A lot of people have been asking me what I think of the Apple Watch. I actually have some strong feelings about it. Here’s my review after using it for a month.
Before I start talking about the Apple Watch, I want to mention some things.
1. I am an Apple fanboy. I’ve used a Mac for every step of my professional life. I work at my Mac Pro for 60+ hours per week. My iPhone has been my constant companion since the day the first one was released. I consider the iPad to be the greatest tech gadget of all time and am rarely without mine.
2. I didn’t really want a smart watch. I don’t wear a watch. I didn’t have any need that I thought a smart watch could fulfill. But I bought one so I could use it for possible app development and make some tutorials for MacMost.com.
3. For the first month I have strapped on my Apple Watch each morning and wore it all day. I have the 38MM model. As an app developer I figured I need the smaller one so I can judge how well apps work on it at this size. I now wish I had the larger one because I find my aging eyes have trouble reading things on the small screen.
Smart Watches are Stupid
A lot of what I hate about the Apple Watch applies to all smart watches. Apple didn’t make a bad smart watch. It may be the best smart watch, though I haven’t compared so I can’t say. But the whole idea of smart watches didn’t make any sense to me before, and now that I’ve been using one for 30 days it makes even less sense.
There is almost nothing that the Apple Watch can do that my iPhone can’t do better. Much better. The larger screen and the faster processor make it no contest. The only advantage the watch has is that it is theoretically two seconds closer for me to access.
Two seconds is all it takes for me to get my iPhone out of my pocket. If I need to know the time, then the watch beats the iPhone because I can get my answer in 2 seconds less time. But that doesn’t score a point for the Apple Watch because any old watch can tell you the time.
Anything else is going to be better on the iPhone. If I get a text message I can see it on the Apple Watch faster than on the iPhone — usually. But I usually need to respond to a message in which case it is much faster for me to take out my iPhone.
Another issue with smart watches in general is how you interact with them. The typical mode is to hold your arm in “wristwatch viewing position.” That is not a comfortable position. If all you have ever done in the past is to glance at your watch for a split second to see the time, then you probably haven’t noticed. But from day one with the Apple Watch you quickly realize that that position is uncomfortable to hold for 5 seconds, 10 seconds or 2 minutes. Interacting with apps often requires long amounts of time. Holding you phone is a much better option than twisting your own arm and holding it there like that.
So what is a smart watch for? If I have my iPhone in my pocket, then do I really need a smaller, slower, dumber device on my wrist as well? After the last 30 days, the definitive answer for me is: no.
The Apple Watch Likes to Keep You Waiting
I’ll jump right to my biggest complaint about the Apple Watch. There is a lot of waiting. It communicates with your iPhone to get information and this rarely goes seamlessly. Let me share some examples.
Say I want to see the weather. I bring up my wrist and click the crown to see my apps. I navigate to the Weather app. I get the word “Weather” with those spinning dots telling me to wait. One second, two seconds, three seconds. Then the app appears. But it still takes time to load the data. So I wait some more. At this point, the watch display turns off to conserve battery. I have to either click the crown again, or do an awkward movement where I lower my arm and raise it again.
Now sometimes it is better. Sometimes you get the answer in less than a second. But other times it takes much longer than just pulling out your iPhone and looking at the weather app there.
I see the same behavior on many other apps, both the default ones and third-party apps.
I use the MLB AtBat app to see baseball scores on my watch. Sometimes it gives me the scores right away, but usually it takes longer than the display sleep time. I even have my Apple Watch set to stay on the same app instead of going back to the clock. Then when I lift my arm I can “instantly” see the baseball score. Sometimes. Other times it gives me the spinning wait animation. Sometimes it shows me an old score and then it has updated the score after a few seconds. It has done this often enough so now I never trust the score right away. I always wait to see if it updates.
Another app I would like to use all of the time is Cyclemeter. I’ve been using this iPhone app for years to track my bike rides. In theory it should be great to start and stop the tracker with my watch instead of pulling out my iPhone. But in practice I get the spinning dots or sometimes even a message telling me I need to access the app on my iPhone.
These are just examples. I’ve seen this same behavior from many different apps.
The one thing that the Apple Watch can do that an iPhone cannot is to track your pulse. I’m not a fitness enthusiast, but I do like to ride my bike several times per week. I do like to make sure that I move around during the day since I work at a desk.
But the Apple Watch has not helped me with these. The “Time to Stand” function is a joke. I get this message while sitting and eating in a restaurant, sitting in a movie theater, relaxing at the end of the day. I can appreciate the idea, but once you start to ignore the message more than obey it, there’s no point. Once I finished an hour-long bike ride, sat down to rest, and got a “Time to Stand” message five minutes later. Still wondering about how that happened.
