45 Days with the Apple Watch (Yes, I Still Use My iPhone)

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 6 min read

The Apple Watch has been released for 45 days and I am one of the lucky few who has had one that entire time. I have worn the Watch basically every waking moment (outside of showers, because I’m not risking it!) and have figured out how the device fits into my life. I like it a lot, but there are a few things I think Apple needs to work on to make the Apple Watch reach its full potential.

Filtering What’s Important

I have all my phone’s notifications pushed to my Apple Watch. I know that some people think that’s crazy, but my iPhone’s notifications were already trimmed down to a reasonable number, so I don’t get bombarded with stuff all day. Only things that could potentially be important get through.

That said, the Apple Watch is a great device for filtering out which notifications are urgent and which are not. For example, I have all text messages sent to my Watch. Some are important that I reply to right away and others aren’t as important and don’t require an immediate response. I love replying to texts on my Watch and being able to lift my wrist, read the text, and speak a reply is great.

And then there are apps like Tweetbot that don’t have any Apple Watch functionality at all. I still have found value in seeing my mentions and DMs come in on my Watch. If I’m having a conversation with someone, then I take my phone out and reply there, but if it’s not time-sensitive, then I take note of it and know it’s there the next time I use my iPhone.

The big takeaway for me is that I enjoy being able to see notifications and process/reply to them on my wrist, but even just knowing which notifications are important and which are less so has great value to me. I was out with my wife all day yesterday for our anniversary and I was able to keep up with what was going on in my digital life while keeping my phone in my pocket most of the day. Yes, I replied to messages and knew what was going on online, but I was able to do it faster and without taking me out of the real life moments I was trying to enjoy.

I Never Browse My Watch

You know how you wake up in the morning and reach over for your phone to check your email, Twitter, and Facebook in the morning? You know how you’re bored waiting in line and pull out your phone to check your news feeds and see what’s new? I don’t do any of that with my Apple Watch. The Apple Watch is almost exclusively a reactionary device for me.

My use case for the Watch is that it tells me something happened and I react to that event. I don’t really go to it for entertainment like I do my iPhone. I could browse my Twitter timeline or play games, but I don’t. I think the main reason for this is the quality of the apps available (more on this further down). They’re just too slow for them to be useful.

I can see a future where I do spend more time quickly browsing content on my Watch, but that hasn’t happened in my first 45 days.

Apple’s Native Apps are Very Good

The Apple Watch has some apps that are loaded straight on the device and they’re pretty fantastic. Workouts, Activity, Remote, all 3 clock apps, Passbook, and Weather all run smooth and are fast enough. I like the little rules Apple breaks with them to make them better. For example, Remote and Workout stay open as long as you’re using them, instead of auto-closing after ~30 seconds of down time. I like how Passbook turns my screens’s brightness up all the way and keeps it turned on no matter what angle my wrist turns so the cashier can scan it without hassle.

3rd Party Apps Suck

I know it’s not entirely their fault, but 3rd party apps are woefully slow and have limited functionality on the Apple Watch. Overcast is the only 3rd party app that I open on a regular basis, but even that app can be frustratingly slow and drives me to pulling my phone out of my pocket.

Apple is poised to unveil a native Apple Watch SDK at WWDC tomorrow and I pray that we see some on stage demos of apps that have been written for the Watch and run a hell of a lot faster. I appreciate the functionality of these apps and would use them more if they weren’t so damn slow.

Apple also needs to give developers more access to the Watch’s hardware as well. My podcast app should be able to use the digital crown to change volume. Runkeeper and Nike+ should be able to access the heart rate sensor just like Apple’s Workout app. This will go a long way towards making these apps feel less like second-class citizens.

Those Activity Rings Are Great Motivators

Initially I wasn’t sold on the "three rings” method of tracking my activity. I have come around on them quite a bit over these last 45 days though. The red ring is "calories burned” but it’s basically just how many steps you’re taking. That ring makes sense and is in line with how I have been tracking my fitness for years.

The green ring is my activity ring and is the hardest one for me to fill up. It’s inclusion is genius though! Pushing me to not just casually walk my way to my step goal, but to strain myself just 30 minutes a day is a healthy reminder to put in a little extra work each day.

The final ring, the blue ring, is for standing and I’ve achieved that goal all but 2 days so far. I guess I stand a lot.

The UI is Not Confusing

This was a lot of peoples’ first impressions of the interface, but I don’t find it confusing at all. I am able to quickly get where I need to go at any time and do what I want to do (outside of waiting for an app to load).

I especially love that I don’t have to go back to the watch face when I’m done using it. Once I’m done doing something, I simply drop my wrist and the next time I look at my Watch it will be on the watch face again. I wish that my iPhone did this too.

The one true UI misstep is the app screen which is still kind of tough to navigate. I keep my most-used apps right in the center of the app clusterfu…sorry, cluster, so they are easy to tap. Anything else gets lost. I don’t know how attached to this setup Apple is, but they should have some smart people inside the company working on alternative interfaces ASAP.

I Still Get Asked About it Nearly Everyday

People are still very interested in the Watch. My interactions almost always involve one of the two statements: “Wow, that looks better in real life than I thought it would,” and “Did you hear they’re coming to Apple stores in June? I think I’m going to get one!” I’ve had just one person outright dismiss the Apple Watch as a waste of money, but that guy was wearing a Moto 360, sooooooo.

Answering the “What do you use it for?” Question

This is the question I still get all the time and it’s one that I struggled to answer well when I first got the Watch. Now that the “new gadget small” has worn off a little, here’s what I’m using to the Apple Watch to do on a regular basis:

  1. Make and take phone calls (every call since May 24 has been on my Watch)
  2. Reply to text messages
  3. Control my music while in the car (safer than using the phone)
  4. Getting sports score updates
  5. Telling the time (duh, but I do check the time obsessively)
  6. Checking the weather and using Dark Sky to know if it’s going to rain
  7. Setting timers with Siri
  8. Marking tasks complete in OmniFocus
  9. Tracking delivery statuses
  10. Activity tracking
  11. Workout companion
  12. Apple Pay and Passbook
  13. Navigation in the car

Considering that’s my list of things I do when most apps are terrible, I can see it growing a ton once 3rd party apps get better over time.

And that’s it. That’s how my first 45 days with the Apple Watch has gone. In my initial review of the Watch I said that you probably shouldn’t buy one unless you really want to be on the bleeding edge, but my buying advice has changed. I now think that you should buy an Apple Watch if anything above sounded interesting. The product is very good and is poised to only get better over time.

I will be watching WWDC with great interest in what Apple is doing to advance Watch OS. As good as it is right now, there is so much room for it to grow and improve that I’m happy to be along for the ride.