From Smart to Dumb: My First Year With an Apple Watch

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

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.

Footnote

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.

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10 Comments

thanks for an interesting

thanks for an interesting blog post, to be honest I always thought the apple watch was a bit of a gimmick from day 1, most likely to appeal to apple fanboys, not that I am saying you are one, I mean I don't think those who aren't fully invested in apple are likely to get one, though there are of course acceptions. I really couldn't see anything that would make me want one, as pulling my phone out of my pocket isn't a particular hardship though yes I can see advantages in being able to quickly read messages. but you have to have it near your phone as a mother ship, and people are seriously not going to replace there watches every year. its another gadget to keep charged up as well.
Just so you know, you don't have to spend £50 on a talking watch, the rnib do cheeper ones, out of interest, do amazon do any that rnib don't do? I am not very happy with RNIBs selection, they stopped making the talking watch I where around the house which has a dent in its face now but sadly I can't replace it, and it was a common issue with the particular watch I have.

If you want a recommendation for a discrete stylish watch I recommend the bradley timepiece,
though you have to have very light touch to make use of it, and you tell the time with touch it doesn't talk, all it does is tell the time and that's it, it doesn't use braille, I use it if I am out in public, far more discrete than talking watch yelling the time, though I have my phone so fast nobody can understand it I obviously wouldn't pull it out just for the time. plus I don't like the idea of wearing a battered watch outside the house.

How I use my Apple Watch

Great post. While I agree with many of the frustrations you experience with the watch, I do wear it every day and will probably be among the first to get the second generation watch when it comes out. For me, its greatest value is in the fitness tracker" I have been using it to suplement my phone when tracking activity and workouts. Sorry about this being all in one paragraph, but for some strange reason the braille screen input on my phone won't perform the gesture for a new line. Anyway, back to the watch. getting it was a stretch for me as I had always valued the discretion of a braille watch and didn't think I'd care for the talking nature of telling time" When I'm at work, I tend to have a bluetooth headset on my phone' so I use it to check the time discretely" Otherwise, I like that my watch taps me for texts and nobody else knows what's up. It is my sincere hope though that the next generation watch is much much faster.

My Thoughts

Thanks for this nice blog post. I, too, thought that the Apple Watch was more or less a gimmick and wouldn't go over so well. But that's cool that it has been a big seller, and more power to those who have an Apple Watch and like them. If and when I'm at my local Apple store again, perhaps I'll get my hands on one of these. Actually I'm pretty sure I'll go there again soon, but when exactly is the question. I just can't see needing to pair this watch with an iPhone just to get the thing to do what it's supposed to do. But perhaps that's just me. Heck, I don't even own an iPhone so if I were to get one of these I think it would be pretty expensive. I think what I'm saying is: I'll just stick with my talking watch. In addition, I can tell the time just fine right here on my MacBook with Right Option-T.

Anniversary Thoughts

As one who initially believed that the Apple Watch offered nothing to tempt me, the fact that I've owned and used one for almost a year now does come as something of a surprise. Given how much it cost, the choice to buy one took a little time, but was eventually clinched when I listened to David woodbridge's excellent series of podcasts on the Watch.

I've said from the start and continue to think that the Apple Watch is nothing more than a convenience tool. It hasn't revolutionised my life one iota. It has clearly helped that I never expected it to do so. But I do find myself using it every day, for everyday things. I've probably listed them elsewhere before, but mainly I use it for, obviously, telling the time; making phone calls; checking takeaway delivery orders; my activity targets; listen to music on BT headphones; check messages and emails during coffee breaks and so on. I have even used it to purchase items via Apple Pay, with occasional frustrations where I've had to try two or three times. But most people have been patient and frankly fascinated, as I appear to be the only person in the city who uses an Apple Watch in this way. I've determined that there are a couple of minor techniques for improving reliability, such as activating the watch before holding the Friends button, and turning the screen face down over the sensor, to make operation more successful. I just wish there were more than two stores in the city that accepted it.

All of the things I use the watch for, I can do with the phone. But not having to take the phone out of my pocket has turned out to be a significant factor for me. To do the same things with my phone, I have to stand up (because I can't get the phone out while I'm sitting); yeah, blame my sartorial inelegance), unlock the phone, hold it in one hand while I unlock it with my fingerprint from the other hand, and then tap or swipe to get to the things I'm going to use. When doing this with the Watch, I simply lift my wrist, tap the screen, and then tap and swipe to the feature I'm going to use. Better still, I actually find that voice commands to the Watch perform much better than those on the phone. David Woodbridge commented in one of his podcasts that he seemed to find the recognition on the Watch was more accurate, and I've found the same to be true.

There has been no "killer" app for me on the Watch. But equally, there hasn't been a killer app on the phone either. Could I live without the Watch? Sure, undoubtedly. Could I live without the phone? Yes, absolutely. I'm no Apple champion and have no feeling of loyalty or devotion to the products.

When it comes down to it, I think that the major factor that keeps me using both devices is the very feature that David's article left to a footnote. The comparatively high quality of the accessibility that means I'm able to use a mainstream device and obtain what small conveniences I enjoy without having to put much effort into it at all.

