc. I’m bothered when it accidentally gets wet during washing my hands. I don’t like wearing it when lifting things around, as it can hurt a bit or even scratch whatever I’m carrying. I’m also putting it aside when working on a laptop because I’m afraid of scratches. Furthermore, I can’t stand the noise it makes when getting in contact with my laptop’s aluminum surface.
Expectations for Smart Watches
To be compelling enough for me to get a smart watch, it certainly has to be able to do more things than my current watch is capable of, or at least do things in a better, more efficient way. Thus in my eyes, the basis for considering a smart wach to be useful is accurate time. It is essential that it tells me the precise time at any moment I glance at it during the entire day. This means that the battery life has to accommodate this. I can imagine the watch shutting off other, more energy consuming functionality while still being able to display the time.
Thoughts on Apple Watch
The Apple watch is advertised as keeping time “within 50 milliseconds of the definitive global time standard” and early reviews indicated an acceptable, better than widely expected battery life. My minimum requirement is fulfilled.
One of the unique and strong arguments for using an Apple Watch is its payment functionality. I would love to use Apple Pay through a watch at (self service) registers. Unfortunately, Apple Pay isn’t yet available for me. Loyalty cards being displayed directly (and automatically based on location) on the watch would be very convenient as well. But Starbucks, whose loyalty card I use often, doesn’t even offer an app for it, despite the ability to add coupons received via e-mail to Passbook.
I’m also interested in the activity tracking and fitness related functionality of the Apple Watch. I’m currently using a Withings Pulse as activity tracker. Exercising mostly includes team handball practice and running, for both of which I attach the tracker to my waistband. It works pretty well for counting steps. I also own a Concept2 indoor rowing machine. The Pulse is useless for that exercise type but the rowing machine itself is capable of saving various workout data, including heart rate. With my model of rower, I have the ability to export my workout data to a computer, but it’s not convenient and not easy to unite with other health related data. From what I’ve seen, the workout app on the Apple Watch seems to have a dedicated rowing mode. This would be a big plus for me. I am, however, concerned about wearability for playing team handball. Having it on the wrist is not an option for this contact intense sport. Perhaps there will be a third party solution for attaching it somewhere else.
With my Withings Pulse I’m also able to broadly track my sleep using it as a wristband. This is possible because it only needs to be charged every 10-14 days. As I think it would only be practical for me to charge the Apple Watch during sleep, I’m regarding this inability of consistently tracking sleep patterns as a negative point of the first generation.
I’ve been trying to manage pulling out my phone only for notifications I really want to see right away. Some times I fail because I’m too curious or not disciplined enough, other times because (news) apps send notifications I don’t deem notification-worthy. Most notifications I get are probably from e-mails. I have between five and ten e-mail accounts configured for different purposes. I was really happy when an iOS version introduced the possibility to set different, custom vibration patterns for e-mail notifications per account. This way I’m often able to distinguish when chances are high that it’s a newsletter and when I need to take a look at it and decide on its urgency. If I could do that right on my watch, it would be pretty convenient and detach me less from my environment.
There are two aspects of design I want to mention in this context. The first is usability. The New York Times’s review of the Apple Watch confirmed my initial thoughts about it at the time of the first presentation: There is a steep learning curve. Others (see links) are also questioning whether it possibly would have been better to reduce the alternatives of interaction types. It is not typical for Apple for a first generation device. Usually, the main focus is communicated more clearly.
The second design aspect is appearance. The Apple Watch seems bulky. I’m worried it wouldn’t look right on my pretty small wrist (~155 mm). I’m also not the biggest fan of rectangular designs in watches. Of course, I recognize that it’s beneficial for textual display elements. For my taste, it would in this case look better if the bands started more seamlessly where the watch ends and gradually get narrower down to a point a bit closer towards the buckle compared to the currently available bands.
I’m curious about how the bands feel, especially the Sport Band. I tend to wear watches loosely. Just tight enough that they won’t slide around the wrist. It feels more comfortable in summer by being less sticky, and it helps preventing extreme tan lines. The unknown to me is how tight it has to be worn for the heart rate sensor to work properly.
My favorite model is the stainless steel case with the link bracelet. It comes closest to my current watch. But should I actually like the Apple Watch so much that I had to get one after trying it, I would probably go for the Space Gray aluminum case with the black Sport Band; which just seems economically more reasonable for a first generation device.
As with iPod, iPhone, and iPad I’m more likely to wait and start with a third generation Apple Watch, despite considering myself an early adopter in general—for which examples are the purchases of the first 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display and the first iMac 5K. After all, it is all but certain that current bands and accessories can be used on later models. The consensus is that there are still some rough edges.