Brian Hough
Big fan of all that tech nonsense, avid walker. 'Do what you like, like what you do.'

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47 hours with the Watch

After work on Friday night, I came into possession of a 42mm Apple Watch Sport in Space Gray.

I didn’t mean to, it just kind of happened. One second I was telling my girlfriend and everyone who would ask that I was almost certainly going to wait until Gen 2. Less then 24 hours later I was handing over $399 (plus tax) of my hard earned cash, resting my thumb on a circle within a gold ring on my iPhone. And just like that, I committed to buying an Apple Watch. It’s crazy how easy it is to give away one’s pay check these days.

I’m still kind of shocked it showed up so soon. I was a frequent visitor of /r/AppleWatch over the last week, and to date it still seems like more people have yet to get theirs then have them. We still don’t have exact numbers (with most estimates seem to be hedging around the 1 million units shipped range), but we do know Apple was absolutely unable to keep up with demand with the most recent orders not slated to hit customers’ doorsteps until June. And we’re only talking about online orders, here. Apple’s stock is so limited that a retail store launch is still apparently months away from being a reality.

The package was big, really big. Like most people familiar with Apple, I’ve become accustomed to teeny tiny, minimal packages that barely have enough room for the product and its assorted accessories. Not so with the Watch; my Sport Watch was packaged in a narrow, long box with plenty of space to spare. The first thing you’ll see when you open your box is, well, another box. To protect the device, Apple decided to place the watch laying (with band on) inside of a plastic jewelry-like box that I’ve been told bares a striking resemblance to a Swatch brand Watch.

Under the box I found various pamphlets welcoming me to the Watch and teaching me how to put on my Sport band, and the two bundled accessories; the familiar USB charging block that’s been included with every iPhone since the iPhone 3GS and the charging cable. Despite being compatible with most Bluetooth headphones, you won’t find any in the box. If you were hoping to leave your phone at home while on your evening run, you’ll want to invest in a pair. (I hear Apple’s own Beats Powerbeats 2 Wireless are pretty good, but I have no experience one way or the other.)

Setup was incredibly easy and one of the most Apple-like experiences in recent Apple history. Turn on your Watch and it’ll begin to glow with a 3D rendering unique to your device more like art than a QR code. Open up the Apple Watch app on your iPhone (included in iOS 8.2 and newer), point your camera at your Watch, and boom. You’re synced. Setup from that point on is straightforward - set up your language, a passcode if you so choose, sync your apps and music and you’re done.

Remember that you’ll need an iPhone to complete setup and use your Watch; it is not compatible with an iPad, iPad mini, or iPod touch. I suspect this is a limitation of today’s available hardware rather than an inherent product strategy. Remember in 2007 when you need to plug your iPhone into your Mac and use iTunes to set it up and sync data? Think about how archaic that seems today. I suspect that in 7 years we’ll look back at today’s Apple Watch set up and syncing method in the same light.

The feeling I’ve gotten while actually using the Watch over the last 47 hours varies depending on what it’s doing for me. When the Watch is at its most useful, when it’s pushing over text messages and phone calls, reminders and event notifications - when I glance at my wrist for the weather, or the score of the ball game, or to check when the next episode of Gotham is on, that feeling is best described as “whoa.” At its best, it’s the same feeling I got when I first started carrying around my iPhone; so much information, available so easily. It’s so useful (and fun) that it’s actually created a new problem for me - I’m already less likely to remember to grab my phone before I go somewhere. I’m genuinely worried I’m going to leave my phone on this table after I finish my coffee in a little while while I pause my music with my Watch.

That’s one side of the coin, but there’s another. When the watch is not acting as a hub for my information, when I need to do something more in depth, when I need to create rather than consume, the Watch becomes fashion rather than utility. And as fashion, watches aren’t really my thing. The Sport band is hard to put on and, frankly, a little uncomfortable against my wrist when worn as tightly as it needs to be for the heart rate monitor to work. I’ve already become increasingly paranoid about the condition of my Watch in a worrying way. Is that a scuff? Was that a scratch? Ugh, those smudges. I already freak over the condition of my phone, and I suspect my paranoia surrounding the condition of the Watch is something that will linger. I know I’ll need to get over it, and I know I won’t be able to.