Even if the second generation Apple Watches add noticeable technical or resource improvements, I doubt I would buy one. For the return on investment, it wouldn't be worth it. I don't find the performance of the Watch unbearably slow, and the battery life of nearly two days if I'm good suits me fine. The only way I can see my self spending a similar amount of money on a new smart watch, is when they finally get it to work completely independent of the phone. Not having to carry the phone around at all would be a bonus and a cost saving, as I could pass it on to someone who needs one.

Of course, they'll probably be experimenting with the smart body rings by then, which use tiny electrical currents through the skin to detect gestures, taps and movements of any part of your body to allow a myriad of interactions. To make a phone call, tap your ear. To check your messages, run a finger across your lips and hear them spoken via a tiny contact speaker behind your ear. Watch a movie on the inside of your VR sunglasses by wiggling your eyebrows. Just be careful when you get that irritating itch that you don't accidentally delete your entire music library. :-)

I don't know if it would be useful to me or not.

I think that the watch is cool. I have not played with one so I can't tell if it would be useful to me or not. If I could play with one for a week or two then perhaps I could figure that out. I have not worn a watch for about 7 years so that in its self would be a change. As for the functionality and usability I can't say. I know that I could use it and become proficient with in an hour or so. That is the way with Appel devices for me. I will have to find a place or person who will be willing to let me evaluate the watch for a week or two so I can decide.

as a new apple watch user

Hi, as a new apple watch user, I honestly find this post a little depressing to me. I am still very happy with my watch, and I never used apple pay in the first place so it really doesn't matter. But I must say, being able to take calls and answer texts on the watch has been a reason to keep it on from day 1. Because I use a bluetooth headset, voice over has lag when tapping the phone. texting therefore becomes really annoying on the phone. I think although some of the features might not stand the test of time, the ability to just tap and reply will for me (and I haven't had my custom replies disappear yet). It also works really well as a siri on the wrist.

A year on

I've had my watch for almost a year now and overall I'm happy with it. Yes there are certain apps I have on it that I barely use, twitter and Amazon for example, but there is also plenty I use daily. The activity monitor is great and I've found myself pushing harder to beat the numbers at the gym. Siri on my wrist is great, especially around the house if I don't have my phone in my pocket or its on charge. And as others have already said, the dictation seems to be far more accurate on the watch than on the phone. This is great for texting. Yes, its more of a convenience than a necessity but if I was asked to hand it back I'd say no. And another thing nobody here has mentioned is just how comfortable it is to wear. I had a talking watch before but it was very bulky and uncomfortable whereas my 42mm sports is so comfortable I almost forget its they're at times. Obviously the second generation will be a step up but unless there's something huge I can't see me upgrading either, but I'm not one to upgrade my phone every year either so maybe that's just me.

Comfort

That's a point I forgot to add. From the moment I put the watch on, and adjusted the bracelet, I found it such a comfortable fit. I've not had any watches that comfortable before. Being someone who has always worn a watch of one sort or another, it was an important deciding factor. And the ability to adjust the bracelet myself rather than taking it to a jeweller was a joy.

The description of the watch leaving gaps at the point where the band meets the watch did have me wondering if in fact the OP had chosen a larger watch than would have been ideal for fit. Of course you then have to take the screen size and so on into account. But I have a 38mm space grey watch and bracelet, and there is pretty much no gap to speak of. I have fairly small wrists for a person of my size, so if I'd gone for the 42mm, I suspect I'd have had the same gaps as the OP. The watch is a little thick compared to many, but I've certainly owned thicker talking watches than this. One had such a distended plate on the back the the watch would actually rock on my wrist. The Apple Watch sits snuggly on the back of my wrist, and I barely notice the ceramic dome on the back unless I really flex my hand downward, which I hardly ever do in normal circumstances.

And on the Apple Pay front, I only yesterday found another large store in my city which now accepts Apple pay. It's a bit slow to catch on it seems, but I'm hoping it continues as it's so easy. I did have an embarrassing few seconds when it didn't work the first time. But that was user error in that it had been a while since I'd used Apple pay, and had pressed the Friend key in the wrong way, almost turning the watch off instead of activating Apple Pay! When I realised my mistake, simply returning to the clock face with a click, and then double-clicking the Friends button, it worked on the sensor straight away.

Too much noise

I'm finding that, as I grow older, I'm tired of so many talking devices. I abandoned talking watches years ago in favor of a tactile watch--silent, discrete, and far more durable (mine's lasted over ten years). I use my iDevices and computers primarily via Braille rather than speech for output because it's quieter, and I'm more aware of the people around me (important at work). There are exceptions of course, such as GPS while walking if necessary (Aftershokz for that), but overall I prefer less rather than more speech. Given this, I don't think the Apple Watch would ever be for me. I've got an iPhone, and I've got a Braille display to go with it. I've already got a watch, as I said.
If it's for you, power to you. It's not something that will ever fit me in its present form.