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If you sit tight and wait for the Apple Watch 2, you’ll be giving Apple and third-party developers more time to discover what smartwatches are good for, beyond conveying the time and short snippets of information.
—I chose a “Utility” watch face that shows my next calendar appointment. I like seeing what’s coming up, and tapping on that complication takes me directly to the Calendar app, where I can glance into the past or future using swiping gestures or the digital crown (an overhyped but still useful aspect of the Watch’s industrial design). I can also add new appointments or reminders using Siri. But doing any serious calendar management requires switching to a phone, tablet, or laptop.
—During these early weeks trying out the watch, I’ve also set the watch to tap my wrist every time a new e-mail message comes in. One clever feature of the watch’s operating system is that it’s context-sensitive; if you do the wrist-flick motion right after a notification tap, the watch shows incoming notifications such as e-mails first, rather than the watch face. That means I can see the From and Subject lines of incoming e-mails at a glance. But I’m probably going to turn off this feature, as I feel it tethers me to my inbox too tightly.
—Most other features of the Apple Watch are merely incidental. They seem to be there because Apple’s engineers could build them, not because they make a lot of sense on a watch. For example, there’s a Map app, but it’s nearly useless. The maps take forever to load. And bizarrely, if you ask the app for the route to a destination, it always shows driving directions rather than walking directions. There’s an app that functions as a remote control for your iPhone’s camera, but it’s mostly a party novelty. There’s a Photos app that lets you browse your most recent pictures, but why would you want to do that on a tiny 38-mm or 42-mm screen?
—As for third-party apps, well, I haven’t found many that I like. The New York Times app shows a handful of recent headlines and lets you save interesting ones for later reading on your phone or tablet. That’s probably my favorite so far. It excels by keeping things simple. I think it will take mobile companies a while to figure out whether and how their own apps make sense on the Apple Watch, whose strength, again, is its ability to make snippets of information immediately glanceable.
—Most Apple Watch reviewers have complained that the watch’s interface is tricky to learn, and they’re right. Even longtime iPhone users will find that it isn’t obvious how to navigate within and between the watch’s functions.
Part of the challenge is that the watch introduces two new interface modes, the digital crown and something called “force touch” (a strong press on the watch face, as opposed to a light tap). Another key thing to memorize is that a downward swipe from the watch face reveals notifications such as text messages, calendar alerts, and e-mails, while an upward swipe reveals a tray full of “Glances”—single-screen summaries of data from other apps, such as the weather, your heart rate, or your progress toward your activity goals. You navigate through the Glances by swiping from left to right, and you can tap on any of them to open the full app.
Confusingly, you can only access notifications and Glances from the watch face. That’s probably because in other apps, upward and downward swipes have their own meanings. The digital crown doubles as a kind of Home button—but not really, because it, too, does different things in different contexts. If you have an app open and you press the crown, it will take you to the watch face. If you have the watch face open and you press the crown, it will take you to the home screen, with all the tiny app icons.
It’s all very new. But while the learning curve is steep, it’s also short—I got used to most of the conventions within a few days.
By the way, battery life isn’t an issue with the Apple Watch. Yes, it’s a good idea to charge the watch every night, so that it’s ready to go when you leave home in the morning. But when I take the watch off at night the battery meter is usually still above 50 percent. I’ve run out of power only once.
My final verdict? The Apple Watch is a very good 1.0 product. The software needs more work—I’d love to see Siri become much more capable and reliable on the watch, for example. And there are obvious things to improve about the hardware. The watch is thicker than I’d like. And hey, if you’re going to build a wireless smart watch, it really ought to have a front-facing camera for Dick Tracy-style video calls.
But I’m enjoying my Apple Watch, and I have absolutely no buyer’s remorse. People who aren’t gadget geeks may be slightly less enchanted, and I don’t see any reason to buy the more expensive versions. ($17,000 for the gold Apple Watch Edition strikes me as a ludicrous amount of money to spend on an electronic gadget that will be outmoded within a year or two.)
The point of a smartwatch is not to provide an immersive experience like a tablet or a smartphone. It’s to relay important information fast, from a location on your body that’s never more than a glance away. For a look at wearable computing’s future, go to an Apple Store and try one on for size.
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