Owning the Apple Watch: Fitness

This is Part IV of my “Owning the Apple Watch” series, and this article focuses primarily on the health and fitness elements of the watch. By far, this is my favorite element of the Apple Watch experience, and I think the most well thought-out. It has really helped me to take my own health and exercise more seriously. There are a plethora of fitness applications available for the Watch, but I’m just going to focus on Apple’s included Workout and Activity applications.

Below are the other entries in my Owning the Apple Watch series:

Part I: Basics

Part II: Hardware

Part III: Software

Part V: The Future


Fitness is one element of the Apple Watch experience that Apple has been pushing pretty hard, and for good reason. With the recent rise in fitness trackers and an increasing focus on measuring health in a variety of ways, it makes sense for Apple to cater to this crowd. The aluminum Apple Watch isn’t called the “sport” model for nothing. Over the past month I’ve been using the Watch daily to track my workouts, runs, and daily steps, and it’s been a fantastic experience. Apple’s Director of fitness for health technologies Jay Blahnik has a great interview at Outside Online that gives some of their goals when working on the fitness capabilities of the watch.

Workout App

The Workout application is where you start an exercise with Apple Watch, and it tracks and logs information about a workout for you. Starting an exercise is a piece of cake: As soon as the app is opened, it presents you with a number of options: Outdoor Run, Indoor Run, Outdoor Walk, Indoor Walk, Outdoor Cycle, Indoor Cycle, Rower, Elliptical, Stair Stepper, and Other. For land-based cardio, this is all pretty great. I can’t speak to any functions outside of the running modes (I’ve only used the rower app twice, and haven’t used any of the rest). Once you tap a workout, you have options to guide your workout via a set of parameters: time, distance, calories burned or open. Once you hit a goal (e.g. an outside run for 10 minutes), the watch will rapidly tap you on the wrist to tell you you’ve hit your goal. I almost exclusively run in the Open mode, and it pings every time I run a mile, which is very nice. During running, the application displays elapsed time, the time of day, pace, and heart rate, as well as an option to pause or end the workout.

A quick screenshot taken while sitting at my desk, hence the blank data on the top right.

A quick screenshot taken while sitting at my desk, hence the blank data on the top right.

The Apple Watch has a heart rate monitor. 62 is my resting heart rate, it seems.

The Apple Watch has a heart rate monitor. 62 is my resting heart rate, it seems.

Arguably the most important buttons on the Wrokout app.

Arguably the most important buttons on the Wrokout app. Note that it’s the first out of 6 pages. That can be a lot of swipes mid-run.

There are some things I don’t like about the application however. One of them is one you can’t get around: saving the workout. At the conclusion of the workout, it gives you a nice summary of average heart rate, and pace, and distance, and everything like that, which is great. But you have to scroll all the way to the bottom to hit the save button, and when you do, the animation makes it look like the application crashes, as the application just fades to the home screen. There’s no “Saved!” checkmark or anything that pops up. Worse, the button is right next to the “Discard” button, so initially you think that you deleted all of the hard work you just tracked. When you’re tired and sweaty and not sure if you hit the small button, it’s easy to get frustrated. Thankfully, the discard button has an additional dialog box that pops up asking “Are you sure you want to discard this data?”, but that doesn’t excuse the behavior of the Save button. Preferably, the save button would be at the top.

It's always nice to get a summary of your workout.

It’s always nice to get a summary of your workout.

I sure hope you're accurate if you're trying to press the

I sure hope you’re accurate if you’re trying to press the “Save” button after a 3 mile run with a sticky, sweaty finger.

Thank God this dialog box pops up if you hit

Thank God this dialog box pops up if you hit “Discard’.

My other issues have to deal with swiping between pages to see various information and needing to swipe to the leftmost page to pause the workout mid-run. It turns out that capacitive touchscreens don’t like water, and they don’t like sweaty fingers either. It can be hard swiping mid-run to see the various live stats, and if you need to pause immediately, then you have to hastily swipe right a few pages to get to the Pause and End buttons. Worse, the tap may not always register due to the aforementioned hand sausages. If you have to stop before you have a chance to do this, then naturally it slightly skews some data, and that’s not fun. If only we could use the side button to pause or end workouts (a recurring theme, I know).

