I thought the Apple Watch was pointless. I was wrong.
Though I’ve been writing about the Apple Watch for some time and have tested it repeatedly at the Apple Store since its April release, I had always thought the wearable device was a gimmick. That is, I thought it was redundant: just one more functionally-overlapping gadget to manage and recharge.
But my curiosity finally got the best of me. So, when the Watch was available for a walk-in purchase at my local Apple Store in Los Angeles, I decided I would try to it out for 14 days (believing I would return it).
But a funny thing happened after about 48 hours: I found out it was useful. Very useful. Let me explain.
The Next Thing
You may not believe this now, but pretty much everyone will be using an Apple Watch or something similar (i.e., wearable) in the next five years. That’s not a bold prediction. It’s just where the gadget industry is going. For good reason: you can do a lot of the stuff you do on your phone but more efficiently. I think many people, who have used the Watch for more than a few days, would agree.
The smartphone has peaked
The eye-opener for me is that the Watch makes my latest-and-greatest phone from Apple - the iPhone 6 Plus - feel old. There is a surprising amount of useful stuff you can pack into a really tiny mobile computer – which is what the Apple Watch is. It’s analogous to the first time I used a Blackberry or, better yet, the first time I used an iPhone. Your laptop suddenly felt about six pounds too heavy.
Messaging finds a new home
I think it would be a shock to most people if they logged the hours spent each day hunched over, staring at the phone, obsessing about messaging and seeking that next dopamine fix. For me, the Watch cuts that time in half – or more. When I go out now, the iPhone stays in my pocket most of the time. Call it being more efficient with your time. Call it being more plugged into the real world. The Watch simply provides a more intelligent, practical way to handle messaging. If you consider that a lot of the messages you get only need a quick glance, the Watch is a paragon of efficiency. When I get a pitch (or two or three or four) about a “revolutionary” new mobile app, a glance at the Watch and it’s dealt with. Multiply that by X times over the course of day and you’ve saved yourself a lot of time and, maybe more importantly, you can keep your head up and see the real world around you (and maybe improve your posture!) Needless to say, you’ll still use your iPhone and laptop for long-form messaging.
Phone calls, flick-of-the-wrist style
Some of the early reviews of the Watch said it wasn’t very good at phone calls. I disagree – in part. First and foremost, it's easy to answer a call. Just flick your wrist and press the green answer button. While it doesn’t have the speaker-amplification (and lacks an earphone jack) and battery-life of the iPhone, I’ve done 5-minute conversations on the Watch – no problem. Usually (with the exception of noisy environments), I can hear the other person just fine and they can hear me. And you don’t necessarily have to hold your wrist up to your face. Just take the watch off and hold it like you would the phone. In short, it’s great for quick calls that only need a few minutes. Again, the iPhone stays in your pocket. Anyone see where this is ultimately going? More on that below.
The Watch takes the calendar to a new level of convenience. Why? Because all of the good things about a calendar are now done with a wrist-glance. You can even dial in to a meeting from your Watch.
The potential for a killer app on the Apple Watch is great. I’ve already got a couple: messaging and fitness tracking (more on that in the second part of this Apple Watch review). The point is, we’re just at the beginning of the Watch’s likely long commercial life and, as more apps appear, the more chance of a killer app emerging for millions if not tens of millions of consumers. And it probably won’t be one single killer app but a great app that dominates each major category, for example - messaging, medical, fitness, corporate IT. Time will tell.
The battery lasts about two days for me. And that’s with pretty constant use. So, I’m not recharging every night. And recharging couldn’t be easier. You just slap it on the Apple magnetic charger and wait. I say “wait” because you don’t have to wait very long. It’s the fastest charging device I’ve ever used.
The 42mm PC screen
One of the most serious doubts I had about the iPhone was the size of the display. I mean, how much personal messaging/computing can you really do on a screen that’s only 42mm high (or 38mm for the smaller Watch)? The short answer: a lot more than you think. The Photos app is a good example. As far as I can tell, I have access to all of the same photos on my Watch that I have in iCloud on my PC or MacBook. And I was surprised how easy it is to flick through images and then call up and zoom in on an image with the Watch dial. And this applies to other iPhone apps such as news feeds and maps (which, unfortunately, can’t show you traffic yet).
The gadget has evolved, the Apple Watch is here to stay
Despite some initial ups-and-downs, I think the Apple Watch will ultimately succeed. No, the Watch isn’t going to replace your phone this year or next. And there are obvious limitations to any pint-sized device. But I think I know where this is going. Once you integrate mobile wireless broadband (for example, 3G or 4G) into a 38mm or 42mm Watch you have a pretty compelling argument for leaving your iPhone at home. For example, if you’re going out for a 30-minute run and you have a WWAN (Wireless Wide Area Network)-enabled Watch, why bring the phone? (Note: Samsung offers the Gear S watch, which is marketed with the tagline “Leave your phone at home." That's because the Gear S includes mobile broadband capability. But the initial iteration of the watch design is big, uses Samsung’s weakly supported Tizen operating system, and still needs the phone to work well)
Looking ahead, I would imagine that even five years from now there may still be a practical limit to how much you can do on your watch or wearable but I also think the smartphone has peaked and wearables will slowly but surely begin to steal more and more features from the phone. Eventually, wearables like the Apple Watch will render the phone the accessory, not the other way around.
This is part one of a two-part review. Next: using the Apple Watch for fitness and health monitoring.