I’ve been a fan of Apple Watch since it was first announced back in 2014. With each subsequent model and version of watchOS, there have been numerous new features that have enhanced the experience of wearing a computer on your wrist.
Some of the most notable changes over the past few years have been the addition of native support for third-party apps, cellular connectivity, enhanced health-tracking (e.g. accessibility, ECG and fall-detection) and of course, the overhaul of the user interface, bringing the Dock, Control Centre and more.
What I love the most about the Apple Watch is the fact that it frees me from my phone. I’ve left my phone on silent for years now and appreciate the taps on my wrist whenever important notifications arrive.
Now using the Series 4 with watchOS 5, I have found one of the most profound improvements to be Walkie-Talkie. When Apple announced it as a new feature earlier this year, it was mainly with a sense of humour and fun, as the first use case that was shown was two kids in a backyard at night for a sleepover, joking back and forth with the app between two tents.
Whilst it certainly is fun, I use it as a serious feature almost every day with my wife, Natasha. We still make phone and FaceTime Audio calls with each other and naturally use iMessage, however, there are certain cases when Walkie-Talkie is best. We use it when we need to know each other that we’re leaving work, late, stopping somewhere on the way for groceries, have a quick question to ask or even if we need something across the house (to save ourselves from yelling).
For those who haven’t used Walkie-Talkie, it’s not the same as sending audio files that require manual playback through iMessage. Instead, it sends an audio file that plays live on the other person’s watch, if only with a slight delay. This gives the feeling of a true Walkie-Talkie, as if you’re conversing with the person in-person.
Naturally, there are contexts where this would be downright inappropriate or wouldn’t make sense, particularly if you keep it on high volume. This is because the other person’s voice springs out spontaneously if you keep your status on ‘available’. Therefore, Walkie-Talkie is most useful when you only permit your most important contacts to become favourites in the app.
Taking a step back, when Apple unveiled the first Apple Watch, it touted the device not only as a tool for activity and health, but one for enhanced personal communication. Whereas wrist-taps, Messages, Scribble and other messaging apps and features have certainly made communication more convenient on Apple Watch, Walkie-Talkie is perhaps the first function to make you feel even more connected and really personal. Remember the favourite contacts list that hid behind a press of the Digital Crown in watchOS 1? It has been gone for some time and Walkie-Talkie feels like the app where your favourites truly belong. Now, five OS updates in, I’m even more excited about Apple Watch and what it means for communication.
Since the initial release of the Apple Watch in 2015, much has changed. Now with Series 3 running watchOS 4, this great wearable device has become faster, waterproof and more capable, with numerous apps and functions that can operate independently. Most crucially, it now runs on cellular (mobile) networks, meaning that in many cases, you can actually leave your iPhone at home. Of course, you still need an iPhone, but the convenience factor has increased significantly. Since hearing a recent episode of podcast App Stories, which focused on various use cases of the Apple Watch, I was inspired to write my own account of the device. I wore the first generation all day, every day, but now that I have had time to live with the Series 3, I feel that I can give an appropriate account of what it is like to use.
I received my pre-ordered first-generation Apple Watch on launch day over two years ago and instantly fell in love with it, using it predominately for notifications, activity-tracking and messaging. To say that it was transformative would be an understatement; with its haptic feedback, it sent my phone into a permanent state of silence (no more alert and ringtones!). I could effectively and subtly manage the once infuriating number of notifications, which once led me to pull my phone out of my pocket constantly. I could even act on them.
During this year’s launch event for the Series 3 and iPhone X at the Steve Jobs Theatre, I was ecstatic to see that the watch was finally gaining cellular capability. I was determined to get it. While the iPhone X announcement was very impressive, the watch was far more compelling to me. The notion of leaving my phone at home was tantalising. Don’t get me wrong: I love my iPhone, but every single day, especially on my commute and at lunchtime around Sydney, I observe people who are unable to separate themselves from their devices. Their faces are glued to smartphone displays, often scrolling aimlessly through social feeds.
Perhaps the clearest use case of the new cellular model is independent phone calls, messages and notifications. With seamless number-sharing (connecting and sharing data with your existing mobile plan), the Apple Watch attaches automatically to your network when it detects that it is out of iPhone Bluetooth range. This is indicated in Control Centre, as well as on the Explorer watch face with four dots as an indicator (if you use it). I was impressed that (for once) Australia had reasonable plan rates for sharing phone numbers; it only costs me an extra $5 per month to share data with my Apple Watch on Optus.
