When Tim Cook introduced Apple Watch last fall I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was pretty sure I’d be wearing one soon after its release. Fast forward six months and the time came to order Apple Watch. I was not part of the original rush of orders and ordered mine about a week after Apple started taking orders. When I ordered Apple Watch I was informed I’d be getting my watch some time in June of this year, which I kind of expected. As you can imagine, I was pleasantly shocked when less than a week later I got a delivery notification from Apple that my watch was shipped and on the way, OVERNIGHT! This of course sent my monitoring of the shipment tracking into overdrive. Around noon the next day, Apple Watch arrived. I’ve now spent the week with Apple watch. From initial setup to activity tracking and tinkering, here are my observations so far.
It’s worth noting at this point that Apple Watch should be viewed purely as a companion device to iPhone, and it’s really in no way a standalone device. The best way to think about Apple Watch is as a portal to your iPhone on your wrist. One of the key functions of Apple Watch is to hand-off interactions to iPhone when Apple Watches device limitations are reached. For example, FaceTime calls can be initiated on AppleWatch, but they are then handed off to iPhone. As I go through some of the key Apple Watch functions I tinkered with through this blog post, you’ll note this concept as a recurring theme.
As you would expect by now, set up Apple’s latest piece of hardware is incredibly easy. Easy is never enough for Apple, and this was no exception. Apple Watch is configured through the iPhone Apple Watch app. In one of the initial configuration steps, the phone’s camera is activated, and to pair/sync your iPhone/Apple Watch, simply bring the Watch into iPhone’s view finder for a few seconds and the synchronization begins. In addition to pulling in all of your essential user and device data, any apps that currently are installed on iPhone that have Apple Watch companion apps will also be installed. Third party apps like Skype, Strava, Instagram, and Twitter, as well as default apps like maps, itunes, stopwatch, and stocks, were also synced up.
In the interest of relevancy, let’s review how Apple Watch supports video. In my research prior to getting my wrist on Apple Watch, data on video support was sparse at best. In addition, most searches for Apple Watch and video pulled up videos about Apple Watch, not how the device supports video. Skype, which has voice and video communications at its core, has an Apple Watch app. However, voice and video is not supported, but text communications are supported. With no keyboard the only way to send a message via skype is via voice dictation. Instagram seemed to provide a glimmer of hope. When a video is viewed in your Instagram feed there is a play button to indicate that it’s a video. However, when clicking play, you are prompted to hand off to your iPhone’s Instagram app to view the video. The closest thing to video support is Apple Watch’s camera app. No, Apple Watch does not have a camera. Launching the app on Apple Watch launches the Camera app on iPhone. The Apple Watch serves as a view-finder for the iPhone. Basically you can see on Apple Watch what the camera on iPhone sees. The quality for a tiny screen is surprisingly good. However, while this is technically video, it’s a far cry from the video support we expect on mobile devices; but this is as close as Apple Watch comes to supporting video. . .for now.
Health Monitoring & Activity Tracking
Keeping tabs on my daily activities, including my regular use of the popular Strava App was by far the number one reason I purchased Apple Watch. I’ve wanted a heart rate monitor for a while to use with Strava, and the Apple Watch seemed like a great fit for this purpose, not to mention I could stop and start my activities without having to stop to pull out my iPhone. It’s the little things, ya know?! In addition to third-party apps like Strava, Apple has created a few health related apps for Apple Watch; Activity & Workout. The Activity app is a basic tracker that tracks three elements; standing, moving, and exercising. The flip side of this is the Workout App. This is essentially Apple’s Strava/MapMyRide competitor and works hand-in-hand with the Activity app. It’s worth mentioning that the workout app does not have an iPhone companion app, other than the activity app, which also has an Apple Watch companion app. The Activity app pretty much just runs all day on your wrist tracking those 3 elements. In addition, the Workout app can feed data from your workouts to the Activity app. One of the cool features of Apple Watch is the sitting/standing detection. It knows when you are sitting and will remind you to stand and move around at a configurable interval. However, I’ve found it a bit inaccurate. I stand all day at work and am still getting reminders to stand up and move around.
Strava is the other component that I planned to use heavily. The only features available through the Apple Watch app are starting, stopping, and ending your ride. For some reason the Apple Watch app prompts you to launch the Strava phone app when starting. This is fairly annoying and somewhat defeats the purpose of having Strava on your wrist. In addition, the details of the ride, such as what you call it, still have to be entered on the phone. It gets worse. The one feature of Apple Watch that was most compelling was the heart rate monitor. I was very disappointed to discover after my first ride that Apple Watch does not currently function as a Heart Rate Monitor for Strava. After my second ride I confirmed this was not a bug, it’s simply not a supported function. The reason appears to be two-fold. 1) Apple has not made the Heart Rate Monitor available to developers through the Apple Watch API. 2) Health App, which collects the heart rate data from Apple Watch, does not feed data back to Strava. Based on what I’ve seen so far, Health App is kind of a data repository of all of the user’s health data, and 3rd parts apps use it as a connection point for health data from other sources, like the Heart Rate Monitor on Apple Watch. My guess is that this will change very soon and data from Heart Rate Monitor will be fed to third party apps.
I learned a lot in my first week with Apple Watch. The first thing that struck me is that I really don’t like wearing a watch! Something that was given up when I got my first cell phone in 90s. Overall the Apple Watch experience feels almost-beta and definitely not mature. Apple Watch is certainly not without issues. People with tattooed wrists are having problem with Apple Watch wrist detection features. This was expected to some degree. Looking back on the early days of iPhone, many basic features, like cut and paste, did not exist. Once the device experience and third party apps mature, this will be another Apple winner.