Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Apple Watch - Part Three: Day-to-Day Usage


I've been struggling for a long time now to write a meaningful review of the Apple Watch. So many other well-respected writers, who are much better at their craft than I, have already written many pages about Apple's new device. Yet here we are.

Rather than trying to talk specifically about Watch and watchOS, I think I'd much rather just talk about how it has integrated into my life and how I use it day in and day out.

The two most frequently asked questions I get about my Apple Watch Sport are: "Do you like it?" followed immediately by, "What can you do with it?"  So let's get the answers to those questions out of the way first.

The answer to those questions are: Yes, very much so. As an Apple fanboy, I woke up at 3:00am to place my order with the hopes of getting it on launch day, which I did. The second is a very personal answer and will vary from user to user. I use my Watch primarily for: getting important notifications for text messages and email. I have replaced my previous fitness trackers with Apple Watch (more on that later). And, lastly, quick view apps like Weather, Phone, Wunderlist and Twitterific.

Setup and Configuration

Configuring your Apple Watch is a journey.  As a technology enthusiast, it was a road of discovery that I was looking forward to traveling down.  It's not every day, or even every year, that an Apple fan like myself gets to play with something completely new.

As I showed in my last post about Watch, The Apple Watch - Part Two: Unboxing the Sport Edition, pairing and Apple Watch with an iPhone is a very simple process. It is the simplest process of pairing a device and a peripheral that I've ever had.  What came next can only be described as the excitement-fueled haze that came from eating too much candy at the summer fair as a boy.

Apple Watch runs watchOS, is believed to be a variant of iOS 8.2. Much like the original Apple TV runs a variant of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, watchOS and iOS are not exactly the same thing. Knowing how to use one does not mean you automatically know how to effectively use he other. And so, as a new Watch owner I was forced to do the one thing that any wife or girlfriend will tell you that men had to do: read the directions. (Stopping to ask for directions was the number one answer until we all started carrying iPhones with us everywhere; but I digress.)

The fold out instruction sheet gives you all of the basics about how to use the Watch, but I didn't quite feel that I fully understood how to use it.  Only the basic of settings can be controlled on from Watch. For the heavy lifting to configure Apple Watch, you really need to use the Apple Watch app on your iPhone. From there, you can do the real configuration work for settings up Notifications, Glances, your synchronized Music playlists, synchronized Photos albums, Apple Pay and third-party applications. That can seem a bit overwhelming, event to a seasoned Apple fan. To really understand how all of these things work you need to spend time playing with Watch and it' companion iOS app.

I chose to tackle Notifications first since it was one of the two main reasons why I chose to get Apple Watch. (The Workout and Activity apps are the second.). I found that the out of the box option of ”Mirror my iPhone" was too broad and that I was getting notifications on my wrist for things that I really didn't find all that important. My time, as yours, is too important for just any app to interrupt you. So as I started using Apple Watch over the initial two-week period, I found myself constantly adjusting the notifications until I found a balanced that worked for me. What's important to me and important to you are probably vastly different, so I won't list out my configurations here.  What I will say is that key take away for me is what that only the most important information make it from the phone in my pocket to the watch on my wrist.

The Workout and Activity Apps

As I said earlier, the Workout and Activity apps, together, made up the second reason why I wanted and Apple Watch. You see, before getting Apple Watch, I was using a Nike+ FuelBand and the Jawbone UP. Both are good devices in their own ways.  Nike has undeniable consumer brand recognition just like other iconic brands like the Walt Disney Company and the Coca-Cola Company.  But they never quite pulled off the illusion of complete integration with my iPhone and iOS. With Apple Watch, everything is seamless and just works.

I would say that I'm not a fan of exercises nor do I enjoy going to the gym. I'm more like that guy on TV who goes around from greasy spoon to greasy spoon trying to stuff his face with the largest what-ever-it-is for this week. But I do want to try to be healthy and keep as much weight off as I can and so I do like to go out for walks when the weather permits.

When getting started with the Workout app, Apple advises you to bring your iPhone with you. That way, Watch can calibrate how you walk or run more accurately and track how far you've gone.  From my very unscientific comparison of the data collected by my Jawbone UP as compared with the data collected by the Workout app and reported in the Activity app, I can say things are 'close enough.'  Some people have reported that stand-alone devices that have their own integrated GPS receivers do a better job of tracking activity and distance while exercising outside. That criticism may have been true. When Apple released watchOS 1.0.1 back on May 19, distance and pace of outdoor activities was one of the featured enhancements.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the Workout and Activity apps. I have added Activity "complication", that the watch world's fancy name for the computing world's "widget", to the bottom center slot of the Modular watch face that I use. It helps me "gamify" my daily activity to reach my goal of filling in all three activity rings daily.

