Almost one year ago I wrote this tweet:
The Echo gives me that “I’m living in the future” more than anything I’ve used since the original iPhone.
— Matt Birchler (@mattbirchler) November 29, 2016
The Amazon Echo Dot made me feel like I was stepping into the future in a way that no tech device had done for years before. I was hooked immediately and could not see going back to a time where I didn’t have am always listening “digital assistant” in my life. It’s been just 10 months since then, but I had that feeling again last night when I went for a run with just my Apple Watch and AirPods.
I was on a run, listening to music, tracking my workout, and sending iMessages to friends all while 3-4 miles away from my phone. I’ve owned AirPods since January and I’ve been working out with the Apple Watch for over 1 years, but my new ability to leave the iPhone at home and still feel like I wasn’t sacrificing anything was very cool.
The major advantage to this new ability was that I no longer had a giant iPhone in my pocket. It’s something most of us have gotten used because we’ve had to do it for years, but not having that brick bouncing around in my shorts pocket was liberating. We’ve carried out phones with us for years when we exercise not because it is the ideal running companion, but because we need the things that it can do while we’re out and about. We need it for music/books/podcasts, for timers, for GPS tracking, for our fitness apps, for its internet connection… We don’t need it because a metal and glass rectangle is the ideal thing to carry when working out. Removing that from the picture wall while losing none of those features is fantastic.
Additionally, because I didn’t have my 5.5 inch iPhone screen with me, all of my interactions with my watch and headphones had to be via their native interfaces, and not the traditional touch screen. This forced me to use my voice to make the watch do things, and you know what, it was great! Before anyone yells “Siri sucks, Apple is bad at data!” I’ll tell you right here that I only asked Siri to do things I knew it could do. I asked it to start an outdoor running workout, to play the newest LCD Soundsystem album, and to text my wife “this is awesome!” and they all worked fast and accurately. Frankly, it was faster to ask Siri on my watch to play a specific record than to unlock my phone, open the Music app, search for the album, and play from the phone. Siri successfully abstracted all those steps from me and just did it.
AirPods also behaved swimmingly on this workout. I’d never paired them to this Apple Watch before, but since they’re both linked to my iCloud account, the watch was able to see the AirPods and connect to them without a fuss. Interacting with AirPods is nice and easy too. I have mine set up where tapping the left will play/pause and tapping the right will skip to the next track. watchOS 4 helpfully displays your media controls on screen and in the Workout app, but being able to just tap my ear to move onto the next song is a little easier to do mid-run.
And like I said, because my Apple Watch has an LTE connection, I was also able to place and receive messages during this workout, I could check when the Packers were playing the next day, and even place a call (just to see if I could). The only smartphone thing I really missed was the camera. It was a night run, so I would not have taken any pictures anyway, but I do sometimes shoot quick photos while out in the world on a workout, and I would hate too miss a cool moment because =I simply didn’t have a camera with me. God help me, I think I want a camera on the next Apple Watch!
As any Android fan will tell you, Apple is not the first to this game. There have been LTE Android Wear watches for a couple years now, so I’m just an Apple fanboy who has never left the Apple bubble and thinks Apple does everything first even though they’re years behind. So left me make it clear, I have a drawer full of Android phones that I use regularly, and I have had the uh, pleasure of using an LTE-equipped Android Wear watch and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt the experience was far more clunky and less enjoyable than my experience last night. My short time doing similar things with all Android devices made me think “maybe we will always need smartphones for everything, because this sucks” while the watchOS experience left me literally giddy with excitement for the future.
Experiences like this get me riled up with excitement. I have heard from many people on social media that the smartphone is the end-all-be-all form factor, and that anything smaller or “voice first” will always be a niche thing because you just need a 4-6 inch piece of glass to display information. I do not think that an Apple Watch can replace your iPhone, and I don’t even think that the watch form factor will necessarily be the “next big thing” but it does make me think that the smartphone is not the ultimate form factor for computers.