I used to be an avid watch owner. I’d worn a watch for most of my life – at least until my mid to late 30s. I started with a Casio digital watch when I was around 7 or 8 that had the amazing capability to play Yellow Rose of Texas as the alarm. In hindsight, I probably drove my family stark raving mad for the first six months that I had that watch, randomly setting the alarm almost on a daily basis so I could hear the watch break out into song. (Or even combo-pressing two buttons that made the song start playing immediately.)
I’ve always been a digital watch user, mainly because I find trying to read analogue time vexatious. Analogue time is by nature of the definition, imprecise. Is it 1:43 or 1:44? It’s so fiddly to see on an analogue watch or clock. And is it AM or PM? Well, best look outside. At least on a digital watch you’ll see exactly whether it’s 1:43 or 1:44, and thanks to twenty-four hundred hour time, it’s 1:44 or 13:44. There’s precision in digital time keeping and display that can’t be matched in the analogue world.
I stopped wearing a watch in my mid-late 30s when I realised I was becoming neurotic about punctuality. I’ve always been one of those be-ten-minutes-early sort of people, but I became such a time watcher that I started thinking of people as tardy if they even arrived on time rather than being early. (I don’t think I’ll slip back. It’s too easy to keep myself amused using a smart phone while waiting these days.)
When Apple pre-announced the watch, I (ahem) watched with interest the material released about it both on the first day and then subsequent weeks, and realised pretty early on I’d end up buying one. My days of going without a watch were numbered.
I’d been leaning towards getting the basic Sports model for almost the entire pre-release period, until I heard the Sports didn’t feature the sapphire glass screen. So instead I went for the stainless steel model, featuring the sapphire glass screen. I decided to start with the sports band, which I’m still using to this day.
Functionally, there’s no difference between the sports, standard and edition watches – they’re all exactly the same electronics and features; it’s just the shell that differs. I’m not rich enough to consider the gold or rose gold editions – and besides, gold looks terrible on my skin (a white gold edition might have tempted me if I’d had the money).
The many faced god
The Apple Watch offers a variety of faces – the screen shot above shows the watch face I’ve mainly settled on. I can appreciate many of the others, but I’m definitely a digital-watch fan, and the multi-functional approach of this face in particular distinctly appeals to me. (All on-screen elements other than the time are adjustable – battery level, activity level, calendar, etc., can all be swapped out and changed to other functions as required.)
I’d like to see more options included in the faces – but I admit that’s the pure geek in me working. I’d love an option for a binary clock watch face (even more ironic given my dislike for analogue clocks), but I’m perfectly content without the option. I think Apple have for the most part struck a very good balance on the faces they’ve offered (though I find myself shuddering in disbelief at the Mickey Mouse watch face every time I see it).
The earth shattering, life changing nature of the Apple Watch
I jest – the Apple Watch is neither earth shattering nor life changing. Anyone who tries to tell you is lying, touched, or ingesting far too many recreational drugs. The Apple Watch is not the life altering utility device the iPhone is. (Or rather, it is not the life altering utility device that true smart phones are – regardless of their operating system.)
It is however a highly functional extension of the iPhone, and a highly functional … butler. I’m reminded more so than ever before of a comparison made years ago between OS X and Windows Vista. In a Network Computing article from 2007, we were told:
For Mac OS X, it’s the classic English butler. This OS is designed to make the times you have to interact with it as quick and efficient as possible. It expects that things will work correctly and therefore sees no reason to bother you with correct operation confirmations. If you plug in a mouse, there aren’t going to be any messages to tell you “that mouse you plugged in is now working.” It’s assumed you’ll know that because you’ll be able to instantly use the mouse. Plug in a USB or FireWire hard drive and the disk showing up on your desktop is all the information you need to see that the drive has correctly mounted. It is normally only when things are not working right that you see messages from Mac OS X.
My opinion these days is there’s an operating system for almost everyone, and we find our greatest operational comfort when we find the operating system that suits our workflow. The smart phone might have achieved Butlerian status had it not been for notifications – the fecundity of applications wanting our attention makes the smart phone at times a nagger, or to continue to quote that Network Computing article:
Windows is … well, Windows is very eager to tell you what’s going on. Constantly. Plug something in and you get a message. Unplug something and you get a message. If you’re on a network that’s having problems staying up, you’ll get tons of messages telling you this. It’s rather like dealing with an overexcited Boy Scout … who has a lifetime supply of chocolate-covered espresso beans. This gets particularly bad when you factor in things like the user-level implementation of Microsoft’s new security features.
Our smart phones have unfortunately blended in too much of that Windows design ethos of letting the user know everything that’s going on, all the time (unless we explicitly silence them).
