(From the archives) My thoughts after a little over a month with the Apple Watch

I’d started gathering notes on my experience with the Watch on the weekend it was released (a little over a month ago) but quickly realized that the device fit into such a new place in my life that hot takes wouldn’t cut it. Below is the result of me capturing thoughts over the course of about a month and then going back and doing a little revising as some of my hottest takes ended up melting away as I got used to this new device in my life.

I wanted to capture these initial thoughts on the first version so I’d have something to go back to as I think the way in which the Watch as a platform evolves over the next few years will be fascinating. Hopefully they’ll also be helpful to those considering whether now is the time to pick one up.

Have any questions/tips to share, email me at hello@alexrainert.com.

Onboarding & Setup

  • The pairing process starts off with the coolest QR code you’ve ever seen and its used to help you pair your watch to your device. Having the first experience you have with your Watch feel decidedly different/special/whimsical is a great way to imprint the user with the sense that this device is going to be something they’ve never seen before.
  • I’m not a lefty but my whole life I’ve worn my watch on my right hand. I initially did the same with the Apple Watch as it was the most comfortable way to wear it for a watch but it broke down because active engagement and digital touch demand the dexterity of your dominant hand in a way a normal watch does not.
  • Setting everything up on the watch — installing apps, picking glances, organizing app layout, etc. — is a pretty clear, though incredibly laborious process. Feels decidedly un-Apple, unless you’re talking about iOS notification management, in which case this feels right at home. #heyo
  • Going through onboarding and seeing my height and weight already on the watch felt magical, then little creepy, but mostly magical again when I realized it was thanks to HealthKit.
  • Pro tip: If you’re trying to decide between a few different apps that offer the same service (i.e. weather apps), adding those glances beside each other made it easy to quickly evaluate which I liked the most so then I could get rid of the others.
  • App layout and organization is frustrating. While its nice that it’s on the phone and not the watch, it is still challenging to execute the system you might have in your head because the icons don’t always do what you want when you grab them and try and move them to a particular place. Also, if you’re even a little OCD you’re going to have to figure out a way to just deal with yourself. It isn’t going to be perfect.

General

  • It’s a completely new interaction model that is near impossible to wrap your head around until you’ve lived with it for a bit, so its no surprise that most of the launch apps stink. Marco Arment does a great job highlighting the kinds of changes he made to his app after getting the Watch in his hands for a bit
  • From navigating the honeycomb of apps, to customizing the watch faces, to engaging with the apps and glances, the experience is much more fiddly than anything Apple has ever made.
  • It’s only been a month but so far Force Press, not the digital crown, feels like the most significant new interaction element for the Watch. I’ve found that if you find yourself on a screen and you’re not sure what you’re supposed to do, force press is usually a good bet.
  • The Watch is slower than you’d want — very clearly relying on a remote brain to display stuff. A bit reminiscent of beach ball/waiting that was part and parcel with early iterations of OSX.
  • I only have a few friends with Watches so my sample size is small but the Digital Touch scribbles and heartbeats seem to be a great demo of the platform but not really useful in any practical sense beyond the occasional joke.
  • The bands are great and it’s clear they are going to be a huge 3rd party business. Personally, I loved the Space Gray Sport face from the moment I saw it. While the Sport band is really nice, I also wanted something less… sporty. Sadly Apple doesn’t yet offer any of the other bands for that face but luckily I came across Monowear and found a really slick gray nylon band to order.
  • That said, the ease of glancing at an incoming phone call, email or text message and deciding whether you really want to interrupt what you’re doing to deal with it is really great. For those you do want to reply to, the canned responses and Siri are fantastic, low friction, ways to reply.
  • The relationship between Settings on the watch, the Watch app, the Activity App needs to be much much simpler.
  • The Apple Watch app continues to be strange in terms of overall architecture as well as design styling. Is the black and brown supposed to evoke some kind of leathery luxury? I’m not feeling it.
  • I’ve had a hard time figuring out how Handoff fits into my Desktop <> Mobile life. I tried Handoff on the Watch with a New York Times story going from Watch <> Phone and was kinda neat but I’m instinctively disappointed when I try and do something on the Watch and it tells me I need my phone to do it. Maybe Handoff is something I’ll get more comfortable with over time but right now I wouldn’t count on it.
  • I left my phone on my nightstand and went to another room in the house that may have been the bathroom. I lost my bluetooth connection and with it , a bunch of Watch functionality that could have been useful in the moment. Feels like the watch should be able to do its thing when both devices are on the same Wifi network.
  • I’ll often find the Watch has put itself into silent mode on its own. No idea how it happens but it’s really annoying. (My suspicion is that it might happen when I cross my arms and my right arm fully covers the screen, triggering the forced “Do Not Disturb” mode.)
  • The native Twitter app is a joke. Engaging with Twitter content in general isn’t really something you’ll want to do on your wrist but if you do, Twitteriffic did a great job featuring the things you’d actually want on a device like that (mentions, likes, etc)
  • You get 20 slots for Glances and people with lots of apps will fill that up quickly and frankly, more than 10 is already a challenge to manage efficiently. Also, navigating between all of them is pretty slow. You’ll become best friends with the loading spinner.
  • I’ve used Siri more in the past month than I think I had since it launched. It’s better than I expected but using it is still a ways away from feeling normal, especially when anyone else is within earshot.
  • I wish both “Activate on Wrist Raise” and the “Hey Siri” trigger were slightly more sensitive. I often find myself having to exaggerate the motion/command a couple times to trigger the desired action. Having to trigger the screen makes it nearly impossible to subtly glance at your watch when you know a meeting is running long without it seeming rude.
  • Curious about the future the Today screen in iOS (I don’t get the sense those widgets are wildly popular) will relate to Glances/Apps on the Watch?
  • As the Watch is a new device in Apple’s ecosystem, the benefit of using native apps increases as those tend to have the opportunity to be best integrated across those devices (i.e. VIP contacts across services and devices). Unfortunately many of Apple’s native apps still stink (will iOS 9 be the one where we get functional email search?) but some have gotten much better (having access to all my digital photos, thanks to iCloud Photo Library, from every device including the watch, is pretty amazing).

