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A Week with Apple Watch

Entry 1729, on 2015-07-18 at 14:18:50 (Rating 1, Computers)

Apple Watch will be released in New Zealand by the end of the month but I always like to have a small lead on the pack and have had one for a week now. It has joined my iPhone 6, iPad Air, MacBook Pro, and numerous other Apple products (3 x Intel Mac Pros, 2 x G5 PowerMacs, another older MacBook Pro, 2 x Intel Minis, several older G4 Macs, an Apple TV, 4 x Apple Airports, and probably some others which I just can't recall right now!)

So, given all the computing capability I already have what is the point? Does the Apple Watch fill any useful niche and is it worth the US$400 price? Well while I love the device and use it quite a lot, I'm still not totally convinced it is worth the price just yet.

First, let me describe the Apple Watch for those who haven't heard yet. It is a range of smart watches which all have the same internal electronics but differ in the materials they are made from. The basic model (aluminimum case, hardened glass face, polymer band) is US$400 but if you want the same device made in Apple's custom gold alloy it will cost you about US$20,000. There are two sizes and several different band materials.

As I said, the top model has exactly the same functionality as the bottom one, so the more expensive materials are presumably a matter of durability and fashion.

The Apple Watch is a watch, and a very nice one too, but it is really more a small computer you wear on your wrist. It can't do much by itself though and has to pair with a newer model iPhone to be genuinely useful. The next revision of Watch OS will give it more autonomy and that will instantly make the device far more useful.

So, apart from telling the time, what do I use the watch for?

Primarily reading notifications of events happening in my digital world: incoming emails, text messages, calendar events, news items, tweets, Facebook posts, etc. The watch discretely taps you on the wrist and optionally plays a sound to notify you of new events which can be seen with a quick glance.

It is also useful for sending text messages, either through choosing a message from a set you create (Yes, No, See you in 5 minutes, Thanks, etc) or by using dictation through Siri. There is no keyboard on such a small device, of course, so Siri dictation is important and luckily it works really well.

Here's how I would send a text. Raise the watch and say "Hey, Siri". Siri listens and I say "Send a text to my wife". The new text screen appears and I tap the dictation icon and say "What should I make for dinner tonight?". I tap the send as text (audio can also be sent) and the text is sent. It actually works really well although you do feel a bit silly talking to your wrist - it's all very Dick Tracy!

Many of my iPhone apps have an Apple Watch component which can be used for notifications and basic interactions. All of the third party apps run on the phone which is automatically accessed from the watch but this does make using them slower and less reliable. As I said above, Watch OS 2, which should be released in a couple of months, will allow these apps to run directly on the watch which will be a big improvement.

Third party apps have a wide range of functions. I have apps which notify me of observing conditions for the sky that night, the next time the Internatonal Space Station or an Iridium flare is visible, latest news updates from the BBC, where my tiles are (tracking devices I have on my wallet, car, computer bag, etc), and several others.

Most of the time the display shows the watch face and that can be chosen from a range of varied layouts - both analog and digital - and can be customised with various levels of detail, different colours, and different complications. A "complication" is a horology (the study of time keeping and clock making) term for extra information shown on the watch face.

Currently only Apple apps can provide this information: date, day, temperature, alarm settings, next calendar event, time in another country, etc, but in the next OS this can also come from third party apps.

Extra information from any app can be displayed in a "glance" though. This is a screen of information provided from another app and accessed by swiping up on the screen (the watch has a full touch interface, including forced touch for extra functionality). Notifications of recent events can be accesses by swiping down on the screen, just like on the iPhone and iPad.

Even the cheap model with the polymer band is quite comfortable to wear. It's best to have it fairly tight so it stays still in operation and gives good contact for the pulse monitoring (I haven't mentioned yet that this is also a health and exercise device and monitors your activity each day).

The watch looks really good and even the cheap model seems sophisticated. The bigger model is maybe a bit big, although big watches are the current trend I believe. The display is beautiful, bright, and high resolution and it almost looks like there are real hands moving around the display (assuming you use the analog option).

Battery life is surprisingly good. I recharge the watch every night (along with my phone, iPad, and laptop) but the lowest the battery has got so far is about 60% and I have used it a lot. I have noticed my iPhone battery has been draining a bit faster though. This is presumably because of the frequent Bluetooth interactions between the two. Even with this I still easily get a day of battery life out of the phone.

In summary, there's not much which can be done on the watch which maybe couldn't be done more easily on the bigger phone but with a device on your wrist it is so much faster to do many of those everyday quick interactions because there's no need to pull the phone out of your pocket, unlock it, and find the appropriate app.

In some ways the current system is a bit limited, especially with the apps having to run on the phone, but this will be improved with that free upgrade to Watch OS 2. Reliability seems good for a version 1 device although I did need to force quit the message app once.

My final thought is that for someone dedicated to the Apple world the Apple Watch is an obvious addition, but to anyone else it is perhaps a bit of an extravagance!

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Comment 1 (4403) by R on 2015-07-27 at 21:14:44:

Shouldn't that be "What's for dinner wench?" rather than "What should I make for dinner?"

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Comment 2 (4404) by OJB on 2015-07-28 at 11:58:17:

Only if that comment is made from a safe distance!

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