UPDATE: With watchOS 2 (released 21 September) perceived visual issues with saving  workouts has been fixed and made much clearer with a new “Workout Saved” animation.

Workout + Stopwatch 

Another gripe I discovered is trying to use the Stopwatch and the Workout App simultaneously. One would think that the running mode of the workout app would make it easy, but it didn’t. First off, you can’t start both at the same time, so for accurate lap times (for example in a Navy Fitness Test), you’d have to start the workout app, start your workout, then switch over to the Stopwatch. This means that there will be at least a 10 second difference on the front and back end as you switch between the apps, and that’s not great for stats tracking. On top of that, the workout app takes over the Activate on Wrist Raise feature during a workout (which makes sense), but that also means that you have to double-tap the digital crown to switch back to the Stopwatch and then tap the lap button at the appropriate time. That’s a lot to think about when you’re not sure if it’s lap 6 or 7 and you’re really tired, but trying to make time.

The Lap Timer itself isn’t that bad, and does its job well. It has four different views: Analog, Digital, Graph, and Hybrid. As much as I’d like to like the Analog and Graph ones, they’re not really feasible for running, or at least not for trying to get accurate splits.

  • Analog: this is fine for shorter stints. I love the classic look and clear buttons at the bottom of the display. However, it doesn’t show the time for previous laps; the blue second hand just shows the seconds that have elapsed since the last time the lap button was pressed. Analog would improve tremendously if underneath the total time in white the current lap was shown in blue. I still can’t figure out what the complication dial under the 12 is showing.
  • Digital: the best one and the one I’d overwhelmingly recommend; it’s very similar to the ones on iPods and iOS devices. The number size is nice and big, and it’s easy to see your most recent times. Even better is the red and green dot that indicates at a glance what your slowest and fastest laps are, respectively.
  • Graph is certainly the most creative looking one. I like that, at a glance, you can see what your slowest and fastest laps are, as well as a line showing the average. However, Graph doesn’t make clear what your split time is at a quick glance— it only compares them to the other laps. The current lap is indicated by the rightmost dot, and has a lap time displayed next to it. The total time is displayed on the upper left. Graph would be much better if you were timing someone else, as it’s excellent for showing trends, but I find the information to small to make out mid-run.
  • Hybrid combines the worst features of all of them, in my opinion. The graph is smaller and has less detail, and it doesn’t show the exact lap time for previous laps like the Digital does. The dials are very hard to make out, and I can’t even tell what the leftmost dial indicates. Given that it’s on a 38mm screen, making things smaller benefits no one, and I can’t see any reason to use this mode.

The nice part is that you can switch views during a session if the mood strikes you.

Clockwise from top left: Analog, Digital, Hybrid, Graph

Clockwise from top left: Analog, Digital, Hybrid, Graph


Activity is your main hub for anything health and fitness related on the Watch. Upon setting up the Apple Watch, it will ask you if you want to track health data. Once “Yes” is selected, a new “Activity” application is added to your phone that shows an expanded view of your fitness. It’s very simple, but effective. It shows the three activity rings, any workouts for the day, and any awards that you’ve earned. Activity.app generally rewards weekly achievements e.g. “One week of hitting move goal” or something similar. It’s nothing special, but it gets the job done.

I have a few gripes with the application, on watchOS and iOS. On is that the exercise goal can’t be changed from 30 minutes. I’d love to increase it to 45 minutes or an hour each day. (I have no issues with the stand goal being 12 hours.) Even more frustrating is that the week is oriented from Monday to Sunday on the iPhone. This drives me crazy, and nowhere else on calendar app of any sort do I have my week oriented as Monday to Sunday. I really wish I could change this behavior, and it throws me off every time I see the month view in the application, but I haven’t found an option to change it yet.



As of right now, the Activity app on the Watch doesn’t pull other third-party workouts from the Health.app and factor it into the exercise and move rings. I was quite disappointed when I first discovered this. However, with watchOS 2 coming out in the fall, other applications will have their workouts show up in the application. Right now, that means that if you have a workout app like CARROT Fit and use it at night before bed (like me), the Activity app can’t take that direct information into account. I’m glad this behavior is being updated.

One Workout Shown

Only one workout is shown.

Note the two workouts present.

Note the two workouts present. They’ll both say the same thing when watchOS 2 releases this fall.


