Owning the Apple Watch: Software

We’ve now reached Part IV 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.

But before we move on, check these out first if you missed them:

Part I: Basics
Part II: Hardware
Part III: Fitness

 

Glances

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 Sometimes I swipe up to view them and they display outdated information, and I have to wait for it to update.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.

Apps

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

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.

Overall

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: Hardware

We’ve reached Part II of my five-part Using the Apple Watch series. Last time out I offered my perspective on the three basic tenants of the Apple Watch: timekeeping, activity tracking, and communicating. Here, I focus on something even more fundamental: the hardware itself.

In case you missed them:

Part III: Software

Part IV: Fitness

Part V: The Future

My Bulova next to my Apple Watch. I haven't had to charge my Bulova in a while, but it's keeping excellent time.

My Apple Watch next to my Bulova. I haven’t had to charge my Bulova in a while, but it’s keeping excellent time.

My Model

I opted for the 38 mm Space Grey Apple Watch Sport. It’s got a nice, clean finish that I really admire. I decided not to go for the larger 42 mm because, to me, it looked too much like a screen on my wrist rather than a watch. I had the same feeling about the silver Sport models; the design seemed too loud to me, even though for the past few years I’ve been wearing a silver watch with a black face. I also feel like the space grey may dress up a little bit nicer, but I may end up being proven wrong on that later once I get some other bands. I decided to go with the Sport model primarily because it costs less; I’d rather not pay a crazy amount for a Generation 1 product. The Sport models all come with the sport band, and I don’t really have any complaints about it. It’s a little weird to put on the first time, but it’s pretty comfortable. Grime, dirt, liquids, or anything else don’t bother it at all. The strangest part of the adjustment process to me is how light the Apple Watch is. My Bulova is pretty heavy, and it has been odd wearing a watch that lacks heft and doesn’t slide around my wrist like my Bulova does. The Apple Watch is smaller than it seems it would be on the website, especially the 38mm. Design-wise, the device itself is a pleasant boxy, yet soft and round shape that feels good on the wrist.

I think it fits my wrist perfectly, but I'm also used to having a small watch.

I think it fits my wrist perfectly, but I’m also used to having a small watch.

Interface Buttons

Here you get a nice view of the side buttons.

Here you get a nice view of the digital crown and the side button.

The Apple Watch has two physical buttons: the digital crown and the side button. The digital crown is what is primarily used to interface with the watch. It is used primarily to go to the home screen and pull up Siri with a long press. Like the whole enclosure, the digital crown is smaller than one would think, but it works well. Twisting the crown is used for scrolling and zooming. Scrolling can be done with a finger on the touch screen, but I’ve found that I use the crown all of the time to scroll—you simply can’t see anything on the screen if you use your finger. The crown spins nicely, and has a good bit of resistance to it. The side button is used for three purposes. A single press brings up the friend circle, while a double press brings up Apple Pay. A long press brings up the options to lock, enter Power Reserve (a mode that limits the watch to only display the time {only digitally, unfortunately}), or turn the device off.

I have very mixed feelings about the side button. As I mentioned in my previous article, I feel as though having an entire button solely devoted to contacting 12 of my most-used contacts is, frankly, slightly ridiculous, especially on a device with such limited screen real estate for on-screen controls. I do appreciate having the quick access to ApplePay, and that behavior makes sense, especially as ApplePay continues to roll out across the country. Ideally, the Apple Pay and Friend Circle behaviors would be the behavior only on the watch face and the home screen. I think certain applications would really benefit from having a hardware button. I’m never going to be running for time and want to call my mom on my watch. Having to pause mid-run is infinitely more likely. This is the same as the volume up shutter button function on iOS devices. If you didn’t know, you can use the volume buttons as a shutter button in the camera apps on iOS. Needing a stable way to take a photo is much more likely than needing to turn up the volume while needing to take a picture. I know that opening the side button to other uses on the Watch is opening a can of worms, but I think many watch users would happily make that trade of function and complexity at the expense of consistency. If not in watchOS 2, I hope third-party developers get access to the button via watchOS 3.