Most tech journalists and reviewers mainly tout the new Apple Watch’s cellular connection as a great emergency option, enabling you to exercise without having to carry a phone. This is true, but it is often pushed as the only appealing real-world context when you would leave your iPhone behind. My aim with the Series 3 has been to separate myself from the iPhone in a range of situations, in order to remain free from useless distraction. When I go for my lunch break at work, I always leave my phone in the office and go for a walk. Do I need to check emails? Do I need to look at another screen for an hour? When I go out for dinner with friends and family, I now often leave my iPhone at home. When I go for a coffee on my home-office day, I walk through my suburb to a local café without my iPhone. Not to mention, having Apple Pay on my wrist means that I can go to the coffee shop without even needing to take my wallet. The Series 3 enables me to travel lighter and even distance myself from superfluous technology.
Prior to the smartphone era, mobile phones were shrinking in size — this was the selling point. Nowadays, we see bigger and bigger designs for enhanced entertainment and productivity. The only antidote — as much as I love my iPhone 7 Plus — is to reduce or altogether remove bezels. The Apple Watch fulfils that need for a smaller, simpler communications device, the way that older feature phones once did.
Regarding exercise, however, I do use it for working out and love being able to track my routes during walks and runs. Tech journalists are right to highlight this feature so frequently. It is also brilliant to have an independent Maps app on the wrist for finding points of interest, with taps on the wrist for turn-by-turn navigation.
Whilst not a compulsory purchase, the Series 3 becomes even more compelling when paired with AirPods. These fantastic wireless earphones gained much praise when they were released last year (although low in supply for some time), and rightly so. Beyond music playback, they are the ultimate companion for phone calls, Siri and other general audio through the Apple Watch. While I enjoy using the watch ‘Dick-Tracy-style’ for calls with the speaker, the AirPods facilitate more private conversations.
The addition of a ‘Now Playing’ app, which pops up automatically when playing audio, and can be added to the dock, is also a brilliant addition in watchOS 4. It is much more useful than the previous ‘Glance’ version and is great for quick access to controls when streaming Apple Music directly to the wrist.
On music, you can easily load music from preferred playlists and artists on your Apple Watch for local playback when it’s docked and connected to Wi-Fi, but I have so far loved requesting music through Siri on my AirPods, streaming directly from the Apple Music server without even needing my iPhone.
Apple no doubt understands the significance of this pairing, as they do not break out revenue for the Apple Watch and AirPods in their quarterly earnings calls. Instead, they refer to both products under the category of ‘wearables’. This is smart for a number of reasons. Not only does it obscure revenue and important data from competitors, it also bolsters the wearable category, reinforcing the value of interconnected devices that revolve around the iPhone. They are established as items of convenience and feature extension in separate, defined category.
Using AirPods with my Series 3 has dramatically enhanced the watch experience, transforming it from a handy, wrist-worn notification machine into an essential communications device. It feels more meaningful than it ever was before.
Now, this brings me to more detail on Siri.
In the face of great competition from Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortona, Siri has faced increased scrutiny and criticism. Amazon’s Alexa, in the United States particularly, has gained a great response for its predictable and reliable voice commands for variety of functions. My experience with Siri on the watch, contrary to others’ opinions, has been nothing short of stellar. I find her to be reliable and accurate most of the time and a great enhancement to my occasionally phone-free life.
With and without AirPods, I use Siri on the Apple Watch to dictate and send messages, make phone calls, ask for the weather, ask for information (historical, fact-based, etc.) and perhaps my favourite use case: requesting music in the car. I do not have Bluetooth in my car, so I plug my iPhone into USB with a Lightning cable. While driving, I can safely say ‘Hey, Siri’ without looking at my Apple Watch’s display, and ask for any music stored either locally on my present iPhone or directly from Apple Music. The vast majority of the time, Siri understands me over highway road noise and plays the correct tracks. The only real misunderstandings come from more awkward, non-English artist names or track titles, or if I request a song an alternative or obscure version of a song.I do not deny Siri’s imperfection, but I would dispute much of its criticism.
If there’s one thing that has earned the Apple Watch the most criticism, it is perhaps third-party apps. The watch got off to a slow start with apps, as developers did not have access to the full WatchKit with the first generation. Since then, the Apple Watch has gained the ability to run apps by itself, rather than always handing off to an iPhone. This naturally means that developers can make more powerful apps. I could go on and on, but I’d like to share two of the most meaningful apps that I use without my phone on me. These apps are not necessarily my most used apps, but they are great examples of the power that the watch has for search, beyond the predictable functions for communication.
