It arrived sooner than expected. Scheduled for the second half of May, UPS delivered the parcel already on April 24. Apple speeded it up. I’ll summarize here my impressions and experience with the watch during the first 3 days.
(The photos were taken from the Apple Watch display, using an iPhone 6 as a camera. The quality is in reality better than it may look like from the photos here – some reflections and color shift occurred.)
It is the Apple Watch stainless steel edition with a leather wrist band. The “Sport“ edition was not my favorite – I believe steel is more robust and the sapphire glass is more resistant than the Ion-X glass. I had concerns that the “plastic” wrist band might cause a skin reaction. Not sure if this would be true. No matter what, I decided for a more traditional leather band.
The Apple Watch should be understood as an extension of the iPhone functionality. It makes sense to use the iPhone horsepower and provide features with additional value than just copying everything. With the watch it is possible to achieve a more direct, instant communication, which turned out to be very convenient. More about this later in this article. The whole concept is, in my opinion, a good approach to a reasonable battery runtime for the watch.
It turned out my choice of the 42 mm display version was a good one – the watch does not look “lost” on the wrist, the display area is really better than the space on the small version, and my initial concerns that the size may come with some weight on the wrist turned out to be false. No problems, it fits the wrist perfectly, and, in fact, I don’t feel it at all. The material is neither heavy nor “cold”. The sensors on the back side have good contact with the skin. The watch can detect when it is removed – then I need to unlock it using a self-defined security code – and it can detect the heartbeat via one of the sensors. There is information about a sensor which can measure the oxygen percentage in the blood – sounds interesting, only this sensor is not yet activated. There is only speculation about the reason, nothing final at this point. It could be that this sensor is not yet precise enough, the software part could not be completed in time, or some certification is still pending.
The security code protects the watch against unauthorized access, for example in a scenario when the watch got lost. Oh, yes, you can “ping“ your iPhone from the watch – it responds with a pretty loud sound. A gimmick? Not for me, if I remember how many times I set my iPhone aside, did other things, and then was wondering where I left the device in the house …
Pairing the Apple Watch with the iPhone was a quick and easy process: iOS 8.3 includes an app for managing the watch. It is required to have the app detect the watch with the iPhone camera. Pairing and initial configuration starts when the watch is visible in a defined window area. Detailed settings are available later to configure the watch for personal use and preferences. I recommend to restart the iPhone after this initial configuration process. I could not make calls anymore with my iPhone – reason unknown. Restarting the iPhone solved it. Appears to me there was some conflict during the pairing or configuration process. It’s not a big deal: Just a reboot does sometimes some magic.
Getting used to managing the Apple Watch took me a day: Where do I need to swipe and tap for specific functionality? Okay, there is a user guide, but I wanted to try out how intuitive the UI really is. With just a few very basic details, I got it. A small booklet – just a few pages – comes with the watch. That’s it for the beginning. A great solution is the main app selection menu, where the digital crown supports a zoom-in to the app collection. A day later it was all easy, switching between standard displays (swipe down for current messages, swipe up for standard apps like battery status, weather, calendar, etc.) was just fun.
Quite some apps are already tailored for the Apple Watch. This applies to functionality, interaction (which should be more instant for the watch), as well as to the size of the display area. Important is always an installation in the watch or a “sync” when a new app is available. This makes the app available in the watch. Availability and certain behavior can be set in the Apple Watch app’s configuration menu on the iPhone.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Pushover app: My home automation monitors the windows, the garage door, washing machine, dryer and dishwasher (to name just a few things). Now, on defined events – window open or tilted for more than 15 minutes, household hardware completed its task – there is a push message to the smartphone, which notifies the watch to inform me. The default configuration worked so well that I received suddenly these messages, such as “Dryer process completed – cost 0.17 Euro”. (The power consumption is measured and converted to the Euro cost equivalent – the system runs on a CubieTruck credit card size computer with the German FHEM server software on a Linux OS and some Perl programming which I did to implement all the special features). Very nice, I don’t need to pull out and activate the iPhone anymore, just take a look at the watch. This is instant notification about important events, introduced with a decent “ping” sound.
Another positive experience was the German Railways (“Deutsche Bahn”) DB Navigator app: I had the travel selected in the iPhone app to plan it. Now, being on tour, the current location was detected by the iPhone, and I had current information about travel time, train changes, wait time etc. on the watch.