Health & Fitness

  • The talk leading up to the launch seemed to vary in terms of how polished the fitness aspects of the Watch would actually be. I think they ended up pretty great with some obvious improvements that could easily be made with software updates.
  • I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the simple 3 dial visual system, paired with reminders to track daily Movement, Exercise and Standing and motivate towards your goal for each. For many users I’ve spoken to over the past year, that’s all they really want from their FitBits, Jawbones, etc. In this regard, FitBit trying to get that IPO out the door ASAP makes a whole lot of sense as the basic functionality in the Watch will work well enough for most and now they’ll have to compete with Apple and their fleet of medical specialists on building clinical value on top of that simple mechanic.
  • UX nitpick: The dial system well to get you to the daily goal but totally breaks down as a way to quickly understand how much you’ve exceeded your goal as the circles overlap on themselves.
  • It is almost impossible to read the screen in the bright sun when you’re running outdoors.
  • Swiping between screens while running is easy in the native Activity app but if you want to glance at your live stats in a 3rd party app you need to either 1) raise your wrist to get the watch face and then swipe to the app’s glance which is tedious or 2) turn on the global setting that lets you return to the last used app on on wrist raise which you’ll only want to do while working out. Neither one is something you’ll want 100% of the time. Apple needs to be smarter here.
  • The taps you get at every mile during a run is great but I found them to be too soft so I end up missing most of them.
  • Feels wrong that I have to start 3 apps when I go for a run (Nike Running, Apple Activity and Spotify). There has to be a better way.
  • Multiple times I’ve checked the Activity app (phone) after a workout and it had yet to update. Feels strange to have the Watch “know more” than the phone for too long.
  • Having to think about my daily goals in terms of calories is really weird for me. I never think “I want to run 800 calories this afternoon!” There is no frame of reference (a la 10K steps a day) to serve as an obvious goal. Pro tip: After giving it a few days and seeing what I burned on workout and non-workout days I was able to back into a calorie goal that was tough to reach without some explicit activity (currently set at 1000 cals/day).
  • In the Activity app, I struggle with the difference between Move and Exercise time as they end up looking much more similar than I’d expect. Related: the bar for something to count as “exercise” seems way too low which makes me lose a bit of trust in the whole system. Also, a few times I got an alert that I hit my activity goal while I was driving which seems very… fishy.
  • I’ve appreciated the Stand alerts most of the time but there are going to be inevitable edge cases that bug you. For example, this weekend while my son was napping, I thought I’d grab a rare quick nap for myself and drifted off into a snooze only to be woken by my Stand alert. Frankly, there’s not much you can do about that and if you’re someone who’s going to actively toggle a switch that says “Remind me to stand every hour” you can’t really complain about this.
  • While not directly Watch-related, I’ve been incredibly frustrated with the Apple Health app and how it handles some of the data generated by the Watch. For Heart Rate and Steps, if I try and “show all data” I get a neverending spinner. For a service that the company touts as customer-first, privacy, “your data”, etc. this is a huge fail which reinforces my doubt that Apple can execute data-heavy services at scale.
  • With all the talk about poor battery life, I wore the watch for 24 hours straight (including a 4 mile run in the morning) and woke up the next day with 25% battery left. Not bad at all and I imagine that’ll only get better. Also, only Apple can mindfreak people into feeling like the product exceeded expectations with a battery life of a day and change.
  • On that note, I expect (and am excited that) we’ll see sleep tracking apps in the not too distant future and for the folks out there building them, please figure out how to disable the wrist raise action at night as it currently results in somewhat of a lighthouse effect in the middle of the night that is sure to annoy anyone you’re sleeping with.
  • All in all, as someone who’s worked in health and fitness for the past year, I’m incredibly impressed with what Apple has put out in a v. 1 product. While it may be playing a bit role to start, you can clearly see the groundwork they’re laying for health to be a major part of what Apple does for a long time to come.

