Like many of you readers, the tiny number of you that is actually reading this, I have followed closely the launch of Apple’s much-awaited and hyped new gadget, the Watch. Since the announcement, I have been reading analysis and take-ons from different blogs, some I regularly read, and some that I had never heard of before. After nearly a week reading this stuff, I feel that I have developed a good enough idea of the Watch, as good as you can get without actually trying the thing at least. I feel that I may opine on this new gadget.
Many bloggers have talked about this already, some in great detail, but here’s my take: from photos, readings, and videos, I feel confident in claiming that the Watch seems like an extremely well-designed piece of hardware. It looks very striking indeed, specially with the metal straps, it looks rather incredible. Additionally, the way the touchscreen blends in seamlessly with the body of the Watch at the ends is far superior to any other smartwatch on the market. The body shows great deal of attention to detail and excellent execution. Further, Apple’s utilization of the crown to create a watch interface shows that they didn’t just slap a screen with a processor in a tiny box and downsized iOS then called it the Apple Watch. The work shows that they actually thought about the thing before they made it.
My biggest gripe with the watch is that it’s a tad too thick, as it seems, and it’s has a rectangular face, not the traditional and better looking round face. I know, there are square- and rectangular-faced watches out there, but the round face is really the..umm…face of watches. That’s why I think the Moto 360 is actually better looking, based on pictures as well. Don’t get me wrong, I think Apple’s take on the smartwatch is beautiful, but Motorola’s is a simpler, cleaner attempt. And it’s a circle.
Back to Apple’s Watch. The designers, from what I can tell from pictures and readings, have done a brilliant job with ergonomics of the watch. The interface is intuitive, very usable. The touch screen combines with the Digital Crown and button below it to allow easy access to the features of the watch. Unlike other smartwatches, which if used with the touchscreen actually block the viewing of the screen, the Watch avoids that with the crown, and Apple did a good job of working around that.
Apple also made a great effort to create a variety of options for all tastes, a job that the watchmakers of Switzerland have so far failed to do. Apple will offer the Watch, Watch Sport, and Watch Edition. We don’t know what the prices will be, but we know that the base version of the Watch is $350, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Watch Edition is in the $1000 zone. But I have to admit that the Edition simply looks brilliant. From a design perspective, the Edition is the only version I would actually call a watch in the fashion sense. It is striking with its 18-karate gold and dark screen. I love it.
The Watch, as well as other smartwatches, lends itself to a gadget-inspired device rather than a timepiece. it can tell time, and that’s about as much as it shares with watches. It has a stopwatch, a timer, an alarm (probably, I didn’t bother looking that up) and all the things you’d expect from a normal watch. But that’s where it stops being a watch and starts being a gadget. It can show your notifications, be that messages, emails, calls, or others. You can respond from it. You can enter an address to use the Watch to navigate. You can even use Siri on it, which I will never do if I get this thing. I think talking to Siri on my iPhone is stupid enough. I probably won’t be talking to Siri on my Watch. Moreover, you can even view your photos and videos. The watch tracks your activity to tell you how long you have walked and/or run, and how much calories you burnt. It also measures your heartbeat, and tracks your position for the purposes of all the above. I should note here that for location and tracking, the Watch uses the iPhone’s GPS. Therefore, you will need to carry you phone on your runs to get that specific piece of information.
This brings me neatly onto the next part of this blog: Why did Apple introduce the Watch? Ben Thomspon at Stratchery.com wrote a great deal about this very specific question. He notes that in every one of Apple’s unveiling of new products, Apple made sure to tell the world why it choose to create that product. It certainly made a great deal of effort to explain the problems the iPod, iPhone and iPad were solving. But Apple didn’t make such an effort with the Watch. Thompson thinks that might not just be an oversight in the introduction of the Watch, it might be a fundamental part that is missing from Apple’s strategy with the Watch. I agree. I feel that Apple had a deadline to meet, and they had to introduce the Watch then, as opposed to show it to the public when they felt it was ready.
I feel the same way about some of the hardware and the software features on the Watch. It seems that some parts of the experience, like the “Taptic Engine” which gives gentle buzzes when the Watch is used for navigation for example, is a very well orchestrated feature. I can see this being immensely helpful. You won’t need to take your phone out every time you want to see when you should make the next turn. When you are driving, you won’t need to look away from the steering wheel, where your hands are already, to know where you should be going next. But, a feature like the Photos, simply seems unnecessary. It epitomizes the mistake Apple claims to not have made with the Watch: shrink the phone interface to the Watch. Why would you need to look or show someone photos on the tiny screen on your Watch, while you can show it to them on the iPhone that is synced with the Watch anyway? That iPhone has a “[b]igger than bigger” screen too.
I would have preferred the Watch if it could do a little less on its own, and a bit more with the iPhone. For example, what if you could get notifications on your Watch and not your iPhone if you were within a certain distance, so that everyone around you doesn’t know that you got a notification. What if the Watch had a GPS tracker, so you didn’t need the phone with it, but it synced all your activity with the phone once your workout was over, and offered, on the iPhone, best ways to recover. What if the Watch is had the barometer, not the iPhone, so it could measure the elevation. That would be great for people who go on long runs which occasionally include high altitude. Or if the watch connected with CarPlay and used the GPS and Taptic Engine to notify you if you’re going over the speed limit, approaching your destination, or leaving a lane without signaling.
I am still on the fence about the smartwatch as a concept, but I’m certainly not buying the Apple Watch, at least not the first one. Maybe a second or third generation, but not the first. The reason is that I hoped Apple would use technology to expand the capabilities of the watch, and make timekeeping a better experience. It is already a great experience, but a little technology wouldn’t hurt. What Apple did, however, was essentially give as much of the phone capability to a watch, and I don’t think it came out all that well. Benjamin Clymer wrote a great article on the good and the bad in the Watch. One of the statements that resonated with me was that Apple executed brilliantly, in terms of design, on a product we aren’t sure we need.
But, because this is Apple, the watch will sell in great numbers no doubt. If the not-so-pretty Samsung and LG smartwatches could sell at all, Apple’s Watch stands a great chance. The Moto 360, the better looking but less equipped watch could sell out, the Watch won’t struggle to gain market traction. But I think I will wait for the whole product category to evolve over the next year or two to put any money into one of the products.