Yes. Today is Apple Music Day. But I want to play with that for a bit before writing something. And at least I got to the Watch review quicker than I got to Firefly.
So. Sure. It’s just a watch. I've worn them before. They're convenient, more so than hauling a phone out of your pocket. But they aren't so convenient that I ever got into the habit of regular watch wearing, even after buying a couple I quite liked while in the US a few years ago.
Still, I ordered my 38mm Sports at 5.02pm on Launch day. Two minutes after preorders went live. I wasted those two minutes faffing around on the website. It was much quicker to order through the Apple Store app. That small delay cost me dearly in delivery lag, but I’ve had my space grey beauty for a month now and feel I'm familiar enough with it to write up some thoughts.
So. It’s a watch. A couple of times a day I do appreciate the convenience of just looking at my wrist to check the time. Usually when I’m rushed, needing to get kids somewhere. The sensors and software work well and it's rare for me to have to raise my wrist more than once to bring up the watch face.
After starting out with Modular I settled on the Utility face as my daily wear. It has a nice simple analogue clock face and four complications; a second time zone - New York for me; the date; outside temp; and a detailed Activity Readout (actual stats on calories burned, minutes of exercise performed and hours stood, rather than rather than the simple Activity Rings icon).
The other watch faces are nice, beautiful in some cases, and I will sometimes swap another in on the weekend. Usually Solar or Astronomy. But when the working week restarts I go back to my working face.
Would this be enough to drop five hundred bucks on?
Not just no, but hell no.
It's nice having a time piece that keeps perfect time, but we all have that with our smart phones, from the most expensive iPhone to the cheapest, nastiest Android. And you could just wear a Swatch if you really liked the convenience.
There's gotta be something else then, and for some of us that's going to be fitness tracking. This is not a killer use case, though. A lot of people simply aren't interested in that stuff. Others are obssesive on the topic. Neither group are going to find anything in the Apple Watch's fitness tracking and Healthkit for them. Cyclists and mad keen runners will probably stick with their big-arse Garmin GPS units. Swimmers, like my wife, have long been served by specialist waterproof watches to track laps and strokes. Apple's watch is very, very water resistant. You can wear it in the bath if you're a bit strange. But I doubt it'd stand up to thousands of laps over the course of a year or so.
That leaves those of us with some interest in fitness and health, but no overriding commitment to specialist pursuits like running or cycling which are already well served with mature technologies.
I wore a Fitbit for a couple of years. Wore a few of them actually, because they kept bricking themselves or getting lost or broken. I liked the Fitbit and still have a fond regard for it. It helped keep me on track when I needed to repair some pastry-related damage. The Apple Watch buries it, and probably leaves most other generalist fitness trackers behind too - simply because of the depth of additional functionality it brings to a wearable. I have mine synced to MyFitnessPal, mostly because of MFP’s excellent calorie tracking software.
Controlling your calorie intake is about 80% of losing wight and maintaining the loss. Especially if you’re like me and suffer from a debilitating love of baked goods and night time wines. Fitbit has a comprehensive site loaded with a lot more functionality than a simple meal tracker. But their meal tracker was mostly useful for US subscribers. It had very little Australian content, such as pre-loaded restaurant meals. And meals eaten out are the bane of calorie tracking. The first time I used MyFitnessPal to log a YouFoodz chicken salad I bought at a local grocer I was stunned to see it was already in the database with the nutritional breakdown verified by the site. I’ve been sold on it ever since.
The Watch sits on my wrists quietly logging my activity, or lack of activity during the work day, but it really shines during work outs, especially at the gym. Apple has done a lot of work loading the watch with specific routines such as elliptical workouts, which I use a lot. I’m confident that the calorie burn measurement is accurate enough to be useful. The other major advantage over my old Fitbit then, lies elsewhere – say, in the control it offers me over the music or podcasts I listen to while exercising. This is a small thing - but it eases a lot of friction during a workout and anything which makes exercise easier and more pleasant can only be good.
Again, I got no doubt there are Android watches offering the same functions for half the price (and half the battery life, BADDABOOM!). But the Watch is deeply embedded in the ecosystem to which I’ve already committed. Apple’s HealthKit App is a treasure trove of data for metrics nerds and anyone who doubts the utility of measurement should read Jim Dalrymple’s Apple Watch review. This is less a tech spec run down than a heartfelt cry of thanks to the fruit company for saving his life. Dalrymple, boss hog at The Loop, used to be morbidly obese. Now he’s not. He does’t attribute that entirely to the Watch, but he does credit the encouragement offered by Apple’s health tracking software and hardware.