The best part about the Workout application is that it syncs with the Apple Health via HealthKit, Apple’s framework for consolidating health information from various applications. Health.app makes it easy to look at aggregate data from your calorie counting application, the Apple Watch Workout app, and any other applications that can track workouts, and look at the whole picture. I’ve only just scratched the surface of what HealthKit can offer, but it looks like it can track data for just about any health metric; it just needs the data from compatible applications. So far, Lifesum (my food/calorie tracking application) has been great for me at pushing and pulling information from Health.app.

A nice overview of any metric you choose is available in the Dashboard.

A nice overview of any metric you choose is available in the Dashboard of the Health app.

General Observations

As I’ve said before, these health and fitness features have really made me think about my health more critically. One morning I slept in until 1030, and had to scramble and make sure that I stood up each hour in order to get the circle full at 12 hours. One other time, I neglected to do my morning run and wasn’t able to quite get my calorie ring full by bedtime. I ended up going for a run at 2340 that night to get it full, and I felt better and more accomplished for doing so. Since coming home in August, I’ve been running about four miles a day to keep my rings full. This is behavior that wouldn’t have happened under any conditions before getting the watch. On those lazy days, the constant desire to fill my activity rings will serve as a great way to stave off laziness and go running. I have the tools to better understand my health, and now the goal is to utilize these tools to achieve a better health outcome.

For a generation one product, the Apple Watch hits the ground running (ha) at tracking workouts and making a variety of health and biometric data available to the user in a way that is easy to understand. Combined with the many applications available for iPhones, the Watch and Phone become a nice one-two punch for personal health information. Despite my relatively minor complaints about the workout app, I’m overall very pleased with the experience. I look forward to seeing what improvements are made to the fitness apps in watchOS 2. There’s no place to go but up, and as third-party fitness apps gain access to more of the Watch’s hardware this fall with watchOS 2, things will only get better for those interested in tracking their activity.

Owning the Apple Watch: Software

We’ve now reached Part III of the Apple Watch experience, and certainly the one that sets it apart from all other devices—the software. There are plenty of fitness trackers, some of which even tell time. Naturally, you can find watches with lap timers at Dollar Tree. But it’s the ‘other’ things that the Apple Watch can do that elevate it into the category of “smartwatch”. Here, I go over a little bit of what sets the Apple Watch experience apart: Glances, Notification Center, Siri, and Apps. These elements combined are integral to the Apple Watch experience. The main goal of these interaction models and apps on the watch is that they should speed up the interaction experience with technology and let the user get back to whatever he or she was doing, without needing to pull out their iPhone. In some cases the Watch succeeds at this, and in other cases it falters.

Be sure to check these out if you missed them:

Part I: Basics
Part II: Hardware
Part IV: Fitness


There are two other interactions available from the clock: Glances and Notifications. Glances provide quick, bite-sized pieces of information, and generally serve as watchOS’s version of widgets. They are accessed by swiping up from the bottom edge of the screen while the clock is displayed. Some do have some buttons (mostly the Apple ones), but the third party ones are helpful too. The only issue with these is that they don’t always update constantly in the background. Sometimes I swipe up to view them and they display outdated information, and I have to wait for it to update. I know this behavior is a battery-saving method, but I’d like to see glances updated at least once an hour in the background. On top of that, updating can at times be a little bit on the slow side. However, once they get up and running, I’ve rarely had issues.

The Music glance, for example, is perfect in design and execution. It shows the song that your iPhone is playing, and the option to skip, play/pause, and adjust the volume. One of the other well-designed glances is very similar to Control Center on iOS. It provides a quick way to toggle options like airplane mode. One third-party glance I use is Dark Sky. It’s great at displaying either the current weather, or the predicted amounts of rainfall for the coming hour. The only key is, at times, patience.

The basics needed for music playback on my iPhone (or the watch). Spinning the crown will adjust the volume, and tapping the song info will open the Music app.

The Music Glance. The basics needed for music playback on my iPhone (or the watch). Spinning the crown will adjust the volume, and tapping the song info will open the Music app.

Quick options to toggle Airplane Mode, Do Not Disturb, Mute, and a nice big Ping iPhone button. Very handy.

The Control Center Glance. It’s got  options to toggle Airplane Mode, Do Not Disturb, Mute, and a nice big “Ping iPhone” button. Very handy.

