A love letter to my Apple Watch (redux)

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 5 min read

This is not my first love letter to my Apple Watch. I hope that doesn't make me weird.

We all pretty much agree that smartphones are great, right? Yeah, maybe we should use them a little less, and yes, maybe we are eagerly awaiting what comes next in AR/VR/voice interfaces, but we all can agree that just about every adult needs a smartphone these days. And not even "just adults in first world countries" actually, I 'd say the smartphone has become an essential tool that helps make almost anyone's life better. If smartphones are too expensive for anyone around the world, we need to work on getting prices down so they can get involved as well.

I say all this to put my opinion on smart watches in context. The Apple Watch and it's contemporaries are not at the same level as smartphones. I don't think smart watches can make everyone's life better, nor do I think the goal of smart watches should be to overtake phones as our primary interaction source. I remember reading Wired's piece, iPhone Killer: The Secret History of the Apple Watch right before the original Apple Watch came out and getting to this line:

A moment later, he stands up. He has to leave; he owes Dye and Ive an update on something important. In all the time we’ve been talking, he’s never once looked at his phone.

I love that line to this day, and it gets to the core of what I love about the Apple Watch. It's also a part of the reason I think people had unrealistic expectations for what the Watch would do.

The Apple Watch has absolutely helped me use my phone less. I don't mean that I read Twitter on it or do "real work" with it, but I do use it to keep tabs on my notifications. I have a select number of apps on my iPhone that can send me notifications, and I only include apps in that list if they give me information that I may need to respond to in a timely manner. Getting notifications on my wrist means I can quickly glance at my wrist to see what's going on and decide if I need to act on something now or if it can wait for later. My phone stays in my pocket and only comes out if there is something I need to take care of right away. The Watch can take care of some simple actions like favoriting a tweet or archiving an email, but more often than not it's the gatekeeper, letting me decide whether an alert merits the phone or not. This keeps me in my workflow better than checking my phone every time it buzzes.

Now my phone doesn't buzz, my wrist taps. Now I don't check to see what's new on my phone because I already know.

One of the little things the Apple Watch does so well, and something that helps my above workflow, is that it lets you end interactions just by lowering your wrist. For example, if i am using my phone to look at Instagram, I have to tap the home button to close the app, tap the home button again to get back to my main home screen, and then tap the power button to turn off the screen. When I'm done using an app (or anything at all) on the Apple Watch, all I do is stop using it. I can lower my wrist or simply stop paying attention to it. The screen I'm on will stay active for a few seconds, and will still be there if I have a "wait, what was that?" moment, but it disappears and goes back to my watch face for next time.

This simplification of the user interaction model works incredibly well for the wrist. While smartphones removed the need for us to quit apps and manage processes like we did on our PCs1, the Apple Watch removes the "end of interaction" process entirely. Just stop and move on. It helps make every interaction with the watch effortless. Often my entire interaction is to tilt my wrist a few degrees to see a notification that just came in, and then tilt my wrist back to where it was since I'm going to ignore that notification.

And there's so much more that I won't even get into today! The interchangeable bands are a revelation, and I have bought almost a dozen watch bands since 2015. I have worm watches my entire life, but I never bought a new band for any of them. The simplicity of changing bands on the Apple Watch means it's something I can customize to my liking in a day-by-day, or sometimes even hour-by-hour basis.

The fitness tracking on the Apple Watch is really amazing. I use Apple's own activity rings to track my activity, but it works just as well with Fitbit or MyFitnessPal or whatever else you like. And all of your favorite workout apps like Runkeeper, Nike, Strava, and more have built native Apple Watch apps, and most of them work quite well. A lot of them have even updated to watchOS 3 and can be used without an iPhone anywhere near.

And there's Overcast which just added the ability to load shows onto your watch's local storage. There's Mobile SpeedPass that lets me pay for gas without even getting my phone out of the car. There's Apple Pay, which is easy with a phone and even easier with a Watch. There's HomeKit, which lets me control my smart home devices with my voice, or the simple Home app on the Watch. There's the watch face itself, where I get a selection of exactly the information I need to see at a moment's notice. I can go on, but I think you're with me.

None of what I said above my appeal to you. You may have read through all that and rolled your eyes at my excitement over such frivolous things, but like I said right at the top, this is what I expect. The Apple Watch is a great fit for me, and it provides amazing value that I could not get from just a smartphone. But that doesn't mean it's something everyone should own. Even in my review of the original Apple Watch I said:

However, if you are still on the fence, don’t feel like you need to rush out and order one today.

The Apple Watch is industry-leading in the smart watch space, but a smart watch is not something everyone needs. I strongly believe more people would love smart watches than those who own them already. The world is full of products that are not for everyone, but are great for some people. The Apple Watch falls squarely in that category and is not something you'll see me giving up in an overly dramatic blog post anytime soon. I love my Apple Watch.

  1. And if you are someone who "closes" all of your apps when you'd done using them on your phone, just know that you don't need to and your phone runs worse because you do it. Please stop.