Review: My First Week with Apple Watch

Apple Watch 42mm Sport Black
Apple Watch 42mm Sport with Black Band (displaying customised ‘Modular’ face)

Well, I spent about seven months waiting for the Apple Watch, along with many others around the world, and it’s finally here. This waiting period saw Apple further refine the device’s battery power, readying the retail try-on experience, online pre-order process and of course, allowing time for developers’ app submissions, which now number at least 3500. It’s impressive that a first-generation product has such a great app marketplace already.

Over time, having read many blogs and watched many videos (Apple and third-party) about the product, I was optimistic about the Apple Watch. Sure, I expected there to be a few first-generation glitches and shortcomings, but I was generally optimistic. Now that the device has been released, the general reaction to the watch has been positive, and Apple is thought to have sold at least two million of them as initial pre-orders.

Many consumers, it still seems, are sceptical of the device:

“It’s just another screen in my life.”;
“It’s too expensive.”;
“The battery life will not last long enough.”; and
“It will make everyone anti-social.”

…for example

Most of all, there is the question as to what on Earth the watch actually for… what is its purpose? Well, I hope to explain its purpose to you after a week’s worth of experience with the device.

First of all, I’d like to talk about the hardware and industrial design of the Apple Watch. I purchased a 42mm Apple Watch Sport in the space-grey aluminium finish with black fluoroelastomer sport band. This model retails in Australia for $579. The watch is impressively light, and sits comfortably on my wrist, despite the concerns of many that the 42mm version of any of the watches would be too big and thick… and believe me, my wrists are aren’t that big. The Apple Watch (stainless steel) and Edition (18-karat gold) models are of exactly the same dimensions, but weigh a bit more respectively (not so much so that they are uncomfortable… I have tested the stainless steel model with Milanese Loop).

The anodised aluminium case is smooth and consistent in its finish. The band is soft and supple, without feeling flimsy. The Retina display is also beautiful, presenting great picture quality, typography, brightness and colour.

On the right-hand side of the case (assuming you’ve configured the watch for use on your left wrist), you can find the digital crown and side-button. The digital crown is great to use, acting as the watch’s input mechanism for zooming and scrolling, making up for its smaller display than iPhones and iPad. You can scroll through lists using the touch-screen and you can zoom into photos by double-tapping, but using the crown is much nicer. The screen remains unobstructed and the motion is smooth and almost oily-feeling. The side-button is devoted to your favourite watch friends and the Digital Touch function, which I discuss more later in this article.

The back of the watch also boasts a beautiful, circular engraving of text, denoting the model and serial number, wrapping around the four light sensors that monitor health during everyday activity and specified workout sessions.

With regard to the hardware, my first week with Apple Watch has been brilliant. Even as one of the cheaper Sport models, the watch is fashionable, comfortable and exceptionally well-made. Apple has put a lot of consideration into making something that anyone can be proud to wear, even as fashion items for women. What other wearable tech product can do that?

Moving onto Apple’s watchOS, while reminiscent of its bigger brothers OS X (desktop) and iOS (mobile), is quite a different beast. Yes, it uses a minimalist design language, but rather than employing bright, white app backgrounds, the watch uses black backgrounds for high-contrast with white text. The heavy use of black is also an effective method of conserving battery power. The watch uses Apple’s custom font San Francisco rather than traditionally-used fonts like Helvetica Neue, Lucida Grande and Myriad Pro. This choice was to make it easier to read on a smaller display, and it works. Furthermore, with accessibility settings, the boldness and size can be adjusted along with colour to fit more or make the text easier to read if you have poor vision.

Upon turning on the watch for the first time, I was instructed to set it up by connecting to my iPhone via Bluetooth and configuring it with the Apple Watch app. This was an absolute breeze to set up, requiring Bluetooth and the camera to scan the display. The Apple Watch app for iPhone is really easy to use, as it mirrors the layout and functionality of the Settings app on iPhone, albeit with toggles for the watch, including app installation, app layout, connectivity and so on. Many of these things are configurable on the watch too, but can be done more easily on the iPhone all at once if you’re already using.

watchOS, as I stated earlier, is reminiscent of iOS, but works differently. Yes, there is an app home screen, but the basis of the watch is the watch face, which lives in the centre of the displayed app universe. Native apps live on the Apple Watch, and for the moment third-party apps are extensions of those already residing on the iPhone. Third-party apps will behave more like native ones later this year, according to Apple, but for the moment this is of no concern. Contrary to some reports of constant slowness in loading, my experience has been great. I’ve only had two apps that froze or slowed down upon startup, and I am sure that future updates will resolve this.