Here's the glance for Dark Sky, a weather app that excels in telling you how much it will rain in the next hour. Since it wasn't going to rain soon at the time this was taken, this is the default view.

Here’s the glance for Dark Sky, a weather app that excels in telling you how much it will rain in the next hour. Since it wasn’t going to rain soon at the time this screenshot was taken, this is the default view.

Notification Center

The other interaction available from the clock is the Notification Center. Like on iOS, it is accessed by pulling from the top of the screen and shows a list of truncated notifications that have recently arrived. Tapping on one pulls up the full notification, and a list of corresponding actions (e.g. “Like” for a GroupMe message, or “Delete” for an email). The presence of unread notifications is noted by a red dot at the top of the screen when viewing the clock. To clear all notifications, a force touch is needed to bring up the ‘clear all’ button.

The options are Reply and Dismiss.

The options are Reply and Dismiss.

My main issue with notifications in general stems not from the notifications themselves, but the ones that cannot be acted on via the watch (third party ones). This isn’t an element of the watch so much as iOS, and what Apple has allowed third parties to be able to accomplish. For example, if you receive a text message on an iPhone, you can slide down on that notification and hit reply to respond to the message without leaving your current app. However, other messaging applications can’t do that. That restriction is carried over to the watch. This has been glaring for me lately, as at the camp I currently work at, GroupMe is used constantly. It would be nice to be able to respond to some of the messages from the watch, but I know that that capability will come in time.

The App Launcher

Don’t call it a Home Screen, but that is what this view is most reminiscent of. Pressing the digital crown once when at the clock or in an application will bring you to this screen. Panning around is done with a finger. Scrolling the digital crown out will zoom out until all of the icons are the same size, and zooming back in will zoom in on the app in the center of the screen, making the surrounding apps smaller. Scrolling the digital crown in will zoom into the app in the center of the screen, essentially launch the app in the center. Given that clicking the digital crown on the app launcher will center on the clock app, clicking the digital crown, clicking it again to center on the clock icon, and then scrolling in provides a quick and consistent way of getting back to the watch face at any time. Tapping an icon will launch the corresponding application, and tapping and holding will cause everything to start jiggling like on iOS, allowing you to rearrange the screen. (You can also do this via the Apple Watch app on the iPhone, and I highly recommend using the phone to rearrange things.) Glances and Notification Center are not available on this screen. Though the icons are very small, I’ve only very rarely tapped an icon I didn’t mean to press. Unless you have massive fingers, I don’t think you’ll have a problem launching apps.

This is what pops up when you first press the digital crown. In classic Apple attention to detail, the Clock icon is live and accurate.

This is what pops up when you first press the digital crown. In classic Apple attention to detail, the Clock icon is live and accurate.

Here's a zoomed-out view of my app launcher screen. You can see I don't have too much on here.

Here’s a zoomed-out view of my app launcher screen. You can see I don’t have too much on here. Magnifying glass not included.


First Party Apps

Apple’s applications are generally simple, clean, and well-designed for the hardware. I’m not going to go in-depth on each one, but I will provide information about two: Messages and Maps.
It’s safe to say that Messages is my ‘most used’ app. In general, most attachments in a thread can be viewed on the watch, and replies can be made as well. What’s that? You say the keyboard must be tiny? Silly goose, there is no keyboard. This is the future; dictation is used. The quality of dictation is reliant on mainly two things: how close your watch is to your iPhone, and the strength of the iPhone’s signal. If I have a strong 4G (my iPhone doesn’t support LTE on T-Mobile) or Internet signal, then dictation is generally nice and snappy. Annunciation is still important, as is announcing punctuation and other things, but outside of that I haven’t had too many issues. The main issue is that there isn’t a ‘backspace’ button. If your message isn’t transcribed properly, then you have to hit back, and then the microphone button again. It would be nice if there was just a ‘redo’ button somewhere on screen. There is also the option to send either emoji or Apple’s Watch-specific GIFs. I don’t really have an opinion on the Watch-specific ones, other than that some of them look really weird.

Here's a picture someone iMessaged me, as displayed on the watch.

Here’s a picture someone iMessaged me, as displayed on the watch. Reddit is a dangerous place.

Don't worry, I won't ever send this to you.

Don’t worry, I won’t ever send this to you.