Alerts

There are two key elements of the watch not available to the naked eye: Force Touch and the Taptic Engine. Force Touch is another way to interacts with applications. Similar to the Force Touch trackpads on the recently-updated MacBooks, the Apple Watch’s display is now pressure sensitive, and can determine when extra force is exerted on the screen. This allows for additional options to appear, such as a “Clear All” button on the notification screen. It feels weird to tap, and then press harder into the screen, but it certainly works. The Taptic Engine is, in my opinion, the ‘killer feature’ of the Apple Watch. Whenever you receive a notification, the watch just taps you. You can’t hear it. No one else will know but you. And sure enough, as you raise your wrist after that tap, there’s the new notification, waiting for you to act on it. It’s awesome. Because of this, I see no reason not to keep the Watch on mute at all times.

The Charger and the Battery

This is one of the major sticking points of the watch. Let’s get this out of the way early: You’re going to have to charge this every night maybe, and every two nights definitely. For me, it’s certainly nightly. I’d say that, on average, I have between 10% and 25% battery left over (wearing it from about 0630–0000 every day). There have been a couple of times where it has dipped below 10%, but these were very long days. A big part of the battery drain is working out. As you might imagine, using the heart rate monitor on the back takes some juice, so the more you workout with it, the faster it will drain. However, if you turn it off altogether and don’t really use it for fitness tracking, I wouldn’t be surprised if it lasted for two days. Note that all of these numbers are for the smaller one, which has a smaller battery capacity than the 42mm. Battery life isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either.

The Watch is charged via a magnetic inductive charger, bringing to mind memories of the MagSafe charger on MacBooks. The cord is a solid 2 meters long it seems, so you won’t have any issues reaching the bedside table with it. However, the watch just begs for a stand, and I’ll soon be investing in the TwelveSouth HiRise for Apple Watch. I don’t want to get my first scratch on this thing by haphazardly knocking the thing off of my desk at 0530 in the morning.

Watch + Water = ?

The Apple Watch and water get along great, pretty much. I wear it in the shower every day (gotta get credit for that standing goal!) and have had zero issues with it. Hand washing? The watch shrugs it off. Attacked with a hose? The watch sneezes in its general direction. Heck, even Siri and dictation work in the shower. I’ve sent text messages in the shower, and yes, it is the future. The main caveat? Capacitive touchscreens don’t work in water. This gets us back to the “it would be great to use the side button for something other than seeing tiny pictures of my close friends and family” discussion, but there’s nothing that can be done with that at this point. For a far more in-depth look at the Apple Watch and water, check out these super cool articles. Both do an excellent job at putting the Apple Watch through its paces (or laps, as it were), and it does better than you think it will:

Durability

The Apple Watch Sport can really take a beating. You can find any number of torture tests on the internet, but none of those are really realistic for everyday use. Two weeks in and my watch looks spotless; no scratches on the glass or on the aluminum body. I’ve heard that the stainless steel scratches pretty easily, but that isn’t really a surprise to me. Scratches on stainless steel is one of those ‘character-building’ type things, like wrinkles in leather. However, if the thought of scratches scare you, there are already cases out for the watch, and of course stainless steel can be buffed.. I certainly will not be getting a case, though I may get a screen protector before I report on board my ship next year. Please don’t be that person with a case on their watch.

Bands

Just press the button, and the band slides right out. Piece of cake.

Just press the button, and the band slides right out. Piece of cake.

One of the best things about the Apple Watch is how easy it is to take on and off bands. I only have one right now, but I am certainly looking to get more later on. Third Party companies (and China) have already started making them, so finding knockoffs of Apple ones or crazy new designs is only a click away. The main issue that I have with the bands is that most of the ones for the 38mm are too small for my wrist. I use the Large sport band, and I’m right between the 4/7 and 5/7 holes for it. Apparently, that’s slightly too big for the vast majority of Apple’s other bands for the 38 mm. Based on Apple’s sizing chart, my wrist won’t fit in the two bands that I want the most: the Milanese Loop and the Modern Buckle. I really, really hope that Apple eventually makes bigger bands for these, but I won’t be holding my breath. (I have to struggle to slip the Milanese loop over my hand, but it is possible. I’m thinking about getting it anyway.) I’m hoping that there will be some high-quality third-party alternatives, but I’m seeing too many cheap-looking knockoffs on Amazon right now to feel comfortable purchasing one. Still, the modular nature of the band clasp and the ability to quickly switch bands is fantastic, and I look forward to getting nicer ones down the road to dress up the look of the watch a bit.

