So one question I get asked a lot about my Apple Watch is “how do you use it?” (Or sometimes ”how often do you use it?”) From my experience with the Apple Watch thus far, this isn’t the right formulation. In one sense you’re always “using” it because it’s always on you. It isn’t usually something you affirmatively use though. It’s more about the notifications and the ways in which it can replace (mostly with better / easier overall user experience) some functions of the iPhone.
At right is my boarding pass for a recent flight I took to Vienna to speak at the Uberall App Congress. I presented this image at the end of my talk (which was about how app developers should better make use of the web) to illustrate a point. I was able to get my Austrian Air boarding pass on my wrist without the need for a special Austrian Air app either on my phone or on my watch. The check-in took place on the web site (used from my phone’s browser in this case) and the passbook boarding pass was delivered by email. Once the boarding pass was in passbook, it magically loads into the watch. When the time for the flight drew near, a notification appeared on the watch bringing me directly to the boarding pass. The only slightly cumbersome bit was scrolling down to the 2d barcode with luggage and passport in hand – certainly no less cumbersome (and accident-prone) than fishing out your phone to do the same. The mobile payment scenario for Starbucks is similar, by the way – thought that does require an app install.
I’ve also been pleasantly surprised as how much I’ve been using it for “activity tacking” especially since I’ve never done activity tracking before nor ever felt a burning need in my life to track my activities.
But certainly the main thing I find myself “using” the Apple Watch for is notifications – notifications of text messages / iMessage, Twitter & Facebook activity, Photo sharing activity, LinkedIn activity, Slack activity, calendar entry alerts and the like. The haptic feedback means you never miss an important notification yet also gives you the power to silently ignore or quickly dismiss alerts when appropriate and and in a much less interruptive way than pulling out a phone. In practice this means I feel more in control of my digital life. Because the haptic feedback is not perceptible to anyone besides you and because it’s not visual, you’re not subject to “distracted talking” syndrome a-la Google Glass. By the way, one of the first things I did on configuring the watch was to turn off all email alerts. This is not a device for email – especially with the amount of spam I receive. I’m also still unsure on things like breaking news alerts – I think this only works until New York Times decides to alert me about something I don’t care about.
Things that need work on the Apple Watch, software wise, include the wifi connectivity. The promise is that when you’re on (e.g.) your home wifi network, you can leave your phone in one room and walk anywhere else not necessarily within bluetooth range but still in the same wifi network and your watch will remain connected to your phone. In practice this works maybe 80% of the time. In trying to debug the issue, I’ve found that that both the watch and the phone are indeed on the wifi (by inspecting the access point config) but that they are somehow not communicating. So there is some work to do there. Another issue is that the “turns on when you look at it” feature is maybe 90% reliable – leaving plenty of times when you’re stuck looking at a blank screen. Another feature that would be great but is currently, well, not so great is walking directions. The functionality is that it guides you (via haptic feedback and highly contextual alerts such as “make a left on Carnaby Street in 20 yards”) as you’re walking to your destination. It would be great if it worked. My experience using it in London is that it needs some work. For example, “enter the roundabout” is not a useful walking direction. I expect this to improve with IOS9 but it would be great if I could get Google walking directions (and cycling directions) on the watch. Finally (and this is more of an IOS issue than a Watch issue) I want Safari push alerts on IOS. These push notifications already work well on Safari on Mac OS and it’s hight time Apple brought them to IOS (as Google has done with Chrome for Android).
All in all, I’m very happy with Apple Watch and I definitely think it has the potential to open up the wearables market and make the smart watch as common as the smart phone has now become. There’s been quite a lot of debate recently about how successful the Apple Watch is / will be and how successful it needs to be. This is, to a large extent, a new category of product so it’s difficult to define what success is. Eight years ago Apple opened up the smartphone market with the iPhone. I remember a lot of grumbling back then about how people “didn’t want” touch screens, etc… Well, the doubters have been proved wrong and we are now firmly in the middle of the mobile era. Will the Apple Watch herald the next phase in innovation? My bet would be yes, it will.