Posted by Lewis Painter 28 April 2015
My weekend with the Apple Watch: The Apple Watch made me enjoy receiving notifications
I had the opportunity to take the Apple Watch Sport home with me for the weekend, and it really opened my eyes to Apples’ smartwatch-related intentions. First off, let me say that I’ve used a handful of smartwatches in the past and not one has wowed me; each has had something wrong with it, be it a lack of features, bugs or even discomfort when being worn. I was expecting big things from the much-anticipated Apple Watch, and I wasn’t disappointed.
See also: Apple Watch release day: Twitter reacts
Apple has meticulously planned every detail of the Apple Watch to make sure it’s just right. Even the initial setup is an enjoyable experience – and when has a setup ever been described as enjoyable? It was intuitive and straight forward, opening the Apple Watch app on my iPhone and using the iPhone camera to pair my Apple Watch using a unique molecular pattern displayed on the Watch. When the two devices had finished syncing, the Apple Watch display and the simulated Apple Watch display on my iPhone were identical – something small, but it adds a touch of glamour to the process.
Once the setup process was complete, it was time for my commute home on the London Underground. Anyone that regularly commutes on the tube will tell you that 5pm on a Friday isn’t the most desirable time to travel, with conditions comparable to tinned sardines. As you could imagine, it’s a nightmare having to get your phone out to change songs on a train where personal space is a myth. But, with the Apple Watch, it was a much less painful experience – all I had to do was swipe up to access my Glances, swipe to my “Now Playing” glance, and change the song.
Once I’d emerged from the tube, I wanted to call my brother and see if he was around. Usually I’d get my iPhone out and call him, but not that day. I raised my wrist, said “Hey Siri” which activated Siri on my Apple Watch, then I said “Call my brother” and within seconds, I was talking to my brother via my Apple Watch, feeling like a character from Star Trek. Beam me up Scotty!
The call quality wasn’t as loud as it should be, especially for use in public, but it serves its purpose for quick 20-30 second interactions. Even though I didn’t hold my wrist particularly close to my mouth when speaking, there wasn’t any issues with clarity at the other end of the call.
Just after I got off the phone (or watch), I received one of a handful of daily Activity notifications, giving me an update on my current calorie/standing/exercise stats and how far I had to go until I reached my target. Now, I’m nowhere near a fitness fanatic but I found that these prompts made me more conscious of the fact that the Apple Watch was tracking my fitness, and resulted in me walking more instead of getting the bus. The accompanying Activity iPhone app gave me an in-depth look at my fitness and combined with awards for beating targets, it motivated me to beat my daily targets.
Saturday came along and I decided to go shopping and then go to the cinema. My friends will tell you that when I’m out and about, I’m the worst person when it comes to replying to messages and answering calls. In my defence, it’s because my iPhone is on vibrate most of the time, but whatever.
The Apple Watch notification system is a real thing of beauty, and it made the experience of getting a notification much more enjoyable. Instead of feeling a strong vibration on my wrist like I’d usually feel when wearing a smartwatch, I felt a gentle tap accompanied by an aurally pleasing ping. Apple’s Taptic engine gives greater control over the Haptic feedback that you feel, and is one of the key selling points of the Apple Watch. Others have remarked about the Haptic feedback that they feel when receiving a notification, with not a bad word being said.
With a flick of the wrist, the application icon that the notification came from is displayed full screen before a swift animation that displays the notification itself. There are sometimes actions below the notification, such as favouriting a tweet that someone has mentioned you in, but it depends entirely on the app itself and whether the developer has integrated actionable notifications.
I haven’t even mentioned the main attraction of the notification system. If you’re wearing your Apple Watch and are using your iPhone when you receive a notification, this wont be displayed on your Apple Watch – the notifications only appear when you’re not using your iPhone. It’s a similar story if you’re not wearing the watch, as notifications will only be delivered to your watch when its being worn.
Once you’ve acknowledged a notification on your Apple Watch and dismissed it, it’s not only dismissed from your Apple Watch but your iPhone too, helping to organise your notification centre. It’s the level of effort that Apple has gone to with the notifications that really surprised me, as I’ve never noticed that level of detail with any other smartwatch on any other mobile platform (Yes Android, I’m looking at you and Android Wear).
Anyway, after shopping I headed to the cinema. I was quite nervous about my Apple Watch making noises during the film but I noticed that when I set my iPhone to Do Not Disturb, this was mirrored on my Apple Watch. This mirrored setting can be disabled via the Apple Watch app on the iPhone, but I thought it was a great idea to sync the setting between the two devices for situations exactly like the one I was in.
Sunday came along quicker than expected, like it does every week – which was exactly what I tweeted, directly from my Apple Watch using the Twitterrific companion app for the Apple Watch. The dictation feature is impressive, especially for someone whose accent usually struggles with the likes of voice recognition software. Even when replying to texts or giving Siri a command, nine times out of ten it would be accurate the first time around. That doesn’t mean that you feel any less silly talking to a watch when walking down the street, but at least you don’t have to repeat yourself!
Using the turn by turn navigation on the Apple Watch was something that I was initially very excited about using, but was underwhelmed after having used it to navigate me to a restaurant on Sunday afternoon.
There was no issues with using dictation to find the restaurant that I wanted to go to, it was more with the turn-by-turn navigation. The journey is broken down into steps, which are displayed on your Apple Watch and are accompanied by a tap, courtesy of the Taptic engine, whenever you’re near a turn. The issue is that I’m used to audible directions usually dictated by Siri on my iPhone, but with regards to the Apple Watch, Siri is relegated to text only. This means that you have no choice but to keep looking at your Watch to make sure you’re on the right track.
So, what is my initial opinion of the Apple Watch? It’s a meticulously designed and beautifully made smartwatch, there’s no denying that, but there’s not a killer app – yet. Developers have struggled to design apps for the Apple Watch because they haven’t had an Apple Watch to test their apps on, and the general consensus is that apps will start to improve and bring more functionality over the coming weeks and months.
The fact that there’s not one killer app or feature doesn’t push the Apple Watch to the back of the crowd though, as it does so many small things (like notifications) so well that it all adds up to a pleasant and enjoyable experience.
The battery life also surprised me. Even though you do have to recharge it every night, I found that when I’d put it on charge after 12-14 hours of typical use, it would still have between 30 and 50 percent of its battery left. This relaxed me slightly, as I didn’t have to worry about my Apple Watch battery running out while at work or on the go.
The Apple Watch was designed to stop you from interacting with your phone so much and interact more with the world around you, and I think its achieved that goal. I found that the Apple Watch made my iPhone battery life last longer because I used the Watch to check my notifications, the time, make calls and even check Twitter every now and again. This meant that my phone was left in my pocket, unused for much my time with the Apple Watch, and now that I’ve returned it, I definitely notice how useful it was.
See also: The complete guide to the Apple Watch