Important: This article was written after the initial Apple Watch launch.
Every time I meet someone and they notice the Apple Watch on my wrist, they ask me the same question: “So… How is it?”
With this article I aim to answer this question. While trying to stay away from a traditional review format, I’ll focus on the top 12 things you should know about the Apple Watch before buying it.
Don’t buy the Apple Watch (yet) unless you are a developer/designer who needs to develop for it.
I’ve tasked myself to fully integrate the Apple Watch into my every day in order to understand it’s full potential. To my surprise, the process of doing so felt a little bit like a burden since I had to constantly remind myself to actually USE it in order to form my opinion.
1. It’s not a fashion piece.
The beautiful & unique part of a traditional watch as we know it is the watch face. This is why we love watches, why we wear them and why there are so many different variations on the market.
Each detail of the watch face, from the shape and materials down to the typography & graphic design is something we identify with. Besides practical reasons, why we chose a certain watch comes down to how we like to express our selves — It’s the same as choosing what clothes to wear.
For us it’s important that others around us recognize the piece on our wrist. To quote a piece from Mad Men:
“It’s not just a time piece, it’s a conversation piece.“
A beautiful & unique watch (often expressed through the watch face) is a timeless conversation starter for years to come.
Sadly, the Apple Watch is just a black screen that looks the same on every persons wrist. It only shows you the watch face when lifting your arm up to your face, otherwise you or others won’t see it, which makes it look pretty generic.
Unless Apple finds a solution to show the watch face all the time (screen always on, without draining the battery) your watch looks exactly the same than every other watch. If you love watches, you will have a hard time replacing it with your Apple Watch. Apple certainly tried to address this issue by providing many different bands & colors, but from a first glance they all look the same.
2. It’s not replacing any of your devices
The Apple Watch is not meant to replace your iPhone or any other devices. Imagine it’s a second screen experience to your iPhone. Interacting with the Apple Watch feels almost exhausting since it occupies both of your hands and holding your arm twisted in this position for a while feels unnatural.
You will almost NEVER use the Apple Watch for longer than 15–30 seconds in one session— And that’s okay, because it’s not meant for anything more. It’s just a matter of expectations. While the hype around the Apple Watch has been huge, do not confuse it with something like the iPhone.
3. It’s incredibly slow (for now)
Right now the Apple Watch is so slow that it takes away all the joy of using it. Native Apps are supposed to come soon promising better performance, but in the meantime launching apps on the Apple Watch takes even longer than just pulling out your iPhone and completing the task on there.
We can expect this to change and improve over time.
4. You never use the home/app screen
After using the Watch for a couple weeks, I noticed that I never or very rarely use the apps screen. There can be many reasons to this, but mainly you just don’t need it right now. This might change over time when better apps are coming to the market, but in general I believe the Apple Watch has it’s greatest potential with what Apple calls “Glances”. (it’s almost like widgets in MacOSX, or live tiles on Windows)
Using the Apple Watch, I started to believe that the format of “launching apps” just doesn’t really work on the Apple Watch. I’m keen on seeing more & better glances in the future.
5. Handle notifications carefully
After setting up the Apple Watch, your iPhone essentially funnels all notifications straight to your Apple Watch. It’s fun for about 2 hours, but then you get so annoyed and turn off everything. However, there are notifications I really enjoy.
Those I enjoy are:
Calendar invites that I can easily accept or dismiss.
Meeting reminders without looking at my iPhone
Reading incoming messages. Acknowledging a message takes at least 50% less time than on my iPhone. Lifting your arm, glancing over the message — Done.
6. The “Taptic Engine” is amazing
I’m one of those people who always has his iPhone completely silent. I enjoy a ringtone free world and the sound of a phone vibrating makes me anxious. I sometimes even feel like I hear a phone vibrating, even though it’s actually not. (I know many people who have this anxious feeling)
The Taptic Engine could change this forever. It’s a subtle feeling on your wrist, almost like if someone taps you on your arm. It’s subtle and only YOUcan feel it. No more ringtones, no more vibrating tables where everyone nervously checks their phone to see if it was theirs.
