Apple watch – my initial reactions

I went ahead and ordered an Apple watch back in April – the 42mm stainless model with the Milanese loop band. It arrived quite a bit sooner than than I had anticipated, three days ago. I own an original Pebble, as well as an original Samsung smartwatch that we acquired for next to nothing when people didn’t buy them.

Both the Pebble and the Samsung are currently collecting dust in a drawer. Why would the Apple watch be any different?

When the watch arrived the first thing I noticed was that, as per usual, Apple is a master of packaging. While the large box felt quite wasteful, the quality of it all was clear from the beginning. The final box holding the watch is a pristine, heavy white plastic lined with a white felt. The watch itself is substantial without being too heavy, the Milanese band thin and flawless. The first, and immediately noticeable, difference between Apple’s entry into the market and the competition is that this aims to be a watch, a quality timepiece with added abilities, not a plastic wrist computer with a limited lifespan.

The weight, the craftsmanship, the beautiful fit and finish all came together to justify the purchase price just shy of $1000. It’s a beautiful, substantial bit of kit, probably the nicest Apple has ever made.

Setting the watch up didn’t take long, but was probably the most confusing experience I had so far with any Apple product. Now, given that I’ve been a Mac user since the days of the Mac Plus, my understanding of the Apple way of running a computer has long passed into muscle memory, but either I am getting old, or the process of setting the watch up, and to start using it, wasn’t as straightforward as most things Apple are.

Pairing the watch took seconds, a very cool process where a unique pattern appears on the screen of the watch that is recognized by the watch app on the iPhone via the camera. Very futuristic, seamless and cool.

But then the learning curve started, not helped by some very un_apple like hardware decisions. For example, the large button underneath the digital crown does one thing only – call up a screen from where I can either call or message a list of predefined contacts. While this is no doubt helpful, allocating a dedicated hardware button to this function feels weird.

The same thing could have been achieved in a number of different, and more elegant, ways.

The digital crown is nice, works well and is another hardware interface I rarely use. The touchscreen is fast and responsive and controls almost all aspects of the watch perfectly. In most case, the digital crown does little more than add a secondary way to control functions that can be called up perfectly well via the touch interface. It feels like Apple have lost their nerve here, trying to please everybody and predicting all eventualities.

The biggest surprise for me was how the watch has changed my use of Siri, Apple’s voice recognition solution. Before the watch, I rarely used it, but now it has become my favourite way to interact with it and, by extension, with my phone.

There’s something addicting to raising your arm and saying “Hey Siri, call my wife” or “Hey Siri, send a message to dad” and have the voice recognition do it’s job, quickly and flawlessly.

But the biggest thing about the watch isn’t in what it does, the biggest benefit is in how it does things.

After wearing it for half a day, I switched almost all notifications off. The exceptions were messages, Slack (a messaging app we use at work), Sunrise calendar and phone calls. Even here, all notifications are set to silent, haptic only.

And here’s where the watch shines, quietly.

Rather than pinging every five seconds, rather than advertising, and justifying, its presence through frantic activity, it fades into the background. But it’s the kind of background where 10 minutes before my next work meeting I get a gentle tap on my wrist. Where the watch keeps track of my activity levels and, quietly, reminds me to get moving if I’ve been sitting too long or haven’t met my daily activity goal.

Messages from my wife reach me immediately, so do personal, i.e important, mentions on Slack – while at the same time filtering out any noise.

When the phone rings, I can answer or dismiss, according to need. I can even answer and say, “hey, will call you back in ten minutes” if that what the situation calls for, without getting my phone out. Those are all genuinely helpful tools, well executed.

So for me, the Apple watch succeeds not because of what it is doing, but of how it is doing things. In the background, quietly, without making a fuss. Like a watch, not a computer.