Maps is one of those applications that really showcases the benefit of a smartwatch. I’ve used it when driving and walking, and both times it has been great. When navigating, the screen shows only the next direction, and gives a different type of tap when it’s time to make a left or right turn. It’s really cool, and certainly beats walking around, staring bewildered at your phone and then looking at your surroundings, trying to get a handle on where you are in an unfamiliar area. Due to the small screen, there isn’t much else it could really display. You certainly won’t be doing too much browsing for shops on it. Thankfully, using Siri to ask for directions to a location is a seamless experience, and the relevant shop information will show up on screen. I certainly do wish that the whole process was faster at times, but it’s hard to find out where the fault lies: slow Internet, slow bluetooth connection, or slow Maps servers, or a combination of all three.

That's a small map.

That’s a small map. I promise I’m not Godzilla-sized.

Some information on the Apple Watch page. More information is available with a scroll.

Some information on a point of interest page in Maps. More information is available with a scroll. I also can’t believe multiple people had the nerve to give Chick-Fil-A less than 4 stars.


Third-Party Apps

These seem to run a little slower that Apple’s apps, but that shouldn’t really be a surprise. They also sometimes get tripped up if their parent application hasn’t been opened in a while. For example, I’ll try to start a timer in Due on my watch, they won’t start. If I open Due on my iPhone and close it and then try to start the timers, they’ll respond immediately. Of course, at this point, I may as well use my iPhone in the first place, and that’s where the magic of the Apple Watch starts to break down. Hopefully with third-parties being able to run code on the watch natively this fall, some of these interactions can be sped up.

Also, not all third-party developers have made good Watch apps. One great example is Zipcar’s app. Zipcar is a car-rental service, and the app does the two most important thing I’d want it to do: Provide a quick way to find my car by beeping the horn/remote locking the car, and a quick way to extend my reservation. The Instagram app, on the other hand, is pretty useless. It offers a pared-down experience of the iPhone app: It only shows the 8 most recent photos of your feed. Wait, who wants to look at and comment on photos on a 1-inch screen? Who thought this was a good idea? Instagram is an app that, in my opinion, doesn’t really have a purpose on the watch. The watch’s goal is to speed up certain interactions, and the watch Instagram experience slows it down significantly. The Apple Watch is not an iPhone on your wrist. It is an accessory to it, and a different type of device. Like with the iPhone and iPad, or iPad and Mac, there is some natural overlap, but certain things are better suited to specific devices. Browsing Instagram is not the type of activity that is viable on a smartwatch.

Another issue that I’ve noticed at time is that actions carried out don’t always seem to make it to the iPhone—or at least, not quickly at all. A number of times I’ve “Liked” a GroupMe message, and then gone back to look at that same message on my phone a few minutes later and realized that my Like wasn’t recorded. It’s not a deal breaker, but the fact that I’ve assumed that the action has been carried out and not alerted that it didn’t happen, I worry about other information that may have slipped between the cracks.

Due: Timers View

Due: Timers View. Quick, straightforward, and easy (not unlike hash browns).

Zipper gets it. This is the button I'll likely need the most.

Zipcar gets it. This is the button I’ll likely need the most.

No, Instagram, I don't want to brows through my feed on my wrist.

No, Instagram, I don’t want to browse through my feed on my wrist.


Siri is the main way you interact with the watch. Accessible from anywhere via a press and hold of the digital crown, she hangs on your every word. Except that she never actually says anything; only text appears. Though that could be because I always keep my watch on silent. In any event, if she can pull something up on the phone, then she will. However, since there is no web browser on the watch, any questions that can’t be answered in an app result a “You’ll need to check your iPhone for that”. Since I don’t use Siri that much, I haven’t really had that issue.

The screen that appears when Siri is listening to your every word.

The screen that appears when Siri is listening to your every word.

The Apple Watch App

There’s one more key app for the Apple Watch, and it’s the one loaded on every iPhone running iOS 8.3 or later: the Apple Watch app. This application is what allows you to configure the settings for your Apple Watch. It has four main tabs: My Watch, Explore, Featured, and Search. The My Watch tab looks very similar to the Settings app on iPhone, and allows you to do everything from set up Apple Pay and Notification preferences to determining the order of your Glances. The other three tabs relate to finding applications for the watch via its own section of the App Store. Remember, downloading an Apple Watch also downloads the corresponding app for your phone.


