A Love Letter to My Apple Watch
There is no shortage of blog posts and podcast episodes with people discussing at length why they stopped wearing their Apple Watch or what drastic changes they think Apple needs to do to make the Apple Watch the least bit useful. I won't suggest that the Apple Watch is perfect or that it doesn't have big steps it can take to improve, but I will say that I love my Apple Watch and have not gone a single day since April 24, 2015 without wearing it. It is an absolutely essential part of my life and is something I never want to be without in the future. If Apple threw in the towel today and said they're never making another Apple Watch, I'd keep wearing this one until it stopped working.
If you want to see what I think Apple can do to improve the Apple Watch in watchOS 3, read The Best Health, Better Apps, and Outstanding Communication: My watchOS 3 Pitch, where I break down exactly what I want to see Apple do from a software perspective this year. Today, we're only talking about the good stuff.
Wrist notifications are fundamentally brilliant
I've been a fan of smart watches since the first Pebble was released. Yes the Pebble was pretty ugly, had limited functionality, and screamed out "he's a nerd!" pretty loudly to the rest of the world, but I loved it because it got my notifications out of my pocket and onto my wrist. For me, that is the perfect place for notifications.
After almost a year with the Apple Watch, I have completely adapted to getting a tap on the wrist when a new notification comes in. On the odd occasion when I'm not wearing my watch and a notification buzzes my phone, it's a pretty bizarre sensation. I'm immediately annoyed that I have to dig my phone out of my pocket to see what just happened. I'm spoiled after all this time of just seeing it on my wrist.
My wife and I were out this weekend grocery shopping1 and her phone was blowing up with notifications. She has an app on her phone for work, and it's imperative that she gets those notifications as soon as possible. There is literally a difference between her seeing it in 5 seconds or 30 seconds, so seeing her have to find her phone in her purse every few minutes to see what was happening was extremely frustrating. If she had an Apple Watch she would have been able to look at her wrist every time instead and saved herself a lot of frustration. She used to be a skeptic on the Apple Watch ("you're spending $400 on a watch!?"), but she's coming around and is eyeing the rose gold Sport model.
One other note is that I don't feel like notification overload is a thing for me. This was something that came up in a lot of reviewers' thoughts when the Watch was released, but that has not been my experience at all. I already had my phone set up to notify me just of the things I really want to know right away, but I don't understand people who found the notifications on their wrist more distracting than the ones they get on their phone. A tap means something happened, but I can easily ignore it just like I would ignore my phone buzzing. It's not like the watch is forcing me to look at every single notification that comes in, it just makes it easier for me to see them when I do want to know what happened.
A plethora of customization
I've always been a watch guy, albeit a very casual one. I never owned a watch that cost more than $150, and Fossil is the highest end brand I've ever worn. I liked wearing a watch, but i didn't want to spend too much money on one and I certainly never went out of my way to customize my watches in any way. For one thing, I never had any interest. My watch looked how it looked and that was it, it never occurred to me to make any changes. Second, it was really impractical to customize anything. The watch face was never going to change at all, and the bands were such a pain in the ass to change out that I never went down the band customization route either.
Now that I have an Apple Watch, all I do is change its look all the time. I have 5 watch bands that I swap in and out based on my outfit, activity, and just how I'm feeling that day. I also change up the watch face occasionally to get a different look or take advantage of a new complication.
As of this writing, I have 5 Apple Watch bands. I got the white Sport band with the Watch last April and I adore this band. The silicone...sorry, "fluoroelastomer" is comfortable in all situations. It's my go to band for workouts (since I don't want to sweat into my leather bands, yuck) and more casual days. It looks sharp. And despite being pure white and being sweat on more than any other band, it's still perfectly white almost a year later.
I've also gotten a blue Sport band which is a little more playful and matches my iPhone case. My wife got me 2 Fossil weather bands for my birthday that I really enjoy as well. These were not made for the Apple Watch, but with a couple lug sets and minor surgery on my part, they are a couple classy Apple Watch bands. And my most recent addition is a knockoff Milanese Loop band that I got for less than $25 on Amazon. Because each band is distinct and they are so easy to swap in and out, I'm changing my look all the time. Steve Jobs types who don't want to decide what shirt to wear in the morning may not like this, but I love the freedom.
In addition to changing the physical look of the watch, I also cycle between a couple watch faces. I tend to stick with one for months at a time, but when I do switch it's usually between Modular and Utility. The other watch faces, like the Time-lapse, Motion, and Solar, are cool and show off what a smart watch can do that a regular watch can't, but I don't love them and never use them. I love my complications and prefer the watch faces that emphasize them over cool graphical effects.
I've gone on at length about why I think activity tracking on the Apple Watch is amazing, so here's an excerpt from my previous write up:
When I first got the Apple Watch, I thought the three rings system was a clever way to track your activity, but ultimately thought it was inferior to apps like Runkeeper’s Breeze app, which have dynamic step goals. Now, after about 10 months working on filling those rings everyday, I feel safe saying this the the best fitness tracking system I have ever used.
