My Apple Watch Diary: Straps and Watch Orientation

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

If you have read any of my previous posts on the Apple Watch, you might be excused for wondering at this point what else I have left to say on the topic … or, at least anything left to say that’s based upon personal experience. Before its release, I gave my reasons for not buying one. However, I was back within a few weeks to report that my inner-geek and it’s curiosity had ultimately won out, and that I had ended up buying an Apple Watch Sport, only to then return it.

The decision to return the Watch felt right for me at that time (see my previous post mentioned above for the reasons). However, it was suggested that I had not given the Watch enough time to prove itself to me and find a place in my daily routine. It was argued that the nature of the Apple Watch means that it takes time and some experimentation to truly determine how it can best work for you and complement the use and experience of your iPhone.

So, here I am again. Back this time with a stainless steel Apple Watch and a couple of bands (a Milanese Loop and a Leather Loop).

Armed with my previous experience and some insights into that of others, I intend to approach things a little differently this time around. I want to come to the Watch with more realistic expectations of what it can do. I am also going to try to be a little more patient and understanding about the things that it cannot do … or at least the things which it cannot currently do very well. I am sure that Apple might argue that some of these are actually things which the Watch was never intended to do. After all, it’s an accessory to an iPhone, not a replacement for one. Not only do I personally need to recognize this distinction, but it’s something that I am hoping more third-party developers will come to terms with as their Watch apps mature and evolve over time.

Over the next few weeks and months, I hope to share some of my thoughts and experiences of owning and using an Apple Watch. Right at the offset, I should stress that it’s all going to be very personal and subjective. Your own views and experiences may be quite different, which is no surprise when the topic is what Apple describes as its “most personal device yet”. This is why I will be particularly keen to hear the thoughts of others on the various topics and issues that appear in this series of posts.

Although it’s not what I planned to discuss today, I will briefly mention that my initial reaction to the Watch is already more positive than last time around, due in no small part to the accessibility fixes in Watch OS 1.0.1. With Notifications and Glances arguably the key features of the Watch, it was good to see that the initial problems with both of these for VoiceOver users have quickly been addressed.

What I did want to talk about today is one thing that you will need to consider before buying an Apple Watch and something that you will be prompted to consider when first setting it up - straps and Watch orientation.

Straps and Bands

Regardless of how successful the Watch itself proves to be over the coming years, Apple deserves credit for how they have managed to reinvent the watch strap - both in terms of design and functionality and for how people think of them.

In the case of the latter, I am still struggling to figure out how Apple has managed to turn a simple watch strap into something that I might buy through choice, and not only ever because my current one has broken. How have they managed to make me think of a watch strap in the same way as I might think of a new case for my iPhone - something that I might buy because I simply fancy a change or feel a desire to have different options available for different times and situations. Okay, the cost of official Apple straps is high enough to prevent them from being impulse buys for most of us, but I am still sure that this will prove to be a very lucrative market for Apple. It’s also going to be extremely interesting to see what third-party manufacturers can do with the opportunity that Apple has presented them with. For instance, will you be buying an adapter that allows you to use a standard watch strap with your Apple Watch? Are you keen to see how companies might use this as a way to boost the battery life of your Watch? Or maybe you are simply looking forward to having more strap options available. Whatever you are hoping for, there’s a very good chance that it’s going to become a reality within the next 12 months.

All of this, of course, is a result of Apple making it so quick and easy to swap bands. I’m certainly not the first to wonder why nobody else has ever thought of this before. Probably they have, but it needed a company of the size and nature of Apple to see adopting a proprietary method for attaching straps as an opportunity and not a risk.

One thing that I do want to stress to anybody thinking of buying an Apple Watch, is that if at all possible you should try the available straps before placing your order. In most cases, the nature of their design and the way that they feel when being worn is extremely difficult to describe in words. For example, my Watch is currently sporting the leather loop. If you are like me, the mention of leather is already giving you some idea of what it might be like. We all know what leather watch straps are like. We all know what leather is like. It has a smell, a texture, and a way of shaping itself that should make it easy to know what you expect when unpacking the box. Well, that certainly wasn’t my experience. It would perhaps have been with the more traditional leather buckle strap that Apple offers. But, my wife’s reaction on seeing the leather Loop was to immediately say that it looked like corrugated cardboard. Don’t take that as saying that it’s not a nice strap. As I said, right now I am preferring it to the Milanese Loop, which is a little too ‘dressy’ in my view for everyday use (or, at least for my typical ‘everyday’). It’s simply not what you might expect.

So, all of that to say that you should not think that the description on Apple’s website and a few reviews (no matter how well written) will prepare you for how each strap looks and feels in the flesh. Get to your local Apple Store and spend some time trying on the different straps. If your local store is anything like mine, you should find them willing and able to give you as much time and attention as you need. Also remember that all Apple Stores should now have an Apple Watch available for specifically testing its accessibility features. If possible, do try and contact them ahead of your visit to let them know that you are coming and that you want to test Watch accessibility, as this should ensure that they have everything ready and waiting for you on arrival. Read Michael Hansen’s recent post on his own try-on experience to get a better idea of what to expect.

Watch Orientation

If reinventing the watch strap wasn’t enough, the Apple Watch can be configured to be worn on either wrist and with the Digital Crown on either the left or right. I don’t know enough about the smartwatch market to know if this is unique to the Apple Watch. But, regardless, it’s a nice feature and something that made me think longer than expected before making my choice during setup (of course, it’s something that can be changed at any time).

So, why did it make me pause and consider the options? Well, I am one of the minority who wear a watch on their right wrist. However, unlike most of those, in my case it’s not because I am left-handed.

So, if there was a rule book setting out on which wrist to wear your watch, I have probably long since torn it up. There’s no sense to my choice - if using my right hand to do something, I have to stop to look at the time. If I am doing something heavy-duty with that right hand, such as DIY, it means that the watch is getting more punishment than if it were on the wrist prescribed by that rule book. But, it’s what I have always done, meaning that it now feels like the most natural way of doing things.

Or, at least it did until that Watch setup process prompted me to give it some thought. So. as much as I wanted to complete the setup and get to using the Watch, I found myself trying it on each wrist. Seeing if left would now make more sense. My main reason for thinking it might be, was that the fingers on my right hand are the ones now used to tapping and swiping on a touchscreen. Would it seen so natural for the left to take over when using the Watch? Ultimately, the Watch ended up on my right wrist. Years of conditioning simply made the left wrist feel unnatural.

Having made that decision, however, it was great to now have the option of having the crown on the left side of the watch, and not being required to have it on the right as is the case with traditional watches. So, there should be no risk of accidentally touching the screen whilst reaching for the Digital Crown or Friends button.

All very minor, yes. But, yet more evidence of how Apple (and the other smartwatch manufacturers) are bringing something new to a market which has seen little disruption over time (digital watches being one notable exception).

Having chosen a strap (at least for now) and decided on a watch orientation, I am now ready for my second foray into the Apple Watch experience. Although it’s still far too early to say if the result will be any different to last time, the early signs are certainly encouraging.