Writing about the Apple Watch in one article is an impossible task. There is so much that it does, and so much more that I want it to do. Everyone already has an opinion on it, though most people haven’t had the time to really spend time with it. For that reason, I’ll be breaking up my experience with the Apple Watch into a five-part series, each tackling a different element of the experience. For this first article, I’d like to focus on the three tentpole features of the watch, by Apple’s definition [http://www.apple.com/watch/]: Timekeeping, Activity Tracking, and Communicating. If it can’t do the three main things Apple wants it to do, then the Watch certainly wouldn’t be setting itself up for much success.
Linked below are the other entries in the Owning the Apple Watch series:
Part V: The Future
Apple Watch, as a watch
As I mentioned in my previous article, I have worn analog watches for a very long time, and I’m used to looking at one rather than my phone to tell what time it is. How the watch would fare in this category is definitely something that I was looking forward to experiencing. In timekeeping, I’d say that the watch is overall success for three main reasons: many customizable and legible faces, the use of complications (little widgets that display information on the face), and the Activate on Wrist Raise feature.
The Watch Face
When you first hold up the Apple Watch, what you would expect to happen happens: the time is displayed. There is a near infinite set of combinations for displaying the time and other information, depending on your preferences. Changing watch faces is easy: simply force-press on the screen (it’s like pressing into a second layer in the screen), and swipe between any of the default or your own custom options. If you want to delete any of the included ones, a single flick up reveals a trashcan icon. Creating a new one is as easy as swiping to the far right, tapping ‘New’, and selecting from the following included face templates: Utility, Modular, Simple, Motion, Astronomy, Color, Chronograph, Mickey, and Extra Large. The only ones I use are Utility, Simple, and Color.
In addition to showing the time on the watch face (or clock, as I’ll refer to it at times to avoid saying ‘watch’ so much), most faces have the ability to show what are known in the field of horology as “complications”. Complications are any additional feature/information shown outside of the hour and minute. Most common ones are day/date displays, chronographs, and winding mechanisms. With the Apple Watch, Apple has provided a wide assortment of complications available, and they can be turned off at any time. However, not all of the faces show them in the same way. Some complication areas are larger (like on the Modular face and the bottom section of the Utility face), but most are small and square in overall shape. Currently, all of the complications are designed by Apple. The options are: Day/Date, Calendar, Moon Phase, Sunrise/Sunset, Weather, Battery, Activity, Alarm, Timer, Stopwatch, and World Clock times. With watchOS 2 update due for release this fall, third-party developers will be able to create complications as well. The quality and function of these remains to be seen.
The process for switching complications and customizing new faces is very simple and straightforward. I won’t bore you with the details here, but suffice to say that I am impressed that Apple has made that process very seamless and straightforward. The only real complaint that I can levy against the face selection is that some of them seem mostly useless or redundant (Motion & Astronomy, Chronograph) and the lack of a good digital face. As previously mentioned, the lack of ability to show seconds for any of the faces that use a digital display is a shame. As someone that uses 24 hour time, I’d also really like to see a 24-hour analog face, but I know that the likelihood of that is pretty low.
Having many faces and customization options is fantastic. I usually switch faces every couple of days (it takes about a second to switch), generally between the analog faces. It’s possible that I would use some of the digital faces more often if they had the ability to show seconds, but at this point none of them do. Some of the other faces are more niche, but can be helpful. One example of this is the Solar face. It is nice because it allows you to scroll the digital crown (the knob on the side of the watch) to visually determine where the sun will be at a given time—very helpful if you’ll be outside for the evening, like at a baseball game or doing lawn work.
My Favorite faces
As mentioned earlier, I generally just use the analog faces. They are listed below in the order in which I use them the most.
In Color, everything in purple can be changed to a different color, providing the most varied look out of all of the analog faces. Additionally, this is the only watch face that allows for a nice monogram at the 12. The complications on this face are noticeably bigger than the other analog faces, making it easier to read the information, such as the battery level. The dial isn’t customizable, but it does have clear markings for each minute and for the hour markers. There are also 4 complication areas in each corner, which is nice. Unfortunately, there is no option to have the day and date at the 3 like you would find on most analog watches, thus I had to move it to the slot in the bottom right corner, taking up a complication area.