While it takes some time to get used to, navigating the Apple Watch quickly becomes second nature. Accessing Glances and their respective applications is easy, though updating information is usually a slow process. Apple’s apps are generally well designed and thought out, but like with any new piece of technology, there are a few oversights here and there. Third party apps are much more hit-and-miss (though that’s expected). Some really get the watch and the type of interactions that work best for it, while others who try to simply recreate an iPhone app and put in on the Watch are missing the point. As developers get more time with the watch and have access to more APIs, their applications will only get better.

Despite the Apple Watch being in its first generation, there’s already quite a lot it can do on Day One. Though there are some occasional syncing/reliability quirks, the main thing improvement the Watch needs is speed. That will come with hardware updates and further software optimization, but in the meantime there’s still an element of the waiting game. The software (particularly the third-party application/glances experience) is certainly the weakest area of the watch, but the one that is also most likely to improve the most quickly.

Owning the Apple Watch: The Basics

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 II: Hardware

Part III: Software

Part IV: Fitness

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.

You can see that on the left and right of the Utility face shown, there are a few more faces available.

You can see that on the left and right of the Utility face shown, there are a few more faces I’ve customized.


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 green highlight shows the active area I'm picking. The green scroll bar in the upper right indicates that there are about three options for me to scroll through via the digital crown.

The green highlight shows the active complication slot I’m picking. The green scroll bar in the upper right indicates that there are three types for me to scroll through via the digital crown. For this slot, there is ‘Off’, ‘Date’, and ‘Day and Date’.

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.

Currently fast-forwarded to dusk.

Being able to see when Dawn, Sunrise, Solar Noon, Sunset, and Dusk can be very handy if you go outside a lot. However, the lack of complications is a glaring omission.

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.

Now in Purple!
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.

Activity Tracking

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.

My completed rings for the day. The exercise ring is at 59 out of 30 minutes.

My completed rings for the day. The exercise ring is at 59 out of 30 minutes.

As you can see, I've been doing great recently.

As you can see, I’ve been doing great since I got the watch on 10 July.


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.

Marvel, Do Black Panther Right


Over the past year, we have seen a number of cases in which blacks have been mistreated and killed by police officers: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, the McKinney, TX incident, and most recently the terrorist attack on Emannuel AME Church by Dylann Roof. Naturally, these events have stirred up feelings of anger and tension, and usually when these event happen, people look to protest, pray, or escape. Comic book heroes have been one of those escapes for generations of children. The superheroes we love to read not only provide an entertaining distraction, but provide figures we can identify with. Be it the discrimination against the X-Men or identifying with the loss of family members that many comic book heroes (and villains) face, comics can serve as an amazing parallel to the real world and be a source of comfort, understanding, and even serve as inspiration for individuals to achieve goals they never thought possible. This leads me to Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther movie. I worry that Marvel might try to whitewash or diminish a character with a rich, non-American, non-Western history in order to sell more tickets or avoid the very tense racial nature that has gripped the nation in the past few years.

History of the Character

Though you might be tempted to think of the Black Panther Party when you hear “Black Panther”, Marvel’s hero actually predates the organization. He was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and first appeared back in 1966, and is recognized as the first mainstream black superhero. The Black Panther is actually a ceremonial title, given to the chieftain of the Panther Tribe, rulers of the most advanced nation on Marvel’s Earth: Wakanda. The Black Panther we will likely see is T’Challa.

Traditionally an isolationist nation, Wakanda developed independently of the rest of the world, and is ahead of it in many areas such as medicine and technological prowess. It is a great megalopolis and nation, and the only home to one of the most important metals in the Marvel Universe: Vibranium. You may know it as the metal that makes up Captain America’s shield.

T’Challa himself is quite the talented individual: proficient in strategy, politics, science (Ph.D in physics from Oxford), and tracking, he’s considered to be one of the smartest individuals in the Marvel Universe. Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t have Reed Richards (blame Fox Media), T’Challa will likely join Bruce Banner and Tony Stark as the top three minds in the MCU. He also is physically gifted: the powers granted to the Black Panther give him strength on a similar level to Captain America, and he has trained in more disciplines such as gymnastics and martial arts disciplines from around the world. In a battle situation, he would likely be armed with vibranium claws and a spear that could cut through Iron Man’s armor.