The great benefit with the Apple Watch is for me the “instant” communication. No complex selection menus, quick and easy access to relevant information – if the app and its UI is well designed. There is no question, this becomes a major challenge for developers and UI designers. Just adopting an iPhone app to make it work on the watch is not sufficient and won’t create a good user experience. A 1:1 transformation does not meet the target, and I mean by that not just the adjustment to the smaller display capacity. No, what’s needed are different dialog screens, a different kind of interaction with the app. A “one-click / one-tap“ action concept leads to success (well, it could certainly be a “two-taps” concept, too).
The weather forecast is another favorite of mine: Presenting the weather for a day in a circular illustration is better viewable than the flat list on the iPhone. Switching between weather, temperature and chance of rain works with a fingertip.
In the health app features I enjoy the heartbeat tracking. A sensor in the back of the watch detects the pulse. The recording happens obviously not only on demand, but in certain intervals. The results can be viewed in the health app or in the activity app (both on the iPhone). There is ongoing communications between the iPhone and the watch to keep all information current.
I like the reminder to get up after sitting one hour, details about walking, training etc. with numbers or a graphic on a timeline better than my old Nike Fuelband (where its iPhone app has still ugly bugs, and since a few updates it doesn’t want to sync as it should). The Apple Watch solution appears to me as the better solution, even in the first version.
Making phone calls I have two options: Either I call the phone app, which offers a traditional menu with favorites, call list, contacts and voice mail. Or I press the long key on the side of the watch, which opens the phone favorites list. This list can be customized in the iPhone Apple Watch configuration app. This favorites list is based on a circular presentation style with the digital crown as the pointer to a contact. Now the phone numbers for a call or SMS are available. This works very well, even on the relatively small watch screen.
There is an iPhone remote control available, for example to select and play music titles. The watch itself won’t play musical sounds – I guess this was decided to save battery. Steering from the wrist while the iPhone sits in a distance on the table turned out to be a convenient concept.
By the way, the Apple Watch communicates via Bluetooth and it is said to use WLAN, too. I still need to investigate the WLAN functionality. The default is Bluetooth.
I am impressed by the Bluetooth connection quality and distance. Sure, over 3 floors up, thru ceilings made of concrete there is no signal anymore, but otherwise I had surprisingly good connections.
Siri shows up if I keep the digital crown pressed. Or, whenever the watch is activated (unlocked), I say “Hey Siri”. Commands or questions are spoken (the watch has a micro), the response is always plain text. Siri cannot (yet?) speak to me with real voice via the watch. I can again only guess, the reason was to achieve a good battery runtime, and that’s why power hungry features are not (yet?) enabled.
Battery runtime is okay for my needs. The results are certainly not representative after use of just 3 days, but if I assume that a new “gadget” is initially more used than usual then my conclusion is that the watch runs easily a day and late into the evening. After approximately 14 hours use I had still more than 40% battery capacity at least. As I said, this all depends heavily on kind of apps used and the frequency of interaction. Possible that some functionality is not yet enabled (for example, sound limited) to proof a good and reasonable battery runtime. Recharging overnight works well for me: The charger cable with round magnetic connection plate snaps to the back of the watch and loads via an induction technique – no plug-connector like the iPhone requires it.
Hey, the watch notified my just now: One hour passed by. I would sit for a time longer than good – get up and move a bit, is the message. The watch takes care of my health, and wants me to be in good condition. Things happen …
Now the calendar reminded me: A scheduled teleconference would start in 15 minutes. Again, quick and easy to check what’s going on – it‘s this instant information, being current in a very convenient way. A glance at the watch is always doable, instead of getting the iPhone out, unlock it, and put it back again.
Many features are available by default: Clocks (with sound/alert, world clock), stop-watch, SMS, remote control, passbook, and a variety of apps from vendors. I noticed quite some apps from my iPhone: Lufthansa, United Airlines, 1Password … only to name a few. There is quite some activity in the developer community to make more available for the watch.
So far my first impressions. I experienced the Apple Watch as a useful addition for quick, instant, easy access to information. And it is by no means a one-way: I have access as needed (review calendar, weather, email overview, stock market, world clock), and, at the same time, the watch notifies me in case of specific events, and keeps me current.
There is definitely more to explore and I’ll have more experience over time.
It will be interesting how apps for the Apple Watch will develop, which innovative features be explored and implemented. There is an obvious trend towards small devices for specific use – devices which are networked and communicate with each other.
At the same time it will be important that we keep control over this networked world. We must watch out that our privacy remains intact and be protected. These devices shall not control our life, and generating businesses from our personal data and lifestyle must be avoided or at least limited. The latter might be not easy to achieve and guarantee.
The future remains being interesting.
This writing is my personal opinion, and it is not funded by advertisement or other support. Product and company names are property of their respective owners. All trade marks, and registered trade marks are property of their respective owners.