If you spend much time browsing the Internet, it’s likely that you have already encountered numerous articles over the past month where the writer has looked back over their first year with an Apple Watch. With so many of these appraisals already out in the wild, I wasn’t originally planning on adding to their numbers. However, I then reached the first birthday of my own Apple Watch, and the fact that it marked the occasion by being turned off and back in its box made me think that perhaps I had something to say after all, particularly as it doesn’t seem so long ago that I was writing about the small conveniences that owning an Apple Watch was bringing to my life.
Sadly, few of those small conveniences have stood the test of time, and that’s served to bring my focus back onto the failings of the first generation Apple Watch and some of my own personal dislikes and disappointments.
Small Conveniences Lose Their Convenience
Apple Pay on the Apple Watch is a prime example of a convenience that didn’t stand the test of time for me. When it first launched here in the UK, it was like I had just arrived in the future. If James Bond ever went into his local cornershop to buy a sandwich, this would surely be the way that he would pay for it - a quick and subtle movement of the arm that would only be caught by the sharp-eyed and knowing. Of course, like many things, reality doesn’t always match the vision that you have in your head. In this case, reality generally involved much twisting and turning of my wrist as I tried to prompt the connection between the Watch and the payment terminal. At times, no amount of arm waving worked, leaving me to cancel the attempt and start all over. Instead of being accompanied by the James Bond theme music, the soundtrack to my performance typically comprised of sighs from the shop assistant and those behind me in the queue, all no doubt wishing that I would just use cash.
With my reality of Apple Pay on the Apple Watch being more Johnny English than James Bond, I soon switched back to using my iPhone for contactless payments. It may not offer the perceived ‘cool’ of the Apple Watch, but paying with the iPhone is immediate and has me out of the door instead of entertaining or frustrating those around me with my arm waving antics.
Another convenience that I had previously mentioned liking was the ability to send a quick reply to a message from my wrist. Having spent some time tweaking the default ‘stock’ replies, I had custom replies ready and just a tap away for many of the messages that I would typically receive from family and friends. Using ‘cookie cutter’ replies may lack the personal touch, but at times it can be quick and convenient. Or, at least this was my expectation and initial experience. The reality for me became regularly pulling up the list of available replies to find that all of the custom ones that I had created were gone, and I was back with the defaults … none of which quite fitted with what I wanted. I don’t know why this happens. It’s not a problem that I have seen mentioned by others. Perhaps it’s due to my regularly installing beta releases of watchOS. What I do know, is that I have now given up on quick replies. Finding that the time spent creating the custom replies has been wasted once again, and that I am back with those preset replies, has simply happened one too many times.
There have been occasions when a third-party app, Glance or Complication has come along and briefly gained my interest and use. For example, I spent several weeks trying to convince myself that using the MacID app was a quick and convenient way of unlocking my Mac. This would have been true if it worked reliably and consistently. But, like many things with the Apple Watch, reliable and consistent behaviour fell frustratingly short of reach.
To date, the only third-party app, Glance or Complication that has stood the test of time for me is CARROT Weather, where tapping on its Complication to get a quick snapshot of the current and short-term weather conditions has been of lasting value and use.
Much of what’s mentioned above are perhaps minor and personal niggles. But, they are niggles which have removed some of the small conveniences which had previously been reasons why I would reach for the Watch each morning. Once those conveniences began to disappear, the more significant failings of the first generation Apple Watch became more of a consideration. Instead of reaching for my Watch with the thought of those small conveniences, I was left asking whether I really wanted another day of lag, poor battery performance, connectivity issues, unreliable notifications and largely underwhelming third-party apps.
These more fundamental failings of the first generation Apple Watch are well-documented across the Internet, so I won’t rehash them again here.
However, I won’t skip the opportunity to raise a few more of my personal dislikes and disappointments, such as the dome on the back of the Watch containing the sensors and Taptic engine. This dome causes the main casing of the Watch to sit proud of my wrist. Consequently, this creates a ‘tunnel’ at the top and bottom of the Watch where the band connects. If I was still at a point in my life where I used pens and pencils, I am sure that I would use this as a handy place to store them when not in use. Yes, it’s minor, perhaps even specific to the shape and size of my wrist. But, the result for me is a significant hit on the pleasure which should come from having an Apple Watch on my wrist.
