Engineered Eloquence

Think Critically, Write Things Down, Repeat

Watches

October 18, 2018

I couldn’t sleep. It’s never at bedtime that this happens, it’s always in the early morning. Something wakes me, be it child or dream, and my mind reels, starts whittling away at some project or idea that could have waited until morning. Depending on the day, I may take my Apple Watch off to charge it at this point or I may put it on, having taken it off the charger. You see, I wear my Apple Watch to bed to track sleep, using the excellent AutoSleep, and use it as a silent alarm. It’s these types of use cases that don’t seem important to Apple right now and it is one of the things that drew me to wearing fitness trackers in the first place. I moved to the Apple Watch originally for extensibility and for it being a pretty good watch.

The worst part about the technology writers echo chamber is the fact that no matter where you go online, you will find the same set of analyses, block quoted and commentated, as if it is some kind of modern chain letter. (#showingmyage) Of course, I am about to do the same thing, but the thing about this post is the first draft of it was written before Marco Arment’s commentary went out. Because the point of my post is different, though the similarities can’t be denied. Here’s Marco:

These [design principles] all improve legibility by making it as fast and easy as possible to know which hour is being indicated (and minimize the chance of an off-by-one error), first by orienting your eyes to the current rotation with the 12 marker, then by minimizing the distance between the hour hand and the indices it’s between.

Apple Watch’s analog faces all fail to achieve these principles.

I have an Apple Watch Series 0 (First Generation) in Stainless Steel. When I bought it in late 2016, I had no idea how long it would be supported with OS updates. I got my answer during WWDC this year; now is the end of that road. I knew that buying the first generation would ultimately leave me behind, but I was able to get a deal on it and I wanted Stainless Steel. The reason why I mention this is to say this: the announcement of the Series 4 didn’t immediately impress upon me a need to update my watch. Instead, it made me start the process of reassessing what I wanted out of a watch, an apparently annual exercise for me.

Looking back into my archives, I wrote a lot about these things. Consider the following links a walkthrough of my journey in this regard:

Of course, in order to get a handle on what I wanted out of a watch, I needed to assess the things that I liked (and didn’t) about the Apple Watch. I wrote a post about the pros and cons of the Apple Watch after my first year of ownership (link above); that post actually stood up well in my rereading of it. So much so that my conclusion to this post is based largely on the same idea (spoiler alert):

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.

Fascinatingly, I return to this line of thinking just after Withings (née Nokia) announced their update to the Steel HR line with the sport model that brings the device more in line with the Apple Watch in terms of features, along with killer battery life.

Back to the exposition: I have written before about my previous love for Pebble. To be frank, there is nothing on the market remotely like what Pebble was doing and while their approach was not without its issues, they were the only competition Apple had in the smartwatch field. Even now, when people discuss smartwatches, there is Apple Watch and there is a bloody battlefield of second place psuedo-contenders.

But when I wrote Smart Watches and Smartwatches (again, link above), l was fascinated by the idea that there was a difference and that each type of device had its place. I divided these devices into the following types: smart wearables (fitness trackers and other single purpose technologies), smart watches, and smartwatches.

I have had devices from a number of companies over the years and none were without their faults. One could also argue that the Apple Watch is the best device in each of the aforementioned device categories while still understanding the fact that there are legitimate problems with it. In fact, the Apple Watch still does not do things that each of my previous devices (now years old) did well out of box (again, smart alarms, sleep tracking, etc.) I purchased apps to fill in the gaps, but on a Series 0, most of those apps were quickly set aside due to how slow the hardware is.

So what device to get next is a valid and current question for me, but what further complicates the question is the assessment that I don’t even know what category my next device should fit into. If all I use my Apple Watch for is fitness tracking and I am OK with that fact, my next device could be fitness tracker. If I want a time piece that always shows me the time no matter how I move my wrist, perhaps a smart watch would be a better choice. Or maybe just a standard watch would be more suitable.

I have qualms with the Apple Watch as it stands today, things that even the Series 4 doesn’t address. Then, take into account Marco’s commentary, mentioned above, and I start to see why some people are former Apple Watch owners and have since moved to standard watches.

Without belaboring the point too much, the Apple Watch is successful because of its broad ranging capabilities and I can’t be sure how much I’ll miss any given piece of it if I were to jump ship. Investments in apps and watch bands create lock-in, while the steady improvements year-over-year and the attention to customer feedback feed loyalty. As I’ve said on an apparently almost annual basis, perhaps next year these questions will be answered for me.