Apple Watch, A Year Later

2016/3/3

A few days ago on my way to work I stopped at the neighbourhood Tim Hortons for a cup of coffee and a bagel. The cashier noticed my Apple Watch and asked me what I thought about it. I told her that I still really liked it but that it would be better to wait for the next version. I told her that it wasn’t super useful even if it was fun to see my daily exercise progress, steps and having instant access to the current temperature was really handy for me. I told her that for the price I paid, it really wasn’t worth it unless you were a gadget freak. My reply surprised me, the die-hard Apple Fanatic.

Even with WatchOS 2 and native apps, most apps are still slow to launch. After a year of trying apps, there are really only three that I use with any regularity, one of which is my own app. The other two are Pedometer++ (I love that Step progress complication) and Overcast. Most other watch apps just aren’t that useful, or because of being slow to launch, it is faster to launch the app on my phone. I know that the next version of the Apple Watch will probably be able to fix these issues but right now it’s a big problem.

Gripes aside, there still many things I love about wearing the Apple Watch.

Weather: The Temperature complication and weather App. I use this a lot when planning my day during with week and also when heading out with the dogs on weekends. I feel that I have a much better sense of temperature now because I can see it all the time.

Navigation: I really like having the wrist taps when using the Maps app, even when driving in the car. The taps are great reenforcement for someone like me who sometimes has trouble with left and right. Also, when I’m pretty sure about the route, I can turn off voice navigation on the iPhone and just have the taps. It’s like having a tiny super power!

Notifications: Having SMS and Line App messages pop on the watch are great. I can choose to deal with it right then or dismiss.

Activity: When I first received the watch I was obsessed with filling the three rings everyday. After I seriously sprained my ankle while bouldering last summer I lost steam. Since then I’m not so hung up on filling all the rings but I usually bag the Perfect Exercise Week medal at the end of the week. Sometimes when I’m sitting working on something I really need that reminder to move a bit so the Stand Up notifications are important to me. I’m hoping for some new activity related features in the next version of WatchOS.

Lifeline: A Game? Yes! Lifeline was featured as a Free App of the Week on the app store a few weeks back and it’s the perfect type of “game” for the watch. Read some bits of text and tap a button to make a choice.

Wallet: Formerly Passbook, the Wallet app was useful on a recent trip to San Diego. Being able to look at my boarding pass for updated gate information or even scanning the watch was handy when I was carrying bags and luggage and other things. Not having to take my phone out of my pocket and potentially leave it somewhere was a bit of a win.

Mushometer: Back before the watch was available and I had started to toy with the idea of a Mushometer Watch App, the problem I had was not coming up with a useful app idea, it was more about usability. When any kind of user interaction is required the Apple Watch really becomes a two-handed device. This is hard to do when you need both hands to be on the dog sled. It turns out that this isn’t as much of a problem as I had thought it could be. It has been really useful to be able to see my current distance, and how much time we’ve spent on the trail without having to fish my phone out to my inner jacket pocket. So, even if very few Mushometer users have an Apple Watch, I’m really happy that I decided to make a watch app.

Apple Pay: This one is a bit of a troll. At the time of the writing only American Express is supported in Canada. There are rumors of Interac supporting coming this year but for now rumours and $1.29 will get me a coffee at Timmy’s. I’d love to try it though!

Hopes for the future

I’m sure that we’ll find our about new features in WatchOS 3 at WWDC in June. There’s only so much Apple can do in software to improve performance with the current hardware. New watch faces and complications would be welcome along with a better way to organize apps.

On hardware side, I feel that the number one priority is to improve responsiveness when launching apps. This would go a long way in making the Apple Watch a more attractive app platform. Launching apps needs to be faster than taking your phone out to do the same thing. Additional types of sensors would also be welcome, Pulse oximetry is one great example. And of course it will be thinner, even if longer battery life would be more useful to the average user. I’m still very enthusiastic about the future of wearable devices and in particular the Apple Watch, but this first version of the Watch has some problems that need to be overcome to make this a device for everyone.




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