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Two Week Trial: skeptical staffer's first week with the Apple Watch
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NewsPoster
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May 11, 2016, 11:59 AM
 
I am on record saying that the Apple Watch wasn't a good fit for me, technologically. However, I was issued a challenge by assorted colleagues to "become one of them." So, last week, I started wearing an Apple Watch Sport, with third-party Milanese band, every waking hour of every day for two weeks. I am now on day seven, and have a few observations.

The mandatory pedigree and 'street cred' discussion

I am a child of the 1970s, and as part of my reward for learning to tell time, I was given a mostly-blue Star Wars watch. I wore it for about a year, then stopped, and consigned it to my cherished stuff pile that every little boy has, generally stashed in Lego boxes. The watch is in this house now, and if pressed, I could find it, but not without effort.

Fast forward to the 1990s, where I was given a responsibility in Navy boot camp that required me to wear a watch. A few years later, I had to have one for various tasks on the submarine I was stationed on. When the lights went out, either accidentally or on purpose, you'd be surprised how well the little light on a digital watch illuminated things! The day after I got out of the service, I took it off, and vowed to not have a similar contraption on my wrist again.

Computing until now

I've been resistant to iOS taking over my day-to-day computing. Literally 100 percent of my work is done on a 2012 Retina MacBook Pro, preceded by a series of Mac laptops and desktops spanning back to the Macintosh SE 1/20. My wife saw the immediate need for an iPod. I didn't, but was entranced with the 10GB version it when it arrived.

When the iPhone 3G came out, we got a few for the family for better communications, as some family members wouldn't even bother checking their phone for days -- but I stuck with a Nokia flip phone. It wasn't until the iPhone 5 came out that I started using the hand-me-down 3G, and then a 4. I stuck with the 5c from launch, until the iPhone SE came out. In that time, the rest of the family progressed from the iPhone 4 to the 5, and then to the 6 Plus.

In 2010, the iPad was released, and it was a similar situation for me. My family nearly immediately purchased two original iPads for group use. but I never really had the inclination to fully adopt it. It wasn't until the Air 2 came out that I purchased a second-hand iPad 4 for myself, and even then, only because it was an utterly killer deal. We do now have a 12.9-inch iPad Pro in the house that is ostensibly mine, but I never seem to be able to use it, as somebody else is always fondling away.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate iOS -- but I use it and its devices as a consumption and education platform, more than a production device, probably like the majority of consumers. Tearing apart a Mac Pro? I've got the guide on an iPad mounted on an articulated stand. Making a complicated dinner? Ziploc bagged iPad. I'm done moving boxes of books from place to place. Never again.

So, the Apple Watch

In the lead-up to the Apple Watch reveal, I was excited. It seemed like a logical extension of what I wanted as an expansion to the ecosystem. The actual announcement, however, left me non-plussed and skeptical about actual use in my household. I said in a discussion post about the reveal that "the iPhone is my Apple watch. I'm tethered to my computer most of the day -- I use the vibration from the iPhone to tell me, when I'm hunkered down, that there's a new email. For me, the watch is the third animal in that 'The Old Lady that Swallowed a Fly' song."



In the interim, I've been puzzled about my staffers' devotion to the device. I challenged William to take his off for a week, and he hated it. Unfortunately, he had to do it again against his will. Charles got one a few months ago, and as he gallivants much more than I do, he sees a great deal of utility for it. I remained unfazed by the staff's ardor for the device, even though my own shifting from location to location in the DC metro area has increased in recent weeks.

About two months ago, one of the daily deal sites had a killer deal on the 42mm Apple Watch Sport, so we got two -- one for my sister-in-law, who has a nasty habit of not checking her phone until the end of the day, and one for me because, well, I work at MacNN, and intimate device familiarity is a good thing so I can write intelligently, right?

The former goal of more frequent communications surveillance has worked out great, I'm happy to say. The latter? Well, I familiarized myself with the device, and that's about it. It sat on the charger as a glorified clock unless an extended family member asks about it. That is, until the challenge last week.

Now, here we are, a week later

While I'm only half way through the two-week deep immersion in the device, I'm not sure how well this is working out for me. I'll get a message sitting at my desk, and devices all over my desk will start to bing at me, telling me the same thing -- that somebody wants my attention. I've since turned that down to only two devices yelling at me about it.

I get too much email to want to be notified about it on my Watch, so I've turned that notification off. But, my assumption from the launch about the Apple Watch being a step too far removed from my Mac and unnecessary? That is completely accurate for me, at least so far.

