Four Weeks with the Apple Watch

My first Apple Watch Sport, in all its Space Black glory.

My first Apple Watch Sport, in all its Space Black glory.

After kvetching about its purpose, my need for one, and its place in the personal computing ecosystem, I recognized that having an Apple Watch could serve a very important purpose: it would free me from retrieving my iPhone in specific situations, such as when riding a bicycle. Like other commenters, I saw its primary function as the computer-you-have-on-you so you can stay off your computer.

The smartphone exploded because, like its built-in camera, it was always with you, and because it was always there, you used even more than a computer and in ways you never used a personal computer. The watch isn’t there yet, and who knows if it will ever approach that level of utility. But in the last four weeks, I’ve really appreciated some of the things Apple Watch does that a smartphone, such as my iPhone, does not do.

The following are not revolutionary differences, but instead are minor tweaks to my own personal computing.

It Tells Time

It’s unlikely many people remember when, in 2002, Apple released a software update to the original iPod. Released over a year after the iPod’s debut, this software update added a critical feature to Apple’s first mass-market portable device: a clock.

Now, Apple is very much in the time-telling business.

The Apple Watch is the first watch I’ve worn since I started carrying a mobile phone in 1999 because, with a mobile phone, I always had a clock with me. However for a while in the early 2000s, I carried a crappy Sanyo flip phone that was incapable of telling time when it lost a cellular radio signal, such as when I was riding the subway or inside an elevator.

And that’s partly why a smartwatch in general—and Apple Watch, specifically—appeals people who gave up wearing single-purpose clocks on their wrists. Think about how many devices we use to tell time. Though it likely started with the clock radio, multi-function clocks are now ubiquitous. They’re in our mobile phones, in the top-right of the menu bar in Mac OS, in the bottom-right of menu bar in Windows, on the dashboards in our cars, on the front of the cable set-top box, and even on our stoves and microwave ovens.

Of the many ways to tell time on Apple Watch, I prefer to use watch faces with hands and complications. I’m glad that Apple didn’t completely eschew skeuomorphism and offer only digital clocks, such as the modular one.

The modular watch face is cool, but lacks the familiar look of an analog watch.

The modular watch face is cool, but lacks the familiar look of an analog watch.

Apps on Your Wrist

I’m an app junkie, and there are over 200 installed on my iPhone at the moment. A number of these have Apple Watch versions that display information from their iPhone counterparts. As has been noted elsewhere, these are not full-featured apps, but they instead provide bits of information or allow for quick interactions. I can check the weather forecast in Weather and Dark Sky, bank balances in iBank and Citi Mobile, review and complete tasks in OmniFocus, get game times and scores for my favorite baseball team in AtBat, and even lookup upcoming package deliveries in Deliveries.

And, yes, I am looking forward to watchOS 2 and its support for third-party complications and native apps for Apple Watch.

The only drawback to having so many apps on the watch is forgetting where they are in the app cloud.

Apple Pay

When Apple introduced Apple Pay last fall, they screened a video that shows how “painful” it can be to pay with a traditional credit card.

The video overly dramatized the amount of work it takes to open one’s bag and wallet, fetch a card, hand the card to a cashier, prove one’s identity, sign the draft, and, finally, put away the card. I don’t think any reasonable person regarded any of this as especially painful or, at over forty-five seconds, as time consuming as the video characterized it.

As soon as it was available, I began using Apple Pay with my iPhone. It was fun because it seemed quasi-futuristic. You pull out your phone, show an incredulous cashier that you’re paying with your phone, authenticate with TouchID, and, if asked, sign the draft. Once you learn that you don’t have to wake your phone, unlock it, or launch an app: that you only have to place it near the NFC reader, it makes paying for stuff fun, though not revolutionary.

However, paying with Apple Watch makes using Apple Pay on iPhone—let alone a plastic credit card—seem prehistoric. I’ve used it in several taxi cabs, a few Duane Reade/Walgreen’s locations, some vending machines, two local delis, the Gristedes supermarket near Washington Square, and a couple of local Trader Joe’s outlets.

The only downside to Apple Pay with Apple Watch is the anxiety that comes when you wonder whether it will even work. That’s because for every millisecond it takes to successfully pay with your watch, you quickly transmogrify from futurist cool-guy to über-douche.

Messages are No Longer Interruptions

The other day, as I biked from Newark to Trenton, which by the way is a much nicer ride than it sounds, I received a message from someone I met the night before. She asked whether I was out on the bike and, if so, to have fun. In the past, I would invariably feel my phone vibrate through my clothes. My immediate reaction would be to grumpily wonder “who could be bothering me, now?!?” as I was pedaling up a hill or dodging automobile traffic on a busy road.

But because I was able to glance at it quickly and continue on the road, this pleasant gesture was received as such.

A Glance towards Distant Friends and Family

I’ve been struck by how people use weather apps on their smartphones. On social networks, there are countless people who take screen caps of the current temperature or of the upcoming forecast to share how miserably cold or hot, wet or dry, or downright pleasant their weather is. I’ve also noticed how people will add remote cities to track the weather and forecast for those faraway places. They do so to stay connected to these places—not only because they might travel there regularly—but because they have an specific affinity for these places: either because of a fond experience or because someone special lives there.

For about a month, roughly between mid-May and mid-June, I spent a lot of my time here in New York with two people who are now in two different European cities: Berlin and Barcelona. The two cities share the same time zone: GMT+2, if I’m not mistaken. Now that both have gone, I added two World Clock complications:

  1. Berlin and Barcelona as a composite location, with the label “BN,” to show the current time for these distant friends.
  2. Los Angeles, with the label “LA”, to show the current time for my family.

With a quick glance, I can immediately feel connected to these two places. Not because I need to know the time in a particular European city, per se, but because I can imagine where these special someones are in the diurnal cycle.

It Speaks Spanish

One of the most curious features of Apple Watch and iOS 8 is the ability to associate languages with specific contacts. For example, if I conduct a conversation with someone in Spanish, the Spanish keyboard will appear.

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This also happens, for whatever reason, with my friend Frank. Apart from a few words or phrases, such as the occasional “la misma mierda de siempre,” we communicate only in English. However, Apple Watch must think he’s a Hispanophone because the default replies for his messages are in Spanish.

Apple Watch can respond in Spanish to my fluent—and occasionally competent—Hispanophone friends.

Apple Watch can respond in Spanish to my fluent—and occasionally competent—Hispanophone friends.

The Tan Line is Back

One of the immediate side effects of eschewing a wristwatch over fifteen years ago was that my wrists were evenly tanned. Now that I’m wearing a watch again, that tan line is back.

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But this is still nothing like the tan line I got back in 2012, when I rode the 108-mile course of the Ride to Montauk—completely forgetting to apply any sunscreen—and looking like, as one friend put it, I “dipped my arms in tan.”

Summary

The Apple Watch is a conversation piece. Over the last four weeks, I’ve been asked to demonstrate it, which I have found difficult to do. Apple calls the Watch its most personal device yet, and it’s true. Whenever I try to show someone the watch face, the display turns off because it knows that I’m not looking at it. It’s not the most social of devices.

At the end of an awkward demonstration, people will invariably ask if I love it. That’s been a hard response to give. I enjoy its functionality and the various ways it’s changed my need to have the phone “on me.”

The other day, I was with a large group sitting inside a bar taking shelter from the rain. Almost everyone around me either had a phone within reach on a nearby table or was clutching it in a free hand.

My phone was in my backpack.

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