Since the watch gained Cinema Mode some time ago (‘Theater Mode’ in the United States), I have though differently about how I use my watch at the movies. I no longer have to choose a different face to remain less distracting in the dark; I can now tap a button in Control Centre and avoid my wrist lighting up and disturbing others.
The free app After Credits enables users to check easily if the movie that they are watching features any additional (surprise) content during or after the credits. Having something like this on the wrist, without having to pull a phone out in the dark or wait through the entire credits, may sound niche, but is something that is of tremendous convenience. I certainly enjoy having such information only a tap away.
V for Wikipedia
I love searching for definitions, facts and a range of historical information on sites like Wikipedia. If I am passing a monument, I like to know why it’s there. If I spot an interesting building and want to know when it was constructed, I want to be able to find that easily. If I want to search for the meaning of a word, the iPhone enables me to do that.
Most would assume that the Apple Watch would not be able to fulfil such functions quickly, easily or with adequate detail. The app V for Wikipedia makes all of this possible. On the iPhone, it is a beautifully designed Wikipedia client, transforming the site into a kind of luxurious, digital book. You can search not only for articles in different languages, but also quickly jump through chapter sections, view images in full screen and even see articles about things, places, events or people that are relevant to your location.
The Apple Watch gains a focused, stripped-down version of this app, allowing you to search for articles by voice, scribble or location. I have used the app frequently as a source of information. It is quite satisfying to search all of Wikipedia on your wrist, and you can bet that I have used it to verify facts while in conversation with others. Generally, I am met with expressions of bewilderment at how I answered any given question without a smartphone. Not every developer has mastered user interface design for the watch, but V for Wiki is an example of watchOS app design done well. Across Apple Watch and iPhone, I would rank it as one of my absolute favourite apps.
Beyond these app examples, I do wish for certain improvements. My greatest wish for the Apple Watch, particularly now with cellular models, is a dedicated Apple Podcasts app. Downloading and/or syncing to the watch from an iPhone, as was definitely the case with the Music app, may also be too cumbersome an experience with something like podcasts. At least with today’s watchOS 4, if it were even possible only to stream the latest episode of any given podcast subscription, then I would be a happy chappy. Simply give me a list of my subscriptions, show me the latest episodes, and let me tap ‘play’. Podcaster Marco Arment, creator of popular podcast app Overcast, has gone into great detail on the limitations of audio synchronisation (particularly podcasts) on the watch on show Accidental Tech Podcast. There is still plenty of potential here.
Based on the Series 3’s noticeably faster hardware, it would be fantastic if many developers were to make their apps run more independently. For example, Day One (a digital journal) and Spendee (expenditure- and income-tracking) are two apps that I use frequently on the iPhone. Whilst present on the Apple Watch, they are still dependent on a connection to the phone. I am unsure of the exact technical limitations that may restrict this for developers, but perhaps some way of holding added data in the background would be appropriate, which could then sync to the watch when the connection is reestablished.
Needless to say, the biggest disadvantage of carrying only a watch is the inability to take photos. Mobile photography is now such a big part of our daily lives, and I thought that this would really bother me when being out with family and friends. Interestingly, it hasn’t all that much. It has occurred to me that I already have so many photos, and that not having a camera with me 100 per cent of the time actually allows me to be in the moment, rather than obsessively capturing it all the time. With current battery limitations in a device so small (impressive though the new battery is, lasting for two days if necessary), it would be interesting to see if Apple were to include cameras in future models. No doubt there is a greater case for a FaceTime camera rather than an iSight one, as video-calling on a watch makes more sense that capturing stills with a tiny lens. It is difficult to beat physics in this case as lenses need to be a certain thickness. Samsung’s efforts at adding cameras to their earlier Gear watches were blurred disasters, so I’m not gunning for it.
I’ve worn watches since I was a young child; the act of turning my wrist to check the time is etched into my brain. The Apple Watch obviously fulfils the role of a timepiece, but more than this, it has become a stellar device that has changed the way that I think about interacting with the digital world.
Back when I was studying, I was introduced to the somewhat pompous concept of ‘co-presence’. Quite simply, it refers to the idea of being present in two worlds simultaneously: the physical and the digital. You can be using your phone to check the status of any given social network, for example, while sitting and interacting with friends. The issue, as I see it, is that to many people fail to be really pay attention to the physical world while using their devices. The Apple Watch, I believe, enables such ‘co-presence’. A simple haptic tap, without sound, keeps me plugged in, but not locked into the digital world. Devices should augment and support experiences in the real world, rather than consume them.
