Apple Watch

August 15, 2015

A few weeks ago, I bought an Apple Watch.

I had two main motivators for it. As a user and designer, I wanted to learn what it’s like to live with this new category of devices. As a software engineer, I wanted to learn how it is to build software on this thing and test it with a real device, not a simulator. I haven’t yet gotten to the building part, so this post will only be about how it is from a regular user’s perspective.

Several people have asked me for a verdict. Should you buy it? To which I respond, “maybe.” It’s certainly not indispensable, the way that, for example, I consider a smartphone to be indispensable to modern urban life. I couldn’t live my lifestyle these days without a smartphone. I certainly could without an Apple Watch, but it makes a few things nicer for me. As Benedict Evans says, it’s an “useful luxury.”

It’s only been a few weeks. It’s hard for me to tell whether many of the things that I discuss are just a novelty, or are here to stay. I wanted to get my initial remarks down after these first few weeks while the initial memories are still fresh, but it’s possible that things will change after a while and it either wears off, or I start using it more, especially with the new OS version that lets apps on the watch be more powerful.

As for my own experience with watches, I wore one in high school 15+ years ago, but I haven’t worn a watch since. I think I’m exactly the demographic that Apple is trying to capture with the Watch, at least in the initial wave: people who think they don’t need a watch because they have a smartphone, but are willing to give it a shot.

The purchasing experience

To quote a classic cartoon, “you think you can just waltz into a store and buy one?”

There used to be a time where you couldn’t do that with Apple Watch. Supply was short for all the models, many people (largely developers who have written the initial reviews after using it for a few months) preordered the initial batch so it was sold out, and there was all this talk about having to book appointments for all models and what not.

I didn’t keep track of all the details and news and didn’t know what’s the exact situation. One July Friday afternoon, I just happened to be in Berlin and have some time and thought, what the heck, let’s go by their nice Ku’Damm Apple Store and give it a shot. Turns out that yes, these days, you can just waltz into an Apple Store and buy a watch. At least all the basic models. Not sure about the gold one.

I went up to the greeter and said I want to buy the watch, to which he responded that they’re busy on that Friday afternoon and it would be about a 20 minute wait. Almost sounded like he was complaining about too much business. So I stuck around and waited.

I had determined to buy the black basic sports model, because it felt to be the most unpretentious and basic one. The only question was, which size to buy. I was pretty determined to get the smaller 38mm model because I thought it would be more elegant on my average-sized wrist. (I’m not going to post any pictures of watch on my wrist, though. I hate all those pictures with wrist hair. Disgusting.)

Soon, the salesperson arrived. Apparently they won’t let you just buy a watch that you’ve selected: you have to try it on first, and have an opportunity to try different sizes and models. Which is smart, because in my case, I totally changed my mind, and after trying both sizes on, decided to get the bigger 42mm model.

As I tried it on, here’s what went through my head. Look, no matter what, you can’t hide the fact that it’s a black slab and a piece of electronics on your wrist. It’s not elegant in any case, the way that precious Swiss watches are. So the only question is, is it a slightly smaller or larger slab. I was expecting the small version to be “OK” and big version to feel “too big”. In reality, the big one was “fine” and the small one felt “too small”. So, even though the big one is 50€ more expensive, that’s what I got.

The hardware and battery

It’s nice. It’s fine. It’s what you expect from Apple. Some people go on and on about how it’s the greatest single piece of hardware ever made—meh. It doesn’t really stand out to me in any way, and that’s good. I don’t need it to generate attention. Maybe if I had gotten pink or white straps, it would stand out more.

The border between the display and bezel is definitely less noticeable than on the phone. Coupled with the fact that the default background of software is also black, this is the first Apple display where they recommend that you design edge-to-edge and full bleed. If you have text on the left of the screen, don’t leave any padding, just put it right against the screen border because the hardware bezel acts as the edge.

As part of the Sports Watch package, you get the inductive magnetic charging cable and plug, two versions of the strap for different wrist sizes, and a carrying case. The only thing you really need from there, once you figure out which strap size works better for you, is the charging cable.

I suppose you could discuss battery life in this part. Much hype was initially made about how it doesn’t last. Well, it does last, and much better than my iPhone 5s, I might add. In my typical fairly light Watch use, it uses less that 50% of battery per day, so I’ve gone two full days without charging. Not so with phone: if you use it at all, it doesn’t last over a day for me.

The watch display is off most off the time, and only activates when you tap on it, or when you lift your wrist so that Apple Watch thinks you’re looking at it. The latter part works pretty great for me. There’s a slight activation delay, maybe around 200ms, but it’s not so great that it would feel like a real delay. For the most part, it’s quite magic: display is off, you lift your wrist to see the time, display turns on, you see the info, you put your wrist down, display is off again. Works fine.

Next: software.