The watch faces, as the centre of the device’s app universe, are fantastic. I spent a number of days trying to conclude which one I liked best. I jumped from the “extra-large” face that only shows the time in large type, to the simple face with adjustable complications, then finally the modular interface. This is all really a matter of taste. Apple has included 10 faces, most of which can be extensively customised in aesthetic and function. The modular face was my personal choice as it is bold, simple and yet still shows rich information in such a small space, each of which can be tapped, taking you directly to the app. Rich information on the screen enables you to keep fewer tools in your Glances section, which is a swipe up from the bottom of the screen. I have found the app glances for TripView, Shazam, Twitter and the Music app particularly useful, as I have instant access on my wrist to train times, my iPhone’s music library, trending topics and the ability to identify unknown music instantly.

I could spend a long time talking about all of the apps on this device, but by far the best experiences I’ve had so far have been with Messages, Mail, Phone, Activity and Workout apps, as well as Digital Touch… all of the default stuff! What Apple has achieved here is a super-convenient shrinking of useful iPhone apps to provide über-convenience for the wrist, but with a focus on what is essential to enable smooth, ‘glance-able’ experiences. I’ve loved being able to answer phone calls on my wrist at home, use Siri to dictate messages (text and audio form), read entire e-mails and track my activity throughout the day.

I was initially a little bit worried that the Apple Watch’s notifications would be obtrusive, distracting me more than my iPhone ever has. This has not been the case. The Apple Watch is an amazing filter, gently tapping me on the wrist with its taptic engine whenever I receive a notification, giving me the power decide what to act on and when. It may sound strange, but it has saved me time. I no longer check my phone for the sake of it, or get lost in apps, distracted from the initial reason that I picked up my iPhone. The watch keeps me informed in a subtle way that no one else can hear or feel, and most importantly, it makes me use my iPhone less.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and designer / Head of Human Interface Jony Ive weren’t kidding when they said that Apple Watch is the most personal device they’ve ever made and that it helps you to live a better day. Consistent reminders to stand, calorie-tracking and more keep me aware of my movement, and subsequently have made me feel better. The ability to send cute little sketches makes you feel way more connected to this thing than you do with a phone. Digital Touch, whilst viewed as a gimmick by some, is truly great. It just feels different, the same way that emoji in messages is so much more fun these days than the early days of e-mail and SMS.

All of thee amazing functions are delivered in something that truly does last all day. Sure, the battery doesn’t last for months or years like traditional, mechanical watches, but look at the extensive use cases and apps available for this device at this price. I have not run out of battery on any day so far, even with consistent scrolling, exercise and notification checking, and have ended each day with no less than 25 per cent charge left. I find that to be exceedingly impressive.

So, coming back to the whole idea of this post, what is the Apple watch actually for? Where does it fit in the world of computers? Desktops and laptops are the hub, or basis, of our computing experiences, largely for storage and heavy content creation. iPhones, built on the enormous success of the iPod, are our mobile computers, giving us instant informational access around the world, and even tools for productivity and creativity. The iPad, while still questioned, sits between the iPhone and desktop, providing simple yet powerful computing to novices and pros alike. Sometimes you just need that bit of extra space over an iPhone, or want to sit on the lounge with it like a magazine. Hell, you may even want to create an album with it.

The watch, for many people, is not as clear in its purpose, even with a long marketing campaign across numerous media by Apple. After a week with the device, I feel that I can explain it. Much like the rest of Apple’s products, which as Steve Jobs said, stand at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, the watch stands at the intersection of technology and fashion. The Watch is powerful, informational, quick and simple, helping you to monitor your health, stay connected with people and even filter the noise that bombards you during the day. Most importantly, however, it is personal. The focus on fashion gives you choice to have a different band, a different case material, a different watch face. Apple has long been criticised for its supposedly inferior level of customisation on iPhones when contrasted to Google’s Android OS. Well here, Apple has beaten all other wearable products. This product is personal and helpful, and you feel proud to wear it. Other wearables have felt downright geeky, except for perhaps the Moto 360. As time goes on, and more software features, health sensors and designs are added, the wearable space will only improve.