How will we see Black Panther in the MCU?

Wakanda has been teased multiple times in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ahead of the Black Panther film slated for release in 2018. You can briefly see it circled in the closing scenes of Iron Man 2. It was formally name-dropped in Avengers: Age of Ultron, when the team discovers that Ultron is currently on track to meet with Ulysses Klaue [Klaw in the comics] so that Ultron can build himself a new Vibranium body. While the ensuing battle does take place in Africa, it takes place in South Africa, so Wakanda has not yet been seen on-screen. It’s also been confirmed that Black Panther will be introduced in Captain America: Civil War, though in what capacity has not yet been disclosed.

I do have a prediction for how Black Panther will fit into the Phase Three timeline. T’Challa’s father (and the previous Panther) is T’Chaka. T’Chaka is killed by Ulysses Klaw when he sneaks into the country and tries to steal some vibranium. T’Challa then takes the throne in his father’s stead. This may have already happened by the time we encounter Black Panther in the film, as it would also explain how Klaue could have escaped Wakanda with all of the vibranium that he did: it came down to a final battle against him and T’Chaka, and Klaue won and escaped. The location of the stolen vibranium and attack on South Africa could be enough to get the Black Panther involved in world affairs as Wakanda starts to come to the forefront of political affairs.

My Concerns

But there’s far more to Black Panther than faithfully portraying an African nation as more advanced than the West and a black leader who is of equal intellect to Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Due to its xenophobic tendencies, Wakanda frowns upon American/foreign involvement. This dynamic is made clear in the Netflix miniseries that came out on BET around 6 years ago. I highly highly recommend that you see it as soon as possible, and certainly before the movie comes out. It adapts the first volume of the Black Panther, and makes clear the type of nation that Wakanda is. The mini-series doesn’t pull as many punches as I think the movie may be forced to. In it, American politicians refer to Wakandans as savages and other stereotypical insults typically addressed to blacks/Africans, and I think that would resonate very well with many black Americans who have seen the tragedies and attacks that I referred to earlier. In addition to the language, there are many disembodied heads and violence and blood are present; the point of ‘we don’t like invaders’ is made very clear. Make no bones about it: many people in the US and around the world don’t like blacks and Africans simply because they’re black and Africans, and the movie should make negative viewpoint clear. Expose it, address it, and then prove it wrong by showing just how advanced and intelligent the Wakandans are. Are they perfect? No. But if there’s any semblance of the need for a ‘white savior’ in the movie, then I think the movie will be a failure. Instead, the movie should serve to uplift and provide hope to black individuals around the world.

Marvel and Diversity

Marvel has already done a fairly good job when it comes to racial diversity. Half-Black Half-Latino Miles Morales has become the new mainstream Spider-Man (even though the MCU decided to give us our third Peter Parker in 15 years rather than have a new hero take on the role). War Machine/Iron Patriot and Falcon are both black superheroes in the MCU that have seen multiple appearances, though they haven’t had their own films. I do think that Marvel has been a bit less fair to its female leads—Black Widow had essentially been carrying the torch by herself (and didn’t even have powers) until Scarlet Witch showed up in Age of Ultron. I certainly hope Marvel does better with gender diversity, and having read lots of Ms Marvel/Captain Marvel recently, I’m really looking forward to her movie in 2018 as well.

Ultimately, by the time the Black Panther movie comes out, the MCU will be a much different place than it is currently. There are many movies that will greatly change the MCU landscape between now and it’s tentative July 6, 2018 release date: Captain America: Civil War (featuring the Panther), Thor: Ragnarok, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, an unnamed Spidey film, and Avengers: Infinity War Part 1. This begs the question: Will the Panther be in the Avengers by Infinity War Part 1? It will be interesting to watch. Regardless, I hope that Chadwick Boseman represents T’Challa well in the MCU, for the sake of the character and for those of us at home who need a headlining black superhero to look up to.

A New Endeavor: Tech Down South

Recently, I’ve decided on embarking on a new adventure with a friend, Matt Wilson (a student of the school out east): a weekly podcast. It’s something that we’ve talked about for quite a while, and after a false start back in November, we’ve finally put  something together that we’ve put some energy behind. The name of the podcast is “Tech Down South”, where Matt and I talk about any tech-related news that comes out for around 45 minutes. Given that we’re big Nintendo and Apple fans, expect those to be popular and common topics, but we’re working to include other, more general information as well. You can check us out on Twitter via @tds_show, or on the web at techdownsouth.wordpress.com. I hope you give us a listen!


