In late April, Apple began offering the opportunity for users to explore and experience Apple Watch's accessibility features at try-on appointments. After confirming that my local Apple Store had a Watch set up and ready (all stores should now have Watch units available for accessibility demonstrations, but my appointment was at the beginning of the rollout), I went into the store to check the Apple Watch out for myself.
For my appointment, I visited the Apple Store - Woodfield in Schaumburg, IL. At the time of day I visited, the store was quite empty (as Apple Stores go, that is)--though I did observe other customers coming for their try-on appointments. As the store was not busy, I felt okay taking more time with the Watch.
My Apple Watch try-on appointment was led by the store's head trainer--a true professional in every sense of the word. The employee I worked with was very competent in the use of VoiceOver, even though the Watch is still a very new product and I was their first VoiceOver demo request. As any good teacher would, the Apple Store employee met me where I was at in terms of my skill level and previous knowledge of the Watch, something not always easy when showing a new product to someone who self-identifies as a power user. I was also impressed by the employee's apparent comfort level interacting with and showing things to a blind person, again something that does not come naturally to everyone. Whether this level of comfort and professionalism was the result of direct training by Apple or just the luck of the draw, it is to be commended.
The Try-On Experience
After arriving and being introduced to the Apple Store employee I would be working with, I was led over to the area where my appointment would take place. The Apple Store employee then asked me if I had pre-ordered a Watch and, if so, which one. (The answer: Stainless steel with link bracelet.) As the Watch dedicated for accessibility testing was the Sport model, the Apple Store employee brought out both that Watch and a demo stainless steel with link bracelet--just so I could try it on. It's worth noting that I did not have to ask for this.
The first thing I did was explore the accessibility demo Watch. As mentioned earlier, the Apple Store employee was very helpful in this process, showing me everything from how to fasten the Watch to how to navigate the interface. We spent considerable time exploring the various Glances, as well as the clock face, settings, and notifications. As this Watch was paired to an iPhone, I also briefly looked at the Apple Watch app and some of the additional settings it offers. While I did not try making a phone call or sending a message with the Watch, I got the impression that I could have had I wanted to.
Even though I like to consider myself very comfortable with using an iPhone (a sentiment which was echoed by employees observing my try-on appointment), I had questions about how to perform various tasks on the Watch. The Apple Store employee answered all of my questions with ease, and I truly felt valued--a feeling not uncommon when visiting an Apple Store.
After a short time initially looking at the accessibility demo watch (I came back to it later, of course), curiosity got the better of me and I requested to try on the stainless steel Watch with link bracelet. As I pretty much expected, the link bracelet felt wonderful on the wrist (more on that below), and I knew that, as far as my band choice was concerned, I had made the right decision with my pre-order. As the stainless steel Apple Watch was running the demo loop, I also got to experience the haptic notifications--something which feels a bit unnatural at first but which I am sure will grow on me with time.
Getting a Feel for Apple Watch Bands
After putting the accessibility demo Watch through its paces and trying on the link bracelet, I requested to try on a couple other different bands--just to check them out and get an idea of what they were like. The sections below are based on my notes written immediately after the appointment and cover the Sport Band, leather loop, Milanese loop, and link bracelet:
Apple Watch Sport Band
I went into my appointment thinking that the Fluoroelastomer Sport band would be of low quality and consequently something I would not like, but my preconception could not be further from reality. The band is quite thick, and it feels very substantial overall. The band fit quite comfortably on my wrist, though taking the watch on and off did take some getting used to. If you are at all considering an Apple Watch with the Sport band, buy with confidence--I may just buy one myself.
The Leather Loop
The leather loop is textured in nature, almost reminding one of the feel of a link bracelet--but obviously made of leather. Another Apple employee commented to me that the Leather Loop was probably the most comfortable of the bands to wear, and I would have to agree with that assessment. The band fastens like a traditional watch, except that the connection is made magnetically; as such, one can adjust it very precisely. (This can also be said of the Milanese loop.) It was so secure and yet unobtrusive that I can imagine one forgetting the Watch is on your wrist.
The Milanese Loop
The best way I can describe the Milanese Loop is that it is very lightweight; somewhat slippery but yet somewhat textured; mesh-like; and woven together like a link bracelet--but with very small "links," if you will. Like the leather loop, the Milanese loop fastens magnetically, so one can adjust it however they wish; unlike the leather loop, however, the Milanese loop does not separate into two different sections. Worry not, though; the Milanese loop opens plenty wide for one to get the Watch on and off the wrist with ease.
The Link Bracelet
Of all the Apple Watch bands I tried, the link bracelet is most like what I pictured in my mind. The links are very smooth and tight, almost giving the impression that the band is one continuous piece of steel. The butterfly clip to open the bracelet is wonderfully easy to use; gently squeeze the clasp between two fingers and the bracelet opens.
As stated earlier, I could not have been more impressed with the attention and service given to me during my Apple Watch try-on appointment at Apple Store - Woodfield. The employee I worked with was very competent in the use of VoiceOver on the Watch, as well as in general disability etiquette. I was able to try anything I wished on the Watch, and I got the impression that that was exactly the point of the experience and that time was of no object.
If you are at all considering purchasing an Apple Watch, a try-on appointment and accessibility feature demonstration is essential. There are three different ways to book an Apple Watch try-on appointment: on Apple's website, via the Apple Store App on an iOS device, or by phone. For the United States and Canada, the phone number to contact Apple is 800-692-7753. Regardless of how you book your reservation, I strongly recommend calling your local Apple Store before your appointment to let them know you are interested in experiencing the Apple Watch's accessibility features.
Finally...At your appointment, don't be afraid to ask all of your questions; I got the impression that the purpose of the accessibility-specific try-on appointments was to allow users to experience everything the Watch has to offer, and getting your questions answered is a very important part of that process.
So, what did I end up deciding after my Apple Watch try-on experience? If this tells you anything, my pre-order should be arriving tomorrow.