So, if you want something cool and personal to wear on your wrist, that will make you focus on improving your health and cutting down on the time you spend rudely staring at your phone in the company of others, buy an Apple Watch.

For screenshots and a more visual impression of what the watch can actually do, please check out the gallery below.

Why the Apple Watch Needs to Be Expensive

Apple Watch with Link Bracelet (Apple, 2014)

This morning at 10 am Cupertino time in California, Apple held a keynote event at the Yerba Buena Centre. The company unveiled ResearchKit (an amazing way for health professionals to launch global medical research projects via iPhone) and a sexy Retina MacBook that reinvents notebook design. Impressive as both of these announcements were, the hot topic on everyone’s minds was the Apple Watch, and more importantly, when it would be made available and for what price.

Well, now we have the answers.

The Apple Watch Sport starts at AU$499 (US$349), leading up through the middle Apple Watch range all the way up to the ceramic-strengthened gold Apple Watch Edition, which at its most expensive hits AU$24,000 ($US17,000). There is a great variety of models in anodised aluminium, stainless steel and strengthened gold finishes, each with a multitude of customisable/interchangeable bands at a range of prices. Rather than list them all in this post, you can view the prices here at the American Apple Store or here at the Australian store.

There was an expectation from many in the tech and fashion communities that the watch would be priced quite high, but many still seemed surprised about the price of the bands. For example, an über-desirable Milanese Loop band costs $AU299. If tech fans are surprised, just imagine the reaction from general consumers who don’t wake up at odd hours around the world to view Apple keynotes.

Apple Watch with Milanese Loop (Apple, 2014)

In all honesty, I think that the Apple Watch needs to be expensive. Apple’s choice of high pricing is incredibly clever for two major of reasons. The first reason is the watch’s power to challenge the existing timepiece industry. Whilst I would argue that AU$499 is stil incredibly accessible as a starting price,  higher prices as you ascend through the range reflect the level of functionality, customisation and impressive manufacturing processes that Apple is bringing to the industry. No other watch (smart watch or not) can do what Apple Watch can currently do, and definitely not with the same finesse and integration with existing devices, whether they be smartphones, home automation kits or medical devices. Add to this the fact that the Apple Watch is the most accurate timepiece ever created (within +/- 50 milliseconds) and you have a truly compelling product. The Apple Watch needs to be expensive to reflect its capability and challenge existing watches effectively.

The second reason is one that I believe has been talked about less, and is just as important, if not more important: branding. The Apple brand has always historically been one for creatives, professionals and those with discerning taste. It sounds snobby, and I’m no real creative professional, but it’s true. Film studios and professional photographers, for example, generally prefer Apple’s offerings. Even through Apple’s dark years in the late 1990s when they were mere months from bankruptcy, there was a kind of ‘elite’ Apple user and developer community which stayed impressively loyal to the company.

Since returning to success (ridiculous success, at that), Apple has won over many more users and new fans through its desktop and mobile products and services. Whilst remaining more expensive than the competition in general, the company has reduced prices gradually to make their offeringsmore accessible. One of the major potential side-effects of this, interestingly, is a dilution of brand exclusivity. Democratisation of technology, whilst empowering for the masses, can spell trouble for the companies that provide it. Apple has gone from exclusive underdog to global powerhouse. When exclusivity disappears, people who are more interested in status than function and design (brand-switchers) start to look elsewhere. In the tech and fashion industries there is always the threat of someone newer, bigger and better just around the corner.

Apple Watch, as a expensive product with a huge range of uses, reinvigorates the Apple brand with exclusivity and desirability. This isn’t just a tech product, it’s a highly-customisable fashion accessory as well. I may be incorrect, and time will tell, but I predict that the Apple Watch will be a success. People may complain about some of the prices now, and Apple may end up making some adjustments, but all-in-all, human beings are social animals often hell-bent on impressing others or appearing better than others. Those who don’t jump straight onto the Watch because “there’s no real use case”, “it’s a just a pretty toy”, “I don’t need this” or “it’s too expensive” (all of which were said about iPods, iPhones and iPads), will soon start to see others wearing them. They will probably end up wanting one too. If they choose not to buy an Apple Watch and instead decide to purchase a competitor’s offering, then that’s also a good thing. Purchase of any new wearable technology breeds competition, new development and the growth of the category.

