The Apple Watch from a Smartwatch User's Perspective

Discussion in 'Apple Watch' started by AstronomyiPhone, May 3, 2015.

  1. AstronomyiPhone macrumors regular

    AstronomyiPhone

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2013
    Location:
    Maryland
    #1
    Reading through the numerous reviews of the Apple Watch online, I couldn't help but notice that many of the gripes the reviewers had (battery life, notification deluge, whether it's actually useful, and—gasp—actually wearing a watch) were things that most people who have been wearing smartwatches already have come to terms with.

    Now, I understand that these are fair criticisms given that Apple is not just catering to the small group of people have already decided that a smartwatch is for them and is targeting a much larger audience, but I thought that, as someone who has been using a smartwatch for two years and who has worn a watch for long before that, I would give my opinion; maybe it'll help out some of you who are looking to jump smartwatch platforms or give those of you who aren't quite sure about smartwatches in general a bit of assurance that at least one guy finds them useful.

    I'm not going to go over why I find them useful, however – I'll leave that up to figure out for yourself. Watches are a very personal thing (as Apple has made abundantly clear), so I don't think it's worth trying to convince you to wear one if you don't already.

    Design

    This is, of course, a matter of opinion more than anything else. However, I think the watch is beautiful, especially compared to other smartwatches. It manages to look unique and more than just a shrunken-down phone (*cough*) while still being completely functional.

    I picked up a space gray Sport model, but I also checked out the regular hue aluminum and it looks great. I'm glad I went for the space gray, though, because there's something about that darker shade that makes the watch look premium, and the pin on the Sport band is the same color, matching nicely.

    Size

    I was expecting the Apple Watch to be huge; it looked like it from the pictures online (things often do) and I did all kinds of measurements and comparisons. I hesitantly ordered 42mm for the extra battery life and screen real estate (although it's really not that much more for either) and I'm glad I did.

    The first thing I noticed taking the watch out of the box was how small it was (I remember thinking the same thing when I first saw the Lightning cable). It's quite a departure from my 52mm Pebble (which, granted, is rectangular), but it's really quite a nice size. I have a medium-size wrist, so I don't know what people with larger wrists will think, but I'm quite pleased with my size choice.

    Functionality

    This is a big one; because Apple has control over its own device, the Apple Watch can do a lot that competing smartwatches simply can't. Pebble, for instance, has tried to juggle multiple platforms, and it generally favors Android over iOS in implementing new features (although this isn't always the case). When it does get to iOS, it can only do so much – it can't decide when to show you notifications, for instance. Every alert, big or small, comes through like a fire engine on your wrist. The Pebble and others are limited by what they can (and choose to) do with the API that Apple has given to them.

    When it comes to its own product, however, Apple has complete control, and that is certainly evident from the way Apple has designed the software interactions between the watch and the phone. To save battery life, Apple has relegated much of the heavy lifting to the phone side and, in my case, the phone has suffered, regularly dying hours before the watch, regardless of whether the companion app is open. This is something that I at first suspected to be another complaint of reviewers who have never had a smartwatch before and thus were unaware of the impact that constant Bluetooth connections could have, but it's something I've really struggled with so far, as I attempt to get my phone's battery to last through the day.

    With the prevalence of Lightning cables and relative obscurity of Apple Watch MagSafe charging cables, that was probably a good decision to make, especially with the emphasis that smartwatch reviewers are placing on battery life.

    However, it also affects something else: performance. Apps are slow to load (although they're fairly responsive once they have launched), which is something that reviewers haven't been taking kindly to. Pebble's apps, while typically pretty limited in functionality, were always quite fast in my experience, likely to do with the fact that they compile to a C binary (don't worry about it if you don't know what that means – basically, the apps' backbone platform is really fast, so the apps benefit). I haven't personally owned an Android Wear watch (I don't have an Android phone, so it wouldn't do me much good), but some of my friends do, and from what I've seen and heard, Watch OS is extremely fast compared to anything that Android Wear has to offer.

    What surprised me the most about this little thing is how much you don't need your phone to use it (and I probably wouldn't have realized it for a while if there wasn't a glowing red phone icon with a cross through it notifying me that my phone had died). The Apple Watch has 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and thus can do a lot on its own – I've found that it can, with a few exceptions, do everything that doesn't require a third-party application or your phone (calls, SMS, notifications, viewfinder) over Wi-Fi. So, you can continue to use iMessage, Maps, and the Activity app like nothing happened. Any data that needs to be transferred between the phone and the watch (workout info, for example) should be sent over when the watch reconnects.

    Digital Crown

    I think this little knob on the side of the Apple Watch merits its own section because it's not a gimmick – it really does increase usability tenfold. It's a nice medium between Pebble, which uses four buttons (one is a designated back button) for all input, and Android Wear watches, which typically require solely (or close to it) touch and thus rely an endless array of swipes across a tiny screen. The former severely limits input options and restricts the way you interact with the watch to quick jabs at the side of the device. The latter, while a vast improvement in input variety, is difficult to manage on such a small screen (and the Apple Watch isn't truly saved from this either, but the Digital Crown really helps in this regard).

    The place where it has the most impact is scrolling. On the iPhone, you can scroll the length of a typical paragraph with one swipe gesture, but on Apple Watch, the equivalent amount of text would take four or five swipes at the least. The Digital Crown takes nearly all of the work out of scrolling and introduces a granular input mechanism, which is important when you don't have the screen real estate of phone to adjust things. You can use it for everything from zooming in Maps to setting a precise amount of time on a timer.

