Apple Watch reviewers: Best smartwatch on the market, but it's not perfect and it's definitely not for everybody
We're two days away from pre-orders for the first generation Apple Watch, and many people are wondering if it's worth buying or if they should wait for the second generation. Fortunately, a slew of Apple Watch reviews have arrived from various sites including the NY Times, Daring Fireball and the Wall Street Journal. Overall, the first reviews of the Apple Watch are quite positive but reviewers have indicated that there are also some downsides to this first generation smartwatch from Apple.
The Apple Watch has a learning curve for new users, and requires some patience for the user to get used to the watch. There are also relatively few apps for the watch right now, but more and more apps should be released in the future as developers get their hands on the Apple Watch. And Apple will no doubt eventually tweak the Apple Watch's software to improve its performance and usability.
So read on if you want to know it's worth it to buy an Apple Watch now or if you should hold off and wait for the second generation of Apple's smartwatch.
Farhad Manjoo at the NY Times notes that the Apple Watch requires a steep learning curve:
It took three days — three long, often confusing and frustrating days — for me to fall for the Apple Watch. But once I fell, I fell hard.
First there was a day to learn the device’s initially complex user interface. Then another to determine how it could best fit it into my life. And still one more to figure out exactly what Apple’s first major new product in five years is trying to do — and, crucially, what it isn’t.
It was only on Day 4 that I began appreciating the ways in which the elegant $650 computer on my wrist was more than just another screen. By notifying me of digital events as soon as they happened, and letting me act on them instantly, without having to fumble for my phone, the Watch became something like a natural extension of my body — a direct link, in a way that I’ve never felt before, from the digital world to my brain. The effect was so powerful that people who’ve previously commented on my addiction to my smartphone started noticing a change in my behavior; my wife told me that I seemed to be getting lost in my phone less than in the past. She found that a blessing.
There’s a good chance it will not work perfectly for most consumers right out of the box, because it is best after you fiddle with various software settings to personalize use. Indeed, to a degree unusual for a new Apple device, the Watch is not suited for tech novices. It is designed for people who are inundated with notifications coming in through their phones, and for those who care to think about, and want to try to manage, the way the digital world intrudes on their lives.
Manjoo's point about the learning curve doesn't surprise me too much, given the complexity of the Apple Watch. It's a new paradigm and it's clearly going to take people a while to get used to using it. But I think that it's probably going to be worth it for the folks who are heavy notification or fitness users.
If we look back at the first iPhone, that product also took some getting used to since it was really the first touch-based phone available. Getting used to a touch-screen took some adjustments from using physical buttons on a phone.
And there were even some folks who found that they initially preferred physical buttons to the touch-screen of the first iPhone. They got used to touch-screens and I think we'll see the same with users eventually adjusting to how the Apple Watch works.
Geoffrey Fowler at the Wall Street Journal notes that it's still very early for apps on the Apple Watch:
The big reason many people—even many Apple fans—will skip the Apple Watch is that it’s too new. There isn’t yet a world of apps and services beyond Apple’s own, with independent developers’ sparks of genius showing us all the things a smartwatch can be.
In fact, apps have been the biggest disappointment of my Apple Watch experience. Apple says more than 1,000 Watch apps have been submitted, but only about three dozen have been available to test.
Aside from some apps that deliver fresh news headlines, including the Journal’s, as well as ones from the New York Times, CNN and Flipboard, not enough felt useful. Apps—which download to the watch automatically if you’ve installed them on your iPhone—are relegated to a secondary launch screen that’s attractive but harder to use, a cluster of tiny circles that you have to zoom in on and fish out, like some weird game.
For now, the Apple Watch is for pioneers. I won’t pay the $1,000 it would cost for the model I tested, only to see a significant improvement roll in before too long. But I plan to pay $400 for the 42mm Sport version once it’s on sale. That’s worth paying for a front-row seat for what’s next in tech.
Apps on the Apple Watch are also something that requires some patience. Whenever a new platform like the Apple Watch launches, it always takes developers a little while to catch up to it. Not only do they have to learn how to code for it, but they also have to learn how people are actually going to use it and then build their apps accordingly.
I think we'll eventually see a vibrant Apple Watch app ecosystem, but it's going to take a few months before most developers hit their stride with it. In the meantime, we'll see a lot of first generation apps that will be tweaked and improved as time goes by. That's pretty much how it happened on the iPhone and iPad, and I don't think the Apple Watch will be any different.
Nilay Patel at The Verge considers the Apple Watch to be a very ambitious product that also partly lacks focus:
There’s no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today. It is one of the most ambitious products I’ve ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus: it can do tiny bits of everything, instead of a few things extraordinarily well. For all of its technological marvel, the Apple Watch is still a smartwatch, and it’s not clear that anyone’s yet figured out what smartwatches are actually for.
