30+ Days with the Apple Watch

Originally, I had planned a review (thus far) of an emerging authentication technology, and that is still on the horizon. But, it hasn’t gone gold yet so I feel like I have time. Instead, I thought I would post my mostly unedited thoughts on the Apple Watch.

At launch, I hadn’t planned to buy one. As intrigued as I was by the platform, I had intended to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. I used the same approach with the iPhone (my first wasn’t until the 3GS came out), and that worked well for me.

Another reason I was reluctant was that I already had a top notch fitness wearable in the Fitbit Charge HR and was pretty happy with it.

So why did I stray? The short answer is simply that I was reading some very exciting reviews and, more importantly, I came into a little unexpected money that would allow me to acquire the Sport version mostly guilt free.

I’ve been using the watch now for a little over a month. It arrived shortly after I left for San Diego to speak and attend a conference. I would have loved to have had the watch with me, but in many respects I was thankful that I didn’t have the distraction. That proved to be wise, as the first day with it was a bit of a loss in productivity as I explored this new platform.

Design

Out of the box you can see this is highly consistent with Apple’s unwavering design standards. This is a highly elegant watch. I was pleased that the weight wasn’t too cumbersome (have the 42mm sport model). Attaching the band takes a little getting used to, but I find it superior to my Fitbit in its security on my wrist.

Unpacking and Startup

Again, Apple shines here as people have come to expect a certain experience from even just opening the box and unpacking your new device. This one was no different for me. I immediately pluged the charger and set the watch to finish charging fully. A pleasant surprise is that this battery does not take long to charge at all. One to two hours is all I’ve needed on most days.

The startup is fairly easy, with some caveats. This is a new platform, much like unboxing your very first VCR or DVD player. Reading the manual helps and Apple does a very nice job of sending you an email in advance to let you watch a series of videos to pair, setup, configure, and use your new watch. You can even schedule an appointment to have someone walk you through some of this. I chose not to, as I wanted to explore this on my own time. The videos are a huge help to get used to to the interface and to get up to speed quickly. If someone flies into this blindly, I could see them getting frustrated. This isn’t just like operating an iPhone, though there are certainly parallels. Overall I got up to speed quickly and felt comfortable using it.

One complaint I have it that Apple loads EVERY app from your phone that has a watch companion app. I happen to have a ton of apps on my phone and this proved cumbersome. It isn’t terribly difficult to uninstall a phone app, it just takes time and I personally would have liked to be selective in what apps were installed on my watch.

(I just got notified by my watch that I need to stand for a few minutes, a feature that I truly enjoy)

Notifications

In my opinion, this is one of the early potential killer apps. Any application can be configured for notifications on your watch. This is an early example of where you have to figure out what is useful to you. Text messages, twitter notifications, and fitness feedback are my early key notifications, but I see potential for a lot more. The watch is simply less obtrusive than powering up your phone and allows me to keep my focus on my interactions with other people.

I can see this area being one of the early development frontiers. How do we get a user the key information they need in a context that is useful? Application and use of medication is one area where I could see this being highly useful. (disclosure: I work for a pharmaceutical company where compliance (or lack of) is a top reason where therapies can fail).

Phone Calls

This area is novel. I was a huge Get Smart fan growing up, so the ability to take a call on my watch is pretty cool to me. That said, I love knowing quickly on my watch who is calling and how I want to handle the caller. Like notifications, this makes for a less disruptive experience than reaching into my pocket to handle my phone. I have taken a few calls on the watch, and the audio is pretty solid. In private settings I could see me using it for brief chats (your car is ready, for example), but not as an extended conversation mode. Overall, I’d say this feature is delivered pretty well.

Apps

This is always the big question: what are the killer apps? Here’s a few I’ve found handy thus far:

CPI Security – Simply put, I can arm and disarm my home alarm system from the watch. It uses the phone interface, but I’ve found it pretty handy. CPI did a nice job of not trying to do too much here. This is another area where I think notifications could be handy.

Authy & 1Password – I lump these together because the use case is the same. The ability to easily pull up my code for two factor authentication on sites is highly useful to me. Because this is my field of focus, naturally I’m looking forward to seeing how the watch can be securely leveraged as a factor of authentication. I see a lot of potential in this area.

Map My Fitness – I’m conflicted on this app. I like the interface with my phone, but I’m also enjoyed the basic activity app as well. This is still a comparison in progress. The biggest different to date is I get the map data from MMF, and I do not with the activity app. How important is that? We’ll see. I do like being able to manage this from my watch instead of my phone when I’m at the gym, hiking, or riding my horse. This is another area I see developing rapidly from both Apple and other fitness manufacturers.

Calendar – during the work week, this is a really nice app. The form factor is so much more convenient over the phone or iPad for quick glances.

Note that I haven’t used the word ‘killer’ with any of these apps. I don’t view them that way, at least not yet. Tim Cook was pretty clear when the platform launched that the applications would drive the success of this platform, and I’m pretty much in that corner. I also think the ‘killer app’ metaphor gets overused. The app that delivers the biggest value will vary by user, in my opinion.

Battery

Of course, one of the early knocks on the Apple Watch, even pre-launch, was the battery life. Maybe it was due to the low expectations, but I haven’t had an issue at all. I get 1.5-2 days of life and haven’t had that be really an inconvenience. Generally, I just slap it on the charger when I go to bed and have yet to run out of juice. I did test a few days going to a 2nd day and didn’t have an issue.

Verdict

Overall, I love the new platform and am very excited for its potential as developers sink their teeth into the new SDK. That said, this device isn’t a ‘must have’ for everyone. By that, I mean its more of a luxury item that can enhance your life depending on how you choose to use it. That is partly why I don’t think this category will explode like smartphones have just yet. It will, eventually, and there’s little doubt in my mind that Apple is a pioneer in this category and will continue to do so in the future.

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