No, you probably don’t *need* an Apple Watch

People keep asking me when I’m going to write a post about the Apple Watch, so here it is.

I generally buy 1st generation products (well, ones from Apple, anyways) because I am curious to see how the technology is developing and evolving. I had a 1st generation iPhone and a 1st generation iPad. Getting the 1st generation Apple Watch was a foregone conclusion.

I’ve been using mine for about two weeks now. I got it three days after the April 24th launch date, which remains kind of a mysterious miracle. The launch of pre-orders on April 10th fell out on the end of Passover, and in observance of rules to not use electricity on the holidays, I wasn’t able to order it until almost two days later, when every single model was listed a “Shipping in June.”

I had resigned myself to a very long wait, but to my surprise I got a shipping notification on April 25th, and it arrived two days later. I have no idea how I was able to jump the line. My one suspicion is that there may have been a surplus of my model (an Apple Watch Sport 42mm with a blue strap), since Apple was holding a raffle for this particular model to help developers jump ahead of the line so they could test their apps. But that’s my only guess.

I opted for the Apple Watch Sport for a few reasons. First and foremost, it’s very clear that this is a 1st generation product, and I will probably upgrade again when the next much-improved model comes out. Second, I go running a few times a week, so the lighter weight appealed to me.

I went with the Apple Watch Sport with the blue band.

I went with the Apple Watch Sport with the blue band.

As for the band, I went with blue. The sport came in black, white, pink, green, and blue. This is the same blue that I chose for the cover of my iPads, and frankly, I liked the fact that the blue would stand out a bit. Men have such few opportunities to accessorize. Might as well make a statement.

The first day that I had the watch, I needed to catch an evening trip down to New York. During the day, people didn’t seem to notice it until I walked into the airport in Boston, at which point it was like a magnet and everybody started asking me about it. Clearly, the business travelers were target demographic.

At the security line, the woman next to me turned and started.  “Ooh, you have an Apple Watch!  How are you using it?  What are you doing with it?”

I started at her, speechless. Do with it? Well, nothing yet.

With the iPhone, I could immediately articulate the value to people who couldn’t fathom why you would want one. It’s the internet in your pocket… when you are out and about and need to look something up… It gives you one device for everything…

The iPad was a little more challenging to explain, but you could still do it. It’s about casual browsing… about watching movies and reading books… a better balance of usability and portability…

But the Apple Watch? Well, it’s much harder to explain. It allows you to strike a different, less disruptive relationship with your phone. And it’s an excellent fitness band. What does it allow me to do that I couldn’t do before? Hmm…

Don’t get me wrong – as I will explain below, I really like having the Apple Watch. But unless you have a certain relationship with your phone, it’s difficult to articulate why you might want one. I certainly can’t say that you *need* one.

The Apple Watch is essentially a remote control for your iPhone. It doesn’t do anything that your iPhone doesn’t, but it saves you from having to take it out of your pocket. If you are one of those people who is taking out your phone every time a notification comes in, the real value is that you can briefly glance at your watch without disrupting what you are doing.

I’m sure 75% of the people reading this are saying to themselves, “That is the dumbest reason to spend $400 I have ever heard.”

And I’m sure the other 25% are nodding their head, knowing exactly what I am talking about.

If you are part of the 75%, I’d suggest you stop reading now. There is nothing I will ever be able to do to convince you of the value. You have a different relationship with your device, and I’m sure you are looking at me as a pitiful creature who has become enslaved to his device. I see your point, but I view it differently. I’m not going to try to argue with you.

For the other 25%…

One of the best things about the Apple Watch is for having small kids. When I visited my daughter’s school a few days ago, I saw a sheet she had made all about her family and what each family member liked.  I was relieved when it said “My Daddy likes to go running.” I was fearful that it was going to say, “My Daddy likes looking at his phone.”