If you are willing to go along on that journey, then you’ll enjoy the Apple Watch. It is a bauble, after all, and baubles delight simply by their presence. Apple will update the software, and developers will make apps, and Google and Samsung and Microsoft will release competitors, and the people who love technology will have something to buy and argue about, talismans that display tribal affiliations.
But that’s technology as fashion; it’s not quite yet fashion itself. If you’re going to buy an Apple Watch, I’d recommend buying a Sport model; I wouldn’t spend money on how it looks until Apple completes the task of figuring out what it does.
Easily the nicest smartwatch available
Platform has endless room to grow, especially with native apps
Taptic Engine is really cool
Performance issues, especially with apps and location services
Notifications need way more granular settings
Much more expensive than other smartwatches
Animated emojis are nightmare fuel
I think Patel might be nitpicking a bit here. The same argument about a lack of focus could have been made about the first iPhone, since it also did many different things that hadn't been done on a phone before. In that sense the Apple Watch is simply following in the footsteps of the first iPhone.
As apps become more capable and better designed, I think we'll see the Apple Watch excelling at certain functions. But as I noted above, it's a brand new platform and it's very early for the apps.
And each user of the Apple Watch will also take advantage of the features that matter most to them, and thus the focus of the Apple Watch will vary depending on the user.
Rachel Metz at MIT Technology Review wondered if the Apple Watch tries to do too much:
...I started to feel like the device might actually be too capable. There’s a cute home screen showing all your apps as little bubbles, but more than, say, 10 of them, makes the screen look crowded. You can swipe up to see all kinds of “glances”—things like weather, your calendar, music controls, stock prices, and more that you swipe across the display to see one at a time. And you can customize watch faces down to minute details like whether you want to show the phase of the moon in one corner and your activity in another, or vice versa. Oh, and you can pay for things with the Apple Watch. And check in at the airport. And look at a live feed of a video camera, receive calls, read full emails, check Instagram, hail an Uber, send your heartbeat to a friend who also has an Apple Watch, and more.
A lot of these things can be done with other smart watches. But on this device whose industrial design and user interface feel like odes to simplicity and elegance, it felt overwhelming, and I started to wonder whether Apple’s vision for the smart watch is too broad (see “So Far, Smart Watches Are Pretty Dumb”). I’m impressed with the efforts to make a stylish, comfortable device that is fairly customizable to users’ whims and wallets. But I suspect some buyers will feel overwhelmed by all the things you can do with the Apple Watch, causing those who aren’t rabid first-adopters to question whether they really want it.
See my comments above. Metz seems to be stuck in the same mindset as the reviewer at The Verge. Limiting the functionality of the Apple Watch would have made no sense. If Apple had done that then some reviewers would be saying that it didn't do enough.
Apple erred on the side of making sure that the Apple Watch did a lot of things well, and then put the power of choosing which features to use in the hands of the users, and that's where it clearly belongs.
Ben Bajarin at Techpinions considers the idea that the Apple Watch may represent a totally new interaction model:
Ultimately what I am convinced of is the Apple Watch represents a completely new computer interaction model. A PC is for when we have a few hours. Our smartphones is for when we have a few minutes. Our smartwatch is for when we have a few seconds. Each device, and the software and experience built for it, should help us maximize those hours, minutes, and seconds.
We never expected the smartphone to disrupt the amount of time we spend on PCs yet that is exactly what happened. It is not uncommon for people to be sitting in front of their PC and simultaneously use their smartphone because it is more convenient to do certain things on a smartphone thanks to the apps and the software built for minutes not hours of use. Checking the weather, stocks, Facebook, etc., are often quicker and more easily done on a smartphone than on a PC.
Similarly, I found myself doing things on the Apple Watch I used to do on my phone. Most often these were things useful at a glance. Things like reminders I set, task lists or goals I have organized, my next appointment, having Siri check my calendar, text my wife I’m on my way home, etc. All quick things I used my phone for (and still can) but are actually better, more useful, and super convenient when done right from my Apple Watch.
I can see where Ben Bajarin is coming from here, and it's clear that the Apple Watch is going to occupy a different niche in our daily lives. For those who rely heavily on notifications, it's definitely going to bump the iPhone out of the way for the most part.
This is a good thing though because the culture of constantly checking phone notifications really needs to go away anyway. So if the Apple Watch offers a less socially unacceptable way of using a few seconds here or there then it will ultimately be a good thing for most people.
And last but certainly not least, John Gruber at Daring Fireball notes that the “Activate on Wrist Raise” feature works well but is not quite perfect:
What matters as a timepiece is what it’s like using Apple Watch to check the time. My big concern, from the get-go, is the fact that Apple Watch’s screen remains off until you tap the screen (or one of the buttons) or it detects, via its accelerometer and gyroscope (and perhaps other sensors?) that you’ve moved your wrist into a “tell the time” position. I’m generally wary of “magic” features, and a watch that detects when you’re looking at it is “magic.”
