After debating it for a while, I ended up buying an Apple Watch a few weeks ago. Almost everyone who sees it on my wrist wants to know what I think of it (and really if I think they should buy one). My general reaction is that I find the watch as it exists today pretty ‘meh’. I think it is a fundamentally compromised device that does a few things well, many things poorly, but points the way to a compelling future.
What it does well
The first thing people always ask about the watch is “What do you use it for?” — and honestly I use it mostly to tell the time! However, there are a few other things it does very well.
The watch is great for quick notifications. In particular I love the ability to quickly view calendar/text notifications without taking out my phone (that’s most of what I want on the watch). This is especially useful in a day with a lot of meetings when I want to quickly see what’s going on.
This concept can extend to third party apps well. Perhaps the best execution of quick notifications I’ve seen is the Uber app. It taps you when your Uber arrives and shows you the car and license plate number — quick, simple, useful. Perfect. Instant score updates for favorite teams from ESPN is another good example.
Another favorite for me has been quick voice interactions — for example adding a task to my list (thank to this IFTTT iOS Reminders->Asana recipe) or setting quick timers/alarms — e.g. “Remind me to check the pasta in 10 minutes”. Having that immediately available by voice on my wrist is great.
Apple Pay is well executed. The ability to pay without taking my phone or wallet out of my pocket is awesome. This certainly feels like the future of payments — and is noticeably easier than even Apple Pay on the phone.
Finally, I have enjoyed using the fitness tracking. I know this isn’t as robust as a FitBit or Jawbone tracker — but it does a good job for me and is built into the watch so I don’t need to wear two devices (I wore a watch before the Apple watch, so I always ended up with a watch and a fitness tracker).
What it does poorly
First, I find Siri to be annoyingly hobbled. If I dictate a text, Siri won’t read it back and let me confirm via voice — I have to read the text and a press a button to send. Why is this harder than it is on my phone?!?!?Even worse, if I respond to a text (which strangely requires a button press and not a simple swipe) and dictate a message it asks me if I want to send an audio message or the text — and again I have to respond by tapping my watch. I’ve never sent an audio message, so this is just one extra press to accomplish my goal. I’m guessing they couldn’t get solid text-to-speech on the watch so went for this — but it feels inferior to doing the same things through Siri on a phone and that is very annoying.
Anything that requires me to touch the watch is very sub-optimal as that becomes a two handed activity — which can be very distracting. Everything you need to do on the watch should be achievable with one hand (i.e. the one the watch is on).
However biggest issues with the watch arise when either the OS or an app wants to present too much information or have you navigate within the app. Why on earth would I want to read my email or Twitter on the watch? The screen is nice, but tiny and there is no reason to have so much information attempting to be displayed on the watch. Developers really need to focus. Also, trying to navigate with force-touch, scrolling, and pressing is not intuitive.
10 Second Principal
If I could offer one piece of advice for all watch developers (Apple included) it would be this — aim for all interactions with the watch to be under 10 seconds. Ideally under 5 seconds. Give me what I need and not more — keep it very simple. Remember — I have an iPhone too and if I need to do something more complex I will use it. Don’t compromise the experience on the watch by trying to do too much — “less is more”. Developers are generally trying to do too much on the watch and need to embrace a “less is more” mentality.
What it could/should be
So, despite my overall ‘meh’ reaction I think the watch will become a compelling device over time — in particular in the 3 areas below.
- Notifications. I see this as a great opportunity when properly executed. Getting this right will mean limiting what comes to me and when (I want sports scores but not in the middle of a meeting) and keeping the notifications simple — ideally everything on one screen so I don’t need scroll (so no two hands). This will take time to get right — but it is a great use case.
- Voice UI for everything. As Siri is further integrated into our lives and can do more, having her always around on your wrist is great. Being able to create tasks, schedule meetings, etc is powerful. Integration into third party apps will be key here. I also think HomeKit will enhance the usefulness- turn on/off lights, activate your alarm system, change the thermostat. It turns the watch (connected to the cloud) into the computer from Start Trek.
- Physical interactivity. Finally, the concept of an a device that can interact with the physical world without being “unlocked” is fabulous. Apple Pay is the obvious example of this today, but it will get even more interesting as this is extended even further — unlocking your house, starting your car, serving as your hotel room key, event tickets, etc. It could easily replace my wallet and keys.