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How Useful is the Apple Watch, Anyway?

May 4th, 2015 · No Comments

Back when I worked out at gyms, I’d often be found on the exercise bikes. Unlike the other cardio equipment, it was easy to grip the heart-rate monitors, and it was intriguing to see the numbers skip up and down as I went through my routine. But after a few sessions, I stopped bothering. The numbers always followed the same predictable pattern and I wasn’t learning anything new or useful from them.

I feel the same way with fitness devices and the notion of the ‘quantified self’ as a whole. Regularly recording your weight, steps, calories, heart rate, and so on, is useful when you are looking for changes, whether that’s because you’re trying to lose weight, run faster, or detect an illness. It’s good for professionals who are pinpointing exactly how to improve their performance. It’s good for long-term reviews of your weight or heart rate over many months or years. And it’s good for beginners who don’t know much about how their bodies will respond to change. But unless you fall into one of those categories, it’s not really that useful to know that your heart rate was, on average, 70 bpm this week and 68 bpm last week.

When I started running, I found it motivating to track my distance and pace with various gadgets. I stopped routinely recording my runs a few years ago when my habits settled down. These days, I run three or four times a week along two or three different trails, and I know exactly how long and difficult they are. It’s not that interesting for me to know exactly how fast I run because I can’t do anything with that data, and in any case, I can already tell.

There is a huge novelty factor for fitness trackers these days, precisely because everyone is now a beginner – even those people who were already running and walking. It really is interesting, for the first few months, to know how many steps you’re walking. But eventually it gets predictable and at least half the people stop using them altogether.

It’s refreshing that the Apple Watch dispenses with step counts as a primary measure, and to highlight three different numbers related to exercise, movement, and standing; and, by and large, to dispense with numbers as well. But I suspect even this simplified measure will get boring as well.

So if that’s the case for one of the Watch’s best features – fitness – what about the others? One week in, and I have a better idea of what the Watch is useful for.

Communication is, unsurprisingly, the killer app – just as it is for the iPhone. It really is much more convenient to receive texts on your wrist – and much less distracting. Often, when I receive a text or email on my phone, I’ll read it, and then I’ll mindlessly open up a whole bunch of other apps and end up wasting five minutes. With the Watch, I look at the text, and then that’s it. There is no temptation to fiddle with other apps because the screen is too small and frankly, it’s tiring to mess with it for more than 30 seconds.

Dictating texts with Siri is very good. But there’s one thing that’s even better – sending drawings to other Watch owners. In the two days that my partner and I have both owned Watches, we’ve sent a whole bunch of little drawings to each other. I am not a huge texting or emoji person but it’s a lot of fun to send drawings, and I’m surprised there’s been so little discussion about this. Perhaps it’s because so few people actually own Watches. Anyway – don’t let anyone tell you that these drawings are dumb or juvenile. They have hearts of stone.

The battery life continues to be perfectly fine. The more I think about it, the more irrelevant the complaints seem. The Watch can’t really function with the iPhone, which you have to charge daily. Now that we’re all accustomed to that ritual, adding another device on is not a huge burden. I usually end the day with 30-40% charge, which suggests that there is room for Apple to give users the option to keep the display on for longer, especially if they can improve power consumption in other areas.

Other quick observations:

  • The Uber app is no good for summoning cars since it’ll only use your precise location, rather than letting you change it to, say, the corner at the end of the street. But it is useful to keep track of a trip in process.
  • It’s fun to play around with the different watchfaces. I favour the ‘Color’ face, which I change to match my clothes.
  • I’ve uninstalled practically every third-party app. I think this is a major failure for Apple, and it’s going to take some persuading for me to reinstall them. What’s the point of having 3000 apps on launch day when they’re poorly designed and no-one wants to use them? Everyone loses out.

Tags: adrian · apple · tech

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