Is the Apple Watch Really Worth Your Time? The Ultimate Review.
It takes a network to weigh in definitively on a game-changing product like Apple’s timepiece. Fortunately, Medium has that network.
Even before the early adopters on Medium began receiving their Apple Watches, they began writing about it. And after they unboxed the devices and strapped them to their wrists, the posts really piled up. These were so numerous — and so good — that some of the Backchannel team here at Medium decided to create the Apple Watch Project collection, inviting the writers to pool their work in a quasi-anthology, with the idea that we would eventually skim the cream to make one master review, straight from the Mediumsphere. Our review would read as if a single person wrote it, but it would actually be a product of the collective intelligence of our network.
Here it is. Twenty-five different voices, one review. Take that, Walt Mossberg.
As you read this, keep in mind that every time the little watch icon (⌚️) appears, a different Medium writer is stepping into the spotlight and sharing his or her views. We’ve shown you only some of their faces, but each writer is identified in a note alongside his or her passages, with a link to the post so you can check out the full range of those individual takes.
So what do Medium writers think of the Apple Watch? Find out below.
A few weeks ago, I was in New York City for a conference. It was my second day with the Apple Watch, so I thought I’d try it out for directions. Before, I would have pulled out my phone, typed in the address, set it to walking directions, and spent the rest of the walk glancing between my phone and the street, trying to avoid (crazy) New York drivers. This time, I just said “Get me to the W Hotel in Times Square,” hit start, and started walking. I didn’t bother with my phone or the Apple Watch until I felt the taps indicating a turn, changed direction, and kept walking (I found out later that it will even do different tap patterns for left and right). It fundamentally changed my interaction with the city. Rather than watching the screen, I was taking in the sights and sounds, trusting the watch to tell me where to go next. I didn’t bother with my mobile devices until the exact time and place when I really needed to, and it was liberating.
⌚️ Wearing something on the body is more intimate than having something with you. The fact that it almost feels natural leads to the conclusion that in the near future, the interaction with the wrist will be as natural and organic as breathing, eating and sleeping.
⌚️ Wearables have been invented. They will never be uninvented. Wearables will give corporations new ways to communicate with, support, and sell to consumers. Wearables will shape how my kids interact with each other. Kids will invent new ways to chat, bully, and flirt with each other. Businesses will discover many new ways to use wearables to help their employees collaborate and communicate. App developers will create products we never would have anticipated, including new billion dollar businesses.
The Apple Watch will usher in the age of wearables.
⌚️ Smartwatches in general have been around for over a decade. The problem is, each and every one of them have been too clunky and/or too geeky to get any sort of mass market appeal.
⌚️ The Apple Watch was worth the price and knowing what I know now I’d buy it again. That said, I’m having a hard time recommending it to people.
⌚️ I also don’t really need it at all.
⌚️ It’s the best smartwatch available today, but it will need to get a lot better (and less expensive) before reaching ubiquity.
⌚️ It wasn’t that I didn’t like the Watch. I did. But I didn’t love it.
It’s not that it wasn’t beautiful. It was and is. It’s not that it didn’t work as advertised. It did and does, remarkably well for a first generation product. It is impeccably finished, properly sized and the thoughtful details of its construction put to shame many of the sub-$5K mechanical watches available today.
But the fact remains that I didn’t fall for it.
⌚️ Setup requires you to use the application on the iPhone; you take a photograph of an animated fractal pattern that is used to successfully pair the Watch to the iPhone. Once that is out of the way you answer a series of questions on the watch for things like the health tracking (weight, height, sex etc.) and then start configuring the hardware and software in the iPhone application. This is by far the most sensible way to go and I applaud Apple for making the choice to get users on a new platform comfortable by using one they already know.
⌚️ Checking the time should be the most basic of functions, the terminus a quo of something calling itself a watch. Indeed Apple (probably needlessly) makes much of the accuracy of the timekeeping function. I have no reason to doubt that it is “accurate to 50 milliseconds of the global time standard.” It never faltered in that regard. Where it failed me, frequently, was the ability to show the time with a quick glance.
⌚️ A basic attribute of any watch is that it allows wearers to see the time all the time. With a regular watch, checking the time couldn’t be easier. You only need to glance down to know what time it is — not so with the Apple Watch. To save battery life, the watch goes dark when it thinks you’re not using it. To turn it back on, you have to shake the device with enough momentum to, in Apple’s words, “Activate on Wrist Raise.” If telling the time on your Apple Watch requires a spastic wrist jolt, you’ll curse it.
⌚️ In my week using the watch, I often found myself either frustrated by staring at a blank screen when I wanted to make a quick (and discreet) check on the time or frustrated by my eyes catching and being distracted by a screen lighting up because I moved my arm while doing something else. I know the Apple Watch isn’t the only watch that does a screen shut off for battery savings, but if there is one argument for the Pebble Watch, my significant frustrations with Apple’s on/off screen are it.