The brilliance of this system is that it’s tracking more than just steps. Fitbit, Jawbone, and Breeze all use steps as the ultimate measure of how “active” you were in a given day. We all know that this is a pretty rudimentary way to track one’s fitness, but making pedometers is easy, and that’s just what we’ve done. Steps = health.
But there’s more to fitness, and the Apple Watch’s rings make you look at fitness differently.
Judging my fitness progress based on steps seems so archaic now that I can’t see myself ever using a fitness tracker that just uses that as a metric.
When you combine the built in fitness tracking components with Apple's own Workouts app and nice third party apps like Strava, you have a great wearable for fitness obsessives. When you then consider all the interesting work Apple is doing with ResearchKit and CareKit to make the Apple Watch an essential part in long term health management and study, you can't help but be impressed with how much value can be gleaned from this little watch.
As nice as Apple Pay is with an iPhone (I will talk your ear off about how much better Apple Pay is than EMV), it's even better on the Apple Watch. I tap the side button2 and hold it to the reader and I'm done. Like all the best Apple Watch features, it's fast and easier than doing the same thing with my phone.
Outside of one time when a barista rolled their eyes when I used it, every instance of using Apple Pay on my watch has gone perfectly.
Alarms and quick timers
I currently wear my watch about 23 hours a day. I charge it for about an hour at the end of the night and put it on before I go to sleep. I'm woken up at 7AM by my watch buzzing on my wrist and emitting a relatively soft "ding ding ding ding!" Sure, this means that my alarm is attached to my wrist, so snoozing it is easier than any regular alarm clock, but I have been pretty good about getting up...usually.
Another benefit of using my watch as an alarm clock is that it's more discrete and doesn't wake my wife up nearly as often as a typical alarm does. An iPhone makes a racket that everyone within earshot can hear, but a buzzing watch only disturbs me. In the interest of maintaining a happy wife, this is a huge benefit in my book.
But in addition to being a great alarm clock, the Apple Watch is also great at setting timers and stopwatches. Using Hey Siri to activate a timer is incredibly simple (and reliable), and doing it manually with the built in apps is extremely simple and quick as well. Say what you will about app load times, but the Timer and Stopwatch apps launch instantaneously, especially after the most recent watchOS 2.2 release.
The timing functions also have great watch face complications that let you keep track of whatever you're timing, whether it be dinner in the oven, laundry in the dryer, or you're oddly timing how long it takes you to do the dishes just because you need to know how long that takes. Not that I've ever done that...
Apple brags about how good the Apple Watch is at telling you the time, but it's equally good at keeping time for everything else in your life.
Great third party apps (yeah, I said great)
This section is going to be short because even the biggest Apple Watch fan will admit the app situation is kind of a mess overall, but there are a few that I enjoy regularly.
Dark Sky is my favorite third party watch app and I use it all the time. It has a very useful watch face complication and a solid app that nicely slims down the full Dark Sky app into a wrist-friendly interface.
Panera Bread has a shockingly useful app that lets you order a meal via their Rapid Pick-Up Order system with like 3 taps on your watch. Within 10 minutes you food is ready and waiting by the door of the closest Panera location.
Strava has become my running/biking tracking app of choice based entirely on its solid Watch app. Tweetbot has great notification capabilities, allowing me to favorite, retweet, or reply to my mentions. Finally, MacID makes it easy for me to unlock my Mac with one tap the moment I walk in the door after work.
That list does need to get better and Apple needs to make better apps possible on the Watch, but it's a fallacy that there are absolutely no good apps available for the Apple Watch.
Siri on your wrist
This feature brings up the rear because it's not always lovely, but it sure can be in some circumstances. I've replied to text massages while cruising along at 20mph on my bike and settled some arguments by asking Siri a pop culture question. Siri's capabilities on the Apple Watch are more limited than they are on the iPhone, but if you know what to ask, she can be very helpful in a pinch.
Dictation works quite well and is typically pretty fast. Again, this is something that would benefit from a little extra processing power, but it's helpful for some tasks and I use Siri on my Apple Watch every day.
I haven't even talked about everything I love my Apple Watch for! I love how it helps with navigation when I'm driving. I love using it as an Apple TV remote if I don't want to deal with Apple's oddly designed remote. I love using it to see and respond to text messages without involving my phone at all. I love its always available media controls. I love taking phone calls on it and not having to hold it up to my mouth like Dick Tracy, I can just talk.
There are tons of things I love about the Apple Watch, and as I said at the beginning, I feel like the tech space is full of people being hard on the product. I understand that criticism is more fun to write, and more enticing to read, but I had to take a little time to just think about all the benefits this product brings me.
I want to see the Apple Watch grow and get better in every way possible. I also want it to find ways to appeal to more people. I want the people who bought one and don't really wear it anymore to find a reason to put it back on every day. I want app developers to have new tools to make even better software and make a living off of it. I want all of that to happen, but even before any of it does, I still love my Apple Watch and think there are quite a few people out there who feel the same.