This feature, which Apple calls “Activate on Wrist Raise” works pretty damn well. It’s not perfect, alas, but it’s far more accurate than I feared it would be. The way it seems to work is that if the watch thinks you’re looking at the face, it turns the screen on for about 6 seconds, then turns it off again — even if you’re still holding your wrist in the looking-at-it position. If you turn the display on by tapping the screen or pressing the side button or digital crown, it stays on for about 17 seconds before turning off. I presume the difference is because it’s far more likely that you’ll trigger a false positive for a wrist raise than that you’ll accidentally tap the screen or press one of the buttons. So, the display only stays on for 6 seconds for a wrist raise to avoid wasting battery life for false positives.
I’d like an option for the display to stay on for a longer duration with Wrist Raise turned on. Battery life on Apple Watch has been fine (see below for details) — more than good enough that, for me at least, it would still get through the day with room to spare even if the display remained on for the same 17-second-or-so duration with Wrist Raise detection as it does for a button push or screen tap.
I suspect that Apple will tweak the software of the Apple Watch to improve the wrist raise detection feature. In any kind of first generation product like the Apple Watch there are always features that require improvement and optimization, and I think that the wrist raise detection feature is clearly one of those (but certainly not the only one).
So for now I think we'll need to be patient while Apple works its magic behind the scenes. I saw a couple of articles the other day that indicated that Apple might release an Apple Watch software update before the watch makes it into the hands of users. And that might be just what the wrist raise detection feature needs to be better than it currently is on the Apple Watch.
Apple redditors enjoyed the review of the Apple Watch by The Verge and shared their thoughts:
Madoch: "Definitely brought me back to earth after I'd been thinking of jumping on the early bandwagon. Watch 2 is where I'll be."
Closingbell: "Agreed. If this is anything like the iPad, there will be significant improvements in version 2. Unless you've got money to burn or literally no patience to wait, this iteration seems to be a pass..."
Shanesan: "Apple's OS iterations are known for "release first, optimize later." A lot of the app developers have only been able to theorize how their apps will be used as most of them likely haven't touched an Apple Watch yet. I say Watch 1 will be something to revisit by July for those on the fence (I'm not - I believe this will be 'good enough' in the beginning, fine in a couple months)."
Mormon_stuff: "Apple needs to refine the software and hardware more. I really didn't think it would stand so far off the wrist but in these reviews especially The Verges video review it looks ginormous. No doubt the second generation will be 30% thinner."
Danwin: "I'm not a watch-wearer, so maybe I'm missing something obvious here...but the iPod, iPhone, and iPad had immediate obvious value. You may have thought them to be overpriced compared to their existing competitors, but it wasn't hard to sell the idea of a better portable music player, or a tablet-form computer for basic computing/info-consumption tasks.
But what does the watch improve on? Our ability to quickly consume the hundreds of daily notifications that we're already drowning in? I don't see how the watch's potential is "unlimited"...you're dealing with an intrinsically limited form factor...no amount of technology or UI/UX improvement is going to change the fact that there are just a few square inches to display legible information at any given moment."
I have mixed feelings about the Apple Watch for my own use. The geek/nerd in me definitely wants one as a complement to my iPhone 6 Plus. However, I am not a big fan of notifications. In fact, I have notifications turned off for almost all of my iOS apps. I don't like being nagged and distracted by them, so the Apple Watch would not neceesarily be useful for me in that sense.
I also live with two parrots, and they are demons when it comes to watches and other jewelry such as rings or necklaces. One of my parrots thinks that such things are toys, and will try to make friends with the Apple Watch while jumping on it and playing with it on my wrist. My other bird hates all kinds of consumer electronics devices, and would stop at nothing to destroy the Apple Watch once he notices it on my wrist. I shudder to think of buying an Apple Watch and then having a sharp parrot beak wreak havoc on the band or on the watch's screen.
So for now I have mostly decided not to buy an Apple Watch. This first round of reviews and discussion comments was quite interesting. It looks like a great product, but it also seems like it's not necessarily for everybody. So I'll sit tight and let the Apple Watch and its apps continue to develop and grow. At some point I might be able to find a use case that works for me, but it's just not there right now for my personal use.
Why an Apple employee quit
Apple has a reputation for being a challenging place to work, to say the least. But one Apple employee finally decided he'd had enough and quit. He shared his story about what it's like to work at Apple, and why it wasn't right for him.
