However, the voice giving me what seemed like good reasons for not buying an Apple Watch was ultimately outshouted by another which kept insisting that I really, really wanted one.
So, yes, despite my claims to the contrary, I ended up placing an order for an Apple Watch Sport. Not for the first time in my life, the gadget lover and early-adopter won out over the voice of apparent common sense.
Having now spent some time with the Watch, I thought that it might be interesting to revisit some of those reasons I had previously given for not buying one. Would they still stand up? Would I now have found reasons for needing an Apple Watch in my life? Or would common sense have been proven right, and not only did I not need an Apple Watch, but I didn’t actually want one either?
Before I continue, I should stress that everything which follows is totally subjective and based on what I personally want and expect from a smart watch. Apple calling the Watch “our most personal device yet” may sound like little more than marketing-speak. However, spend some time playing in your local Apple Store with the different models and bands available; think about what you want and expect from the Watch; and you will probably agree that subjectivity (along with personal tastes and needs) is a larger factor here than perhaps with anything else you are likely to purchase from Apple. So, your own use case; tastes; needs; and so on; may mean that you will agree with nothing that follows.
But, enough preamble, lets revisit those reasons for not buying an Apple Watch:
In my original post, the very first reason that I gave was Apple’s failure to sell me a good reason for actually wanting one.
The fact that I went straight out and placed an order should immediately discredit this claim. Whether this was due to Apple’s persuasiveness or weakness on my part, we will never know (although I have my suspicions). However, in hindsight, I should originally have said that I hadn’t been sold a good reason for ‘needing’ a Watch, rather than ‘wanting’ one.
So, have I now found a need for the Watch? Frankly, no. There are some minor benefits, but nothing that truly convinces me that I need it in my life. To expect it to be the same life-changer as an iPhone would be unreasonable and unrealistic. What it is, is an extension to your iPhone. An accessory. Something which if setup and used correctly can add to the experience of owning and using an iPhone.
Or, at least, that is the theory. But, did it do so for me?
I have to be honest and say “no”. For me, the experience is too frequently compromised by knowing that by simply reaching into my pocket I will get a more complete and satisfying user experience from my iPhone. This is mostly because too many Watch apps simply aren’t very good right now. Of course, you have to cut the developers some serious slack here. They are still learning what the Watch is capable of and how people are using them. And, in many cases, the developers won’t even have had their hands on an actual Watch before releasing their apps. So, is it understandable that some Watch apps aren’t great in terms of features and functionality? Of course. Will it improve? Sure, probably a little every day. But, that’s tomorrow, and the day after. That doesn’t help me right now, as I sit here with the Watch on my wrist.
If you want an insight into the developer’s experience of creating apps for the Apple Watch, this recent blog post by Marco Arment (developer of the Overcast podcast app) is a great place to start. His frank verdict on the first release of his own Watch app? “It sucked.”
Marco also discusses in his post another issue that I currently have with some Watch apps - “apps or glances will sometimes just spin forever instead of loading, and even when everything’s working perfectly, apps still take so long to load and navigate that the watch’s screen often turns off before you’ve accomplished anything”.
As a result, it’s often quicker and less frustrating to simply reach for your iPhone and go straight to the ‘parent’ app. As I said above, the user experience from doing so will also generally be more complete and satisfying.
So, if the current crop of apps aren’t cutting it for me, what can the Watch tempt me with? Is there anything that I need? Anything that could perhaps make my life easier? Anything which I would miss if I spent a day without the Watch on my wrist?
Well, at the most fundamental level, I do now have an accessible timepiece on my wrist.
To take a slight detour at this point, I was initially thrilled to find that the Extra Large clock display offered on the Watch was visible to my residual vision. I say ‘initially’, because I actually ended up switching to a clock display that I had no chance of seeing. Sounds mad, yes? Well, the Extra Large display doesn’t support ‘Complications’. These are the small widgets which can be used to display additional information on the clock face, such as the date, battery level, current weather, sunset/sunrise times, etc. Switching to a clock face which meant relying on VoiceOver to tell me the time gave me the option to try some of these widgets. Having done so, I ended up finding them more useful than being able to tell the time with my eyes. Not at all what I would have predicted. However, one advantage is that I can now either turn the screen brightness down or use the screen curtain, both of which should significantly save on battery life (or, at least offset that which is lost from using VoiceOver). Swings and roundabouts, indeed.
This detour brings me to another of the reasons that I originally gave for not buying a Watch, and that was its battery life. Having now reflected more on this, I have to say that battery life of the Watch is what it is, in that we will always want more. That’s simply the nature of so much modern technology. And, as an iPhone user, your expectations are already likely to be low in terms of battery life. So, you have to approach the Apple Watch as yet another device which needs to be placed on charge every day. Add it’s cable to those which already keep your iPhone, and any other iOS devices you own, charged. From my own experience, I would suggest that you take any opportunity that comes along during the day to grab even a short amount of charging time. Even just 15-20 minutes of charge time could see the battery level of your watch jump by 20-30%. So, I am going to cross battery life off my list of reasons for not getting a Watch.
