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‘Is the Apple Watch a game-changer?’ It depends which UPBs you’re after…


There are a lot of Apple Watch reviews out there. This is about what the Watch means for someone who relies on mobile devices professionally and personally in equal measure. If you’re interested in the Watch’s hardware, try the ifixit teardown. If you’re interested in more general reviews covering a range of issues, try Engadget’s collation of critics and user reviews.

I was one of the first wave of people receiving watches, so I’ve been wearing mine pretty much constantly for just over three weeks. VentureBeat published some clickbait about the Watch not living up to expectations a few days ago: ’30 days later, I’m returning my Apple Watch’. I say it’s clickbait because it is, but I also have a lot of respect for someone deciding the Watch simply isn’t for them. Sometimes peer pressure encourages us to purchase and be seen to be using tech that doesn’t really offer much utility.* So is the Watch worth it? Can it be a game-changer for some users, even if it is cost:benefit neutral for most users (the cost in £$€ excepted)?

Although there are some obvious places where I can already see Watch 2.0 developments slotting in to improve the Watch’s utility, based on my experience, I think the Watch actually manages to deliver two key unique ‘perceived benefits’ for wearers:

  • A well-spec’ed wearable with perfect iPhone and Health sync
  • A more efficient method for engaging with your calendar/email/messages/Passbook/Apple pay

The Watch as a fitness wearable

I thought I would be sceptical about wearing the Watch, as eighteen months ago I deliberately chose one of the few wearables that wasn’t worn on the arm (the FitBit One), but I find it pretty easy wearing. I wrote about my expectations for the Watch replacing my FitBit a few days before the former came out, but the Watch has already replaced by FitBit completely.

The Watch offers two apps for fitness: Workout, and Activity.

Workout is a pared back offering, with a small number of pre-set exercise types, the option to set a goal (time, distance, calories), and a timer. Activating Workout also ups the frequency of heart-rate monitoring. I use it for runs, and it seems to do a fairly good job of accurately determining the distance, even when I’m not running with my iPhone. The latter is infrequent, though, as the Watch doesn’t offer GPS tracking, so I still use RunKeeper for this purpose.

The snug fit of the Watch makes it ideal for all activities, including yoga, when other wearables might slip up and down the arm. Although I’m slightly sceptical about the calorie-burn calculations, I find the ability to track heart rate during activities like yoga and weights quite interesting. Previously, I owned an iHealth oximeter, which would give heart-rate readings, but hadn’t gone so far as to invest in a heart-rate monitor for running with. Now I don’t have to.

Activity is the shinier of the two apps, and involves the circular gauges for “move” (calorie burn), “exercise” (activity above a certain threshold), and “stand” (regular movement throughout the day).

I appreciate the different focuses here, on weight-management (even though avid calorie-counting is baloney…), exercise, and activity. Trying to fill all three circles every day encourages a multi-pronged approach to fitness that it’s nice to see amongst all of the fads and ‘one simple trick’s. The app is usefully visual (unlike Health, which remains abominable in some of its data-presentation), offering a clear snapshot image of how your day, week, and month has been going. I value the “stand” section most of all: it offers a useful reminder once an hour that I should take a break, move away from the computer/desk, and notice what time it is.

The one thing the Watch cannot do that my FitBit did is sleep tracking. Initially, I kept wearing my FitBit during the night, but having two wearables that I had to think about wasn’t very productive, and I didn’t see the point in keeping the FitBit app around just for the sleep data, which I looked at quite rarely anyway.

The teardown suggests that there might be more health features to come, too, so it’s a case of watch-this-space.

The Watch as an efficiency tool

I am all about efficiency. As much as I can procrastinate like a pro, at heart I love ticking things off the list and feeling that I’ve accomplished something, without any waste of time and energy, and am ready for the next challenge.

Anything that streamlines the process of interacting with apps, particularly email, messages, and calendars, is going to attract my attention, and the Watch is all about processing notifications. I can delete or flag emails quickly, building my to-do list and staying at inbox zero (yes, I am one of the few people who actually lives in that enchanted place). I can tick things off said to-do list (in the Wunderlist app), mark activities as completed (in the Timeful app), and get an overview of the rest of the day’s calendar without going to the effort of using my phone. Once Apple Pay is rolled out here in Blighty, I’ll also be able to go out to get lunch without my wallet, meaning one fewer thing to carry.

Matt Gemmell blogged about how the Watch actually decreases tech-distractions, and I think he’s right, although he gives the Watch slightly too little credit as a means to interaction with notifications. Dictating messages is a little clunky, but it focuses the mind. For important people, I get my phone out. For the less important (or the more casual exchange), the Watch and I can muddle along just fine.

I was initially frustrated by the lack of readable content. The Guardian and Twitter apps are available, but they offer very little by way of interest. Which, after my initial irritation, I decided was a good thing. I can easily lose an hour reading Twitter on my iPhone. Now, I have to make a more active decision to do that, rather than being sucked into it by having the iPhone ready-to-hand.

There is more to come here, too, I think. The Watch’s best feature is that it foregrounds notifications and should — assuming app developers get their acts together — offer a way to interact with them swiftly. A few weeks ago, Anish Acharya wrote about the increasingly privileged status of notifications on mobile devices, moving away from “pull” activities (Google searches, etc.) and towards a range of “pushed” content or services (prompts based on geolocation, etc.). Customisability becomes key when so many more apps are based on pinging the user for attention, and the Watch offers a way to streamline those interactions without needing to take out one’s phone or clear a backlog that prevents you seeing the wood from the trees.

* I have a persistent gripe about FaceTime, which has taken over as the primary means of communication amongst my family members, although it’s glitchy even when one is sitting still using home broadband, never mind wandering around the city on 3G…

Cover image an homage to all the hairy-armed Watch bearers following launch day!


1 Comment

  1. […] running with apps before, when I was still fairly new to running. I’ve also written about the Apple Watch, which has been my companion day-in, day-out since I bought it when it was first […]

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