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Monday, 11 May 2015

A couple of weeks on: what I've done and not done with my Apple Watch

I’m a bit of a sucker for a big Apple launch and an entirely new device like the Watch intrigued me greatly. I’m sure I didn’t surprise many when I was the proud owner of a 42mm Apple Watch Sport on launch day. However, despite my excitement, I was unsure of what to expect. I entered ownership as an experiment and with a few anxieties (most notably battery life). I might have been excited, but I wasn’t blind. So how have I got on?

If my personal experience of the way I’m questioned about Apple Watch is anything to go by, a lot of people are very intrigued by the device. I thought it worth capturing my experiences now that I’ve got past the initial novelty stage and begun to settle into a bit of a rhythm in its use.

I’ve structured this post around the three big questions that I’m consistently asked about Apple Watch:

  • What can you do with it and why might I need one?
  • Is the battery life good enough?
  • Does it suck you further into the digital realm?

So, here we go with those questions.

What can you do with it and why might I need one?

Lots of people have asked me why they might need an Apple Watch.

“It’s about desire, not necessity. Convenience, fun and style are not needs. They’re wants. And people will gladly pay for what they want. The iPad faced similar misguided criticism. How many times did you hear or read someone say of the iPad, ‘Why would anyone who already has a phone and a laptop need an iPad?’ That was the wrong question, because almost no one needed an iPad. The right question was ‘Why would someone who has a phone and a laptop want an iPad?’ ” John Gruber, Daring Fireball

As Gruber says, "why do I need one?" is the wrong question. Nobody needs an Apple Watch. But I believe that lots of people might want one when they begin to see what it can do. Lets not kid ourselves – mostly the watch is about convenience and desire, not need. But these are mostly the same desires that drove the smartphone revolution. We chose iPhones over Blackberry’s, not because we needed iPhones, but because we wanted them.

So what have I done, and not done, with my Apple Watch?

I’ve checked into security with my British Airways boarding pass on my watch. Note, I had to resort to using my iPhone at the actual gate because the scanning machines aren’t big enough to get a wrist underneath. I had fun joking with the BA staff about the size of my wrist though!

I’ve hailed a London cab from my wrist using the Hailo app. You can do a very similar thing with Uber as well - the watch app finds your location and calls a car to where you are. My cab driver was a bit taken aback when I explained how I’d called him - he didn’t know the watch app existed and was very excited to tell his grandchildren that he’d been hailed by an Apple Watch!

I’ve discovered that I need to do more exercise using the Activity app. I had a Fitbit before and quite liked the way it tracked my steps and encouraged me to walk more. But a Fitbit only counts steps, it doesn’t know if you’re walking briskly and therefore exercising, or just dawdling. Apple Watch has made it painfully obvious that I need to exercise, not just walk. It logs my heart rate every 10 mins and I can view that in the Health app on my iPhone. I’ve already started walking energetically to meet the exercise targets on my watch. It’s actually changing my behaviour, for the better. Health and activity might be the ‘killer app’.

After realising that my heart rate from my Apple Watch is logged in the Health app on my iPhone every ten minutes, I geeked out about this data before wondering “what is a healthy heart rate?”. DuckDuckGo (my chosen search engine) to the rescue, it appears that a resting rate of 60–100 beats/minute is considered the normal range – the lower the healthier. Luckily I fit nicely within that range. I’m now wondering if I could get my resting rate down by doing more exercise – a new project.

When close to my daily exercise target, I do confess to having run energetically on the spot for a couple of minutes in order to attain my daily award badge. Gamification seems to work!

I’ve given a Keynote presentation by remote controlling the slides on my watch. My iPad was connected to the projector and I could go forward/back on my watch - pretty cool! MS PowerPoint also has a similar Apple Watch app.

I’ve responded to a text message whilst out walking in the street and without brandishing my iPhone. Apple Watch provides some useful stock answers (which you can tailor) that mean you can easily respond whilst walking. I also used Siri to dictate a reply, which seems incredibly accurate - I could sware its more accurate than on iPhone.

I’ve made my daughter reply to a text message because of the funky big animated emojis you can send from Apple Watch. Getting a teenager to react isn’t always easy - Apple Watch helps.