Here is a typical scene in my house: I’m the parent who does bedtime with the kids, and right around 7:50 pm I am frequently sitting in the rocking chair with a seven-year-old and almost-five-year-old sitting on my lap. And then my phone will ding with a text message. Until I stop and take my phone out of my pocket to look at the message, I won’t know if it is something important and timely, like a message from my wife reminding me to give my daughter her medicine, or something mundane like an acknowledgement of a text message I had sent earlier in the evening, or something urgent like a colleague needing help on an unexpected problem.

The Apple Watch allows me to know what the situation is without disrupting my time with my kids. I can briefly glance at my watch and then go back to reading the bedtime story unless it is really something that requires immediate attention. They aren’t really aware I am doing it.

Similarly, when I was in two back-to-back four hour meetings in NYC, I turned on notifications of my work email so that I could generally be aware of what was going on. As the senior technologist in my group, I’m often an escalation point for major issues. While I like not checking my email, the fear that there is something that urgently requires my attention gnaws at me.

Over the course of the day, I was able to generally keep abreast of what was going on and not worry.  At two different points during the day, messages popped up that required immediate attention. At those points, I was able to pop open my laptop, fire off a few messages, and return my attention to the meeting at hand.

Do you *need* a device to do this? No. But I find it worthwhile.

The Apple Watch is also an excellent fitness band. It’s an activity monitor, which shows your progress against three daily goals (calories, exercise, and standing) and nudges you periodically to get up and move around. This very much fits my personality, since I have been tracking my exercise and no soda streaks for almost a year.

I also much prefer it for running than using RunKeeper on my phone. The ability to just glance at my watch and check time progress or pause it when I get to a stoplight is really great. I’ve stopped using RunKeeper and just use the Apple Watch’s built-in app.

A few other topics…

Battery life has been excellent. Even on days when I go running for 45 minutes, the battery is still in the 40-50% range at the end of the day. Yes, I have to charge each night, and I have to carry yet another proprietary cable when I travel, but battery life has not been an issue at all.

I find apps on my Apple Watch absolutely useless. 85% of what I am using the watch for is to check notifications. Another 10% is to respond to text messages. If I want to do anything more sophisticated, I really *can* take the 5.5 inch iPhone out of my pocket for a much better experience. I have not come across anything that I would prefer to do on my watch over actually using the iPhone.

One exception is the “Remote” app for the Apple Watch. The Apple Remote is always getting lost, and the Apple Watch app is quite seamless to take control.

Another exception is Apple Pay. Swiping my watch to checkout is a seamless, beautiful thing. Even the checkout clerk at Whole Foods thought it was pretty cool.

For reasons I cannot understand, Siri seems to work much better on the watch than my phone. I am often using Siri to respond to text messages on my watch, and it seems to have a much lower error rate.

At times, it’s a two handed device. Unless you raise your arm when a notification comes in (at which point it shows it to you automatically), you need to swipe the screen to see missed notifications. That means with your left hand you need to raise your arm (better not be carrying anything in it), and then you need to swipe with your right hand (better not be carrying anything it it either).

I’ve never answered a phone call on my watch like Dick Tracy. It’s not that I haven’t tried, but there is a bug somewhere, and my iPhone 6 Plus immediately reboots the moment I try to do this. I think there may be a bug with the iPhone being paired to both the Apple Watch and my bluetooth headset, but that’s just a guess. I’m waiting for the next update from Apple.

In Summary

I really do like the watch. I find it timely and convenient, and I’m happy I have it.

Do you need one? Probably not. If you are one of those people who is frequently checking notifications on their phone, you may find it quite useful, as I do. If your relationship to your phone is like mine, go ahead and splurge.

If not, you can remain smug in your superior independence from your iPhone. But please keep it to yourself.

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One Response to No, you probably don’t *need* an Apple Watch

  1. locksleyu says:

    Nice overview of the Apple Watch. I don’t have one, but I am squarely in the 25% you mention. I see the phone’s potential but have a hard time convincing others.

    I do think it’s unfortunate you haven’t found many useful apps yet. I hope once Apple releases a full SDK that allows more ‘native’ development that more useful apps will be made.

    The apple pay thing does sound great, since with all the stuff in my pocket it’s usually quite annoying to pull out my wallet just to pay.

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