All in all, I continue to be impressed by the Apple Watch. With major improvements to hardware, software and now cellular networking, it helps me to focus on the things that are actually important. I cannot wait to see where Apple will take this product category.
Last year, I was one of those people who rushed to pre-order the Apple Watch, keenly anticipating its arrival on launch day. Luckily, I received it without a delay and like a child with a new toy, I excitedly set up and customised the thing to my liking. Now that I’ve had it for just over a year, I’ve been reflecting on how I use it on a day-to-day basis. There hasn’t been a single day that I haven’t worn it since first setting it up, and I can honestly say that I use a large number of features often.
Every day, I use the Activity and Workout apps to track my movement and exercise; I can say honestly that I have become more aware of my general health and have been motivated to integrate more exercise into my day. Messages and Twitter are also fantastic to have on the wrist, and it’s really cool and convenient to select music in the car simply by saying “Hey, Siri”. While dismissed as somewhat of a gimmick, I also use Digital Touch (sketches) every day with my girlfriend and family members, whether it be in the form of colour-coordinated tap codes (e.g. three white taps left to right = “I’m on my way”), or little sketches just for fun.
Aside from all of these features, however, I’ve also thought about how the watch contributes to my productivity each day. I was surprised to discover just how much use the device for work.
Below, I expand on some of the apps and functions that I use the most for work and commuting.
Watch face and Home screen
Well, this goes without saying, really. The watch face is central to the Apple Watch experience and is the first thing that you see when you raise your wrist and the display illuminates. Whilst I do swap faces every so often, sometimes to match a different band, the Modular face is (to my mind) the most useful one for linking to various apps. On my Modular setup, I link to the app Streaks (for encouraging new habits), Activity, Weather and most importantly for work, Calendar, which is integrated into the day/date display in the centre. Having your day’s events and appointments a tap away is a fantastic thing.
While I’ve heard that a number of Apple Watch users don’t go to the Home screen much to navigate between apps, I do this often. Rather than litter my Glances section with a lot of apps, I prefer to click the Digital Crown on the side of the watch to reach the Home screen and swap between my apps. It’s easy to re-organise the apps and get to the one you want quickly. Alternatively, you can just ask Siri to open the desired app.
Flowing on from the watch face, Calendar is an indispensable app. Some may prefer to use an alternative calendar app such as Fantastical or Sunrise, but the default calendar on iPhone, iPad, Mac and so on has always worked well for me. The app is great for viewing what’s coming up in the week ahead and keeping track of meetings and appointments.
Something I would love, however, would be the ability to browse different months with a year, rather than just one, even if it were just for checking days and dates. It is understandable that Apple would limit the range of events that one can view in a stream, as it would quickly become ridiculous to scroll endlessly through future appointments with the Digital. That’s where the iPhone comes into play.
Many tech commentators emphasise the need for a “killer app” on any given device; notifications on Apple Watch may be that killer app.
In a productivity context, notifications on Apple Watch are powerful and reliable. With a simple tap on the wrist using the Taptic Engine (and my watch always set to silent), I can receive subtle notifications on my wrist as I work, whether from Messages, Mail, Messenger, Slack, Calendar, Twitter or any other myriad apps installed on my watch or purely on my iPhone.
This is particularly useful for meetings, when I can monitor new notifications coming in with a simple turn of the wrist, rather than pulling out my phone, which can come across as even more impolite.
The beauty of Mail on the Apple Watch is its simplicity. All e-mails from multiple accounts are showed in the unified inbox and it’s super-easy to flag, reply, mark or trash individual e-mails. Like all apps, it’s easy to navigate by scrolling with your finger or the Digital Crown, or tapping the top of the screen to fly to the top.
Replying via e-mail can be done with quick phrases or dictation, the latter of which isn’t necessarily advisable in a quiet office environment, but it’s great to have on the go. It’s fantastic to be able to manage things like this when away from the desktop or rushing down the street.
Slack is big enterprise favourite for messaging and for certain organisations it is an entire replacement for e-mails. Slack works like the default Messages app with dictation features, also giving you access to both group and direct/private message streams. Again, accessibility and simplicity on the wrist coupled with the instant tap notification system means you’re not going to miss important work messages.
I worship this app. For those who may be unfamiliar with it, 1Password is a fantastic password vault and generator that syncs beautifully between versions designed specifically for the Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac. All you have to do is remember one password to unlock all the others.