The first time I took a bike ride with my Apple Watch I was excited to use the exercise functions to “track” that ride. But the first thing it asked me was how many calories I wanted to burn on this ride. Uh, what? I don’t know. I’m going somewhere. I’ll burn however many calories it takes to get there and back. But it wouldn’t let me skip this question. So I gave it a random number. From then on it used either that number, or the number from my previous bike ride. This makes no sense to me as I ride to different places for different things and I’m not sure what the point of measuring one ride against another does for me.
Maybe people serious about exercise find all of these functions useful. But I stopped using all of the fitness functions after a week. I still use Cyclemeter to track my bike rides as usual, but as I mentioned before I usually do this on my iPhone despite the fact that it has an Apple Watch component.
ApplePay and Passcodes
One potentially cool thing about the Apple Watch is that you can use it for ApplePay instead of your iPhone. But as there is only a four-second cost to taking out your iPhone and putting it away, there’s not much point.
The first time I tried to use my Apple Watch to ApplePay I found out I had to set it up just like I did with the iPhone. I thought that since it was really using the iPhone for the transaction that it would already be set up. So that first time was a bust as I wasn’t going to hold up the line while I did that.
The second time I had it all set up, but it just didn’t work. I pulled out my iPhone and it worked fine. I don’t know what went wrong, and I wasn’t going to hold up the line to troubleshoot.
The third time it worked. But it saved me very little time. None in fact, since there was plenty of down time while the cashier rung me up to take out my iPhone, and plenty of time while bagging to put it away.
And there is one huge disadvantage to using ApplePay on the watch. It requires that you set a security code for your Apple Watch. Probably a good idea. But it does mean that I now have to enter that code every morning. And on the small screen I rarely get it right the first time. Then throughout the day if I take the watch off for any reason I have to enter the code again. I may enter the code in dozens of times between instances when I use ApplePay, meaning I am not really saving any time at all.
The passcode is really annoying, in fact. I often put the watch on in the morning without entering the passcode because I don’t need to do anything with the watch at that moment. So then later when I need to do something I find that the passcode trips me up.
Once, I tried to enter the code in the very first time in the morning and was told I needed to wait a minute to try again. I wasn’t about to sit down and stare at my watch for a minute, so I just moved on.
It got to the point where ApplePay wasn’t worth it. So I disabled ApplePay so I can skip the passcode. So the “potentially cool thing” is not even a thing anymore for me.
Messages and Phone Calls
You can send, read and respond to text messages on your Apple Watch. But it rarely makes sense to do so.
You save a little time in receiving messages. But you lose that time if you try to respond. The six little quick responses you can choose from rarely fit for me, even if I try to customize them. So I need to use Siri to respond with my voice.
Half the time Siri fails to translate this into text. And when it does it gets it a bit wrong sometimes, so I end up pulling out my iPhone anyway. And using your voice requires that you are alone in a quiet room. If that is the case, then I can usually do it faster by pulling out my iPhone anyway. I would love to have a quicker way to respond to a text message when I am talking with people or in the middle of an activity. But that is precisely the time when a voice response will not work.
You can make phone calls with the Apple Watch too. But that has the same problem. The first time I received a phone call was while I was standing in line at a Chipotle. I thought “Oh, I can take that call on my Apple Watch!” Then I looked around at the other people in line, the people eating a few feet from me, the people behind the counter and thought no, I’m not going to stand here with my wrist to my mouth talking into my watch.
Maybe I would do that if I was alone in a quiet room. But then why not just talk on my iPhone then?
Maybe someone who makes a lot of phone calls throughout the day while in a quiet place can find this useful. But I have a hard time seeing it.
Where’s the Killer App?
Apple’s previous gadgets have been born with a killer app front and center. The iPod was “1,000 songs in your pocket.” My stereo equipment and massive record collection all in one little device. The iPod didn’t even need anything else for it to become a huge success.
The iPhone started as a phone. All jokes aside about how poorly it worked as a phone, it was still a mobile phone. Everything else was gravy.
But what does the Apple Watch do? It tells you the time. Big whoop. If I needed that before I would have worn a watch, but I didn’t. So what does it do? I can see my messages, the weather, baseball scores, stock prices, etc. But I can see those on my iPhone, and much more. And much better.
So there is no killer app. Maybe fitness for some people, I guess. But it’s not a killer app. People worked out and exercised just fine without an Apple Watch. I can’t see it adding significant value there.
I’ve stopped wearing my Apple Watch. It is sitting on the charger right now, not even in the same room.
I’m glad, too, as the weather is turning warmer and it was getting even more irritating to have something strapped to my wrist all day.
I can’t recommend an Apple Watch to anyone, I’m sorry to say. If you talk a lot on the phone, get a bluetooth headset. Use it with Siri to receive and send text messages too. If you need to track your fitness stats, then get a good iPhone app, you don’t need the watch for that.
If you are using an Apple Watch anyway, then keep a good lookout for a killer app that will make everyone love it. If such an app appears, let me know.