Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

Hi, I’m Will, and I’m a Smartwatch Wearer.

I’ve used a Pebble, then a Pebble Steel, for around a year. It seemed silly at first, but it’s wonderful to be able to leave your phone in the other room and trust that you’ll get important notifications or calls when they’re relevant, silently tapped to your wrist. And there are few greater feelings than to be waiting for a call, hear your phone ringing from the shower, then look at your watch and hang up on the telemarketer with the touch of a button.

Perhaps best of all, I haven’t heard my cell phone ringtone in forever as calls go straight to my wrist, silently, and with instant caller ID. Smartwatches may not be for everybody, but they are definitely for me.

So, given that I’m a gigantic nerd and an iPhone user, I bought myself a 42mm Apple Watch in Stainless Steel 1 as a graduation gift.

For a full perspective, I recommend this review, but here are a few thoughts that jump out on me:

First and foremost, as Ars Technica pointed out, the Apple Watch is completely optional. There’s no general-purpose use-case where the Apple Watch is the only solution, or the best, and if you’ve got yourself convinced you need an Apple Watch, you’re lying to yourself. It’s a luxury, through and through.

That said, it’s a lot of fun. The little interactions, asking my watch for a quick calculation, paying with it at a vending machine, or using voice-recognition to set a to-do list item, all make me smile. Wearing and using it feels futuristic and powerful in a way that the Pebble’s very simple notification-only approach never did.

Most importantly, though, this feels like the very first iPhone did on release day. It’s good hardware with great ideas, but they haven’t nailed the software and user experience yet. I suspect that many of the current failings will be addressed in the next 6-8 months by updates (just as 1.0.1 made a big difference), and that the second hardware revision will be really compelling, even beyond uber-nerds. But for now, this is an “early adopter” product, and you’re paying a price in growing pains, for the joys of living on the technological edge.

For instance, if you like to sleep with a watch on, the battery life is either barely adequate, or barely inadequate, and charging is much slower than I’d like. You lose about 15% overnight, on top of 40-50% during a typical day, so you’ll need to find a couple hours of charging time each day. It’s a big step down from the Pebble, but it’s definitely workable. If you charge overnight, though, it’s got all the life you need2.

Also, I’m looking forward to the opening of the platform, particularly 3rd party watch faces. 99% of the faces available for the Pebble were ugly and poorly done, but those 7-8 that were good, were really good. I miss that customizability.

Most importantly, society will need to catch up a bit. Your watch (Apple, Pebble, or Android) can do many things, many of them awesome. But you need to realize that you will not look like Dick Tracy.

Instead, paying for my tea with my watch makes me look (and feel) like a douchebag from the future. If you’re going to use your watch in public, particularly if you’re going to talk to it, you need to be comfortable being one of them.

But then again, you silently know who’s calling, when the next bus comes, when a package is sitting on your doorstep, and most magically of all, when it’s about to start raining where you are. So, you’re pretty much a wizard.

Seems like a pretty good deal to me.

“Should I get one?”

The Apple Watch (and indeed, most wearables) can’t really be “recommended” in the conventional sense. The Apple Watch can be really useful. It can be really fun. But if you don’t “get it” and don’t want one, you definitely don’t need one.

So, if you’ve read the description of the magical powers this thing will give you and you’re anything but super excited for the future, don’t give the Apple Watch a second thought.

If notifications sound great, but you don’t care about the rest of it, get a Pebble, and ruthlessly mock me as I place my watch on the charger yet again.

For the rest of the world, if the iPhone’s history is any indication, there’s about to be a lot of growth, and the second generation Apple wearable will be worth watching3 out for.

But for now, if you’re an early adopter or a wearable computing nerd, if you use an iPhone, and if you’re willing to tolerate the price and some growing pains, the Apple Watch is a lot of fun.

Six Month Update: No, you shouldn’t.

Greetings from December 2015. After six months of using the Apple Watch, the answer to “Should I get one?” is, unequivocally, “No.”

I’ve come to admit and acknowledge that the Apple Watch itself is flawed in its current state.

  • Voice control is unreliable. “Hey Siri” has had around 1/4 success rate for me, and even when triggered manually, maybe 1/5 of queries fail for some reason.
  • Third party applications, even with WatchOS 2, are slow and buggy. Yes, you can open your grocery list on your watch, but in the time it takes to load on your wrist, you could have checked it on your phone.
  • The phone and watch regularly become “decoupled”, where you’ll see no notifications on the watch, but no evidence that there’s been a problem. Restarting both devices usually fixes this.
  • Third party complications just aren’t that useful, with Dark Sky as the clear exception.
  • Apple maintains such tight control over the watchfaces and complications that we can’t “route around” the shortcomings.
  • The notification vibrations aren’t strong enough to be consistently felt for things like navigation, particularly during activity.
  • It’s not even a great watch, in that maybe 1/6 of the time I “glance” at it, it fails to activate and I need to shake my wrist.

So, a lot of the “power” in the watch is simply not that powerful in practice, in the current generation watch. In fact, I’ve found that there are exactly seven tasks at which the Apple Watch “just works” in my life:

  • Checking the temperature outside
  • Paying for things with Apple Pay
  • Adjusting the lighting in my apartment by voice (using the Philips Hue system)
  • Activity Tracking
  • Seeing my calendar at a glance
  • Discreetly getting and dismissing notification in meetings
  • Leaving my phone in the other room to charge while still getting notifications

Notably, all but the last two could be accomplished using my iPhone and a conventional wristwatch, and the last two are mostly just notification paranoia. It makes those seven tasks a bit nicer, but not enough nicer to justify a $600 disposable gadget.

One interesting thing is that the battery has simply never been an issue. Which is nice.

These issues will almost certainly go away with time. The Apple Watch is a beta product which got released. Version two (and three, four) will improve these issues, and perhaps all of the promises will someday be fulfilled. But for now, I just can’t recommend the Apple Watch.

  1. Actually, I bought a Sport model in early May, then got an offer to sell it for way more than I paid. So I effectively got to upgrade to Stainless for free.

  2. Unlike the average smartwatch wearer!

  3. #crappypuns #sorrynotsorry

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