A Note about Apple Care

Get it. Don’t even think about it, just factor it into the cost of the watch upon purchase. Why? Because if you break the screen without AppleCare, the replacement cost for the display panel is around $280 for the Sport, and $315 for the standard model. Basically, the cost of the thing. With Apple Care? A much-easier-to-swallow $59. Just get AppleCare. Even the employees at the Apple Store were surprised at the cost of the repair fee, and overwhelmingly recommended it.

Overall

The Apple Watch is not cheap, and it is not cheaply constructed. I can’t speak to Apple’s other bands, but the fluoroelastomer Sport Band feels nice to the touch and is both well designed and durable. Both buttons click cleanly and satisfactorily, and the digital crown has the perfect level of spin. The screen is vibrant and easy to read, and responds to every touch and flick of the finger. The device is light, yet sturdy, and smooth to the touch. I can unequivocally call the Apple Watch a fashion and engineering success.

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.

Communicating

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.

Overall
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.

Reactions to Nintendo’s E3 and the new Metroid game

Generally, Nintendo fans are some of the best in the world. They love the company and its games, and want to see the company succeed. That support is especially important right now, as Nintendo begins to transition to the NX next year. But after yesterday’s Nintendo Direct, its fans have shown their vile side.

This week is E3, the biggest annual gaming conference in the world. This is when all of the hit new games are announced and upcoming exciting titles are demoed. Nearly every major publisher and console maker has a press conference—except Nintendo. Rather than do a traditional press conference, a few years ago Nintendo started doing Nintendo Directs: cool videos that would air that would show new trailers and release dates for upcoming games. Nintendo started the week out strong: there was a great reception to the Smash Bros. Direct on Sunday, and everyone loved the Nintendo World Championships later in the day. But it seems that the reception to what they showed on Tuesday has been less than stellar. For the first time I can recall, the entire 40-minute presentation has a less than 50% approval rating, despite announcing at least three new games; such as The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, a multiplayer co-op Zelda game in the same vein as Four Swords, and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, a crossover between the Mario & Luigi RPG and the Paper Mario series, and a new Animal Crossing game. Each of these games’ individual games ratings have above 60% approval rating, so there has to be something else.

For the first time since 2010, a new Metroid game was announced: Metroid Prime: Federation Force. Many of you know that Metroid is my favorite video game series, so I was quite excited about this. However, it’s a spin-off that doesn’t seem to even include the main character, Samus Aran. This has not been well-received. It’s one thing to have a spin-off for a series that gets lots of love, like Mario, but it’s a little trickier for Metroid. It got no recognition for its 25-year anniversary by the company in 2012, and the series’ last game, Metroid: Other M, was not nearly as well reviewed as the Metroid Prime games of the 2000’s. Federation Force’s approval rating currently? Ten percent of 309,000 views—the most total views for any individual game shown in the direct, and the least positive rating. After six years of being ignored, Metroid fans only get a spin-off, with a release date of 2016? I can see the bitterness there. But some recognition is better than none, and I don’t see how that could cause people to start a Change.org petition in order to get the game cancelled. To make matters worse, no developer information about the game was given to viewers. We were just thrown a trailer, expected to be excited, and move on. Over at NintendoWorldReport, they mention Federation Force as a prime (hah!) example of the broader issues in the Direct: a lack of consistency and storytelling. 

This is hugely frustrating to me. It sends the message of fans being snobbish and ungrateful to a company that can really only do so much. No, it’s not what we wanted, but it’s better than nothing. If anything, this game would help to get new Metroid fans and raise awareness for a series that is critically acclaimed, but doesn’t sell well. It’s very easy to see a new fan saying “Hey, I saw that Metroid Prime game on 3DS. What’s this Metroid Prime Trilogy on the Wii U e-Shop?” and bring in new fans to the series. The last thing any Metroid fan would want is for Samus to be the new Captain Falcon: well known in Smash Bros., and hasn’t had a separate game released in over 10 years. To start the petition is insulting to the developers that have already spent time developing the game, and tells Nintendo “We don’t want Metroid”. The developer is already contracted and should be paid for their work, so canceling is not something I foresee. These fans are forgetting to vote with their wallets: the best way to ensure more Metroid games in the future is to buy any that come out. Wanting it cancelled is completely counter to that notion.