While I've stopped pulling out my phone to get the time, I'm still at my desk too much to really have lost track of how far the march of time has progressed since the last time I checked. The watch doinks at me periodically to get up and walk around, but given health and child care situations in the house, I'm out of the chair more often than that anyway.

I see uses cases for it. My sister-in-law has remained in far better communication because of it, and that's worth the price of admission given the rather dramatic health situations with our family. The health monitors on the Apple Watch are in their infancy, and will only get better with time. The heartbeat send feature is ... strangely intimate, and I'm certain that people have already used it in a, shall we say, "suggestive fashion." The problem is, none of the use cases I can think of fit me.

I think maybe the problem is, that I don't have a killer app for it, nor am I a slavish adherent to things Cupertino. There's nothing I want to do with the Watch right now, that I can't do with my iPhone SE and the 5c before it. Perhaps my choice of phone is the problem. The SE isn't a massive edifice of Gorilla Glass risking a terrible bend in jeans pockets, or relegated to a travel bag, so there's no need for a satellite screen to see what's going on.

At launch, the iMac was roundly criticized for its "Mac-ness" for lack of a better term. The original iPod was hammered for anemic and un-expandable storage, and ended a decade later with 160GB models -- and it dominated the portable music player field for years. The Apple Watch has seen similar "what is this for" complaints at launch, and now I have them too.

However, every other Apple product I've used, and fully adopted, I had an "aha" moment with it. From Apple II to the Mac SE, it was an image scanner and a laser printer. For the Mac mini, it was attaching it to a television as a media extender, with a similar revelation for the iPad. There are more tales to tell of cartoon lightbulbs going on above my head with other Apple devices, but we'll save those for another day.

I've used the Apple Watch long enough to realize that it isn't a misfire from Cupertino, and perhaps just not for me. For now, even though I'm lacking the "aha," I'll continue the immersion. For the next week, I'll keep looking for that killer app for me, and we'll see if it sticks.

-- Mike Wuerthele, managing editor

Editor's note: this launches the "Two Week Trial" periodic column, where we have MacNN staffers and guests exit their comfort zone with technology.
( Last edited by NewsPoster; May 13, 2016 at 12:09 PM. )
     
DiabloConQueso
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May 11, 2016, 02:12 PM
 
"The original iPod was hammered for anemic and un-expandable storage..."

I was around before the iPod, during it, and after as well... and I don't remember any gripes about the original iPod's storage space -- in fact, I remember it heralded because similar devices at the time had mere megabytes of storage, barely scraping the 1GB mark, and the iPod's capacious storage was far above and beyond the competition.

Am I just retrospecting through rose-colored glasses, or was there really that much of a backlash over the original iPod's 5GB of storage?
     
djbeta
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May 11, 2016, 02:28 PM
 
I've been an Apple fan for years, however, have never been quick to jump on a product's bandwagon. I did not own a first generation iPod. I did not buy a first generation iPhone, but I've owned several models.

I did purchase the Apple Watch.

My experience has been mixed. I think the UI is far too convoluted, and the device really should have been much more simple. The notification logic across multiple devices is weak.. why do I get notifications on my watch after I've acknowledged them on my phone for example. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but if I am, it's a testament to how confusing using the watch is.. and shouldn't be.

What is GREAT about the watch is that it allows me to put down my phone, and leave it down. I work part-time in a busy kitchen, and when I do, I often have wet or dirty hands, or have busy hands, and can't be pulling out my phone. Now, I never have to miss another important call or text while I'm in the kitchen.

It's great for running, so I can look at the songs that are playing and "love" Apple Music tracks without having to take out my phone. I can also see who's texting me and calling me so I don't have to stop my run to look at my phone every time it rings.

Just this morning, I played tennis on a day I have a pretty busy work and personal schedule. It was VERY VERY re-assuring to leave my phone on the side of the court and have the Watch on while I played. I ignored one call and one text, and rested easy that no other important calls or texts had come in.

If you ever have a situation like this.. where you'd like to put the phone down and be untethered from it for a little bit.. still in bluetooth range... on a beach for example... then the Watch is great.

I'm sure there are other use cases that the Watch is great for, but for me, these particular use cases are what has me putting the watch on most days.

I definitely wish the battery life was better and it would be great if the UI was simpler, more intuitive.. but for the things I use it for, it does the job better than anything else can.

I suspect I'll own a future version of the Watch... even if I'm not incredibly in love with this first version.
     