Ben Farrell reports for the Road Less Travelled blog:
I’ve just escaped the Apple institution. I’ve sent in my resignation, and fled down it’s bright white corridors curated by crass colourful pictures of iPhones past. I handed in my security pass and in return I was able to re-claim my creativity, individuality and free thinking from the secure Apple cloak room. Finally now, for the first time in two years, I feel light, creative and inspired. I am again an individual with my own creative ideas, perceptions, values and beliefs. It may take me a while, but from what I believe – I’m now able to express such beliefs again. I am no longer part of the collective iCult machine whose dirty, worn-out, greasy and naive internal mechanisms of bullying, harassment and mind-games push out shiny and polished iPhones every year.
It is ironic that one of the world’s largest companies and one that prides itself on innovation, creativity and ‘breaking the mould’, operates on such soul limiting entrenched dogma. It’s an organised boys club where perception is valued over substance and tenure over talent. I spent two years in the Apple camp managing customer service improvement for their technical support contact centres and out of the fifteen plus years working in this industry I’ve never witnessed so many bizarre and unprofessional things, only some of which I have time to touch on here.
Sixteen hour days are filled with meetings after meetings followed by more meetings. Whilst this is somewhat standard in most organisations, meetings at Apple wreaked of toxic agendas designed to deliberately trip people up, make fools of the less respected and call people out. Team spirit is non existent as ‘internal customers’ attack individuals and push agendas that satisfy their morning egos. Hours upon hours were wasted in meetings to prepare for meetings in preparation for other meetings to the point where little work actually got done. These rehearsals – called ‘dry runs’ (to me it sounds like something you’d pick up from South East Asian street food) – were meetings to refine impressions and push agendas… how to get the impressions right. How to bend, twist and polish data to tell the story you were instructed to tell… Not the reality the data presents. If a story can’t be forged, the data is excluded.
I’m disheartened as I loved Apple. I loved their products and I’ve been an advocate for what the allegedly stand for. Unfortuntely I’ve seen behind their glossy and polished stainless steel exterior, I’ve walked through their frosted glass doors and seen a toxic culture of manipulation, intimidation, threats and politics that are so incongruent to the values they preach.
Ben's blog post spawned a thread on the Apple subreddit and redditors weren't shy about sharing their thoughts:
Brooklynscholar: "He's just mad he missing out on 50% off the Apple Watch."
Superspeck: "I've heard some of the same things from people I know personally that worked at Apple as I've been contemplating applying for a job over there.
While some of the stuff in this article sounds like sour grapes and sounds like the author didn't do a good job of building respect with his managers, some of the things about passive aggressiveness and so many meetings that no work gets done are common complaints at other places I've worked and seem par for the course at a product company these days."
MasterOfEconomics: "While he may not have cared for his position, he likely had better benefits, incentives, pay, etc. on average than anyone else who was working in a customer service role for technical support at a different company."
Mundlifari: "Does Apple have a higher turn-over rate then other comparable companies? Data like that could actually give insight. This rant does not. It's just an unsupported claim by an employee. For all we know, he was simply doing a bad job."
Deepinmind: "Man, this guy is just experiencing what millions of Americans do. Capitalism hierarchy. Almost every job I've ever had was riddled with ego driven management and BS meetings. Some companies are not like this, but most I have worked for are. It sucks."
I tend to take such personal comments in a blog post about a company like Apple with a grain of salt. How an employee perceives a company definitely depends on their own experiences, and experiences often vary from person to person. But Ben's post is certainly an interesting inside peek at his part of Apple's business. It would be very interesting to know if any higher ups at Apple have seen his post and are mulling it over for ways to overhaul some of Apple's business practices. Probably not, but you never know.
Popcorn Time torrent streaming app released for iOS
Popcorn Time is a popular application that lets you stream movies and TV shows, and now it's available for iOS devices without the need to jailbreak them.
Mic Wright at The Next Web reports on Popcorn Time for iOS:
While Popcorn Time has been available on Android for some time, it’s now arrived on iOS with an installer that can put the app on non-jailbroken devices. It’s likely that it uses a test key from an enterprise device to achieve that.
The new development could cause serious headaches for both Apple and legal streaming services like Netflix. In fact, Netflix itself singled out Popcorn Time as a serious competitor in a shareholder letter earlier this year.
TNW has tested the Popcorn Time iOS app and it works as advertised – almost instantaneously streaming movies and TV shows on your device.
Like the desktop version, the new iOS incarnation of Popcorn Time has native AirPlay and Chromecast support. The team behind Popcorn Time told TNW that they’re expecting Apple to fight back and already have plans to respond...
I have no doubt that Popcorn Time for iOS is going to cause a cat and mouse war between Apple and the application's developers. Both sides are probably going to go back and forth as Apple will no doubt try to block Popcorn Time from running on iOS, and the Popcorn Time developers will respond with patches to get it working again. I think we're in for a protracted siege of Popcorn Time as far as Apple goes. It should be entertaining to watch, and I think the jury is still out on who will eventually win the war.
Did you miss a roundup? Check the Eye On Apple home page to get caught up with the latest news about Apple.
This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?