Apple Watch

So it's been a couple of weeks now and I figure that's enough time to go over some of my thoughts. We'll start with the admission that I really like my Apple Watch. In a couple of weeks it's managed to change a few things about my everyday experience enough that I'd really notice if it was gone. If it was gone though, it's not so big of a deal that I couldn't manage just fine without it. This is different from other Apple devices; just try prying me away from my iPhone or my MacBook and see how bloody things get. The Apple watch won't make you anything, not fitter, not more personable, not less annoying, certainly not more punctual. It can however facilitate your endeavours in various respects.

It's not 'cool', and it only gets noticed by people that know to look out for it. They're generally the people you shared your excitement with while you were waiting for delivery and they're interested for about as long as it takes to demonstrate a couple of glances and the app screen. It's fair to say that I don't really see it as a fashion accessory. Lots of people (Apple included) evidently do, but to me it's a useful piece of technology, a tool that's doing a job (or many jobs) for me. I don't really need for it to look pretty. I bought the black aluminium model, it's not shiny steel or gold, it's not pretty but it is kind of beautiful. It has a lovely form, it's understated and it's very smart. Nobody is going to be impressed by it but I'll happily wear it to any occasion.

The sports band is lovely, probably the most surprising thing about the unboxing experience was the surprise when I first handled the band. I've had sports watches before, albeit more than a decade ago when I was a child. I've handled watches. The sports band doesn't really feel like any other polymer band. It's really comfortable, and it has it's own elegance. It's gorgeous in it's own way but also unapologetically synthetic. As the owner of an Apple Watch Sport you have two real options for bands: the sports bands or, and only for 42mm models, the magnetic leather band. The reason for this is that all other bands have shiny steel fixtures but these two band styles are composed of their primary material right up to the lug that holds them in place. The leather band is seriously expensive however, and given the quality of the sports band probably not worth the cost. After a couple of weeks the band shows wear on the inside where the overlapping fastening has polished away the band's matte finish in places. On the outside, anywhere that is visible while worn, the band looks perfect.

Battery life is excellent. A couple of active twenty hour days dropped me to about 20-25% charge and this thing charges in no time at all. For the first few days I had the battery status complication on my watch face; now I don't even care enough to look at the glance. It's just a non-issue. Charging overnight is no more hassle than it is with my iPhone. I put both on my bedside table at the end of the day, connecting their cables is no hardship. The magnetic contact induction charger is a little bit magical the first time, but the novelty wears off. Without a stand of some sort the cable has sufficient tension to push the featherweight watch around until it finds a comfortable resting place.

I've played around with some third party apps but by and large I'm really unimpressed. Some people are going to put this down to restrictions in the API curtailing development of features but I don't believe that's the case. Too many of the apps available are abysmal 'me toos', replicating functionality that makes sense on an iPhone screen but is wholly misplaced on the Apple Watch. Anything that requires you to have your wrist raised for an extended period while you execute tasks has honestly just ignored all notion of context for the device. A glance, a few taps, a spoken sentence or two for text dictation — these are where the watch as a user interface really shine. If the job is more onerous then it's just going to be quicker and easier to pull out your iPhone.

Fitness is easily the Apple Watch's current major selling feature, primarily due to the heart rate sensor and the accompanying iPhone apps. It's imperfect, and the Workout app needs some additional work, but the approach is solid. There's just enough 'gamification' of the fitness functionality to make it compelling while most of the time it stays out of your way. I have found that when I can see my activity, I'm much more likely to put the extra effort in to hit my goals and while I'm no athlete in the last couple of weeks I have been able to see some benefit from the additional walking I've been doing. I've gone for a walk at 8pm to close the last few percent on my move or exercise ring. I get up and walk to the kitchen and back to meet my stand goals. If this behaviour persists, then it has literally helped make me a little fitter and steered me away from bad habits of prolonged inactivity. I had an interest in fitness tracking prior to getting the Watch and it has supported and helped me develop that initiative.

Notifications are my favourite aspect of the Apple Watch. This, to me, is where the Watch has the most potential but currently also seems unfinished; likely because to actually get to what I feel is it's logical ideal requires development on iOS and OS X. So presently the Apple Watch mirrors your iPhone's notifications while ever your iPhone is locked. Your iPhone remains silent and un-illuminated, much as though it were in Do Not Disturb mode. When your iPhone is unlocked notifications behave normally and are not mirrored on the Watch. This means that when you're using your phone your watch is silent, and when you are not using your phone your watch is the single point of notification.