In order to keep things tidy, the Apple Watch version will only display passwords that you have saved on your iPhone and marked with “Add to Apple Watch”. Upon entering the code in the app, you are then granted access to your favourite or most used logins and passwords.
Whilst I personally use Apple’s iCloud Keychain on my Mac at home to accelerate login (passwords are entered automatically in fields), I prefer not to save all of my passwords on my Windows desktop at work. Using 1Password means that if I want to log into an app or service that I use less frequently, I can easily check my watch instead. For added security, Apple has programmed the watch to lock itself when removed from your wrist at all times. If someone were to steal your watch, they would need to know the code to unlock your watch and the one for 1Password as well.
Here’s an app with a very simple use case. As I work at the German-Australian Chamber, I sometimes need to know what time it is in Germany (surprise!). Having the time in Berlin only a tap away (or even in the Glances section or as a watch face complication) is really useful. Naturally, one can add more cities to the list and it reflects whatever is set on your iPhone for consistency.
Maps has improved by leaps and bounds ever since its rocky release back with iOS 6 back into 2012. It has gained public transit information, many more 3D Flyover locations and is much more detailed and reliable than ever before.
On top of this, it now includes even more information from popular sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. I used to keep Google Maps on my iPhone just in case something went wrong with Apple Maps, however now there is absolutely no need for that.
Maps on the watch is executed extremely well. For meetings in Sydney CBD we’re I’ve had to go by foot, or even in situations driving by GoGet, Maps has been a significant aid in getting me to the right place at the right time, using either the on-screen map display or taps that tell you when to turn.
Much like Maps, Australian transport app TripView is absolutely brilliant (as the full app and in Glance mode). I use it every day for train times to and from work, as well as in situations when I’ve had to catch buses and trains during work hours.
iTranslate and WordBook
As I work in a German- (and English-) speaking office, German words tend to come up quite often. When not using the dict.cc German-English dictionary on my desktop computer, iTranslate has proven to be really useful for translating words on the fly. Simply say the word that you want to translate and the app will do it for you. A light Force Touch on the display will also allow you to change languages.
The same principles apply to English dictionary app WordBook, except there is also the expanded functionality of definition history, bookmarks and new words to learn day-to-day.
LinkedIn and Xing
While LinkedIn doesn’t have its own Apple Watch app, there is still compatibility with notifications to stay current with new connections and received messages. Xing, Germany’s equivalent to LinkedIn, does have its own dedicated watch app, which allows users to keep track of message history and recent profile visitors.
One of the iOS community’s favourite third-party calculator apps is Calcbot (made by Tapbots, developers of the beloved Twitter client Tweetbot). Tapbots has done a fantastic job of compressing a decent calculator into a tiny space. Tapping the buttons is easy with a low error rate, plus a Force Touch on the display reveals mathematical functions. It’s fantastic for performing quick mathematical operations that exceed the power of my own measly brain.
Last, but certainly not least, Siri is a great productivity tool. As much criticism as Siri and other digital voice assistants such as Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana often receive, in my experience, Siri is always improving in its accuracy and responsiveness. Each day, I use Siri to add new reminders, calendar events/appointments, start a navigational route in Maps, check the weather forecast, open apps on the watch and more.
Contrary to some of the criticism of this first-generation product, once personalised properly, it really is a powerful assistant. The true power of Apple Watch, aside from its customisation and personalisation, is its ‘glanceability’; it’s always there on your wrist, delivering the most important notifications and saving time that you would otherwise spend periodically checking your iPhone. I can recommend it highly as a productivity tool and can’t wait to see where Apple will take the device in the future.
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.”
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. Also, click here to see some cool films by Apple showing off further software features and the craftsmanship involved in the watch’s manufacture.
The watch face at the centre of the app universe…
One of the many cool watch faces, ‘Astronomy’ enables you to zoom backwards and forwards through time using the digital crown, seeing all of the planets of the Solar System in their actual positions.
The heart-rate monitor in the Glances section is pretty quick to read your heartbeat.
Ahhh, TripView Glance… how useful you are!
Quick toggles for settings as a Glance
Shazam displays an album cover following the successful identification of a song.
Shazam can also display lyrics in time with the music as it plays.
Digital Touch is just super-simple and fun, but only works between Apple Watches.
Trending topics on Digg, a news aggregating app
Yelp results are clean and easy to read and also include helpful reviews like in iOS.
Maps is super-slick and pretty quick too.
Main menu in the Apple Watch app for iOS
The Weather app is really handy, with full time break-downs.
The Workout app is a pleasure to use and is really motivating.
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.
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.
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.
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.