Saturday, May 16, 2015

24 Hours with My New Apple Watch

If I were to say that I spent most of yesterday sitting by the window like an over-eager child, watching for the UPS delivery truck, it would only be a slight exaggeration. When my package finally arrived containing the watch I have been awaiting for the last three years, before Apple even announced this product, I could hardly contain myself.

I ordered mine on April 10, the first day the watch was available for pre-order. After my fitting appointment where I tried on various combinations of bands and styles, I opted for the 38 mm stainless steel with the link chain. It is absolutely gorgeous, and so far, I’ve only crashed it twice - more on that later.

In preparation for my new arrival, I had studied all of the instructional videos that Apple put out and read a multitude of blog postings and tips explaining how to use this gadget. I was particularly interested in the fitness and health applications, and also excited about notifications. Unlike other apple products, the watch interface is somewhat complex, and navigation is not always intuitive. However, the advanced preparation really paid off, and after about 45 minutes of fiddling with the watch, I felt I understood how to use it.

Pairing the watch was trivial, and once it automatically downloaded all of the built-in apps from my iPhone, I set about configuring the settings. It didn’t take long to realize that the Apple Watch is a proxy for the iPhone, sort of like the way a bluetooth headset supports phone calls, but does not do much on its own with a phone. In fact, most of the applications come with a “Mirror my iPhone” option in the Settings, that keep the phone and the watch in perfect sync. Here is what the Calendar settings screen looks like on the iPhone.

As I mentioned, one of the most exciting features for me was the activity tracker and the fitness capabilities of the watch. I wondered how it handled step counting  since my iPhone also counts my steps. If I walk with the watch on my wrist and the phone in my pocket, will it double count my steps? So, I performed a simple experiment. I walked around the house with just the watch on. Then I walked around the house with just the phone. Finally, I walked the same path with both of them. In all three cases, it counted my steps accurately. So, obviously, Apple thought of this and somehow reconciles the steps measured by both devices. I wonder what would happen if I wore the watch and had an accomplice walk around with my phone, and we walked at different paces and for different lengths of time. I suppose I can save that experiment for a very slow Saturday night.

This morning, I worked out on my exercise bike with the watch on. Interestingly, I noticed that the bike was counting calories much faster than the watch. In fact, when I was all done, after 50 minutes, the bike reported more than double the number of calories that the watch was giving me credit for. The bike registered 270 calories, while the Watch said it was only 118. Based on my experience, the bike was likely much more accurate, which was disturbing considering that health and fitness was a primary attraction for the watch. However, after a bit of digging, I discovered that the watch was only displaying “Active Calories”, and not accounting for 75 “Resting Calories” that we all burn off just for being alive for 50 minutes. Added together, the watch says I used 193 calories during my workout. This is still significantly less than 270, so I’m not sure what’s going on.

Tomorrow, I plan on running 3 miles with the watch, and I will see how useful the watch is as a running aid. It’s my understanding that I need to run with my phone as well the first time, so that the Apple system (combination of watch + phone) “learns” how I run, and then in future runs, I will be able to leave the phone behind.

Now let me talk about notifications. Apple was very clever in several ways. For example, when you are using your iPhone, the watch does not display any notification. The assumption is that you already received the notification on your phone, so you do not need it on the watch. A big disappointment for me is the way Apple handles mail. I use the Gmail app to read email on my phone. While Gmail notifications appear on the watch, you can only read actual emails if you receive those message in the Apple Mail app on the phone. I am not ready to switch to the Apple Mail client on my phone (although in the process last night, I discovered that the Outlook email iPhone app from Microsoft is much better than Gmail, and I have just switched to that).

I supposed that I can live with receiving only notifications on my watch. They provide enough information (subject and a couple of small lines of text) to help me decide whether I need to pull out my phone to deal with a message. And, with the Outlook app notifications, I am able to delete or reply to messages directly from the watch. Replies are done via Siri or with a few canned replies that can be set up on the phone. I think the ability to delete unneeded emails on the watch and then not ever see them again is going to prove quite useful. I am also confident that we will soon see watch apps that support different email clients the way the built-in Mail app is now supported. (For that matter, I am drooling over the prospects of a Tesla app that will let me control my car from my watch the way I can currently control it from my iPhone.)

Perhaps the most unexpected and useful feature that I discovered has been the integration of Siri into the watch. When I was BBQing last night, I said “Hey Siri Timer”, and the timer app on the watch came up, allowing me to set a timer indicating when to turn over the chicken. Then, this morning, I was curious about the Wizards playoff basketball game last night (not interested enough in NBA games to actually watch, but curious to see how we did), and I asked the watch, via Siri, what the score was, and it immediately responded with the results.

I mentioned that I had crashed the watch twice already. So, apparently the watch does not work as well when the iPhone has no network. This morning, I attended a Bat Mitzvah ceremony in our synagogue, which is a cellular dead zone (I’ve often suspected that they jam signals there so people will pay attention and pray), and I noticed that on the watch face, the outside temperature was not displaying in its normal spot. I assume that when the iPhone can’t reach the Internet, it cannot update the temperature information. I was curious to see what other impact the lack of a network had, so I scrolled through some of the “glances”, which are different Apple Watch apps that you can access quickly, and each time I tried to look at the Maps app, the watch crashed and rebooted. So, Apple, you have a bug - the built-in maps app does not like not having a network in a synagogue. Please fix!

Watch apps are coming fast and furious, but with the limited screen real estate, only a small number of them will be useful. One that I already have used, and which I think is terrific is the app. It lets me see the status of my home alarm, and I can set it for “stay” or “away” right from the watch. Of course, it is my phone that is doing the heavy lifting, but the software stub on the watch is simple and intuitive, and does exactly what I need.

I’ve only had the Apple Watch for about 24 hours, and yet, I already feel like I would miss it if I did not have it. The watch is sleek, beautiful, feature-rich, and almost like having a companion at all times. I can’t wait to see what it’s like to use it for the next week.