Stick shift. Manual transmission. “The only way to drive a car”. It is called it many things, but in the end, it’s still the best way to operate a vehicle.

I grew up watching my dad drive a manual, a red Nissan Maxima ’92. He loved it to death. He purchased it a couple of months before I was born, in November of ‘93. It was the car that picked myself and my brothers up from the hospital right after we were born. It was the car that he took to work every day for the next 12 years, until it got just a bit too quirky to trust for that daily commute. He held onto it for a little while longer, eventually getting rid of it just a few months shy of my 15th birthday. Feeling the car vibrate under the seat and rumble as he shifted gears, I knew that when I bought my first car, it was going to make sure it would be a manual.

Because he got rid of that trusty Maxima before I could get my learner’s permit, I never had the opportunity to drive it. I never got to feel its steering wheel in my hand nor its clutch under my foot. And while I pleaded for a manual when he shopped for a third vehicle entering my junior year of high school, he instead opted for a pedestrian, but beloved Honda CR-V (which many of you know as Ramona).

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to drive a manual. The friend that takes me to church (no, not that one) has a nice Mazda 3 hatchback that he finally let me take for a spin. I had driven a stick before—my ex-girlfriend’s father showed me the ropes on an old Toyota in the rural Tennessee hills of Joelton my freshman year—but since then I’d been itching to get my hands on one. Given that very few Americans drive sticks anymore (apparently around only 4% of cars sold in the last few years are manual), even finding someone who drove one was a pretty rare in and of itself. After a bit of guilt-tripping and peer pressure, I was able to convince him to let me try it out in an empty parking lot.

Driving a stick, you have to pay attention. You can’t text and drive a stick, to be quite honest. With one hand on the wheel, one on the shaft, and both feet occupied (the left on the clutch and the right working the accelerator & brake), you have to be fully engaged with the vehicle and your surroundings. Unless you were Doctor Octopus, you wouldn’t have any remaining limbs to hold an iPhone. Terrain makes a difference: getting the car from “0 to 1”, as I call it, can be much trickier depending on the slope of the incline one is stopped on. (You don’t want to end up like Wal-Mart—rollback.) Even things like braking require more thought: Are you pressing in the clutch in as you brake? Do you even need to, at the speed you’re going? Do you need to downshift? I think that in an automatic and cellphone-heavy world, these extra factors can help to keep drivers engaged with the road. If driving a manual means I can’t use my phone while driving, that can only be a good thing.

Beyond the need for higher engagement while driving, operating a stick is simply more fun and more rewarding. There’s no sense of accomplishment in getting the car from stopped to 20 mph in an automatic. But in a manual, each start of the car is a reward in and of itself. You’re telling the world, the car, and every frightened passenger in tow that you’ve conquered the car and overcome the stoplight. Only the most experienced manual driver can pop into a new stick shift and make it purr. For everyone else, you’ve got to get to know your car. Over time, you learn where the sweet spot of the clutch is. Once that happens, you’ll be able to masterfully make it to that 20 mph mark. Indeed, few things are exhilarating as successfully downshifting, (putting on your blinker), and zooming by the old lady in front of you going 9 under the speed limit.

After two straight stalls and about 10 loops, I eventually got the hang of the no-incline start. After 4 stalls and 25 loops, I got the hang of the inclined start. It was a flashback to my father teaching me the ropes in his huge truck, in an empty school parking lot 6 years and many miles ago. Impressed by my aptitude, I was even granted the opportunity to drive back to my dorm. If you happened to see a car stall out in front of the book store today in traffic, I apologize. Despite the embarrassment, it felt good to fail and have a new challenge presented to me. It’s an interesting feeling, knowing how to accomplish a task and yet failing at it upon learning how to do it a new way.

I’ve still got a ways to go—be it mastering the stick or even getting a car with a stick. But I have only a little while longer to wait until the opportunity arises. When it does, it’ll be clutch.

(Disclaimer: I simply couldn’t write an article without at least trying to incorporate the slang ‘clutch’. I’ll see myself out.)