Whilst on the subject of the Taptic engine, this has been another area in which the Apple Watch has disappointed me … or at least not matched the vision that was presented when Apple first unveiled the Watch. We were led to expect discreet but discernible haptic feedback, with either pattern or location of the feedback being meaningful. In my experience, this has not been the case. No matter how much I tinker with the settings, the best that I can ever get is a ‘one size fits all’ vibrating sensation on my wrist. Nothing discernible, nothing meaningful to help me know what the Watch is trying to tell me. This is something else that I have not seen mentioned by many others, so I am again left wondering whether my wrist is the cause, and it’s simply not as sensitive to touch as it should be.
Going From Smart To Dumb
All of the above has left me with few compelling reasons to automatically reach for my Apple Watch each morning. What’s probably kept the Watch on my wrist for so long has been a sense of obligation. An obligation not to allow something costing in excess of £500 to end up as nothing more than an expensive desk ornament. That, and possibly the hope each morning that today would be the day when I would find the use case which would have the Apple Watch finally make sense to me; or that today would be the day when that killer, ‘must have’, app would land in the App Store. One year in, and neither has yet happened. Realistically, the limitations of the internal hardware of the first generation Apple Watch are likely to preclude either of these from ever happening.
Five days ago, on the brink of my Watch’s first birthday, some mental tipping point must have been reached, and I found myself not reaching for my Watch in the morning. In my mind, this was just going to be a one day thing; just a test; just to settle some curiosity. But, the next morning came, and the next, and the next. And, before I knew it, not giving the Watch a thought each morning had become the new norm.
During each of those days, there were typically a handful of occasions when I missed the Apple Watch, and those were when a tap on its screen would have been a quick and convenient way of checking the time. So, what i was missing was simply a watch, not an Apple Watch. I found myself not missing the times each day when the Apple Watch would find another opportunity to remind me of how it has failed to live up to the hype or my own hopes and expectations.
As I type this, my wrist remains empty. The Apple Watch remains powered off and in its box. This is likely to change, however. Not because I am missing a smart watch, but because I occasionally find myself missing a dumb one, a watch whose sole purpose is simply to tell me the time. I could head over to Amazon and spend £50 on a talking watch. But, I suspect that common sense will convince me that I might as well unbox that Apple Watch, and ask and expect it to do nothing more than to tell me the time. My guess is that it will do this quite well.
Something that’s been conspicuous by its absence in this post, is any mention of accessibility and VoiceOver. And that’s for the very simple reason that accessibility has never been an issue for me. In terms of accessibility as a blind user, the Apple Watch has from day one delivered all that I would hope for. Yes, there have been a couple of minor niggles, but nothing which has presented any real barriers. It’s a great feeling to be able to judge the value and performance of the Apple Watch on the same bases as a sighted user. Not being able to see what’s on its screen remains a non-issue for me. For this, Apple’s Accessibility Team deserves much praise. In particular, their implementation of Digital Crown navigation continues to impress me.
It’s also worth noting that my experience and view of the Apple Watch places me very firmly in the minority of Apple Watch owners, where research has indicated that the Apple Watch has a 97% user satisfaction rate. Perhaps knowing that 97% of people disagree with me will give me reason to allow the Apple Watch yet another opportunity to prove itself to me. Perhaps I will be back in a few months to report that I got it all wrong in this post. Or, perhaps most likely of all, I will become satisfied with having the Apple Watch simply tell me the time for now, and wait to see what the second generation version will bring.
In the meantime, I would love to hear your own experiences and views on the Apple Watch. Perhaps you have a use case which has the Apple Watch delivering real and significant value. Perhaps the Apple Watch simply delivers all that you reasonably expected from it. Or, maybe you are with me in the 3% of dissatisfied users. Whichever it is, post a comment below to share.