November 2, 2017

The Cons and Pros of Apple Watch After Year One

The Apple Watch is infuriating in that it is both so close to perfection and still not a great watch.

Consider this post with a grain of salt; I am about to complain about the Apple Watch and then explain why it is the only option for me currently. Also, I didn’t realize it initially, but I have owned an Apple Watch for just under a year at this point; might be time for a review (of sorts).

I am officially displeased with my Apple Watch (Series 0, Stainless Steel). I was having a conversation with a colleague regarding the smart watch and smartwatch landscape. My previous smartwatch was a Pebble Time Round (Silver with Brown Leather Strap). The only thing it was missing in my mind was a heart rate monitor and I stand with that commentary. The Pebble was everything I wanted in a smartwatch and the arrival of the Apple Watch only solidified what I believed a smartwatch needed to be.

Don’t get me wrong, the Apple Watch is by far the best smartwatch currently available on any platform, but it still isn’t there yet. It has contextual awareness to an extent, provides me with information that is important and, at times, downright necessary for my day, and annoys me with notifications even when I am not sure I want to be notified of certain things. It tracks my heart and health in a variety of metrics and allows me to interact with media in ways I never thought I would care about. In addition, it keeps my phone in my pocket, where it belongs most of the time.

However, while Apple is not alone in the following list of gripes, there are devices that try to accomplish less to mitigate user inconvenience and have surpassed Apple in their approach to becoming a smart watch. As a list of examples: slowness in the watch hardware continues to be an issue, even in the most recent updates; the battery life, while the best in the smartwatch category, is still terrible; third party apps on the watch are passable, at best; and the lack of support for third-party watch faces should be addressed.1

The real sign that I am becoming displeased with the Apple Watch, though, is that I signed up for more information on the Nokia (née Withings) Steel HR this morning; it embodies what I still want, even after all my time with the Apple Watch: a good watch with smart capabilities, what I generally refer to as a smart watch” (notice the space). The reason why the Pebble was a good fit for me initially was due to its always-on nature and lack of nightly charge routine. In other words, it was a good watch. I am not always sure that the Apple Watch is a good watch, though.

A good watch is always available to show the wearer the time. With additional complications on a good watch, the wearer might be able to see other information, but those are generally seen as icing on the functional cake and don’t detract from showing the time. With watchOS 4, there are many good things that were added to the watchOS repertoire, but none of them moved toward making the device a better watch, instead opting to make it a better wearable device.

Feel free to count me as one of those people who sees Apple’s recent decisions and can’t see where they are headed or why they are making certain choices. But you should also know that I am still generally happy with all of the Apple products that I own and they are numerous. So here is the reason why my dissatisfaction with a three-generations-old device does not mean that I will be able to live without it: health.

Health tracking is still, I think, the killer feature of the Apple Watch. Aside from the fact that it houses one of the best heart rate monitors on wrist-worn devices, it is good at getting users interested in their health, even those that have interest otherwise. Between closing the rings, achievements, and a variety of workout options, the Apple Watch packs a lot of power into a small form factor.

I’m hooked on the ability to see what workouts do to my heart rate and what workouts seem to have outcomes related to my weight. My metrics have become something I have a fascination with and giving up the historical data has been the reason why I feel locked into the iOS/watchOS platform more than any other. Technology writers the world over have all agreed that the Apple Watch has its pros and cons as a smart watch, but taken from a health and fitness point of view, the Apple Watch is the only smartwatch in town.

Add in the fact that in watchOS 4, they unlocked some additional achievement and heart rate monitoring features and… Excuse me, sir, your competitive side is showing.” Of course, keep in mind that the person with whom I am being competitive is myself.

In any case, the Apple Watch has been a good addition to my life for the past year, approximately 355 days to be exact. My gripes with the device are often related to how much I rely on it and how much potential I see in the form factor. No smart watch or smartwatch is perfect right now and most are downright ugly. Similarly, no device of any kind can be everything for all people. However, I think the Apple Watch is close and through time and attention to detail, things I still believe Apple has in spades, the hardware and software combination could check off more and more of my concerns.

As and aside, though I didn’t intend to make this post all about watchOS 4, I have brought up both dissatisfaction and enjoyment with its features, so look for my deeper dive into the operating system’s wins and detractors soon.

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  1. To be honest, this is not an insurmountable list and I would be surprised if they were not addressed in short order over the next few iterations of Apple Watch and watchOS, but this post is basically a rant, so let me have it this time.

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