I’ve found a nice restaurant to eat at with a friend by using the Foursquare app on my watch (there's also TripAdvisor for a similar function)- this shows the best places in your current vicinity, so ideal for on-the-go last-minute dining choices.

I’ve answered a phone call on my watch when my iPhone was in another room of the house and I’d likely not got to it in time. I wouldn’t do that in the street, but it’s very convenient in the right environment.

I’ve changed the music track playing on my iPhone whilst leaving it in my pocket whilst on the train.

I’ve listened to a news article that I’d clipped to Instapaper for later reading. Instapaper is a great ‘read later’ option for caching articles for reading when you may not have phone reception. The Apple Watch app converts the text to speech and reads the clipped articles for you. It sounds strange, but is actually much more practical that you might think - close your eyes and just listen whilst travelling, rather than get tired reading.

I’ve propped my iPhone up and used the camera app on my Apple Watch to remotely take a photograph that included me in it.

I’ve used the maps app to get directions whilst walking. Instead of having my watch barking instructions at me in the street, Apple Watch taps you gently and discreetly on the wrist to indicate left/right turns.

I've found the time of the next train home using the CityMapper app, which is programmed with my home address - so all I needed to do was to tap the ‘get me home’ button on the watch. It then plans a route from my current location and tells me what time train I should aim for.

I've silenced an incoming call by covering the screen with my hand - such a human and natural way to silence something, but a delight to find that it works the way you might think it should.

I've realised that I can also turn the watch’s screen off by coving it with my hand.

I've become more aware of the day, by having sunrise and sunset continuously displayed on the watch face (keen photographers will appreciate that in order to be aware of ‘golden hour’ where the light is perfect for photography).

I was informed that the Duchess of Cambridge had given birth to a daughter the moment the news hit the BBC, through the wonders of the BBC Apple Watch app and notifications. More interestingly, for me at least, I got notified of developments during the recent UK General Election - all consumable by a simple glance and so very convenient when on-the-go.

I get notified when I have a retweet, reply, mention or new follower on Twitter. Perhaps not earth-shattering, but interesting and more timely if you’re a Twitter addict.

I’ve recently invested in the OmniFocus “getting things done” app for my iOS devices. With OmniFocus also on my watch, I can see my to-do’s and mark them complete there. This is outstandingly useful - I focus on getting things done and just tap the big round button on my watch when I complete my tasks. I like this a lot.

I do make sure that the notification settings on my iPhone don’t result in Apple Watch notifications becoming intrusive. Specifically, I only get notified of emails from people on my VIP list. It’s tough to get on that list, and easy to get removed from it if you irritate me. As a result, Apple Watch is not a new way for anyone to gain my attention - only the special VIP candidates get that privilege.

I don’t tend to read emails on the watch, although I can - I hate “doing email” at the best of times, so squinting at a tiny screen just brings a whole new form of pain to the medium that I can do without. Instead of working through my inbox, I tend to just glance at the emails from my VIP list that I get alerts for. My “email on watch” experience is therefore a hugely refined version of my more general-purpose email experience on devices with a bigger screen.

I haven’t so far got to test the freehand-message-drawing or heart-beat-messaging – you need a friend with an Apple Watch to make that work. So far my wife hasn’t relented and bought one, but I detect a wavering. So maybe I’ll be heart-beat messaging her in the near future.

I haven’t played any games on my watch. Seriously, games on a watch and with a screen that small? They exist, but I don’t think it makes any sense and I’m not much of a gamer anyway.

The rich variety of things that Apple Watch makes more convenient or just more fun is what makes the device for me. I might argue that no one use, except for perhaps the health stuff, is on its own a killer-app. But taken as a whole, I now find it impossible to imagine going without it. As a consequence I do use my iPhone less, preferring the simplicity of the watch. There are days that, when I do use my iPhone, I’m struck by how positively enormous the screen is in comparison. I think I’m also a bit more aware of how much light is emitted by a smartphone when in a darker environment - the watch is much more discreet, given the small size of its screen and that it uses a black background.

Is the battery life good enough?

This is the one thing that really concerned me about Apple Watch. None of us are used to watches that need regular changing and it was hard to tell if more ‘enthusiastic’ use was going to make charge-anxiety ‘a thing’. I didn’t fancy the idea of carrying a charger with me, even less so the anxiety over where my next ‘fix’ of power might come from. I imagined this to be the one thing that might make Apple Watch impractical.