From The Loop:
This is where the review gets very personal for me. This is how I lost over 40 pounds using HealthKit and Apple Watch.
I am overweight. Not just a little, but a lot. I smoke, and have for most of my life, I drink, I eat every food that is bad for me, and I just didn’t care. I think a better way to put it is that I didn’t see a way out.
Apple does a very good job of promoting Apple Watch to marathon runners and other athletes that want to stay fit and maintain their perfectly sculptured bodies. I look at that and know I will never be them, so I move on. There are millions of people in my situation that have done the same thing.
About 10 months ago I went out for a walk. That started a transformation for me that I will never forget. A simple walk.
During one of these walks, I was thinking about life, listening to music and I just kept walking. I walked a long time, at least for me, and it felt good. It wasn’t strenuous really, just a walk—turns out it was a three mile walk and I started doing it every single day.
One day, I weighed myself and I had lost five pounds. I was shocked—I ate the same, but yet I’m losing weight.
Then I remembered this technology on my iPhone called HealthKit. It could track my steps, distance, weight and other information about my body. I started using HealthKit every day to see how different things would affect my weight loss and generally how I felt. Did I lose more weight walking in the morning or the afternoon? What foods made me gain weight? Should I skip meals and hope that helps with weight loss?1
I hesitate to say I became obsessed, but I did become more aware of what I did and how it affected me, both physically and mentally.
The whole thing is worth reading because it’s a solid, no bullshit review of the Watch by a guy who knows what he’s doing, but who ends up writing a deeply personal piece rather than just a tech rundown.
My reading? If you’re inclined to take control of your health and fitness the Watch will help. More than most devices. Less than some.
The third major element of the Apple watch are the comms functions, which range from quirky, though frustrating and useless, to great. Working your way backwards, the Dick Tracey wrist phone thing? It’s surprisingly useful. Not for long conversations, and not in public, but definitely at home or in your office when your phone is just out of reach or even missing. (Slightly off topic, but one of my favourite things about the Watch is the way it can ping your phone when you’re not sure where you put it. I use this A Lot).
Certain people in my life have an unerring sense of when I’ve begun to exercise. That’s when they like to call me. With the Watch I just hit my wrist, take the call on my bluetooth headphones. A couple of minutes of my panting and puffing and they'll usually give up. Alternately I can just cut the call before answering. So too if I’m cooking, and a call comes in, I can answer it on the wrist, hand off to the phone if needed, and keep going. It’s another small convenience, but they begin to pile up. Dozens of them. Maybe hundreds.
Getting texts on your wrist and replying with Siri or the pre-canned responses, is simple and expedient. I probably manage 80% of my messages this way now. I also get 100% of my calls because the phone taps me on the wrist as they come in. Previously if I was in a noisy street or mall I’d probably miss them.
The useless? The frustrating? It’s the prominence given in the User Interface to your ‘special friends'. They get the only dedicated hardware button besides the digital crown, and I don’t know of anybody who uses it. The biometric stuff, exchanging heart beats, is super creepy with anyone outside your DNA pool. And the doodle thing might work for Picasso, but not for me or anyone else I know. Dan Moren, of Six Colors, suggested retasking the hardware button to bring up a wheel of Glances – the micro apps which let you take a quick peek at say, the weather or your bank balance. A brilliant idea and way more useful than Apple’s design choice.
Bottom line, as a communications device it is oddly useful and useless depending on the tasks you expect it to perform.
There are of course thousands of tasks you can potentially ‘hire’ the Watch to perform. It launched with 3000 apps. But I think we’re a year away from developers and users understanding the platform deeply enough to build and use apps properly. Some, such as Marco Arment's podcast app, Overcast, or Shazam's spooky song ID app, are brilliant. Most are not. Maybe that will change when native apps drop later this years, but expecting the Watch to somehow replace your phone misunderstands its nature. It does not replace. It complements.
The Watch is not your phone. It doesn’t want to be the centre of your attention. It wants to triage the never ending calls on your attention, letting you decide which ones are worth your time. Most of the apps you have running on your phone should never be ported across to your wrist.
Having said that though, if you have a lazy five hundred lying around, and two of the three tentpole features (time keeping, communications, fitness) interest you, it’s not a bad investment.