No more. (No more.) This is where the Apple Watch comes in. Once paired with an iPhone, the Apple Watch becomes the primary recipient for notifications, and it handles them in a way that would make an English Butler envious. No jumping up and down. Just a gentle tap on the wrist, a chime at the volume you want, and no pressure to respond. No pressure to respond. There are times when one of my iPhones (I carry two: one for work, one for home) sits buzzing against my leg repeatedly. It was the same for Android, and the same for Windows Phone. Notifications are always more invasive on Smart Phones.
Haptic feedback is as close to life altering as you’ll get in the Apple Watch. I won’t pretend it is life altering, but it is remarkably freeing to just get a gentle tap on the wrist and feel no imperative to respond. After a month of using the watch, I pull my phone out of my pocket at work an order of magnitude less. That’s certainly liberating.
What’s the time, Mr Wolf?
Checking the time on a phone is a remarkably unintuitive thing – at least for me, firmly in the middle of Gen-X. In the space of a minute I can pull my phone out of my pocket 5 times to check the time and 5 times put the phone back in my pocket without once remembering what the time was. Instinctively, a phone is not a time keeping device for me. (Something that may even play into my pseudo-synaethesia – I see images associated with particularly resonant emotional words and certain base language words, primarily as a result of my severe speech impediment.)
The watch is another story. I turn my wrist and the watch face lights up with the time, and I remember the time. I no longer waste time (failing) in my endeavours to check the time.
I’ve been on a health kick now for 18 months. During that time I’ve kicked carbs to the curb and developed an exercise regime that’s allowed me to lose almost 30 kilos. The activity and exercise integration offered by the Apple Watch is excellent. I get regular progress reports on calories burnt, hours I’ve made sure to stand up and walk around in, and exercise I’ve done. Perhaps more importantly, the exercise reporting is leveraging gamification – it provides updates and awards and information in such a way as to encourage you to just keep doing a little better. I’m not yet hitting my targets every day but I’m getting close, and I’m being made (politely) aware of it when I’m not.
If there’s a “killer app” function in the Apple Watch, it’s the exercise and activity functionality.
For a v1 device, there’s not many. I’m not even particularly bothered by the lack of water-proofing, something I’d always previously looked for in a watch – perhaps because I’d stopped wearing watches 24×7.
Nor am I concerned about battery life. Even in the first few days of having the watch and playing with it near constantly, I’d go to bed with the watch at 30% or more battery. Into regular usage, even Saturday (when I do a 2 hour exercise session) the watch battery lasts me for the day. I’m more than happy to have the watch sitting beside my bed charging of a night. (If anything, it’s somewhat liberating.)
My real quibble can be summed up with this excerpt from Doctor Who:
When I first got the watch, the home screen was full of apps inherited from the iPhone that were largely useless or not of interest to me. So I diligently worked my way through the Apple Watch app on my phone turning those apps off. Imagine my surprise to discover that every time one of those bloody apps updated on my phone, they reappeared on the watch. Bugger that. And stay out is my motto. If I turn something off I expect it to stay off, regardless of whether the developer updates it or not.
Well, I’ll certainly be adding a Milanese loop band to the watch at some point – probably soon. I’d originally leaned in that direction for a band, but was unsure how effective a magnetic clasp would be, particularly when combined with exercise. Having tried on the Milanese loop at an Apple store recently I’m convinced it won’t be a problem – the magnetic clasp is insanely strong. I won’t be using the loop band all the time, but I definitely want something a little more fancy for times that I’m going out or other special occasions (such as if my fecking government ever pulls their heads in and allow marriage equality).
As for Apple Watch upgrades, I’m not convinced this will be something I’m going to rush to upgrade even if Apple rushes to release hardware upgrades. Water resistance for instance would be an insufficient reason. (An enhanced watch with blood-sugar reading capabilities might be more tempting.)
The Apple Watch is the most expensive watch I’ve ever purchased. Prior to that I’d laid down $300 on an analogue watch to try to convince myself of the importance of reading analogue time (I learnt to read it, but I didn’t see any benefit of it). I spent over a decade practically lusting after a Tag Heuer watch, but that ended definitively on the day I put the Apple Watch on my wrist.
The Apple Watch is version 1, but not v1 like Windows v1 or Mac OS v1. This is a highly polished interface (the fluidity of the home screen is absolutely astounding, I might add) that perhaps represents the pinnacle of current electronics, but it’s still v1. It’s a remarkable device which is a precursor to the eButler or the uShadow from Peter F Hamilton’s Commonwealth Series books. I think it’s the start of the next generation of personal assistants. The ‘real’ device is still waiting to be born, in a future generation of flash, miniaturisation and connectivity, but in the meantime, this is a device that’ll be on my wrist every day without fail.