Apple Watch in the Real World: 11 Surprises

When I first thought about buying an Apple Watch, good honest reviews were impossible to come by. Most early assessments were written either by Apple fanboys who would laud an empty cardboard box if it was designed in Cupertino, or written far too early to really know if this new device category is any good.

I decided to take the plunge anyway, and bought my Apple Watch Sport with my own hard-earned pounds six months ago. Should you buy one too? Let me help.

Overall it does some things quite well, and lots of things not that well. It’s badly let down by some truly dreadful third-party apps and missing native functionality. Lots of these early apps are badly thought out or simply don’t work very well. There’s not yet a killer app or USP that makes the Apple Watch a “must buy”. But there is promise. When creative app developers understand how to really exploit the device’s potential it will become more useful. And possibly mainstream.

1. Battery life surprisingly good

First things first, the battery life is actually OK. At the end of a long day I still have more than 50% left, although it can’t quite get through two days without a boost. I bought a little nightstand and an extra (exorbitant) charging cable to keep it topped up.

2. It’s a rubbish alarm clock

You’d expect a watch to do the basic time-keeping functions well. But don’t rely on the Apple Watch to be a useful alarm clock. It’s impossible to remember which button is snooze and which is off. And if you hit the wrong one by mistake you need to fiddle around entering the passcode and trying to remember how to reset the alarm.

3. It’s great for quick calls, messaging and notifications but useless for email

Notifications is as near as it gets to killer app right now. I love the ability to see text messages and Facebook messages when they arrive and make a quick response with either a pre-canned text or a short message dictated to Siri.

Taking an incoming call on the iPhone is also great — and I’ve missed far fewer important calls and texts as a result. Other people actually seem to think it’s really cool when you take a call on your wrist.

But emails suck — whatever settings I try I can’t seem to get notifications of new emails on the Watch. When you do see emails you only get the first couple of lines, and only in plain text. And if you want to see more than a couple, the Watch demands you unlock the iPhone first, which defeats the object.

4. A wasted opportunity for taking quick notes or voice memos

This could be a killer app — but doesn’t exist. You’re on the move and think of something — and want to make a quick note. Does Apple Watch have a voice recorder? No. Does Apple Watch have a notes-taking app where you can dictate to Siri? No. Does the Evernote Apple Watch App work in any meaningful way? No. Does Siri sit there with a blank screen totally ignoring what you say? Yes.

5. Weather is another miss

What can the Apple Watch do that even the most expensive Rolex can’t? Tell you the weather. Only it can’t. The temperature displayed on the watch is based on the default location in the Weather app on your iPhone. So although I’m currently sitting in Munich, my Apple Watch is helpfully giving me the temperature in London. Very useful. It surely cannot be that difficult to use location-based weather and show you the stats for where you actually are?

6. Health apps surprisingly encouraging

Or the “nagometer” as I call it. Apart from its occasional demands that it’s time to stand when I’m driving, I’ve found that the basic health monitoring (minutes of activity, amount of standing, calories burned, kilometres walked) is gently persuading me to do more simple exercise. I found myself checking my stats and walking more often. The third party health and fitness apps very limited though, and as a swimmer I think it’s a shame that Apple restricts swimming apps even though the Watch is apparently waterproof enough.

7. Never miss a meeting again

A close-to-killer app is the ability to check what’s next in the calendar. No more missed calls for me. Useful too to be able to click through and quickly see the location/conference call number.

8. Haptic feedback is particularly useful

Linked to my success in not missing calls, messages, meetings and opportunities to stand up, the gentle tap on your wrist is a really nice way to ne notified. It also works great with navigation (see below). I’m still learning the different between haptic tap patterns but it becomes possible to know what’s happening without even looking at the Watch screen.

9. Apple Pay works really well on the Watch

I hadn’t used Apple Pay until getting the Watch, as I figured that contactless payment cards were even easier. But with the Watch on your wrist, a quick double press of the button and you’re ready to pay on any contactless terminal, including on the London Underground and buses. The Watch has quickly become my primary means of buying small items and fares.

A ticket inspector on the Docklands Light Railway in London was particularly excited when he checked my “ticket” — telling me that all of his colleagues had checked Apple Watches — but that he had been waiting until then. That novelty will wear off soon though — but for now, people seem to like it.

10. Mapping and navigation is cool when you’re walking

I’m a big user of my iPhone when navigating a city on foot (which I’m doing more of, thanks to that nagging health app). Once you’ve set a route on the iPhone, the simple directions make it easy to follow on the Watch. The different haptic feedback patterns mean you know whether to go left, right or straight on without looking at the screen.

It does mean using Apple Maps though, which probably means you won’t find your destination anyway. Google Maps on the iPhone feature everything except actual maps which is hopeless when you’re stood at a six-way intersection trying to decide what “slight left” means.

11. Media, what media?

As a media technology guy, I’m most disappointed by the total lack of interesting media apps on the Apple Watch. The only thing that’s useful is BBC News alerts. But so far I’ve seen nothing innovative from any of the media providers. Even Spotify is rubbish — and needs a separate third-party app like Joy to add voice control to search for tracks or a playlist.

Conclusion: should you buy one?

If you’re a bit of a geek like me and want a toy, yes. If you’re an app developer and you can start to create some useful software, double yes. Otherwise I would wait until the next generation of hardware and software emerges — we’ll then know if this is a tech category here to stay, or whether the Apple Watch is destined for the back of the drawer.

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