Thoughts on Apple Watch

I decided to wait until the dust settled before I commented on Apple’s smartwatch. My initial impressions of the device were very negative. If you were to ask me what I thought about it a week and a half ago I would have told you that it’s a meaningless device that I can’t imagine myself ever wanting to use. But, I’ve come around on my thinking a bit. I still don’t want this Apple Watch. But, we could be two or three iterations away from something everyone is going to want.

Hardware

The Apple Watch is a pretty impressive piece of hardware from an industrial design standpoint. Sapphire crystal display, two different sized watch faces, three different metal casings, and a myriad of band options — Apple put a lot of effort into this. I would typically expect Apple to launch with one model and eventually get to different colors, sizes, and price points after a few years. But, Apple came out of the gate with options that will appeal to a larger group of potential buyers.

With all of these options, Apple really has stayed true to how Tim Cook pitched the Watch on stage — “the most personal device we’ve ever created.” This isn’t something that is going to spend most of its time hidden in a pocket or purse — this is a device that is meant to be worn and as such needs to be customizable to fit everyone’s idea of what a smartwatch should look like. Thinking about it from that perspective, I shouldn’t have been surprised that Apple is launching the Watch with so many options. A Watch is a very different type of product than anything Apple has built in the past. Some of Apple’s common strategies for product design could be applied to a watch, but not all of them.

I think we may look back on the first Apple Watch and wonder why we didn’t understand the importance of the Digital Crown. A spinning dial with a built in button is something that many watches have had for decades, and Apple is making use of it in a clever and unobtrusive way. I look back fondly at the click-wheel — it seems like such a brilliant way to navigate a music player that often has long lists of items that you have to choose from. But, at the time I didn’t realize how important it was to the design of the iPod — it really set it apart from other music players on the market because of how easy it was to actually use. I think the Digital Crown could do the same for the Apple Watch. No one else is doing anything like it.

There’s a ton of other neat details about the Apple Watch that will make gadget nerds drool. The MagSafe inductive charing solution, the touchscreen display that sensing force, Apple’s Taptic Engine, the heart rate sensor, the list goes on and on. The only disappointment I have with the hardware is with the battery life, which Apple hasn’t really pinned down yet, only stating that “you’ll want to charge them every night.” I have several friends that still haven’t gotten in the habit of charging their smartphones every night and the prospect of pitching them another gadget that they’ll have to charge every night will be a tough sell.

Software

The software is where I start to fall off the bandwagon a bit. Customizable watch faces are nice, but I already carry a pocket watch with me everywhere I go (I call it my iPhone). Receiving notifications on my wrist could be useful, on the other hand it’s not that much more difficult to pull my phone out of my pocket than it is to turn my wrist towards me. Quickly replying to messages on the Watch could be great, but I’m not at all interested in these animated emojis or dictating replies to my wrist. So that leaves it up to the text responses suggested by the Watch after analyzing the message, which could be great or terrible.

Having Siri on my wrist does sound like a worthwhile feature, though. I’ve found myself using Siri more and more over the past few months and it seems perfect for interacting with on my wrist since I’m typically using it when typing something would be inconvenient or cumbersome. Quick math questions, finding out how many days until a specific date, and asking how to spell something are some of my more common Siri queries — all of which would be perfect for the Apple Watch to handle.

The Maps app seems like it could be useful. Not necessarily for searching or finding locations, but the potential for turn-by-turn navigation is actually interesting.  Kevin Lynch mentioned on stage that when you use it for walking directions the Watch offers Taptic feedback at each turn with a different feeling for left turns and right turns. With this you can follow the directions to your destination without ever having to look down at your wrist. I think that could be useful for driving directions as well in instances when you don’t have access to a car mount for your iPhone.

An interesting new feature that Apple demoed on stage was Digital Touch — a way to use taps, doodles, and your heart beat to communicate with your friends. Tapping uses the Taptic feedback engine to send what feels like taps to your friends to get their attention or communicate something that you have previously established. Doodles can be used to communicate small messages like little love notes, quick questions, or nearly anything else that you could convey on the screen. Sending your heart beat is incredibly cool, it doesn’t send a canned heart beat but instead uses sensors built into the watch and send your actual heart beat to your friend — something Apple claims has never been done before.

Aside from a few things worthy of note, I’m left a bit uninspired by the software built into the Apple Watch. A lot of it is exactly what other smartwatch manufacturers have been doing and I’m not positive that Siri, Maps, and Digital Touch are enough to convince me to drop $349 on an iPhone accessory. Luckily, Apple is opening it up to developers with WatchKit allowing them to build actionable notifications and applications that will live on the watch at parity with Mail, Messages, and all of the other default applications. I expect developers will come up with some amazing apps that I would have never thought of for a wearable device.

Health and Fitness

The health and fitness features of the Apple Watch warranted their own section because of how important I believe them to be. Other companies have already convinced plenty of users to wear a device around their wrist that tracks their activities. The Apple Watch tracks activity as well, if not better than a FitBit or a Jawbone UP and has a great deal of other features to help justify the $349 price point.

There are two applications built into Apple Watch: Activity and Workout. The Activity app tracks time standing, time moving, and time exercising. All of which are visualized in rings with your goal being to close them before the end of the day. In order to close the three rings you must:

  • Stand for one minute during 12 separate hours of the day.
  • Hit your personal calorie burn goal by moving more.
  • Accumulate 30 minutes of exercise at or above a brisk walk.

This seems like the easiest way to track activity throughout the day and the simple “close the ring each day” mentality will keep you focused on reaching your goal without spending too much time figuring out how much more you have to do in order to reach it.

The workout app lets you select from a list of activities (running, cycling, etc.), select a goal for that activity, and track your progression during your workout. Once you’ve completed your workout it will give you a summary of your session and earn awards for your achievements.

The Apple Watch can also give you reminders during the day to help keep you on track and will suggest personalized goals that are realistic and achievable.

The Apple Watch is a best in class health and fitness tracker that is sure to give FitBit and Jawbone a run for their money. If I buy this Apple Watch it’s because of these features. I’ve thought about buying a FitBit for some time now. But, couldn’t find a way to justify the $99.95 price tag — especially when my iPhone already tracks my steps well enough. But, the reminders and personalized goals being clearly displayed is better than anything I’ve seen from other wearable health and fitness devices.

The Future

When Apple released the original iPod it was expensive, only worked on the mac, and was limited in the number of file formats it supported. But, that didn’t matter. It took over the music player market because it did what it did well and was perceived as a luxury item — even in later years when an iPod nano could be had for as low as $149.

You’re going to see celebrities wearing the Apple Watch and as a result the mass market will want it. As long as it does what it does well, Apple continues to iterate the hardware every year or two, and the price slowly makes its way toward the $99-199 range (as I suspect it will) Apple will take over the market.

I may not want this Apple Watch, but in two or three years when the battery life is an extra day and third party developers have been given the opportunity to build killer apps for the platform — I’d be surprised if an Apple Watch doesn’t find its way into my life somehow.