This all being said, the Apple Watch is no iPhone. I don’t think we can expect sales anytime soon that quite approach those of the iPhone, largely because the cost of an iPhone is generally spread out for most people over a two-year contract. I believe, however, that super-high sales are not the most important thing (at least at first). Apple is very future-focused though, and is happy to cannibalise its own products with new ones. It may sound ridiculous, but the watch could supplant the phone in years to come. What is important now, however, is that the Apple Watch instils further desire and design excellence into the Apple brand, which at this stage no other company can match.

Looking Forward to the Apple Watch

I’m a massive Apple fan and have been since I was five years old. My aunt recommended strongly to my father that we buy a Mac in 1997, at a time when Apple was only a few months from bankruptcy. Our first Mac was a Power Macintosh 6500, a beige machine inspired by the era prior to Steve Jobs’s return. I loved that computer. I typed stories on it, listened to audio CDs, played CD-ROM games (yay Myst and You Don’t Know Jack) and learnt how to navigate the Web.

Since then, I’ve followed every development in the Mac Universe very eagerly, watching Apple set the standard in every product category that it touches. They’re not always the first to market, but that’s precisely the point. Apple takes existing ideas and combines them to make the simplest package possible. Apple creates products that are designed so beautifully and made so approachable for pros and beginners alike, that every competitor, and I mean *every competitor*, copies them. Look no further than Samsung with the iPhone, or PC makers’ ultrabooks with the MacBook Air.

It is with this zeal that I await the Apple Watch. I look forward to seeing if it will be an enormous success, a dreadful failure or somewhere in between. I predict that it will succeed, but that it will sit in a similar position to the iPad. It is almost impossible to imagine that anything could take off as well as the iPhone (now the greatest business in the history of all business, following Apple’s last quarter). It will sell well, but will probably face the same scepticism that meets the current wearable market. If anyone has the power to change this, it is Apple, just as it did to the tablet market.

Models include the Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition

Since the Apple Watch was first revealed in September last year, I have been wondering what it’s most useful feature or features could be, or what would matter to me specifically. In my broad reading about the watch, it seems that some people cannot see how it could be useful. They state that it needs a ‘killer app’ to be successful, something that it can do that no other device can.

This is not the point of the Apple Watch, as I see it. I believe that the Apple Watch can be summed up with two words:

customisation + convenience.

The iPad had and still doesn’t have a real ‘killer app’. The iPad is a deliberately expanded iOS device that does all of the same things as an iPhone (except for phone calls). Apple understood that a gap could be filled. People wanted larger displays than what they had on their phones, but wanted something that was more comfortable than a laptop to carry around or nestle with on a lounge. The iPad has been a resounding success, applicable in both work and leisure situations. The Apple Watch will enable people to not only check notifications more easily and control various another devices and accessories, but also be personalised in a way that no other modern, wearable technology has before. That’s what some critics do not understand; it is not about specifications, numbers, unique hardware-enabled features and geeky stuff. These things help, but what truly matters is the marriage of good design and engaging software to create a unique experience for every individual. Apple creates magic with its products by paying attention to these small details. No other company can do this. No other tech company can inspire the same pride in its consumers.

CEO Tim Cook triumphant at the September 2014 event, unveiling Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and Apple Pay

I imagine that my primary uses for the Apple Watch will lie in social media notifications, music playback, glances at weather and other location information, plus a little bit of Siri. With the way that the Australian dollar is going at the moment and the knowledge that the Apple Watch will be starting at $349, let’s hope that I can actually afford it. #firstworldproblems

Apple can make the watch cool for younger people again, many of whom have given up on wearing watches in favour of awkwardly (and somewhat rudely) pulling out their smartphones to check the time. I’ve always loved to wear watches and see the Apple Watch as the first compelling, modern take on the traditional timepiece.

I look forward to seeing how this next device will go on to influence our lives as the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad all have. Even the Apple TV, a supposed “hobby” product, has dramatically changed my lounge room space at home and how my family consumes content.

Apple’s influence is mammoth and there is plenty more to come.