Mike Wuerthele
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May 11, 2016, 02:30 PM
 
There was, but it didn't make that much sense to me. I think the issue was more that other devices had "limitless" storage with cards, rather than the 5GB, take it or leave it approach that Apple took.
     
DiabloConQueso
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May 11, 2016, 02:44 PM
 
I don't even remember expandable storage in the likes of the Creative Zen or any of the competing players -- and even if they did have it, consumer-level flash cards back then were basically 8 to 32MB of storage.

Yes, complaining that the iPod 5GB locks you into the equivalent of 150 SD cards sure was something to bitch about I suppose!
     
Charles Martin
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May 11, 2016, 03:34 PM
 
I believe it was CowboyNeal of Slashdot who earned infamy for his notorious day-of assessment of the iPod: "No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame."

So yes, your memory is bad: the iPod was criticized for its lack of space.

As for djbeta's comments: I'm in agreement. The Watch (among other things) serves a similar functionality to a receptionist at an office: it lets me know about the truly important things, and saves the rest for later. My wrist is a great place for this, and it is easy to say "Hey Siri, tell my wife I'm on my way home" while driving and have it Just. Be. Done without ever taking my eyes off the road (TBF CarPlay offers this functionality as well).

Most importantly for me are the calendar, To Do, and Reminders alerts and ability to quickly assess what's next without pulling out and then digging through various apps. And yes, I've made and received phone calls on it. The quality isn't mind-boggling, but it is surprising for what it is (the mic in particular is much better than I expected). And I love the pre-set contextual replies for incoming messages, that's a real time-saver.

As Mike notes it may not be for everyone, but with my on-the-go lifestyle it is most definitely a boon to me.
Charles Martin
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Steve Wilkinson
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May 12, 2016, 01:23 PM
 
I think were I to get one, I'd just mirror Mike's experience. Adam Curry gave an even worse review on a recent No Agenda episode.

It's certainly a divisive product, with some loving it and others not having any use for it at all. That doesn't mean it's a bad product, but I'm still kind of having issues with Cook's 'the next chapter in Apple's story.' A cool technology with some application and possibly fashion appeal, sure. Next chapter, I hope not.
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jdonahoe
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May 12, 2016, 03:37 PM
 
My brother has an Apple watch and he initially had all kinds of problems with it, but now after a few updates, he is happy as a clam and says battery life is better than ever.

I don't have one yet and it is a combination of lack of killer apps and the limitations that Apple has imposed on it that is preventing me from buying one now. I am a watch nut and the more complicated the watch, the more I would want it. My current watch is a Citizen Eco-Drive with auto time update. This is my gripe with Apple: they wouldn't allow 3rd party watch faces. When they announced the watch, they showed a range of watch faces, including an old Micky Mouse face that was animated. My first impression was, oh what faces will come out for it, there are a lot of imaginative people out there who could design a really cool one, but then Apple put the kabosh on that. Third party vendors can make a watch band, but not design a watch face makes no sense, except maybe the worry someone will infringe on an Omega or other ultra expensive watch design. Those fancy watch companies could sell their designs through the app store, but again Apple said no outside designs. I will wait.
     
Charles Martin
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May 12, 2016, 06:08 PM
 
jdonahoe: your point about faces is valid (I suspect Apple has some concerns about third parties violating copyrighted designs), but in fact Apple has allowed one third-party watch face design: the Hermés version of the Watch comes with a classic Hermés face.

As for the future, I think Apple will eventually offer a curated gallery of third-party faces that would answer the concerns yet let the community get in on that.

Steve: I think what Cook meant is the same thing Ive said recently on this topic: that Apple is refocusing on its original mission, which is to make products that resonate strongly as personal experiences for the users. At least, that's my hope (and the Apple Watch, for those who enjoy it, totally fits that bill).
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Steve Wilkinson
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May 13, 2016, 07:33 PM
 
Originally Posted by Charles Martin View Post
Steve: I think what Cook meant is the same thing Ive said recently on this topic: that Apple is refocusing on its original mission, which is to make products that resonate strongly as personal experiences for the users. At least, that's my hope (and the Apple Watch, for those who enjoy it, totally fits that bill).
Refocusing? Wasn't that what they were doing since Jobs returned? And, I think their original mission was more about great user-experience and making great products. I suppose a watch could fit that bill for some, and potentially more of us some-day.

But, I guess I hope you're right, as I took it more like Apple thinks the watch is part of the computing progression away from personal computers to mobile, and then to wearables. If it's that latter, I think unfortunately they're drinking the kool-aid.
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