I just took a break from writing; the Watch let me know that I’ve been sitting for far too long, and I need to stand up to avoid becoming a human potato. The Watch is more demanding than most college professors I’ve had. Stand up - you’re so close to completing your standing goal (whatever that is). You should go for a walk, you need to burn 350 calories today. Yes, I will try to get some exercise - no, not today, maybe tomorrow.

What I loved about my Fitbit is that I felt like it worked for me, and I didn’t work for it. I decided when I wanted to stand up and walk around, and when I did it graciously counted those steps for me. The Apple Watch feels like we have the opposite relationship. It’s telling me to do things rather than helping me do them on my own time. That’s fine - and probably better - in its own way. There’s a reason I’ve gained some weight while wearing my Fitbit. The issue isn’t about the Apple Watch’s utility as a fitness tracker, it’s with its presentation. I want to feel less burdened with walking and more encoruaged to walk. I’m not going to propose how Apple solve this problem, because I don’t know how to accomplish it. It’s a tall order. But I can tell it’s just not perfectly calibrated quite yet.

According to David Pierce’s excellent iPhone Killer: The Secret History of the Apple Watch, Apple designed and scrapped the Watch OS user experience numerous times before settling on what the company revealed to the world in September of 2014 and shipped last week. That doesn’t surprise me. Watch OS 1.0 represents the single best smartwatch user experience shipped to date. Put quite frankly, Google and Samsung better be going back to the drawing board.

Just like iPhone OS 1.0 on the original iPhone gave the impression that Apple understood how the ideal smartphone should work, rather than how it historically did work, the Apple Watch feels just right. Folks from The Verge has repeated over and over again that they found the Watch confusing, hard to learn, and hard to put into practice. That’s their prerogative. They’ve been saying that since that original September keynote. Design is inherently subjective, but I think they’re wrong.

When the first iPhone came out, nobody instinctively just knew to pinch to zoom, how to properly scroll with a flick of your finger, how to pull to refresh. These were things that we needed to be taught; habits needed to be broken, concepts needed to be learnt. A smartphone platform without stylus support? Hah. Yesterday I showed someone the Apple Watch, and I noticed that they tried to pinch to zoom on a photo to make it larger, which doesn’t work. A touchscreen device without pinch to zoom? Hah. Then I told them to try the Digital Crown, which zoomed the photo in exactly where they wanted it. They didn’t try to pinch to zoom again.

It all works so well, and there’s just so many moments of that classic Apple design that makes it a joy to use. The way that the Haptic Engine subtly, silently, but distinctively taps you on the wrist when you’ve got a text message. The tap you get when you scrolled to the bottom of a view. The way the physical Digital Crown feels when you spin it; the way the software moves perfectly in time with that spinning.

At its introduction last September, Apple CEO Tim Cook smiled as he claimed that the Apple Watch represents the next revolution for Apple. I’m not qualified to determine what the eventual size of the Apple Watch market will be, nor the smartwatch market as a whole. Maybe it’ll become the next iPhone - a smash hit, catching the world on fire and getting everyone talking. That’s certainly possible. I’ve already had people come up to me and excitedly say, “Is that the Apple Watch!?” out in public. That’s the same reaction I got when I first bought my iPhone in 2007.

It’s also possible that the Apple Watch will represent “Tim Cook’s Newton” - an exciting new product line with a lot of promise that, ultimately, will fail to break into the mainstream and remain a fringe product, never to be adapted by the masses. That’s also certainly possible. I’ve already had people claim it’s too expensive, or tell me that their phone does everything that their Watch does so why bother?

All I know for sure is, personally, 47 hours in I’m impressed. At times, it feels revolutionary. It also can feel nerve wracking to wear, slightly annoying with its notifications, incredibly intuitive, potentially redundant. Tim Cook views the Apple Watch as the future of Apple. But it remains to be seen if the Apple Watch, or even just the smartwatch, is the future of intimate communication.

Oh, excuse me. My Watch says I need to stand up and walk around now. I’ll be right back.