One year with the Apple Watch

One year with the Apple Watch
One year with the Apple Watch

One year (and a month or so) after launch, hating on the Apple Watch is still in vogue, and I'm not quite sure why. It's not a perfect product by any measure, but for me, Apple's first wearable was 2015's most interesting gadget. The Apple Watch recently turned one, and it's managed to spend the lion's share of its first year on my wrist. I've swapped it out to review other smartwatches, and while Pebble and Samsung are both doing great work in the category, I keep coming back to my shiny stainless steel square.

Smartwatches (and the wider wearable space) are still in their infancy, they haven't really made their argument as a mass-market device. In fact, I'm not quite sure if they ever will. They're niche gadgets, and there's no instant gratification. Once you get a new phone, a new computer, or a new TV, you actively use it. When you get an Apple Watch, you might wear it all of the time, but you'll only be using it for a couple of minutes a day. This also results in a steeper learning curve; you’re not spending heaps of time using a smartwatch, so it takes longer for functionality to become second nature. If you're not committed, you might never really learn all of the ins-and-outs.

I spent a month wearing the Apple Watch before writing my initial review, and I almost feel like that was too short a time period to "get" it. As someone who was quite sceptical about the Watch at first, I've really come to love it. It was easily the most interesting gadget to launch in 2015, and probably my favourite.

That being said, the Apple Watch is a flawed product. User interface quirks coupled with new input methods extend an already an extended learning curve. There's no indication of when you can Force Touch, it's occasionally hard tell which button you should press, or whether you should be using the touchscreen. If you give it time, it starts to make sense, but the Apple Watch is a tad too complicated out of the box. Admittedly, I don't have too many solutions as to how you could address this, but some subtle visual cues as to how you should be interacting could help. While this could clutter watchOS, you could always give users the ability to turn them off after they've learnt the ropes.  

The Apple Watch is also expensive. High-end models cost as much as designer watches, but won't have the same sense of timelessness. I'm sure we'll see a new Apple Watch every year or so, and even if one lasts you, say, three years, dropping AUD$1,000 every time you upgrade won't be palatable to everyone. The cheaper Apple Watch Sport has a similar problem. It might be more affordable, but it's still perishable.

I guess the question comes down to whether you're comfortable buying a luxury item with a comparatively short life-span. If you're looking at a stainless steel model, is the functionality worth AUD$300 or so per year? I mean, the Apple Watch does a lot more than your typical TAG Heuer.

A lot of these "issues" stem from the convergence of fashion and technology. A stainless steel Apple Watch isn't a pragmatic purchase. The Apple Watch Sport has the same functionality, and is about half the price. At the same time, the stainless steel Apple Watch looks much nicer on your wrist, at least in my opinion. We're often told to look for bang for buck when it comes to technology, and on paper, high-end Apple Watches offer anything but.

For all of its quirks, there's a lot to love about the Apple Watch. It's a fantastic fitness tracker, and its ring-based approach to daily goals consistently guilts me into going to the gym. These rings - representing the calories you've burnt, how many minutes of exercise you've undertaken, and the number of hours you've been active in - scale well, and give you a great indicator of your progress whether they're part of your watch face, or taking up half of your iPhone's display.

I also feel more comfortable leaving my phone on my desk or in another room. If it's important, I'll get a subtle alert on my Watch that won't interrupt whatever it is I'm doing. Messages, phone calls, emails, and diary notes all go straight through to my wrist, while I keep social media and every other app insistent on firing off notifications confined to my phone. It's a nice way for me to distinguish one alert from another. 

Siri's also pretty useful on your wrist; I talk to my Apple Watch whenever I cook in order to set timers. That might sound like a first world solution to a first world problem, but it saves me washing my hands, taking off oven mitts, or putting down whatever I'm holding just to grab my phone.

If you’re sold on the fashion angle, the ease with which you can change watchbands is great. I like being able to dress up the Apple Watch for when I’m at work, while still having the ability to swap to a sport band for the gym. Simple customisation is definitely an area where the watch industry could learn from Apple. For what it's worth, my favourite strap style is the leather loop, which looks super schmick in "storm grey". The new threaded nylon straps are also a nice comparatively affordable alternative to Apple's elastomer sports bands, and offer a slightly classier vibe.  

Last but not least, Apple Paying from your wrist is kinda fun, even if just for the reactions. I used my Watch to buy popcorn once and received an over-the-top reaction of awe from the kid serving me. It's just a touch faster than pulling out your phone to pay, and I've found it especially useful at self-checkouts.

The Apple Watch isn’t for everyone, and maybe running out and buying one today isn't the best idea, considering a refresh could literally be around the corner. Reflecting on the Apple Watch's first year has only made me more excited about what's next in the wearable space; it's a gadget that's provided a positive impact on my life. Sure, the Apple Watch could be a little simpler, and apps could load a little faster, but at the same time, I'm working out more, and I'm using my phone less. It's a luxury for sure, but it’s one I've enjoyed having in my life, to the point where I can't imagine not wearing a smartwatch.

You don't need an Apple Watch, but you don't really need any gadget. It's okay to want one though.

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