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Saturday, 25 April 2015

Some initial thoughts on the Apple Watch experience

My watch arrived towards the end of the day yesterday [that's launch day, if you're reading in the future], so I naturally spent all evening playing with it. It’s too early to draw any firm conclusions, so I’ll wait a week-or-two before penning anything definitive. However, there are some clear initial impressions that I think won’t change.

  1. The sport straps are wonderful
    I spent ages prevaricating over which strap to get and how much I wanted to pay. In the end I decided that, since the Watch utility is unknown at this stage, I’d stick with the cheapest and see how it goes. In reality the Sport strap is incredibly comfortable and very natural. It feels more in-tune with the modern aesthetics of Watch than the leather options. I feel really happy this was the right choice.

  2. You need to prune notifications
    Watch can alert you whenever you have an email, a tweet, a diary entry, a Periscope, etc. Every app that notifies on your iPhone can give you a light tap on the wrist to gain your attention. In theory this can make you more productive. In reality there’s a big risk that it shackles you to the digital world and work. I’ve turned off a lot of the notifications so that I’m still a free man. I’ve set notifications only for emails from my VIP list - if you’re not on my VIP list then I don’t get notified about your email. I just don’t feel a need to be “more efficient” in everything I do. I want to be able to switch-off and tune-out. Pruning the notifications to ones that I choose, rather than everything, is a good way to ensure that is possible.

  3. Apps make the experience
    On setting up my Watch I had 47 apps available as a result of those I already had installed on my iPhone. That’s quite a few - I’ve not installed them all and am still working through them one-by-one. Already I can see some stand-out apps that transform the utility of Watch. Just as with iPad, the value of the device is made not by what Apple installs on it, but by the third-party apps. My favourite ones so far include:
    • TripAdvisor, which very quickly shows the top things to do around where you are now. Wandering around a new place and want something to eat? Just raise your wrist and use the app.
    • Foursquare, which does a very similar thing to TripAdvisor, but on a different data set. I’m not sure which is the best yet, but I find it interesting that Foursquare has already gained my attention when I’d all but forgotten it on my iPhone.
    • CityMapper, which has a brilliant travel guide capability. These guys have really thought things through. I press a button “Get me home” and it shows me directions to the local station and finds the next trains to my registered home location – utterly brilliant.
    • Uber, for getting a cab and tracking it’s arrival.
  4. The best apps provide a subset of the iPhone experience
    Watch isn’t about doing everything an iPhone app does – it’s about convenience and quick access. So, developers that have worked out the essence of their app and provide a very streamlined experience for the core use, are the ones that seem to work well. TripAdvisor is a good example – it’s not about doing all the research and looking for different options, the Watch app just focusses on what is near to where you are now.

  5. App quality is higher than I expected
    Some of the apps show some rough edges – it was tough for developers to get the experience right when they’d never seen the app running on a physical device until yesterday. On the whole though, the vast majority are useful and high-quality – and I’m sure those with minor issues will see those ironed out in the coming weeks. Given the very limited testing opportunities most developers have had, I’m incredibly impressed with what I see.

  6. Some things just don’t work on the small screen
    Take email or browsing a Twitter timeline. You can do it, but frankly the screen is far too small for it to make any sense. I very much doubt I’ll be using Watch for things like that – it’s easier to get the phone out and use that. I’m also not convinced of using it to phone people. Sure, you can. But using a Watch to phone means that you’re either broadcasting the conversation to everyone around you, or you need bluetooth headphones. Maybe I’m wrong, but talking to your watch, so that everyone can hear the conversation, has elements of “glasshole” about it for me.

  7. The quick-access button for contacts is a master stroke
    If you press the long button it takes you to your contacts so you can send a message, phone (I think not), etc. But it’s not your whole contact list because that would be very hard work to navigate on the wrist (my address book has hundreds of entries). Instead, it’s your favourites – so again, the Watch usage is for messaging the important and frequent contacts, not trying to do everything. As a result, it carves a niche for itself (very rapid and easy access to your important contacts) that might be devalued if it presented a scrolling list of 500 contacts.

  8. An un-Apple-like level of customisation
    This thing has so many ways to customise things – the level of tinkering you can do is even slightly daunting initially and I’m still getting to grips with what I can change and how I want things setup.

  9. Health & fitness is intriguing but will take time to explore
    I dallied with a fitbit for a while, but fell out of the routine of charging it. Already Watch is telling me my heart rate. I have no clue what to do about this, but plan to delve into the fitness side of things over the next week and see if it might get me more active.

  10. Siri comes alive
    I never really used Siri on the iPhone. But on the watch you need to – e.g. to compose a message. It works *really* well and suddenly I find I’m using Siri a lot. The whole idea of natural language interaction suddenly makes so much more sense when you have a tiny screen that prohibits typing.

Overall I’m very impressed so far. Time will tell where the utility is, but I’m fascinated by this idea of “essence of iPhone”. The vibrancy of the iOS development community has ensured that many of the best iPhone apps have a “mini” experience on Watch. So “essence of iPhone” doesn’t mean “essence of the Apple experience” but also an "essence of third-party apps" experience.

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