It's actually really, really neat. Seriously, I can't tell you just how much I like this.

Better still, when sounds are off on your watch (which has a silent mode independent of the phone) there is no public indication that you have received a notification. You get a silent tap on the wrist, and unless you raise your arm the Watch doesn't even light up. It's absolutely discreet. Of course, when you take the Watch off it notices immediately and your iPhone takes over notifications in the way it always used to. It's smart: my watch is worn and I'm not using my iPhone then my Watch is the point of notification. If my watch is not worn or my iPhone is in use then my iPhone is the point of notification. It seems very simple but in a world where for the last few years three different devices 'bing' the moment I get a text this kind of intelligent, context reactive attention seeking is a big step forward from the ubiquitous, cacophonous attention grabbing that came before it.

Also, the watch mirrors notifications for iPhone apps that do not have Watch counterparts. If there is a Watch app, then the notifications have a round app icon and there may be interactions available from the notification. If there is no Watch app you get the rounded square iPhone icon and the same actions that would be available on your phone's lock screen; generally only 'dismiss'. If you dismiss a Watch notification then it also vanishes from Notification Centre on the iPhone. You can instead press the crown to go back to the watch face and leave the notifications in an 'un-viewed' state.

The problem here occurs when you add another device with notifications, such as an iPad or a Mac. Their notifications are still, as they always have been, wholly independent. While you may receive identical notifications on your iPhone and iPad due to running the same apps, with all but a couple of specific, notable apps such as Messages these notifications are separate. That is, if I dismiss a Tweetbot notification on my iPad, or respond to an @mention, that notification will persist on my iPhone until I deal with it there independently. This isn't new.

The reason this is suddenly a problem is that if I'm reading something on my iPad and receive a tweet, I get tapped on the wrist AND my iPad alerts. "That always happened with your iPhone and iPad anyway!" you might be thinking. Yes, you're right, except my watch knows when I'm wearing it. If I'm holding my iPad and my Watch knows it's on my wrist then my iPad doesn't need to chime any more than my phone does. My phone doesn't really know my pocket from my desk but the Watch already makes the distinction between worn and not. This could be such a big improvement and all based on the Watch's wrist detection feature. As there is one device that can be functionally certain of it's use status it can anchor all the other devices so that it or the single device in use need be the only device that clamours for your attention.

It could bring peace where before there was raucous pinging. It's silent "Hey I'm waiting for attention; in your own time is fine" taps on the wrist are so comfortable to me now that I'm struggling to balance them against the un-Watched notifications from my iPad and my Mac. My iPad has been relegated to silent mode temporarily and I'm probably going to trawl through notification settings and disable all audible alerts as a compromise. All these chimes that used to let me know something was going on from a distance are redundant and intrusive entirely because I already got a silent tap on the wrist. I always take my wrist with me, there's no need to shout from the other room!

iCloud needs to be utilised to centralise notifications into a single stream, shared by all devices on your account, and sensitive to whether or not your Watch is worn and currently has an internet connection. I can't really believe that Apple has not considered this. I can't imagine that something along these lines isn't in the works. While OS X notifications would have to work a little differently the general principle would be the same. Handoff can facilitate notification actions for apps that aren't installed on a given device precisely as it does for the Apple Watch today.

I think the Apple Watch is awesome. It's not going to change the way I communicate with my friends the same way that my iPhone did. It won't give me ubiquitous, available, instant access to the internet the way that my iPhone did. It's not gonna make me look any cooler or any smarter. It's much less radical than that. In fact it doesn't really offer anything on it's own; it instead unifies and modifies some of the things we've been doing for years. Some people I think will really love that, and other's won't really see the point. I think it has the potential to make a lot of our internet communication less obtrusive, and certainly less obnoxious. It's a different user interface for the things we're already taking advantage of, but one that's quicker to access and just as quickly gone again. It's also only the first tentative steps, and will rely on Apple polishing and expanding on the integration they are renowned for to entirely new levels. Similarly, third party developers, with only a handful of exceptions, have yet to really demonstrate what they can do with the Apple Watch, and it's going to be interesting to see what happens as more functionality is made accessible to the developer community.

Apple Watch Notifications

Apple Watch Sport, Space Grey, 42mm