With that said, is the game a true Metroid game? No. It shows none of the traits of any Metroid game before it. Do we have all of the details about the game? No; it could be great or terrible. But it is sad to see that so many people have rushed to hate it before anyone even gives it a try.

The Apple Watch, Revisited

Hopefully you saw my last piece on the Apple Watch. In it, I argue for the standard model of Apple Watch, primarily based on on the argument of higher durability. But after visiting the Apple Store earlier this week and trying some on, I’ve decided that the 38mm Space Grey Sport may be the way to go.

There are a number of advantages to getting the Sport model. The cheaper price of entry is a benefit that can’t be overlooked. The lower price of entry allows for a number of options with the newly-freed cash. It would lead to a lower cost of entry for a later model. It would also soften the blow in case it got irreparably damaged. The savings could also be used to justify the purchase of AppleCare (always a good idea), additional bands (the space grey only comes with a black band, and that white band looks all too showy/sweet for me to avoid), or even a bedside stand such as the TwelveSouth HiRise. As for the size, the 42mm looked too much like having a screen on my wrist rather than having a watch on for my taste.

Going with the space grey Sport is not without its drawbacks. First and foremost, the Ion-X glass isn’t as strong as the sapphire of the higher-end model. An additional downside is that the attachments for many of the bands are stainless steel, rather than aluminum; this won’t be the cleanest of looks. Hopefully, this is something that third parties will be able to rectify.

Ultimately, it’s a balance of cost, desire, looks, projected longevity, and environment. If you want one, you’ll have to ultimately judge for yourself what works for you. But recently I’ve been seeing just how often people check their phones, and paying attention to my own habits. I really think I can benefit from it. I definitely encourage you to try one on if you can—it’s your first glimpse of the future.

Update: One thing I forgot to consider is the smaller battery of the 38mm. I’ll have to think about that some more and maybe give the 42mm some more thought. Battery life is critical, and with the recently announced watchOS 2 with native apps, battery life will be even more of a concern.

The Apple Watch

(Originally written on 9 May)

The Apple Watch is out. People have it. It’s shipping. You’ve probably heard about it. It’s a marvel of engineering, and has that typical Apple lust factor. I’m currently on the fence as to whether I want to purchase one (and which one), for a variety of reasons: skepticism of its abilities as a pure watch, the ‘generation one’ factor, my current iPhone, and offline use. Despite those concerns, I really want one. But which one, why, and is it even worth it?

First, let me get this out of the way: many people have asked “Why do you need an Apple Watch?” It is a valid, yet shallow question. The cynic might respond “Well, why do you need anything other than food, water, and shelter”, but I’ll give you a direct answer. Think of Apple Watch more as you would an advanced digital watch. They do more than tell time—they offer the date, day of the week, timer functionality with a lap counter, and some offer even more such as a small calculator or other such things. The Apple Watch is an extension of that idea, rethought for our world of constant notifications, pings, connectivity, and increased data/information consumption. In that light, the Apple Watch (and by extension, the Pebble and Android Wear) make much more sense. Just as digital watches from the 80’s improved, so too will this new generation of smart watches.

My Experience with Watches

When Apple first announced the Apple Watch, they marketed it as doing three key things: a timepiece, a fitness tracker, and a new/better means for communication. My first concern about the Apple Watch deals with its namesake: timekeeping. I have worn a watch for just about as long as I can remember. My first one was a Mickey Mouse one, and I remember running though a number of cheap Timex models in elementary school. I recall having a cheap Swatch for most of middle school, and being given a Bulova watch as a present from my dad for my 16th birthday in high school (definitely the greatest birthday present I’ve received from my parents). I wore it every day up until I lost it on an aircraft carrier in the summer of 2014, and after an agonizing few months without wearing one, I purchased the exact same model the following December. Suffice to say, I’m used to having and wearing a watch, thus the Apple Watch is naturally alluring as an intriguing update to the centuries-old watch to the 21st century for the masses.