But, back to looking for reasons to need an Apple Watch.
And, unfortunately, this is something that I am still struggling with.
Either as a regular user or a blind user, I cannot currently find a use case or killer application which on their own justify having the Watch on my wrist.
One thing that’s nice but not compelling, is having notifications available via a polite tap on your wrist.
This is perhaps one of the most mentioned benefits of the Watch, but possibly one which isn’t shared to the same extent by those of us who rely on VoiceOver. The fact that Apple chose to name a key feature of the Watch ‘Glances’ tells us how they imagine people using the Watch. It’s people sat in Starbucks; in meetings; at the supper table; taking a glance at their Watch to quickly and unobtrusively keep track of things. In previous times, glancing at your watch might have been seen as rude. A sign that you had something better to be doing with your time. But, in the world of the smartphone, this is perhaps now considered more polite than reaching for your phone. However, VoiceOver makes it impossible to be unobtrusive. A ‘glance’ at your Watch is going to tell the people around you what you are doing, just as it would if you were using your iPhone.
A minor niggle, yes. Could it be improved upon by Apple? I don’t personally see how. It’s something else which simply is what it is. However, it does mean that I can’t share in this particular benefit which a sighted user might gain from having the Watch on their wrist.
Before I move away from notifications, I should take the opportunity to stress how important it is that you spend some time thinking about exactly what notifications you want to appear on the Watch. When setting up your Watch for the first time, you might be tempted to take the easy option and simply have the Watch mirror your iPhone apps and settings. However, if you are like me, you might come to regret this choice. For some reason, notifications on the Watch seem a little more intrusive. I don’t know if it’s a reaction to getting that physical tap on the wrist, but I soon wanted to do something to curtail what felt like a flood. Once I had fine-tuned my notification settings, things improved dramatically. Ask yourself if you really need a tap on the wrist for every mention on Twitter; Facebook status update; new podcast episode; and so on.
So, with some time and thought, I will admit that notifications via the Watch can add a new (and positive) dimension to how you receive and handle alerts for the things that matter to you. However, something else that needs mentioning at this point, is a bug in the Watch OS which currently causes problems for VoiceOver users when wanting to clear notifications from the Watch. Other bugs currently effecting VoiceOver users include getting stuck on the last Glance and a problem with deleting emails on the Watch. I believe that Apple are aware of these issues, so hopefully we will see them fixed in the first public update to the Watch software.
So, on that note, now seems like a good point to mention the accessibility features on the Watch. These have already been extensively documented elsewhere, so I won’t detail them again here. What I will say, is that Apple deserves a lot of credit for the time and thought which has clearly been put into making sure that the Apple Watch is accessible to blind and low vision users right from the get-go.
Something that I am particularly impressed with is how effectively the digital crown has been used to enhance the usability of the Watch for VoiceOver users. Considering how much VoiceOver interaction relies on many different gestures, being able to transfer some of that to the digital crown makes a lot of sense with the small screen of the Watch and works extremely well. It almost makes me want to start a campaign to bring back the click wheel to the next iPhone!
So, any concerns about the possible accessibility of the Watch have certainly now been firmly put to bed in my mind.
As a VoiceOver user, something that I am still trying to decide, is whether I am more effected by the 2-handed operation of the Watch than a sighted user would be. Any potential difference here might be mitigated if I had VoiceOver set to speak whenever I raise my wrist. However, I personally found this to be far too intrusive. Both for me, and for those around me. Without this turned on, even a quick glance at the time or the latest notification means that I have to touch the screen.
Again, it’s easy (and probably appropriate) to regard this as something else which simply is what it is. It’s the nature of the device and how I choose to interact with it.
However, there are times when I find myself being reminded that this is another compromise of using the Watch. As an example of this in practice, whilst out walking with my guide dog, I have to either stop to interact with the Watch or juggle the harness and lead and do some arm twisting. Compare this to the iPhone, which I can reach from my pocket and use without breaking my stride.
Whilst on that same walk, I also found myself struggling to decide whether to pair my AfterShokz Bluez with either my Watch or iPhone. Each choice again seemed to require a compromise.
There are other issues that I mentioned in my original post. Some were petty, and perhaps even wrong. This post has already gone on longer than I had anticipated, so I won’t revisit them now. However, I have to admit that most still stand.
So, where does that leave me?
It leaves me with another Apple product which has great accessibility out of the box. As wonderful as that is, there has to be more for the Watch to earn a place in my life.
The current state of Watch apps (both in terms of features and performance) and the constant reaching for my iPhone rather than the Watch have served to quieten the voice which had previously told me that I really, really wanted an Apple Watch. So much so, that I didn’t hear a murmur from it whilst I was processing my return request.
As I said right at the offset, it’s likely that your own experience and views will be very different. For me, I will be waiting to see how Watch apps mature over the coming months. If that happens as I expect it to, don’t be surprised if I am back to report another Watch purchase.