My First Impressions of the Apple Watch

by Josh Robertson

The highest compliment that I can pay to the Apple Watch is that I stopped being conscious of using it after just two short days.

Good design is the integration of form and function, and this is definitely the case with the Watch. The two merge together so seamlessly that in an amazingly-short time frame, it felt completely natural to look at my wrist rather than reach for my phone.

THE LOOK

The first thing I noticed putting on the Watch is that it doesn’t look or feel like a traditional smartwatch. I tried on the 42mm version and must say that the tactile experience was not as good for me. Then I tested the 38mm version. The size is just right and the form factor is sleek and low profile. However, I think that on a larger person that the 42mm would wear just as well as the 38mm for me.

I tested out the visual appeal by purchasing a beer as I was shopping in Whole Foods. I strolled the aisles holding the glass in my left hand to make the watch very visible. I didn’t see a single person notice it unless I was using it to check my shopping list, which I had stored as an Evernote.

That really speaks to the visual design. It is sleek and beautiful, but also simple and unobtrusive. Almost anyone could wear it and feel comfortable with it on. You aren’t making a fashion statement, just wearing a solid, well-designed accessory.

THE EXPERIENCE

The user interface of the Apple Watch is by far the best-designed of any wearable on the market. It was very simple to pair with the phone and get started using it. So simple, in fact, that over the course of an hour one watch had been paired and unpaired with 5 different phones here in the office so people could check it out.

Once up and running, it was very simple to understand the flow and adjust the watch to your settings from the phone app. There is quite a bit that can be done on the Watch. It can be overwhelming if you completely open up the throttles on all the notification options. If you limit it to the basics — mail and text messages — I found that the notification rate was just right for me.

IMPROVEMENTS

This is not to say that Apple Watch is not without its shortcomings. There is much to improve in coming versions. It is to say that it stands head and shoulders above the current wearable market. Regardless, I’ll highlight some of those shortcomings for you.

Too Quiet: One of the features that I was most excited about was the phone feature. I imagined that I would primarily use it while driving, as I don’t have integrated Bluetooth in my car. Unfortunately, the speaker is so quiet that you can really only use it inside a quiet room. After making a few phone calls on it, I can’t imagine myself ever using it again.

Battery Life Could be Improved: Many people have mentioned the short battery life. I must say that this was true, however I didn’t have as many problems with it as what I read would have suggested. I easily made it through an entire day, but I probably would have needed to charge it before heading out for the evening.

Long Loading Time: I’ve also heard a lot of grumbling about the loading speed on many of the apps. This is true; there can be a significant loading time. However, it turned out to be for many of the features I don’t think I would ever care to use. Apple Maps is a good example. I very rarely use it and when I do, I would probably need a larger screen. For my heavy-use applications I didn’t notice a significant wait time.

My criticism of wearables has always been that they solve a small problem poorly. They replace the small inconvenience of reaching for your phone for the medium inconvenience of having a large clunky device attached to your wrist.

Apple Watch solves the same small problem — it just does it well enough that you quickly start to feel naked when you aren’t wearing it and you actually have to look at your phone to see an incoming message.

WHAT WORKED

My test was only three days long, so I wasn’t able to check out all of the features, but I will list some of the features that I particularly liked.

Messages: One of the things I’m personally terrible about is responding to messages. I’ll usually read them on the notification on my lock screen, but it’s just too much work to actually unlock the phone and respond. Soon I’ve completely forgotten about it. The Watch lowered that bar and made it easy to fire off a quick reply using the preset responses or through Siri.

Weather: I set the weather to be on the quick swipe screen from the main Watch view. For some reason, opening the weather app on my phone always annoys me and having the information one swipe away was great.

Evernote: I love Evernote and being able to get my shopping list on my wrist was awesome. It was far more convenient than carrying my phone around the store.

Photos: I have an electronic QR code that I use to get into my parking garage for work. I hate looking for my phone and opening up the photos to get to it. I put it into a separate folder and then set it so that was the only photo folder that would sync to the watch. It put me within one click of the QR code with no searching for my phone.

The bottom line, the Apple Watch isn’t perfect, but it’s the first entrant into the wearable market that has successfully made the case for the long-term viability of the segment. I think it is worth the price point for the sport model and I expect that as the technology continues to expand we may very well see it evolve into a ubiquitous accessory.

Read about how Smashing Boxes built an app for the Apple Watch before it even existed. Follow me on twitter @jrobertsonsb

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