    Admittedly, it can get a bit confusing at times. "Do I use the crown or the side button to go back? Or maybe it was a edge swipe gesture?" On the iPhone, the equivalent of the side button is the Sleep/Wake button, which only does two things: sleeping and waking (oh, and powering on/off). On Apple Watch, the button can power on/off, put you into power reserve mode, lock the watch, open the communication pane (which is quite useful), or open Apple Pay (more on that in a bit).

    The Digital Crown is much more analogous to the Home button than the side button is to the sleep/wake button in this regard – it will either open your apps screen, bring you back to the watch face or activate Siri, which is pretty consistent.

    It's also worth noting that the dial turns quite smoothly and the feedback your get from the Taptic Engine when you reach the end of a scroll view is an unexpected surprise, but it's really natural and somehow just feels "right."

    Apple Pay

    I've only gotten the chance to test it once or twice, but Apple Pay has worked great on the Apple Watch, and it's something that I think really separates it from other smartwatches. The idea of walking into a store and buying something without having to take anything out of your pocket is so futuristic that it's almost scary. It doesn't feel like you've actually paid for something despite the fact that you have, which can be either a positive or negative, depending on your viewpoint.

    Siri

    Siri is quite useful for opening apps, initiating text messages and phone calls, and searching for images (I was surprised that it could do this). However, it's quite limited in what it can do when compared to its iPhone counterpart, and in fact will often ask you to hand off queries to your iPhone when it can't do something. Handoff is fairly smooth between watch Siri and phone Siri, so I haven't found this to be too much of a problem.

    One thing I found surprising is that Siri will not talk to you at all, despite the fact that the watch possesses a speaker. It will vibrate when it starts and finishes listening, but that's about it, and that was a bit jarring since iPhone Siri responds to everything you say with words. You'll have to be looking at the display to see if it did what you asked.

    Dictation is the only text input mechanism on the watch, but I've had an overwhelmingly positive experience with it so far; it may just be me, but I've found it to be much more accurate than on iOS and OS X. Surprisingly, even third-party apps can actually ask for text input; tapping a field will bring up a list of canned responses (which you can set in the companion app) and a microphone to start Dictation.

    Battery Life

    The Pebble I owned prior to the Apple Watch consistently received 6 or 7 days of battery life. That's extremely impressive for such a small device, but I almost felt annoyed by having to remember when to charge it (a great problem to have, I know), as low battery notifications would frequently arrive in the middle of the day, when I was nowhere near a charger.

    As such, I prefer the Apple Watch's daily charging schedule, particularly because of how nice the MagSafe-derived charger is. You simply slide the watch onto the plastic or metal (which one you receive depends on which collection you purchased your watch from – the Sport gets a white plastic one, whereas the stainless and gold variations come with what appears to be a brushed aluminum version) magnetic disc and it snaps on. It's painless and simple –*as it should be.

    App Development

    I saved this for the end because it's not relevant to many people, but it's something I wanted to comment on nevertheless. The app ecosystem, even in its nascency, is a place where Watch OS shines above all others.

    Although WatchKit is still in-development and we only have companion apps for now, it is much better than what I've experienced with Android Wear and Pebble OS. I haven't had extensive experience with Android Wear, but I've written a few apps for Pebble, and suffice it to say, it was not a great experience.

    Pebble's C-based APIs are somewhat archaic and difficult to work with, and handling graphics with C and bitmaps is not fun, even on a monochrome display. PebbleJS, which is in beta, fixes a lot of these problems, but, as I said, it's in beta, so support is shaky.

    WatchKit is limited (for now) by the requirement of a companion app and restricted from accessing, well, any of the watch's sensor data. It's also limited for the sake of battery life – you can't, for example, do any type of dynamic animation; you can only create an animation manually by pulling and stitching together static images from the phone.

    Despite these limitations, Apple has taken the adoption of a new platform as an opportunity to solve some annoyances of iOS development. What these annoyances are vary from person to person, but Auto Layout (which a lot of people adore) has been quite a difficult thing to work with for me, and I much prefer the new grid layout system (however, I'm sure that many will dislike its rigidity and complex (at times) grouping mechanism).

    Because this is Apple, the distribution mechanism for apps will obviously be better because of the wide usage of the App Store. Simply by choosing to develop for Apple Watch, you're giving yourself the the opportunity to access millions more users, which is a big advantage that Apple has with iOS and continues to have with Apple Watch.

    Conclusion

    All in all, I'll echo what many other reviewers have said: this watch isn't for everyone. However, if you already use a smartwatch and you happen to use an iPhone, this is the watch for you. There are some kinks to be worked out, and I'm sure Apple will get to them, but as it stands, this is a really great watch that Apple has created here.

    I have intentionally not commented on pricing because I think Apple has made the decision quite simple: buy what you prefer and can afford. All of the collections have the same specs, and while the 42mm variation may have marginally better battery life than its 38mm counterpart, any differences are marginal.

    Having used a Pebble for the past two years, I consider the Apple Watch a major upgrade, and while the Pebble is a great smartwatch, the Apple Watch is better for my uses and provides what I expect out of a smartwatch.

    Ultimately, the decision is up to you. Whether you should buy the Apple Watch is up to you, and with the shipping delays, it looks like you'll have plenty of time to decide; we don't know when version two will be here, and we don't know what improvements it will bring, but I think that the current iteration is a viable upgrade for any smartwatch user who plans on having an iPhone for the foreseeable future.

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    TL;DR: This is a really great piece of technology that Apple has created, and I think that any existing smartwatch user with an iPhone would prefer it over current competing platforms.
     
  2. Spetsnazos macrumors regular

    Joined:
    May 3, 2012
    #2
    great post and interesting feedback on the app development.

    Never tried developing for pebble but Android Studio is anything but simple. It has its quarks but it isn't brain surgery. That said, the Xcode experience is painless all around
     

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