Summary

It is a completely different type of device that will play a variety of new of roles in your daily life, many of which we have yet to discover. That said, the main role is that of a watch, albeit one with special powers, not “an iPhone for your wrist” the way the iPad was clearly a “big iPhone.”

The interface is fantastic for a small set of interactions and content types, average for some and really bad for most. It’s most definitely not meant to be a lean-in experience. Smart, easily consumable content, pushed to you at relevant times and places is where it really shines.

Unfortunately, because its the “hot new platform”, we’ll inevitably see companies make apps for the Watch that have no business being there. I’m looking at you, #Brands.

The device really shines once you’ve put in the work to figure out what kind of stuff you want pushed to your wrist and more importantly, what you want to just leave on your phone. The biggest problem is managing notifications is a lot of work. Notifications Settings in iOS was one of the first indications of the death of iOS’s simplicity and they seem to have brought the same kitchen sink UX style to Watch notification management. Now that Apple has added the watch to the ecosystem, notifications should be treated as a system-wide element managed in one place, and smartly sent to different devices. Let’s hope there’s some major streamlining of Notifications at an ecosystem-level coming in ios9.

Conclusion

Would I unequivocally recommend the Watch to everyone? No. Due to the fact that the Watch needs an iPhone to function, literally no one needs this watch. You can certainly wait until the next version and Lauren Goode does a great job summarizing why.

However, if you like wearing a watch, are bought into the iOS ecosystem and are intrigued by what kind of special powers it will be granted over time, I’d definitely go for it. It makes a lot of little things easier and for many, those collective benefits will add up to a significant enough value to justify the purchase. Between that and being personally and professionally curious about where this new era of personal computing and health tracking is going, it was a no brainer for me.

This is a really solid v.1 product that is unlike anything Apple has made before. The hardware is beautiful and I suspect many of the gripes I mention above can and will be fixed with software. During that time, developers will continue to build more thoughtful apps and, as the hardware, platform and ecosystem mature, I’m confident it will become an integral part of how we interact with the rest of our devices and the world around us.

With any luck, some of that strategy and possibility should become a bit clearer this Monday at WWDC.

Favorite apps: Nike Running (though I want Heart Rate!), Activity, Uber, Foursquare, Fresh Air, Citymapper, Dark Sky, Coach.me, Twitteriffic, Omnifocus, Sky Guide.

Most disappointing apps: Twitter, ESPN, Instagram.

App wishlist: Some kind of Sonos controller.