As it turns out, battery life has been a complete non-issue for me. Apple Watch always gets me comfortably through a long day, even with my ‘enthusiastic’ use when it was novel and everyone wanted a demo. The past week I’ve gone to bed with between 30% and 60% battery-life remaining, after long ~18 hour days. I’ve learnt that it doesn’t matter how much I fiddle with Apple Watch, I’m not going to run out of charge.

I have my Apple Watch charger setup next to the bed. Every night I take the watch off of my wrist and place it on my bed-time table, in the same way that I would with an analogue watch. The only difference is I snap the magnetic charger to the back. Because I don’t need to charge at any other time, the charger never moves around the house and the routine is set. I charge every night, the charger never moves from the bedside, and I’m guaranteed an easy full-day without any battery-life-anxiety.

The only time I’ve broken this routine was on the evening of the UK General Election. I had taken my watch off whilst watching TV into the early hours and forgotten that I’d left it on the sofa, without charging overnight. In the morning I placed it back on my wrist, without charging, and spent a whole day using it. By the time I got home from work I was down to just under 20% remaining power. So it’s possible to get two days of use without charging, at a stretch.

As a result of my experience, I don’t carry a charge cable with me – I don’t need it. Apple Watch has a ‘power reserve’ mode which cuts back function to preserve basic time-keeping, but I’ve never even been tempted to try it – battery-life has been such a non-issue for me. It’s possible to add battery-life as one of the ‘complications’ that are displayed on the watch face, but I’ve not done so because I’ve become so uninterested in how much power remains.

Does it suck you into the digital realm?

This is a great question and a very valid concern. Many of us worry that smartphones can sometimes become a barrier to human relationships. Google Glass seemed to go a whole stage further, coining the term ‘glasshole’ for the type of people who used it. Does Apple Watch have a similar affect? My initial conclusion are that it does not. People seem genuinely interested rather than annoyed by it. It’s tiny screen limits the its ability to suck you in. Most of all, the software design choices seem to heavily favour short snacking rather than extended use.

“The Apple Watch is best used as that: a watch. It’s something you check for a second or two and then put away. And in 2015, it’s nice to have a watch that can do more than simply tell time. We can carry it around with us everywhere we go, and it springs to life when it receives a notification: a text, an email, a tweet, a Facebook message. Those notifications don’t always need a response, but they are important to glance at, just like the time.” Steve Kovach.

The Watch has a concept of ‘glances’, which many apps provide - these are a way to quickly see the essence an app needs to convey, without providing further function. A glance is just that - you glance at it, in the same way you would glance at a mechanical watch. I think it works. A glance takes a second of your time, no more.

Glances are perfect for a watch and make it quick and discreet to use. They are the antidote to browsing a Facebook news feed, or a Twitter timeline. Those things “suck you in” and are an activity in and of themselves. But browsing a timeline or feed on a watch is impractical because of its tiny screen. It makes no sense to spend minutes doing something on an Apple Watch – everything about it is designed to get you away from the watch as soon as possible. In that way it’s the polar-opposite of the smartphone. So no, this is not a device that sucks you into the digital realm. If anything, it frees you from that.

I find myself glancing at my watch for information, rather than turning on my phone and getting distracted by the rich experience it provides. For example, I might get a notification of someone favouriting a tweet on my watch. All I do is view it, smile, and dismiss it. On the phone I’d probably end up looking in my twitter client (Tweetbot) and having a quick look at my timeline, before….. But on the watch, I glance and move on with life.

Should you buy one?

You almost certainly don’t need an Apple Watch - most of what it does, you can do with a smartphone. But it is more convenient, more discreet, and fun. I think it’s less of a distraction than a smartphone and a better way of communicating in many situations. It doesn’t suck you in and doesn’t rule your life in the way that a smartphone sometimes can. It’s beautifully designed and a delight to use. The battery easily lasts a day (or two) and isn’t something I’ve needed to worry about. There’s a wide variety of third-party apps that make the experience much more complete. The health function seems to be a big deal and has the capacity to change behaviour, which if you think about it is profound.

I like Apple Watch a lot – I think we’re witnessing the start of something big.


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