7. The “Digital Crown” is a gimmick
While it was advertised very heavily I’m not sure why you would actually need it. I rarely or almost never use it for scrolling (just use your finger). It would make sense if you read long-form text on your watch where you have to scroll a lot, but you won’t do that anyway.
The digital crown on the Apple Watch feels more like a nostalgic element trying to imitate the traditional watch, but with no real purpose. But regardless, it doesn’t hurt to have it on there.
8. Out of sight, out of mind
The Apple Watch battery lasts one day if you don’t use it a lot. It keeps up perfectly fine with your iPhone which is draining it’s battery now even more due to the enabled bluetooth. So at the end of the day, both devices have to be charged up regardless in any case.
The only problem is that sometimes you will forget charging your watch, which will render it useless for the next day of course. Forgetting about charging your watch once will start the cycle of forgetting it again. You will end up switching to your old watch as a backup, and as a result the Apple Watch will go unused for a week.
While this is a matter of habit, the reason why this happens is because you actually don’t NEED the Apple Watch. You’re religiously good at charging your iPhone, because you can not live without it & something feels missing in your every day.
If you forget to charge or use your Apple Watch, nothing happens — It’s all the same. This is exactly how I stopped using my Jawbone band, I forgot charging it for one week and it’s gone forever. Out of sight, out of mind.
9. Magic moments
There are a few magic moments when using the Apple Watch. The Uber app is one of them. With a single tap on your Apple Watch you order an Uber car and it shows up minutes later. While sitting in the car, the Apple Watch shows you a contextual information your route including the assumed arrival time. It’s amazing and a perfect use case for the Apple Watch.
It’s certainly due to the nature of the Uber service and how well it applies to something like the Apple Watch, but in general I hope to see more of these magic moments or services on the Apple watch. (Apple Pay or a FlightTracker count here as well) It’s another perfect example of how well the Apple Watch works if the app/service on it requires you to not spend more than 10 seconds of interaction on the device.
10. Health apps are not mature enough
The health & fitness features got promoted very heavily leaving me with high expectations. Right now the Apple Watch gives you daily statistics on how many calories you burned, your standing hours etc. — While the potential of health related features seem endless, as of now there is not that much you can do with the Apple Watch.
It feels a little like a toy and not really like a serious health/fitness device. I also expect this to improve within the next couple months.
11. Nose Gestures
As mentioned above, the Apple Watch is a two handed device, while you can use your iPhone with just one hand. After a few weeks of using it I noticed that I encounter situations where I have both hands occupied. I started using my nose quite often to navigate or pull down the notifications on the Apple Watch, sometimes I even do it because I’m just too lazy to free up my right hand (while holding a coffee cup for example) — It’s interesting for me to observe this gesture hack because I never had a use case like this before.
12. Social Acceptance
The Apple Watch introduced something completely new to me. Whenever I’m talking to someone and my Apple Watch gives me a notification it’s incredibly hard to resist to not look at your watch. It’s interesting because it seems more socially acceptable to look at your iPhone (after it vibrated) than to look quietly at your watch.
It’s also important to mention that when your iPhone vibrates everyone experiences it and is aware that your attention is demanded, while the Apple Watch does it quietly and therefore generates a new kind of tension.
Right now, if someone asks me what I think of the Apple Watch,
I can sum it up in just one sentence:
If someone would take the Apple Watch away from me, I would not miss it.
I do believe that smart watches are the future, of course. In general the Apple Watch is a fantastic device that you might have, but definitely don’t need the way you need your iPhone or laptop.
It’s a matter of expectations and reading other reviews I believe that we haven’t really understood the true positioning of the Apple Watch yet. It’s not meant to replace any of your current devices, nor is it meant to disrupt your daily schedule. The functionality & performance will improve overtime, but it’s nature is passive and complementary.
The only thing I’m still unsure about is the fashion aspect to it. For those who love their watches will have a hard time adapting to the Apple Watch.
But let’s face it, this is up to the younger generation to decide — Traditional watches could be fading away within the next 20 years since the younger generation never grew up with an emotional attachment to traditional time pieces.
Thank you for reading,
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!