⌚️ Most people think it looks a bit weird with that screen turned off. They all know it is an Apple Watch, but it could well have been some kind of talisman or arthritis fighting wristband.
The Pain and Pleasure of Notifications
⌚️ Since I get my phone’s notification on my watch (for all apps on my phone), I don’t have to reach to my phone as often.
⌚️ It’s powerful to quickly learn if a notification is attention-worthy without checking your phone. For example, recently, in the midst of a great conversation with a friend, I got a notification. Normally, I would have interrupted and checked my phone. But I quickly glanced down, saw it was a text from another friend, and knew I didn’t need to reply. I did all this in one second (maybe less.) My friend never noticed and it didn’t interrupt the conversation like it would have if I pulled out my phone.
⌚️ Much less fiddly than grabbing my phone from my pocket or bag, only to have to stash it away again seconds later when my train/bus/horse and cart arrives in a hurry!
⌚️ Watch has changed the way I interact with my family when I’m away from work. I am more present than I have been in the past, largely because I can keep my iPhone shoved in my pocket or in another room to receive all types of notifications. I am with my son for more small but meaningful moments — a laugh, a cry, a wrestling match. These small moments will compound over time to increase the value of our relationship. This is critical, because my son’s time as an adorable toddler is limited and I want him to know he is the center of my life; not my smartphone.
⌚️ Having important notifications on your wrist is wonderful…. but it takes a long time to get the right balance.
⌚️ Apple Watch can’t distinguish between notifications: you can only turn them on or off. This may seem small, but it is a big issue.
⌚️ Maybe I’m relatively clueless when it comes to touch, but I would say that I noticed only about 60–70% of notification-vibrations from the watch. Realizing that I had missed some vibrations (such as from Skype message notifications) an hour or two later was pretty annoying.
⌚️ It feels fundamentally different from the familiar buzz of a phone — there are distinct taps, rolls, throbs, buzzes, flutters — and intuitively, it just doesn’t carry the same meaning as the typical phone buzz when you’re wearing it. Apple seems to know they’re onto something, but hasn’t figured out what to do with it yet; as far as I can tell, there’s no consistent meaning I can discern from the haptic feedback across Apple Watch OS. And so once the full SDK is opened up, there’s a significant void here for designers to fill with new layers of meaning.
⌚️ I’ve come to hate notifications because when I have a meeting in 15 mins or a new message comes in about 5 separate apps or devices start to buzz/ring/popup at me. The Apple Watch intercepts them and with a gentle tap on my wrist, tells me “hey something is up.” So far it has been much more manageable than other notification systems.
Communicating From the Wrist
⌚️ With Apple Watch, your calls and texts are pushed to your watch. You get a gentle little tap and can see who is trying to reach you. You’re still free to ignore the people you don’t want to talk to, but when that critical call or text comes in, you’ll know. I do, however, wish that you could assign specific taps to specific people, similar to the custom vibrate patterns you can set on the iPhone.
⌚️ There are some new ways to communicate with people. The other button on the right hand side, below the digital crown, goes straight in to your favorites. These are designed to be the people you must frequently message or talk with. Directly from here you can call people and speak to them using your Apple Watch. The first time you feel a bit strange, this is what you used to see on Knight Rider or Dick Tracy as you grew up.
⌚️ Siri dictation on the Watch works incredibly well, even better than on the iPhone, so don’t hesitate to use it for text messaging. If not for the fact that it makes you look silly to do so in public, I’d use it all the time.
Speaking of Siri, you can shortcut several steps in the process of dictating a message by just being more direct with Siri. Instead of asking Siri to send a text, then specifying who the text should go to and finally dictating the body of the message, you can simply say “Tell my wife I’m on my way home.”
⌚️ My Apple Watch battery will easily last 2 days. I’m not even exaggerating. Is this good enough? I would say yes. Most of us are used to putting our phone on charge each night. This naturally extends over to my watch.
My Pebble would last days without charge, yet I never benefited from that whilst I slept.
⌚️ When the battery gets low the watch is designed to go in to a power save mode than essentially makes it a watch that tells the time.
It’s Got the Look
⌚️ The Apple Watch is an excellent watch. It fits well in your arm; it’s easy to see the time, etc. It’s also very beautifully built, with rounded corners and the right balance of glass, metal and rubber (I have the black sports edition).
⌚️ I get a lot of compliments about how not dorky it looks! The Sport is really sleek looking. It also doesn’t look like a typical workout watch.
⌚️ I’ve also given up on wearables (Jawbone, Fuelband) because they just didn’t work with my personal style when I’m not in the gym or jeans. The Apple Watch has surprisingly passed this test. (I still want it to be slimmer and smaller in future). But I’ve worn the Apple Watch with cocktail dresses and actually gotten compliments.
