Apple Watch, Revisited

A few months ago, I posted my initial review of the Apple Watch after using it for a few weeks. It’s been nearly 9 months since I’ve had the watch and I thought I’d give a follow up based on what I’ve learned after using it daily.

The hardware

While aesthetically I think the hardware is one of the stronger parts of the Apple Watch, the underpowered processor is by far the biggest thing holding it back. One issue that has begun to frustrate me is the fact that the Taptic engine is a little underpowered, and it seems to be getting less powerful over time. It’s very rare, but I do miss taps on my wrist occasionally. I tend to only allow notifications for texts, calls and a few other things, so it’s important to actually get those notifications when they come in.

Battery life is mostly fine – I’ve never even hit 10% battery in one day of use, and over the course of one weekend I was able to make the watch last by turning on airplane mode for most of the time and finally going to power reserve. I’d love a situation where the watch could last for 2–3 days of normal use but it’s not a deal breaker as it currently stands.

In the same vein of things that could be better but aren’t show stoppers, I think that an always-on display would be great – the wrist flick motion works pretty well but it’s just not flawless. There are tons of times during the day where I legitimately just want to check the time but instead have to some convoluted arm flick to see the time.

I hope that in the future, more and better sensors are added to the device. Realistically, a focus on making the thing just load what you expect it to in a reasonable time frame is all I ask for.

The software

A lot of the promise of the Apple Watch falls short with the overly-complicated watchOS software. This hasn’t changed in watchOS 2 – while some changes were made, the overall way the system works still relies on you to browse a series of ‘complications’, ‘glances’ or a nearly impossible to use view of all of your apps. I use complications a lot (OmniFocus, Dark Sky, Calendar and the Activity rings all are super useful) but the apps aren’t even a consideration to me 99% of the time.

I wish Apple (and by extension, app makers) would think of software on the watch as powerful, actionable notifications that allow me to quickly act on information as it comes in if I see fit. A great example of this sort of power is the Outlook app on the watch – not only does Outlook do some Google Inbox-esque priority mail filtering to only show you important emails, but it also allows you to archive, mark as read, reply and more quickly from the watch when you do get a notification about an important email. I can’t see many scenarios where I’d be using my watch to actually scan all of my emails but I love getting important notifications I can quickly do something (or not) about.

The way that Google handles their interaction model actually makes way more sense to me, as I’m in it more for notifications and quick interactions rather than lightweight apps that aren’t all that easy to get to. I’d much prefer it if Apple were to focus on making the notification layer more useful while de-prioritizing apps and even glances, really.

Speaking of glances, I hate the way you have to scroll back and forth to get to glances. It makes having more than 2 or 3 impractical (which is one reason I only use Now Playing, iPhone Battery, OmniFocus and Shazam). Instead, how cool would it be if swiping up to get to glances it would act normally but there would also be an icon in one of the corners that zoomed you ‘out’ to a circular view of your glances much like the contacts view. You’d be 2 taps away from any glance. Even better, I wish you could change what the contacts button did, so it could either view contacts or glances. This is the thing I think that Apple could and should do with watchOS 3.

Overall, I find myself using fewer and fewer of the 3rd party apps on my watch but the core functionality of the watch is still fantastic to me. I love having a step counter on me at all times, the ability to get notifications regardless of my phone’s location within the house, and a quick way to do small tasks (send texts, set reminders, etc) via Siri.

A few other things I love and hate

Am I the only person who takes way too many accidental screenshots on my watch? When the watch gets low on your wrist, bending your hand ‘up’ forces the crown and the other button to press your hand at the same time, triggering a screenshot.

I’ve used the watch for walking directions a few times and it’s really fantastic to get the taps when it’s time to make a turn. I hope that with iOS 10 + watchOS 3 that Apple Maps continues to improve so I can start using it more often. Currently, I just don’t trust it that much over Google Maps.

A few other things I wish could change about the platform:

  • Change the ‘contacts’ button on the side to do other things (quick launch an app, load a complications overview, etc)
  • Complications are choppy when swiping between. Wish it were easier to get to any complication as opposed to swiping from start to finish.
  • Hope that watchOS 3 allows Overcast and Spotify to keep media on the watch so I don’t have to run w/ my iPhone
  • The Workout app should have basic interval timer.
  • I’ve started switching to Apple Defaults more, interested to see if that sticks through iOS 10s release. For now, that’s Contacts & Maps away from Fantastical and Google Maps.

Overall – there’s potential, but I’m souring on the watch

In short, I think that the Apple Watch is a very nicely built, somewhat stylish device that does a few things pretty well, but I’m not sure what the future holds for the future of the platform. I think that it may or may not turn out to be a huge new category but instead a really nice accessory that’s great for fitness, notifications and a few voice activated commands. If Apple would listen to my advice it would be to improve the battery, bulk up the processor, strip the OS down and make Siri work more regularly. It’s still an amazing way to get a lot of great functionality out of your phone without having to actually dig it out of your pocket, or feel like you have to carry it everywhere you go. For me, there’s a ton of value there, even if it only ever did notifications / dictation / basic complications.

Overall, if my excitement level and satisfaction was an 8/10 a few months ago when I got the thing, it’s more like a 6 or 7/10 now. I’m still happy with the device but I’ve actually found myself limiting the use to the things it’s actually good at, and not trying to force new functionality on it. If Apple were to find a way to simplify the interface, speed it up, and make the Siri integration truly special I think the watch would be something I would wholeheartedly recommend. I’ll be very curious to see what Apple has in store for current Watch owners as well as the future of the hardware this summer and fall.

Ok, now what?

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