Utility. In my opinion this face has the nicest and cleanest look. The only colors that can be changed here are the second hand and the date icon (in purple). It is clear where the 5-minute marks are here, making it easy for readability. On this face, there are three main complication areas: the smaller upper corners and a larger space at the bottom. Great for calendar events, or for providing more detail for any of the other complication options. For some reason, many text rendered at the bottom is written in all caps.
Simple. This is the only face where the tick marks around the dial can be removed completely, though I have opted to have at least the standard 0-60 tick marks pictured. This face is, to me, a combination of Color and Utility. Like Utility, only the second hand and the date can change color, and like Color, this face has 4 complication areas in the corners. I would likely use this face more if this dial had tick marks for five-minute intervals (but then I guess it would be Utility). The more complicated dial option for Simple is pictured below. I like it (note the similarities to the Color dial), but for some reason it adds ticks for the 30-second interval. Who needs that when there is a second hand? It just makes it harder to determine the minute. (see below) This may be an effort to separate it from the other faces, but I find it superfluous.
There are some areas where I’d like to see some visual/interface elements improved. The sweeping second hand on all of the analog faces is nice, but I would like the option to have it move in a ‘tick-tock’ motion. I find that to be more precise, and it can make it easier to time things. Apple’s complications are nice, but it would be nice to have third-party ones. Thankfully, that’s coming with watchOS 2. Some of the other faces not pictured here could also use some improvements. A great place to look at those is here.
The other element of Apple Watch as a timepiece is the “Activate on Wrist Raise” feature. By and large, I haven’t had any issues with this. It errs on turning on too many times rather than not enough, and the screen turns off immediately upon lowering your wrist. There is the slightest of delays if you move your wrist quickly, but since I’m someone who has used more deliberate movements even when wearing my old watch, it hasn’t been an issue. Overall, Apple Watch works well as a watch. Though there can always be improvements, it works well in this function as a precise timepiece.
By far, this is my favorite element of the Apple Watch experience. I know that there is a wide range of other fitness trackers out there, but this watch was my first experience with one. Now, I’m addicted. Your activity is tracked though the “Activity” application, which appears as three rings in its complication. The innermost ring is your “stand goal”: it wants to make sure that in at least 12 hours of the day, you get up and move at least once. The middle ring is the exercise ring: here, the goal is 30 minutes of heightened activity each day. The outermost ring is the Calorie ring: here, you can set a calorie goal, and based on your movements and exercise for the day, the ring will fill up. Let me tell you, there is nothing more satisfying than having all three of those rings filled by the end of the day. I’ve had some close calls, but since my second day wearing it I’ve been able to fill up each ring (sometimes more than once). I have a lot more to say about this segment, so look at Part IV for more details. In a nutshell, the Activity Monitor and accompanying Workout app have inspired me to exercise more and think more critically about my health, and that’s always a great thing.
This, I think, is the weakest element of the experience, and certainly the one that consumes the most battery life when in use. Apple has made it clear how much they prize the communication element of the experience by dedicating the watch’s only button to it. With one press of the side button, a list of 12 contacts, selected by the user, pops up. From this view, the digital crown can be turned and you can then call or text them. I have responded to text messages, and it generally works well. Responses are handled in five ways: emoji (watch-specific ones or the emoji keyboard on your phone), pre-canned messages (user-determined), voice memos (which I turned off), digital touch art (can only be used between Apple Watches, so I have not been able to test it), and dictation (pretty much all I use).
Dictation works quite well, though it is heavily dependent on your signal. If you’re on a great Wi-Fi network or on LTE, you won’t have any issues, especially if you are in a quieter environment. If you’re on EDGE, it’s not going to work. Additionally, the closer your phone is, the better the experience will be, even if it is just in your pocket. There are at least three taps you have to go through until a dictated message is sent though, which can get tedious if you mess up in your dictation of the message—there is no backspace. While I like the fact that you can access your most-used contacts via the side button, I feel as though it could be put to much better use in other applications with third-party access (check out the “Hardware” article for my thoughts). I have taken a couple of calls on the Watch, and it is a very quiet experience. It looks cool, but it’s not something you’ll do regularly unless you need to take a call and you can’t quite find your iPhone in time to take it. Thankfully using Handoff to transfer the call to the iPhone is a piece of cake.
The first version of the Apple Watch succeeds in its three key functions of timekeeping, fitness tracking, and communicating, especially in the fitness tracking segment. If you use the Apple Watch for even just these features, you’ll still very much enjoy the experience. Thankfully, there’s even more that this small device can do.