⌚️ But, I think, Apple has failed badly in the design of the Watch faces. Part of the problem is the use, and limitations, of the complications. These are, in classical watches, any sort of information the watch provides apart from time. Apple has decided to make a square watch, which is the right decision from the gadget perspective, but the wrong decision from the watch perspective, and then has put the complications in the corners with the round faces in the middle, most of the time. The lack of options, both from third parties and otherwise, ends up being baffling.
A Watch with an Interface
⌚️ The Taptic engine will excite you when you first feel it. You have never felt anything like it. As someone coming from a Pebble after 2 years of use, you will absolutely feel the difference. The Pebble, iPhone and most devices that vibrate will use a vibrator that works basically by rotating at a high speed and you will feel that movement. Now the issue is that they can also make a lot of noise and they can sometimes be quite strong, to the point where they will start to bug you. The Apple watch does it different. It uses what is called a Linear Resonant Actuator (LRA). What does that mean? That instead of rotating it moves from left to right, creating what feels like a simple tap. This is a very Apple thing to do. Question everything. Break down everything and make better use of technology.
⌚️ I quickly became frustrated with the many interaction models on the Watch: swipe left, swipe right, swipe up, swipe down, scroll the digital crown, press the digital crown, press that other button, tap and/or force touch the screen. Whew! That’s a lot! I’ve frequently seen new Watch users furiously swiping and tapping and pressing and scrolling in a desperate attempt to summon or dismiss something on the display. It’s almost comical.
⌚️ In general, I think the home screen UI works — the app buttons could be a tad bigger and spaced farther apart for easier launching but the paradigm is sound. I agree with the general point several reviewers have raised: The Watch is a get in and get out device.
⌚️ The experience has been significantly more sticky and fun because my boyfriend also has an Apple Watch. We still send each other heartbeats occasionally and we’re slightly competitive on the exercise/activity tracking side of things. We also regularly get requests from friends and strangers to demo what the watch can do. The demo goes way better with two people.
The Watch As Exercise Coach
⌚️ Even though I work at a standing desk the watch is constantly notifying me to stand. Any activity but running is not properly accounted in calories or the “minutes of activities” — I did paddle board for one hour, and the watch didn’t register it at all.
⌚️ The Apple Watch fitness tracking is better than Fitbit. Instead of tracking steps, it tracks calories, and instead of giving you a numerical goal to reach, it gives you three circles to fill. Last night I did jumping jacks in my kitchen at 11pm to fill that last circle.
⌚ ️The goal of completing the three circles (caloric burn, exercise and standing) has driven me to be more active overall.
⌚️ I didn’t think I would care, but the gamified experience of seeing how much you walk, exercise, and if you stand from your desk enough is really well-designed and fun.
Apps Have a Way to Go
⌚️ One area of weakness for the Apple Watch that truly surprised me was the poor functionality of apps on the device. Not only are all of them slow and kludgy (including Apple’s own apps) on the watch, but many of them just don’t work right.
⌚️ There is a lag when opening apps that defeats the purpose of them at times.
⌚️ Most of them won’t be ready to use until the screen turns off after the six seconds delay. This is ruining the Apple Watch experience. Generally, apps will load faster than Glances, which is unexpected to me. Once the app is loaded, interacting with it is practically always frustrating. Not good.
⌚️ Third party apps are awful at the present time. Reliant on the phone, the tethered requirements of even the best initial apps (Uber, NYT, Dark Sky and…OK that’s it) make using them tediously slow.
⌚ ️With most of the apps, I came to the conclusion that the developers invested a lot of hard work in order to downscale their offers to fit on the watch. And then there are some examples where I had the opposite impression — including big players like Instagram. Excuse me, but it just doesn’t make any sense to show pictures on a device so small. In my opinion, the functionality for the watch should have been reduced to a feedback channel for the user’s own posts, but maybe it’s just me.
⌚️ I’ve slowly removed apps most of the ones I installed initially.
⌚️ A lot of developers are building watch applications, just to stay with the crowd. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves if this app would really enhance our users’ lives.
And the Verdict is….
⌚️ I’ll be honest, when I started writing this review I had the impression that I’d come away with three to five complaints and that’d be it. The list ended up being much longer.
⌚️ The world’s not ready for a universal Disney Magic Band. Restaurants aren’t ready to receive an order from your watch. Cars aren’t ready to unlock with a wave of your wrist. Lights aren’t ready to switch on when you get home.
⌚️ I’m still waiting for the HOLY SHIT moment. The moment that makes my jaw drop and makes me wonder how I ever lived without this thing. Because as of now, it’s a nice watch that occasionally gives me notifications.
⌚ ️This is a 1.0 product… But I love it.
⌚️ I feel so naked without it now.
This review is the collective work of 25 Medium writers, compiled and edited by Jane Gayduk and Steven Levy, with a last-minute assist from Sandra Upson. Photo-illustration by Anna Vignet.
Does the judgement of Medium jibe with your own evaluation of the Apple Watch? Let us know by responding below. If you like, you might even try jumping into the Apple Watch Project collection and remixing passages to make your own review!