The Apple Watch: Year One
This week was the official one-year anniversary of the Apple Watch. I've owned one for almost all of that time, and — like many tech journalists and gadget commentators — I believe it's worth reflecting on what the Apple Watch has meant to the tech world, the wearables category, and Apple.
I didn’t actually get my Apple Watch until May 5. The reasons for that 11-day delay have to do with poor band choices and a a big chunk of FOMO, but 51 weeks is still enough time to write a reflective analysis.
Let's talk about apps
A lot of us thought apps would end up making or breaking the Apple Watch. A year later, I have to admit that I use very few non-native apps on the Apple Watch.
Part of that is because of how apps on the watch work. In the first six months the watch was available, the non-native app experiences on the watch were slow. The slowness of these apps — coupled with the staggered rollout of the watch itself — was my chief complaint/fear about the Apple Watch, one month into using the device.
After announcing watchOS 2.0 in June 2015, Apple rolled it out in September, which allowed developers to build faster watch apps that were native to the device.
WatchOS 2 was a good step forward, but coming five months into the product’s life cycle, I do wonder how much it hurt developer momentum, in turn crippling Apple Watch app quality.
As it stands, a lot of companies were quick to jump on the Apple Watch bandwagon, but a year in, there still aren’t many third-party apps I use regularly or can even name.
Part of the reason I don’t use Apple Watch apps is speed. Even with watchOS 2’s native code, loading an app and opening it up can often take more time than just grabbing my phone, which is always by my side anyway. And with a few exceptions, I haven’t really run into any apps that I feel offer a truly superior wrist experience.
That said, I do enjoy a number of the built-in apps. The Music app is great and I often like to use it to control what I’m listening to while running. I also love having my calendar on my wrist.
As with the Pebble smartwatch, the true “killer app” for the Apple Watch is notifications. I love getting notifications on my wrist. I like getting alerted that my Uber is ordered and on its way, my Postmates is at the door. I also like being able to answer or decline phone calls from my wrist.
The true “killer app” for the Apple Watch is notifications.
And I love having iMessage on my wrist. Depending on the type of notification, you can often reply right on the watch, which is great. This can be as simple as marking an email as “read” or flagging it. Using Siri, I can even respond to a text message.
I didn’t buy the Apple Watch as a fitness device, but I do think the Activity feature is one of its strongest features. Each day, I’m motivated to earn my circles for standing at least once every hour. I also like seeing how many calories I’ve burned and how many minutes I’ve spent exercising.
The health and exercise functions aren’t demonstrably different form what I could do on a Fitbit, but the interface of the Apple Watch is better.
Still, I can’t help but be disappointed that the app story on Apple Watch hasn’t turned out better. I do think there are probably more compelling ways I could use my Apple Watch that I haven’t. That's partly because app discovery — a problem across the App Store — isn’t great on the watch.
But truthfully, I also think we’ll need more powerful hardware to really do some intersting things on the wrist. The big question I have, however, is: A year in, do developer’s still care?
A chief complaint when the Apple Watch launched was that it offered just a day of battery life. Especially when compared to the Pebble or Pebble Time, this wasn’t great.
I’ve found I wear my Apple Watch from about 30 minutes after I wake up to about 30 or 45 minutes before I go to bed. Although I have to charge my watch every day, I do get a full day of battery life from the watch.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been moments when the watch has died before the day has ended. And I keep an extra charger on my desk just in case I need a quick charge.
As critical as many of us were about the battery life limitations at launch, a year later, I don’t actually think it's been that big of a deal. Provided you take your watch off anyway, the real trick is just to find a good/consistent place to charge it each night.
I will say that traveling with the watch charger has proven to be more of a challenge. There are some smart accessories that make the process easier, but the reality is that when I go on a trip — even for a day — I need to make sure I have my Apple Watch charger packed too.
When I think about how much money I’ve spent on the Apple Watch in the last year, both on the watch itself and the various bands I’ve purchased, the figure is over $1,000.
If I try to rationalize that as a tech purchase, that’s actually sort of difficult. I really like my Apple Watch, but was it worth as much as I spent on my iPad Pro?
Oddly, I have a much easier time rationalizing the price when I consider that for me, as a woman, this product was every bit as much of a fashion accessory as it was a tech gadget.
In that realm, $250 on a watchband isn’t that ridiculous. Similarly, I don’t mind spending $50 a pop on various sport bands.
I’m even seriously eyeing the Hermès bands in one of the new colors.
Even after a year, I still get compliments on my watch on a frequent basis. I recently moved to a new color band (for Spring) and get compliments all the time.
Not everyone loves the Apple Watch’s design, but for me, a year later, it’s something I’m not embarrassed to wear on my wrist. Plus, I get a kick out of customizing my band based on my outfit.
Has it changed my life?
Over the last year, I’ve worn my Apple Watch (the 38mm stainless steel version) nearly every single day. Part of this is because after spending more than $800 on the accessory, I wanted to be sure to get my money’s worth.
But it also quickly became a habit and something I’ve grown accustom to having on my wrist.
Still, if asked, “Has this changed my life?" the short answer is, “No, no it hasn’t.”
I wear my watch almost every day but I should note that if I forget to put my watch on in the morning and I don’t realize until I’m already outside my apartment, I’m not going to turn back around to retrieve it. I tend to reserve those sorts of moments for my keys, my wallet and my iPhone.
I’m not someone who has had a transformational experience from the watch.
But that isn’t to say I don’t miss the watch when it’s not on. I love getting notifications on my wrist. I like getting reminders to stand up and affirmations for reaching my exercise and calorie goals.
And frankly, as a watch, I use it quite a bit. It’s also nice to quickly glance at my wrist to see the weather or what appointments I have coming up.
So yes, I miss the Apple Watch when I’m not wearing it, but I’m not someone who has had a transformational experience from the watch. I prefer wearing it, but if I forget it for a day? Well, I still have my phone.
And frankly, that’s probably the biggest challenge Apple will continue to face with the Apple Watch: convincing people to allow an accessory that is nice, but not life changing, onto their wrist.
We’re already hearing a number of rumors about the next Apple Watch, which is reportedly planned for a September release.
Potential cellular connectivity aside (something I’m not convinced is wanted or needed), many of these rumors point to subtle changes rather than a huge overhaul.
Earlier this month, my colleague Lance Ulanoff argued that minor updates aren’t enough and that Apple needs to do more to get the price down and target teen consumers.
I agree on the price point (getting the watch down to the $199 mark for the Apple Watch sport would be huge), but I’m OK if the watch has only minor cosmetic updates.
Where I strongly agree with Lance is that some of the interface decisions need to be rethought. Part of the reason I don’t use apps on my watch — in addition to the slowness — is because the interface, even a year in, is often not as intuitive as it should be.
I would love to see Apple do a lot of work into the experience of the watch better and more robust.
I would also like to see Siri on the watch — something that often works quite well — to be expanded. I should be able to open apps with Siri or complete other tasks. I want to be able to talk to my watch the same way I can talk to my Amazon Echo.
For now, however, I’ve enjoyed my year with the Apple Watch. It’s not the perfect wearable — and it hasn’t changed my life — but I don’t want to take it off.