The Apple Watch, 2.5 years later

The original reveal of the Apple Watch is a pretty disappointing memory for me.  At the time, I don’t think anyone really knew what they wanted out of wearables, so I was okay with much of the functionality (barring some of the stupid things Apple expected people to do with their tiny wrist computer, but more on that later).  What really bothered me was the design and the price.

Apple is undeniably great at designing technology, but a watch is a fashion accessory.  They created and pushed a narrative that portrayed the watch as being stylish and hip by inviting not just tech journalists, but fashion journalists to the reveal, and this has been consistent ever since.

Honestly, the most fashionable thing about the Apple Watch is that it’s not as bulky as other smart watches.  Bigger watches go in and out of style, but some of the Android Wear watches out there are comically big.  However, there are round ones, whereas the Apple Watch is designed to look like a small iPhone.  Generally, watches (as a fashion item) should be round, according to fashion communities and publications like GQ.  While there are exceptions, I don’t feel like the Apple Watch, stylistically, is one of them.  It’s a pretty piece of technology, but it’s an ugly watch.  And yes, I know the utilitarians out there will go on and on about how round displays are inefficient for displaying content, but all of those arguments are predicated on the ideas of familiar design.  Personally, I think it’s very absurd to suggest that Apple couldn’t engineer content for a round display.  Heck, most of the content that’s already there works if you just cut off the corners.  You’d lose practically nothing of value in most cases.

But anyway, that’s a blog post for April 2015.  This is a post for December 2017, where we’re on Apple Watch iteration number four, I guess (do we count Series 1 as a separate watch?  I guess so).  We’ve now had two and a half years with these wrist computers, and Apple has had that same amount of time to refine the experience.

The original premise of the Apple Watch was that it was a small iPhone.  Apple demoed writing notes, watching Instagram videos, making calls, and sending texts.  Only the latter two have held up.  Legitimately, I don’t know if you can even still send heartbeats or digital taps/drawing.  My guess is that you can, but I don’t know how, as that menu has been completely taken over by the dock.

Clearly, the Watch isn’t a small iPhone, despite it looking like one.  It holds certain use cases – mostly revolving around convenience and fitness – but it doesn’t replace your phone except in extremely specific situations.  It took Apple over a year, but they finally started honing in on those use cases and have been perfecting the Watch for those uses ever since.

I guess I should mention here that the Apple Watch has been a pretty successful product, despite some of the doom and gloom we sometimes hear from tech journalists.  I know at least one person that abandoned the product somewhat quickly, but I know more that have kept and still use theirs.  I bought the original version in 2015 a couple months after launch, and only recently (finally) upgraded to a newer version, the Series 3 aluminum model.

The Series 3, compared the Series 0/original Apple Watch has three main advantages: 1) it’s more water-resistant (you can swim with it), 2) it’s so much faster that it makes the Series 0 feel absolutely ancient and 3) the battery life is like 300% better.  They still market it as having “all day battery” but the reality is if you don’t keep the GPS on all the time or use/have LTE on it, you could go two days without charging, maybe almost a full three.  I used to end the day with around 25-30% battery.  I now end the day with around 70-75%.

Personally, I think the LTE model is a joke.  After carrier costs and fees/taxes, the watch will run you anywhere between $10 and $15 a month to add to your data plan, most likely, and I could count on one hand the amount of times my phone wasn’t within Bluetooth range of my watch and that I also needed to use it for some data-related purpose.  Again, there are very specific cases where the LTE model is probably not only useful, but a God-send; however, I’d imagine that for 97% of people, just the regular watch is fine.

I think within the 3% that will find use with the LTE model, some sort of outdoors or sports-related activity will be a key in defining that usefulness.  Apple has really been honing in on that market, and more recently, other health-related things that aren’t necessarily fitness, like their heart study program (to detect AFib/arrhythmia).  These things combined with the convenience of notifications on your wrist are the real selling points to most people, I’d say.

Personally, while I do enjoy the convenience of notifications, I’ve found that having the weather on my wrist at all times has been a game changer for me.  My expectation of basic data that a watch face provides has shifted from “time and date” to “time and date and weather.”  Yes, it’s nifty to know how many steps I’ve taken, how active I’ve been, but paradigm shifts like the former are more interesting to me.

That said, I can’t overlook that having Siri on my wrist has been important as well, but that’s almost 90% for setting reminders in my case.  There are times when my phone is across the room, so the ability to pause/play/skip ahead in music/podcasts, take calls, send messages, use Authy, or pause my Apple TV has been very useful.  While I rarely do use other apps, the occasions do still exist when I start my car from my watch, or even more rarely, check an email.

When I use Apple Pay, it’s almost exclusively with my watch, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I have found the ability to remotely control the camera on my phone extremely useful, even if only on a handful of occasions.

All in all, I’d say the Apple Watch, while still catering to certain niches with more specific functionality, has broken out of being a niche product as a whole.  I see them all the time now, and of course, wear mine daily.  I don’t think it’s worth upgrading yearly, and I don’t think it’s worth paying more than the base model costs, but it’s a product that I truly like – not because of how it looks, as Apple may market – but rather, in spite of how it looks.

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