Third-Party Apps

Apple Watch had a large selection of apps available on April 24 then it officially launched.  The trick, however, is finding good apps.

watchOS 1.0, now updated to watchOS 1.0.1, runs all of the third-party apps as "projections" from the iPhone it is paired with.  Apple Watch doesn't have it's own app store.  iPhone apps that support the Watch install small applications - like Mac OS X Dashboard widgets - on to the iPhone.  When you run an app on the Watch, it connects to the iPhone over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and displays the information from the iPhone on the Watch.  I won't call it a "cheat" necessarily, but what you will see is the "I'm busy" spinner on the Watch while information is being retried from the iPhone.  This back and forth can be a bit laggy at times and frustrating.  Just the other day I got tired of waiting for the Weather app to launch on Apple Watch and I pulled out my iPhone and checked the forecast before the Watch was able to update.  While these kinds of problems can be annoying or inconvenient at times, many of us who are using the Watch today are early adopters.  Apple will surely work to improve performance over time.  Look for the first signs of improvement later this year for the release of watchOS 2.0.  In that update, Apple will be giving software developers more access to the hardware resources and the ability to run apps natively on Watch.

My best advice to you is to try out the Apple Watch apps that are extensions of the apps you use on your iPhone.  My rule of thumb is to limit the number of apps that I have installed to a bare minimum.

For example, I like to read the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times on my iPhone or my iPad.  But I don't want notifications for breaking stories on my wrist, nor do I care to even try to read a news summary on a 42mm screen.  Those kinds of apps, for me, are just impractical.  Your needs will vary from mine.  For me, I've chosen to use just a handful of apps, including: Overcast, Twitterific, Wunderlist, and Starbucks.  That's it.  Of the four, I use Overcast and Wunderlist the most.  Wunderlist, which has my list of things to buy at the grocery store, just works so well for me when I'm shopping.  The iPhone stays securely in my pocket and I have fast access to my shopping list simply by raising my wrist.  Nothing gets dropped, scratched or forgotten.

Siri, Dictation and Making Calls

The Apple Watch doesn't have a keyboard.  When you need to reply to a text message, my primary use case, I do with Siri dictation.  Yes, you kinda look like the cartoon character Dick Tracy, but hey, that's cool, right?  I've used Siri dictation all over the place.  For the most part, Siri gets the job done, but just like on the iPhone and iPad sometimes Siri just can't pick up the works I'm dictating correctly.  On those occasions, I've had to pull out my iPhone...or I've used Siri to place a call from Watch.

Making calls from your Watch makes you look and feel like the aforementioned Dick Tracy.  I usually only use this feature in my office, from the car, or when I'm not in a crowded location.  Social etiquette aside, when in a noisy environment, I've found it hard to hear what the other person is saying and find myself holding the Watch closer to my ear, and well, that starts to sound a lot like a use case for the iPhone or better yet, to call the person back later.

Battery Life and Durability

I had two major concerns when making the decision about buying the Apple Watch without ever having played with one.  How long will the battery last and will I need multiple charge cables at home and at the office?  And, how long would it be before I scratched the hell out of the screen.

I'm happy to report that both concerns now look silly two months into my daily use of Apple Watch.  Yes, using the Workout app causes the battery to drain more quickly when the heart rate sensor is sampling data more frequently and the Watch is checking distance and speed by poling the iPhone's GPS.

If I'm being really lazy, and I don't do my 30 minutes of exercise, at the end of the day, my 42mm Sport has around 50-60% battery life left.  If I do get out and get my 30 minutes of exercising in, my battery will get down to about 20-30%.  Recently, while on vacation with the family, we went on a 14-mile bike ride along the Cape Code Rail Trail.  We were out on the ride for about an hour and forty minutes.  The whole time the Workout app was going full tilt tracking my heart rate, speed and distance.  In other words, the Watch was in constant contact with my iPhone for the whole time.  At the end of the ride, my battery was down to about 10%.  It was in the low 90's when I started.  To save power until I got back to the house, I put the Watch into Power Reserve mode.

I'm also happy to report that my Watch is still 100% scratch, ding and knick free.  I'm not saying that the Watch can "Take a licking and keep on ticking" as the old ad slogan goes.  What I will say, is by all rights, my Apple Watch Sport should be in really bad shape.  I've smacked it into three large office file cabinets, metal storage and server racks, metal lawn chairs...the list goes on and on...and nadda.  No scratches.  No pits. Nothing.  Mileage will vary, but if you are careful of your surroundings, you should be fine.

Early on, I purchased a screen protector for the Ion-X display.  Don't waist your time and money on them.  The fit was horrible and I only left it on for about 45 minutes.

Parting Thoughts

All-in-all, I really like my Apple Watch and it has integrated into my day-to-day Apple centric lifestyle and workflow.  The Watch is a more personal type of device than your iPhone, Mac or iPad is and so how it gets used will vary from person to person.  I don't expect the Apple Watch to be replacing an iPhone any time soon.  There are still plenty of uses that demand a larger screen - the iPhone 6 Plus is proof of that.  But the Watch really does let me quickly check the incoming notification and make a decision to take action now or later.  The watchOS 2.0 update, due out later this year, will add a fresh batch of features and functionality.

While not every iPhone owner needs an Apple Watch, the Apple Watch will only work with an iPhone so take that into consideration before placing your order.

If you are considering buy and Apple Watch, I encourage you to go to the Apple Store.  Play with the demo units.  Try on the bands to see which one you like the best.  When you are ready, place your order via the online Apple Store.

For more information, visit the Apple Watch website.

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