Apple Watch First Reactions

Adrian Hon
Apr 27, 2015 · 4 min read

At Six to Start, we’re very interested in using wearables for fitness games, so last week we got hold of a few Apple Watches. It’s a very promising device, and we’ve already announced that Zombies, Run! will support the Watch in the near future.

It’s clear, however, that as with the first iPod and the first iPhone, there’s a lot of work to be done by Apple and by third-party app developers to improve and refine the user experience. This is the smallest and most portable screen we’ve seen on the Apple platform, and that comes with all sorts of tough challenges.

These are my first reactions to the Apple Watch, written on Saturday 25th April — after a day wearing it.

Speed

It’s annoyingly slow. Apps that display information from the internet (social apps, news apps, transport apps, maps; i.e. most of them) can take a few seconds to open, and then a few more seconds to display your desired data. I’ve already installed and deleted entire swathes of apps that suffer from this issue; the NY Times app, BBC News, Twitter, Twitterific, Foursquare, etc.

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It looks good, but it’s too slow (courtesy Citymapper)

Compared against the very first iPhone, the Watch is very impressive in its capabilities and speed. Compared against the iPhone 6, it’s hard to justify using the watch at all for these apps. The good news is that any performance improvements Apple engineers can eke out of the hardware will have a knock-on positive effect on the entire watch experience — and I trust that they will have every motivation to succeed.

In contrast, apps that communicate solely with the phone (e.g. Music, Overcast, Calendar) or on the watch (Stopwatch, Timer) are reasonably responsive and useful.

Display

The screen is gorgeous, but small. It’s baffling and laughable that there are so many news apps on the watch. I suppose news junkies may find it entertaining to look at headlines, but the experience is so slow and poor compared to reading a screen of text on the iPhone that I expect few people will bother.

The screen size also makes it difficult to understand and use complex apps, like Maps, Citymapper or Transit. Apple and third-party developers are clearly trying to address this through tricks like Force Touch and by simplifying interfaces and use cases, but they need to do much more work to make the apps useful.

Fitness

The fitness tracking, on the other hand, is excellent. It counts my steps and distance accurately enough that my Fitbit is not long for this world. The built-in Activity app is also really quite well-designed and motivating, to the point that I fear for the future of third-party fitness tracker app developers. Consider the advantages that Apple has over them:

  1. Apple’s fitness tracking app is pre-installed, both on the watch and on the iPhone.
  2. It has access to private APIs and sensors; third-party apps can’t yet track heart rate, operate independently of the phone, or function in the background quite as well.
  3. It can be added to watchfaces as a ‘complication’. That alone is enough to elevate it over any third-party app, and I doubt we will see that capability opened up within the next 2–3 years.

Day 1

I received the watch yesterday morning and proceeded to fiddle with it throughout the day. I initially blamed its slowness on our poor office internet, but it became clear later in the day that it was just slow, period. Tried a lot of third party apps, and deleted almost all of them.

Day 2

Went to the British Library to see the Magna Carta exhibition. Didn’t fiddle with the watch much at all, except to:

  • Play music and podcasts
  • Occasionally look at my step count
  • Let a kid play around with it (he’d been staring at it for ages, his mum was amused)

Battery was still at ~80% by 4pm — very respectable. Then went for a 1 hour run, tracking it as an ‘Outdoor Run’, which took the battery down to ~60%. The watch was initially very distracting and reminded me why I stopped wearing GPS watches — frankly, I don’t need to know my distance or calories in real time. Plus I only realised afterwards how to change the distance units to km (it’s by a force touch on the ’start run’ screen, obviously).

When I run, I wear my iPhone on an armband so it’s really inconvenient to switch between music and podcasts, or to select specific tracks. The watch — despite its slowness and small screen — made doing those things perfectly easy, which was delightful. For me, that alone is practically worth the purchase price, given how frequently I run and how much I enjoy listening to podcasts and music.

I expect that other people won’t care about that stuff at all (maybe they only listen to a set music playlist, or they keep their phone in their pocket while running, or they don’t run at all) but perhaps there will be other things that they really appreciate. The ability to see the weather or read tweets on my watch isn’t a big deal to me if I have my phone in my pocket; but if you don’t have pockets, it’s a much bigger deal.

So, we’ll see.

The Burn

The Future of Fitness

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A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store