All of the watches that I’ve had have been analog, which I appreciate for its ability to offer both fuzzy time at a quick glance (e.g. upon seeing where the minute hand is pointing, determining roughly how many minutes past/until the hour it is) or precision (e.g. timing to the second how long it takes to get from my room to my girlfriend’s room or how many seconds until I’m late for an ROTC activity). Thankfully, the Apple Watch is accommodating in that it offers a very wide variety of customizable faces that are styled as both digital and analog.

Issues with the Apple Watch

The biggest fault of the Apple Watch is a compromise necessitated by its design: it can’t always show the time. As John Gruber of Daring Fireball and some horologists have noted, this makes Apple Watch is inferior to even a watch from Dollar Tree: due to not constantly displaying the time. Though Apple Watch does wake up upon a raise of the wrist, this works less than 100% of the time (probably above 96%, but still not every time). This is due to the display not being constantly on in order to save battery life; a necessary concession, but a critical flaw. Even if the raise-your-wrist feature doesn’t turn the display on, a simple tap will do the trick; however that tap must necessarily come from the other hand. Depending on what the other hand is doing/holding, that may not be possible, and what a simple action of an innocent glance becomes a source of frustration. Additionally, the raise-your-wrist only keeps the display on for about 6 seconds; if I just want to time something for even just ten seconds, it now becomes a two-handed affair. This is one qualm that I know will become more apparent and frustrating over time.

My second issue with the watch is the sheer fact that it is a generation one product. I generally try to avoid getting generation one products, but this device is tempting my resolve. Bugs always get sorted out, battery life gets better, it gets smaller, etc. in the later revisions. But there are two key reasons why I would go against my better judgement and become an ‘early adopter’ of the Apple Watch. The first is that I still use an iPhone 5, which is the oldest supported iPhone that the Apple Watch is compatible with. It is possible that the next generation could only work with later iPhones, putting me in a tough spot of needing to upgrade my phone as well. The second reason is that a year from now, give or take, I will almost assuredly be stationed on a Navy ship somewhere out on deployment—and there aren’t any cell towers or Wi-Fi on ships (which isn’t fun, let me tell you). Using an Apple Watch in that environment would be counter-intuitive because I would get the drawbacks of the Apple Watch as a timekeeping device without its advantages in connectivity. Essentially, save for port visits and dry-dock periods, my time with the watch is a one-year trial. Is that limitation enough to preclude buying and using one now? I don’t know, and I don’t have a way of truly knowing until next year.

Benefits

With all of that said, why buy one? Three reasons stand out to me: discreet notifications, Apple Pay, and fitness capabilities.

What separates the Apple Watch from other smart watches is the Taptic Engine. Rather than playing a notification sound, the watch can tap you on the wrist to alert you—and only you—that you’ve received something important. This is great in classroom settings, meetings, and church where phones shouldn’t be checked. I’ve seen where other smartwatches light up when a notification is received, and that defeats the point of discretion. I recall walking in an eating hall once and seeing a fellow Vandy student’s Android Wear smartwatch light up with a text message that contained sensitive information from his Dad. With Apple Watch, that doesn’t happen.

Apple Pay hearkens back to some of the limitations of my iPhone 5: it doesn’t support the hardware for Apple Pay. But I do know that it is growing and spreading quite quickly, and I would love to be able to use it at the stores that I frequent. It would be especially handy in situations when you would want to pay for something without having a wallet, such as during exercise.

The number one reason why I would want an Apple Watch because of its fitness tracking capabilities. The Watch serves as a pedometer and keeps track of your daily activity and displays it for you. It also reminds you every hour to stay up and stretch—and when I can go for hours sitting in a chair at work, this would be extremely beneficial. It keeps track of the data over time as well. Given that I need to work out for ROTC (and don’t like to), having a visual record of how active I’ve been would serve as great motivation for me to work out. In addition to this, the Apple Watch can store music for playback during running (via bluetooth headphones). This has recently become a very important feature to me, as I accidentally washed my iPod nano about a week ago.

These three factors, combined with the ever-growing number of watch applications, means that there is an infinite number of possibilities for the wrist, and I want to play a part in that growth.

If So, Which?

