I wanted to see if I would like Apple Watch. It just so happens that at work we have an inventory of test devices and I was able to borrow one for a couple of days. The short story is that I didn’t like it.
The watch I borrowed was an older Series 1. When I first paired it with my phone, it wanted to upgrade to WatchOS 3.2 which took at least an hour. The process failed twice, and I had to restart the update. In total it took almost two hours to update the OS. I didn’t hold it against the device – I know that if I bought a brand new Apple Watch, it would have the correct WatchOS on it.
Once upgraded, I went through the process of configuring the timepiece. That wasn’t so bad, but then the watch needed to by “synced” to the phone – which took another 45 mins.
In my mind I compare all that to the Pebble Time Round experience – it takes seconds to pair, and the watch is usable the moment it is paired. Granted, it is a much simpler device. However, as my experience with the Apple Watch has shown it is functionally not that much more advanced.
My Pebble Time Round uses an e-paper display. The pure experience of telling time doesn’t involve violent shaking of the limbs or tapping on the device. Not so with Apple Watch. The screen is always off, and the wrist flick detection is hit or miss – even worse than my Fitbit Charge 2.
Apple Watch fitness tracking vs. FitBit app
I wanted to see if the Apple Watch could replace my Fitbit Charge 2 as well. This is where I feel FitBit is beating Apple at their own game.
FitBit created a walled garden ecosystem of hardware devices with the app at the center. The app is very well designed and very intuitive to use. One of the features I care most about is continuous heart rate monitoring and estimation of the resting heart rate.
Apple Health, on the other hand, is a cacophony of features that are difficult to find. Half the screen is taken up by promotions of apps that do things better. Fitness tracking with Apple Health means looking for various separate apps to track each aspect better.
Typically Apple likes to minimize customizability for consistency. Not so with Apple Health. If one doesn’t want to be bound by the convoluted Apple Health app, there are hundreds of choices on the App Store. This is not for me. I don’t want to go looking for third party apps that accomplish what FitBit app does so well. If Apple Health were just a little bit better laid out and offered more meaningful analytics, that would’be worked.
The one app, however, that I wanted to try on the Apple Watch was Cyclometer. I went for a short hike to test it out, and the first thing it said to me was “Please open the Cyclometer app on your phone.” If I had to open it on my phone anyway, what’s the point of having it on my watch? This brings me to my next point.
The apps are meaningless
I was hoping that the apps would offer meaningful functionality.
We have a Nest outdoor security camera. Once in awhile, it detects an activity. I get a push notification on my iPhone 7 Plus and I can 3D-touch it and view what’s happening live on my phone’s screen. There happens to be a Nest app for the Apple Watch which also gets the notification – but the notification is useless because the app doesn’t let you stream video!
Other apps take forever to find and to load. One has to squint to view the tiny icons, and when you finally locate the app and tap on it, you are greeted with the swirling waiting indicator. By the time the app has loaded on your watch, you could’ve found it on your iPhone and used it twice.
The fact that Pebble Time Round doesn’t have a touchscreen should be considered a feature rather than a limitation. Pebble designed the UI so that one can get to things quickly. It is simple, no-brainer interface that just works. Apple, to my disappointment, seems to have tried to squeeze an iPhone interface onto a tiny screen instead. It is unfortunate that Pebble couldn’t succeed, but hopefully, FitBit does something good with their technology.
Third party watch faces
For reasons beyond my comprehension, Apple has banned third party watch faces. As a result, I am surrounded by at least five people at work wearing Apple Watches that all look the same. With such a beautiful screen it is a shame that 3rd party watch faces are not allowed.
I have written on the topic of notifications two years ago. I pointed out that Apple could take notifications to the next step and allow users to mark notifications as important and as not. Over time, the device should learn what the user considers necessary and when.
Pebble allows some of this. You can mute notifications, and you can allow some notifications on weekends or weekdays only. With Pebble, I can keep some notifications on my phone but mute them on my watch. To my disappointment, Apple Watch doesn’t do that.
The range from the phone is still limited
I read somewhere that the Apple Watch uses Bluetooth when it is near the phone and will use Wifi when it is not. I expected it to work throughout my office building, thinking that my phone and the watch would both be on the same wifi. It didn’t work. As it turns out Apple Watch won’t connect to networks that require certificates, logins, etc.
I don’t get that. If it is paired with my phone, why can’t it inherit the keychain and the certificates?
So, from the day-to-day perspective, I spend 80% of my waking hours in the office, and the $300 Apple Watch is no better than a Pebble that you can buy for $50 nowadays.
I would like to see 4G or LTE capability on the Apple Watch – kinda like what some Android watches do. Heck, more meaningful and flexible Wifi would go a long way as well.
I expected more from Apple
For all the hype and hoopla around the Apple Watch, I was deeply disappointed with the experience. Pebble may have been a struggling startup, but they had a very well thought out user experience and app ecosystem. Android Wear 2.0 watches look better and are more powerful.
So, today I am returning the Apple Watch I borrowed, and I will wait for more announcements from Apple to see where they take it.