 Watch… a few thoughts after my first week

An ever so slightly geeky digression.

As an avid iPhone user I was intrigued to find out what an Apple Watch would offer. I think it’s interesting to consider whether the emergence of the ‘smart watch’ is just a fad that will soon vanish (in the way that Google Glass seems to have disappeared off the radar for the moment), or whether we really are at the start of an important new stage in the way that we use technology. I realise that Android smart watches have been around for a year or so now, but as those currently require an Android phone they haven’t really been a viable option for me.

So, ten days ago I got a knock at the door and, with roughly the same level of excitement as my six year olds unwrapping a Lego set, I set to opening up what turned out to be a remarkably heavy box given the size of the contents. These are some initial observations on how I’ve found the experience so far and where I think that this new category of device might be important in future.

The short version: I’m really quite liking the Watch. It’s a very nice device, has lots of potential, but unless you’re a bit of a geek I’d probably recommend waiting a bit before leaping in.

The longer version: having used a Jawbone Up for some time a couple of years ago, I was fairly familiar with the life tracking dimension of wearable devices. The Apple Watch misses out some of the features that I liked about the Up (notably sleep tracking), but is definitely quite a different device in the range of things it can do. The main things that have struck me so far are:

1. The battery life has been a very pleasant surprise. So far I’ve comfortably got through the day with at least 50% battery life to spare, and I just about managed to get it to last two days when I gave that a go. I expect this will reduce as I get into the habit of using it more, but the fears that the Watch wouldn’t make it through a full day seem quite misplaced based on my experience.

2. Notifications are handy — but only if you filter them down quite significantly so that you only get alerts for the stuff you care about most. I’m already fairly stringent with which apps I set up for notifications on my phone, but I’ve cut out about half of those from the Watch as I didn’t want a constant tapping on my wrist to become yet another source of distraction. I’ve seen quite a few people observing that they check their phone less frequently once they get a Watch and I think I’m finding the same. It’ll be interesting to see whether that gives a noticeable benefit in reducing time wasted grazing stuff on the phone and possibly also the phone’s battery life…

3. Apps need careful thought to get the most from the Watch’s user interface (I thought that this post did a good job of explaining the thinking process that goes into getting it right). Just like with apps for smartphones, too much or too little results in a poor user experience, but where developers have got it right I’m finding that the Watch can be a genuinely useful device.

My favourite discoveries so far include:

  • Quick actions. For example, I like that I can quickly tick things off my ‘to do’ list using the Watch.
  • Remote control. I’m finding it really neat to be able to choose which music and podcasts I want to listen to without needing to reach for my phone (I rarely use Siri for that when I’m out and about as (a) I feel like a bit of a prat — although I realise that it’s arguable whether or not using my Watch to do this has a similar effect!, and (b) I’ve not found it very accurate). This is my favourite feature at the moment.
  • Walking directions are also a nice feature when I find myself somewhere I’m not familiar with.

But while I like getting notifications for messages and priority emails on the Watch, I am a bit sceptical about using it as a communication device. I’m not sure how to reply with a preset short message without unintentionally coming across as a bit curt, and while Siri oddly seems to be more accurate when I’ve used it on the Watch, I can’t see myself rattling off replies using dictation. But maybe that’s just a personal preference?

edited to add: this evening brought an example of how to get it wrong when developing apps for the Watch. I was excited to see that the National Rail app had added an Watch app, and was pleased to see that they’d trimmed down the features for the Watch. But what’s with giving you the full departure board details for your ‘favourite’ stations (in all directions), and not the details for your ‘favourite’ journeys (i.e. the thing you might actually want to quickly check without fishing for your phone!)? Hopefully that will get fixed soon enough, but honestly!

5. I haven’t been in the habit of regularly wearing a watch for a while, but I have heard a few people comment that they don’t think that they could see themselves leaving their treasured timepieces at home in favour of a smart watch. It’ll be interesting to see if that remains a barrier to adoption for people, or whether smart watches become sufficiently useful that people change the way that they think about their watch.

6. If smart watches do become genuinely useful and widely used, its going to be interesting to see what impact it will have on our mobile strategy. Currently we’ve chosen to favour responsive web design rather than native apps (in line with the principles articulated by Government Digital Service in their post here). But as the Watch doesn’t have a browser this could need to change. I don’t think that’s an urgent issue right now, but it is one to keep an eye on to make sure that we don’t get caught out.

7. My final observation is that morse code could well be in for a renaissance as a tool for gossip using Digital Touch! But I might wait until a few more people have an Apple Watch before I get the old code books from my Scouting days down from the loft…!

And the really short version…