I love my Apple Watch. That’s been true ever since I got one in early April of 2016. I wore it every single day, with no exceptions at all, for over a year. I hadn’t worn a watch in years, but as soon as I got my Apple Watch, I didn’t go any longer without it than I needed to. I took it off at night to charge, then put it on first thing the next morning, taking it off again only to shower. I love my Apple Watch.
The day our story begins was just two days ago, on June 24 of 2017. I upgraded from a first generation Watch to the Series 2 in early May, and have been doing lap swimming at a local pool four times a week since then. The Series 2 tracks my distance, time, heart rate, and other metrics, in addition to doing everything else I enjoy about the Apple Watch.
Anyway, I was swimming along, getting near the end of my workout, when there was an odd tugging on my left wrist. I ignored it, figuring I’d imagined it. A few strokes later and the sensation hadn’t gone away, so I paused and felt my wrist. To my shock, I felt something terribly wrong. The smooth glass of my Watch screen met my questing fingers, but as soon as I touched it, the glass moved. It shifted about, clicking against the metal of the Watch casing with a sound I still remember as being oddly loud in the water. Not knowing how bad the damage was, I swam to the wall of the pool with just my legs, holding the glass in place with my right hand.
As I took the Watch off in the locker room, I realized how hot it had gotten. I brought it close to my nose and smelled hot metal. It turns out the waterproofing of the Series 2 doesn’t work if the screen falls off. My Apple Watch was dead in the water. To make matters worse, I hadn’t stopped my swimming workout on the Watch before this happened, so I had no credit for my efforts. Worse still, I was on day 297 of my move streak, meaning I’d met or exceeded the calorie-burning goal on my Watch every day since September of 2016. To the software, though, a broken Watch is the same as a missing Watch or a lack of effort. Good bye, longest move streak ever. Maybe I’ll see you next year.
In an effort to look on the bright side, I thought I’d use the days I’m suddenly Watch-less to evaluate things. Is the Apple Watch truly important to me, or is my relationship with it built more on habit? Is using my phone for everything really worse, or do those who question the need for a Watch have a point? Because I’m me, I wanted to take my Apple-related misfortune and turn it into a blog post exploring these questions. Here we go. Oh, and don't worry: my free replacement will arrive tomorrow.
Working Out if Workouts Matter
The biggest thing for which I use my Watch is workout and fitness tracking, hence my move streak. I track walks and interval training workouts mostly, and recently started doing the same for swims. I have no heart problems, but it’s nice to have my heart data saved all the same. I don’t need precise measurements of calories burned, but I really like having them. Basically, the data I can have automatically saved about my physical activity is just good to have so I can watch trends or see myself getting better. Besides, if a doctor ever needs to have the information for some reason, it’s there.
More than that, though, it’s motivation. Were the information not saved, I’d have less incentive to be active. For me, motivation comes from filling in those activity rings and beating previous achievements. I’m also more aware of my activity during the day. For example, while at my desk job today (sans Watch) I found myself standing up every so often. This is a habit that’s been firmly set in my mind over the last year, and I’m happy to have it there. Still, there was a pang of sadness at having done all that standing but not knowing how many hours I’d gotten to by the end of the day.
Case of the Missing Notifications
The other big selling point of an Apple Watch is as a way to offload notifications. You can push important updates—VIP emails, texts, messenger app pings, and so on—to your wrist. Not only does this give you a kind of hierarchy of importance, but it means that the bleeps and bloops of the various notification sounds on your phone won’t interrupt whatever audio you happen to be listening to. I’ve gotten used to this, and I find myself really missing it.
I took a walk last night, and during that time I got six notifications that would ordinarily have gone to my Watch. Instead, there were six times when my audio book volume dropped, and even a couple times when VoiceOver decided to jump in with my current track position, as VoiceOver does on the lock screen from time to time. Had my wrist been sporting its usual Apple companion, I could have paused my book when I wanted to, checked what was going on using my Watch or phone, dealt with it if necessary, and kept moving. Instead, I had to pause my book after already losing some of the words, pull out my phone, look, then put it away again.
Yes, I know. This sounds like the very definition of a “first world problem”. Here I am, whining about how I was so inconvenienced by the need to actually touch my $750 piece of metal, glass, and magic. But after a year of having notifications triaged for me and of needing only lift my arm and touch the screen—on my terms no less—the experience of dropping back to using only an iPhone is quite a shock. I can get used to it, of course, but it’s not the even better solution I’ve come to see as the norm.
Not So Happy a Home
In the last six months, my family has slowly amassed more and more HomeKit products. We have an Eve Degree, four smart outlets, a smart thermostat, and an Apple TV tying them all together. I put the Home app right on my primary Watch face, and could easily open it up to check on and change any of our HomeKit devices. Now, it’s back to the phone. As with notifications, it’s not that using my phone is difficult or bad. But going from not even having to have my phone in the same room, to having to pull it out just to turn on my air conditioner or find out the temperature, I realize how much I’ve come to appreciate the ease of the Apple Watch.
I know some of you are thinking that Siri can do all this. Yes, I use Siri on my Watch constantly, for HomeKit control among other things. The problem with Siri on my phone is that I always have a set of Aftershokz connected. This is a great headset, but its bluetooth support only allows Siri to work at very low-quality audio. Plus, it takes a relatively long time to activate with the Aftershokz enabled. My Watch is far faster. Your milage will vary based on your headset of choice, or lack thereof. The bottom line, though, is that my Watch (with Siri or not) is faster than Siri on my phone. It’s also more convenient, working so long as I’m in the same house as my phone.
Facing the Lack of a Face
The last thing I find myself missing is the face of my Watch. I used to be able to double tap it to feel the time in vibration, or tap it once to hear the time. I could check how long a timer had left, or find out the weather. I could quickly get my next calendar event, complete a reminder, or do any of the wide range of things Apple Watch widgets allow. As with everything else, this is all doable on my phone. Indeed, my Watch would be incredibly limited with no iPhone to keep it up to date and handle its version of Siri. But I still miss having my day just a tap away.
What I Learned
To no one’s surprise, I don’t think the Apple Watch is an essential piece of hardware. For many people, an iPhone or an iPad can easily be placed somewhere between important and vital. But the Watch is all about taking the power of the iPhone and moving some of it to my wrist. No need to touch the phone at all, no wondering what that text said, no interruptions to audio playback. The Watch makes iOS a more intimate, easy part of my life, bringing my iPhone to the next level even as it lets me do that much less on the larger screen. Workout tracking and fitness goals complete the package, and make the Apple Watch an unnecessary, but undeniably good, device for me.
Maybe you feel differently. Maybe you don’t care about any of this, and you’re baffled that anyone could possibly be complaining about having to touch their iPhone. Maybe you love your Apple Watch, but for different reasons. After all, it’s a music remote, a Keynote presentation remote, a speakerphone, a podcast player, an Apple Pay device, a remote camera viewer, and plenty more. What I found during these few days of unexpected, forced Apple Watch withdrawal is that I don’t need one, but I love having one enough to make it worth the trouble. Sure, my wrist gets sweaty in the summer, I have to charge yet another thing every night, and I have more hardware to pack when I travel. But being without a Watch completely has reminded me why, after putting a Watch on that day in April, I’ve never wanted to take it off.