Apple’s first smartwatch hasn’t always worn well over the course of a year.
But let’s start with the positives. I’ve been using it almost every day for more than a year. Apple’s first attempt at a smartwatch is impressive. It’s good enough to keep your iPhone in your pocket a lot of the time – which is no small feat.
And, contrary to naysayers, it’s not unpopular. Market researcher IDC recently ranked it as the third most popular wearable globally, based on shipments. And Strategy Analytics, another marketing research firm, ranks it far and away the most popular smartwatch in the world based on shipments. J.D. Power also chimed in this week and ranked the Apple Watch as the highest in “device satisfaction” among manufacturers of smartwatches.
Keeping in mind that this is Apple’s first attempt at a smartwatch, the hitch, as I see it, for the first-gen watch is its essential contradiction: while it comes brimming with apps, just like an iPhone or iPad, the limited computing power and unresponsiveness render many of the apps unusable, at least for me. The tiny screen is also an obvious downside, although if apps executed smoothly and predictably, the screen size wouldn’t necessarily be a barrier.
Take Apple Maps and Google Maps. While anything image-oriented has a disadvantage from the get-go on the Apple Watch’s tiny screen, a maps apps for the Apple Watch should still work if it’s well designed. In my case, a maps app needs to show traffic (I live in Los Angeles) and should be relatively snappy. But both apps fail on both accounts. Google Maps is too barebones (it’s not a visual map) and slow, and Apple’s map (though visually a map) isn’t much better.
Apple’s Photos app is a little better because you can scroll through your photo collection – just like you can on the iPhone – but lag times and syncing problems can render it, on balance, more useless than useful. And for apps like Skype, video is out of the question. Skype can’t make calls from the Watch either, rendering it a non-starter for me.
Another problem is, some apps that do work well on the Watch can lose their staying power over time. Take the fitness and workout-related apps. I exercise a lot and, so, I’m a good candidate for tracking my exercise routines on the Watch, which include multi-mile hiking and various aerobic workouts. At first, the Watch’s tracking was eye-opening and instructive. But that faded over time, and now I exercise without tracking or monitoring most of the time because I can predict the numbers it spits out.
What works and the future of the Apple Watch
That doesn’t mean Apple can’t make the watch better, and eventually make it a must-have for millions more people. For instance, I still use the Watch regularly for messaging (email, texting), taking quick phone calls, and the news feeds, to mention just a few. In other words, I still wear it wherever I go pretty much every day.
While I don’t use any medical apps for the Watch, things like notifications for daily medication schedules and monitoring of various health conditions should get better with time on the Watch. This is potentially a huge area for market growth.
But where Apple really has room to improve the watch is communications. You could theoretically leave your iPhone at home if, independent of the iPhone, messaging and calls on the watch are possible. (Note to the uninitiated: the Apple Watch, as it is now, is an appendage of the iPhone. When traveling, you must carry your iPhone at all times for the watch to work effectively.)
I won’t suggest the specifics of what Apple could do beyond adding cellular capability and more processing power. Those two improvements alone would give the watch true independence and begin to move the world en masse to Apple’s smallest computer.