I’ve decided to get rid of my Apple Watch Sport. I received it just a few weeks after Watches started shipping, but I haven’t felt compelled to wear it or use it frequently, much less daily, over the past few months.
I’m an iOS developer so I think a lot about stuff like this. Here’s why I haven’t been using it, and how I think future smart watches—from Apple or others—could be better.
First, the software.
I find the Apple Watch, as a device that relies on software, more annoying than useful. The user interface is complex and often confusing even though I understand it in theory; it’s designed with completely the wrong navigational hierarchy in mind.
Even on watchOS 2, the new release of Apple’s Watch operating system, Glances are so slow to update that they’re effectively useless. A Glance just isn’t useful if it takes seconds to update after I bring it up on screen—and all Glances from third-party developers that I’ve used are still this slow.
(I won’t even go into third-party apps here; I thought I wanted apps on my wrist, but it turns out all I really wanted was Glances—and those are slow.)
Siri should be great on the Watch. And when it works well, it’s great. But—again, even with watchOS 2—it’s not responsive enough to be useful rather than annoying. “Hey, Siri” activates my virtual assistant maybe 70% of the time, meaning it misses frequently enough that I want to wait to see if it’s actually listening. But the Watch expects you to keep talking, without a pause: “Hey Siri, set my timer for thirty minutes.” If I pause after “Hey Siri,” to check whether the Watch is listening, it assumes I’m done talking. So I’m stuck: I have to trust the Watch to listen when I tell it to, and often I have to repeat my sentence.
Alternatively, I could just stop trying to use Siri on the Apple Watch. (Guess what I chose?)
Screening notifications on the Watch is useful in theory, but acting on them is infuriatingly complex and slow. Plus, it often requires pulling out my iPhone anyway.
It doesn’t usually feel socially acceptable to screen notifications on my Watch; like the concerted gesture required to check the time, it’s obvious, and I have never been in a situation where screening notifications on my Watch felt acceptable but using my iPhone didn’t.
Activity tracking on the Watch is not something I could make myself care about. I wear different watches day-to-day, so I was never going to form fitness habits based on wearing Apple’s Watch. And even on days I wore the Watch, I wasn’t sure what to do with the data it collected. (This is the same reason I’ve decided not to get a Fitbit: it collects data, sure, but to what end?)
Then, the elephant in the room: design.
The Apple Watch doesn’t show the time constantly. It is an empty black rectangle, which lights up to show my custom watch face when I make a certain gesture with my wrist.
The need to make such an obvious gesture to check the time is absurd. I can subtly glance at the time, without moving my wrist, on any other watch. The Apple Watch is pretty good at detecting its “glance” gesture, but the need to make any gesture at all here is unacceptable to me.
Perhaps more importantly, though, over the past year I’ve collected some number of “real”, non-smart, watches. (Some don’t even have batteries.) The Apple Watch’s design simply doesn’t stand up against any of them.
I’ve tried supplementing my Watch with a few different third-party bands but still the Apple Watch itself just doesn’t look like something I want on my wrist every day. Let’s face it: an empty, black rectangle just doesn’t look good on anyone’s wrist.
Since receiving my Apple Watch, I’ve come to really appreciate my other watches. Some of them are automatic, self-winding watches; others take a battery but have analog faces. None were very expensive (aside from the Apple Watch, I own exactly one watch that cost over $99). But they’re all perfectly designed marriages of form and function. The Apple Watch aims for that union, but for me, it falls short.
I’ve found I enjoy wearing something beautiful and useful that is completely mechanical (or, in the case of a quartz watch, something that is outwardly analog and doesn’t require recharging and security updates). This constant, visible presence provides an elegant contrast to the high-maintenance digital devices that fill the remainder of my life. It’s sublimely relaxing to take a moment away from chats, programming, and emails and admire the ticking of an intricate, almost magical, mechanical watch movement.
So, yeah. I tried, I really did, but I don’t feel the need to use my Apple Watch. For now, you’ll find me wearing an analog watch.
And who knows? Maybe Apple will make some staggering improvements in its next Watch iteration. Time will tell.