With all of that said, it isn’t as though buying the Apple Watch renders my current Bulova watch dead. Additionally, if I so choose, I’ll be able to purchase a true military-grade [analog] watch that will serve that environment much better if necessary, and switch back to my Apple Watch once I’m on shore. If I was to go through with the purchase, there is still the question of which size and model to buy. There are two sizes available: 38mm and 42mm, with a $50 price difference between the two in the Sport and ‘Standard’ models. (For obvious reasons, I’m not considering the gold Edition models.) The only differences between the two are the materials: the Apple Watch Sport has an aluminum body and an ‘Ion-X enhanced glass’ screen, while the standard model has a sapphire display. Most bands can be purchased separately, and are compatible with both models (the only exception being the space grey link band, which comes only with the space grey watch).

I think many people look at the differences between the two models and say “Well all other things being equal, it seems like a no-brainer to get the Sport model!” But I ask you to kindly hold your horses. More than any other piece of equipment, a watch takes a heavy amount of damage. It knocks into metal and wood, all the time. It encounters rain, mud, and sweat. It is taken off, and put back on hundreds and thousands of times, and sometimes it gets dropped during that process. While it may seem like a raw deal from a computer/geek perspective to have two models differ in price but have the same specs, it makes more sense to me to pay for durability here, even when the upcharge is $200. Like I said, I’ve had a lot of watches, and scratches, dirt, and gunk show up easily. C|Net has some great tests that they run that show the durability of both models of the watch, specifically the display. Their tests on the standard Apple Watch simply show what science and chemistry already knows, and that’s that sapphire is the second-hardest material known to man, running behind first-place champ diamond. The fact that it’ll be able to take a pounding is a good thing to me.

Regarding sizing, the watch I usually wear is quite small for a men’s watch and is very similar to a bracelet. For this reason, I’ll likely go with the smaller 38mm version and save my $50 (and likely apply it toward getting an extra Sport band). The question of which band to order it with is a trickier question to answer. If price was no issue, I would go for the link bracelet in a heartbeat. Nearly all of the watches I’ve ever worn have had link bands, and I love the heftier weight and ease of the clasp. But given that Apple’s link bracelet is $450 (not including the price of the watch itself!), that’s not quite an option at my current pay grade. My second choice is the modern buckle. It is the smallest band Apple offers overall, and is considered the most ‘feminine’. Despite that, the clasp looks professional and gender-neutral, is leather (which would be a nice departure from my usual) and allows for easy one-handed operation, unlike the traditional men’s leather watch band in my experience. It too, however is quite expensive at $249 (separately; each of the bands is $50 cheaper when ordered with the standard Apple Watch). Additionally, it is only available on the 38mm, which would not bode well if I decided I wanted the 42mm size instead (or it turns out my wrist is too large). The last option, available in both sizes, is the Milanese loop. It is like a fabric of steel coils, and is infinitely adjustable. The fact that it is metal and cheaper than the buckle makes that my top choice. Certainly buying the 38mm size will mean that I will still have the option of buying the modern buckle separately at a later time.

A quick side note: the ability for customers to be able to easily switch out their bands is pure marketing genius on Apple’s part, and opening it up to third parties is even smarter (and good for their coffers). Soon, I think we will be seeing many designers enter the band-making space that previously haven’t thought much about watches and wearable technology, and that will lead to great innovation and creativity in the space. Who knows, maybe in a year’s time, I will be able to get a cheaper link bracelet than the one Apple is offering.

The Competition

There is one other thing that could stop me from getting an Apple Watch: a Fitbit. It’s a bit too much to fit in this article, but it is a consideration. No other smart watches are really a consideration for me.

Conclusion

Who knows, maybe it will be that I won’t like my Apple Watch. If that is the case, it will make a great gift to someone, or be relatively easy to sell due to high demand. If I do love it, I can be sure in the knowledge that should I purchase the standard model, it will be durable and last me quite a while, even if it will eventually run out of batteries and be outdated, like all other technologies. Certainly the capabilities it has are numerous and awesome (and increasing), and I look forward to trying them out and seeing how I can integrate them to my life. I can already think of one: dictating a message to Siri while on my bike. The best way to know is to have one myself and try it out.

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!