Apple Watch: What Did Apple Just Roll out Here?

Reviewing an Apple Watch three days after launch in any traditional sense has as much long-term value as publishing an iPhone review on July 2, 2007 would have had. Instead, I am going to try a better approach. This post will be the start of what will become an ongoing series about my Apple Watch thoughts and observations with a focus on how the product will impact the world. 

  • What is important?
  • What isn't important?
  • Financial implications.  
  • Longer-term ideas and viewpoints.

I've already written a few words about Apple Watch, and I continue to think they provide a good foundation for beginning to analyze the device and wrist wearable product category.

  1. Apple Watch's Secret Weapon
  2. Apple Watch Isn't a Luxury Watch 
  3. The Evolving Notification 
  4. Apple Watch is Cool, Just like iPhone 

The Apple Watch Journey Begins

42mm Apple Watch Sport with Solar watch face.

I am convinced Apple Watch is not a watch. Positioned as my personal assistant who just began on-the-job training, the Watch has potential. While it isn't quite able to monitor and guide me through the world, the product has a coolness level that makes me want to wear it all day and begin incorporating it into my lifestyle. From Apple's point of view, I suspect that is a best case scenario for a new product category.

I ordered a 42mm Apple Watch Sport with the white sports band. I knew almost instantly when the Apple Watch was introduced, back in September 2014, that I wanted that particular model. I am a long-distance runner so I knew a Watch collection named "Sport" would be up my alley. In addition, I've owned and worn a regular watch for years, so I wanted something that did not remind me of a regular watch. 

UPS Delivery and Extensive Packaging

My Apple Watch experience started off with a memorable exchange this past Friday: 

  • UPS delivery man [holding a "heavy" Apple Watch box at my door]: "What did Apple just roll out here?"
  • Me: "Apple Watch. You have a lot of these boxes?"
  • UPS delivery man: "Oh yeah. Couldn't figure out what it was."

I vividly recall the first time I first held iPhone and iPad. For iPhone, it was at an Apple store following a nightmarish visit to an AT&T store the day prior. For iPad, it was after picking up the device at the local shipping depot because I missed the delivery earlier in the day. I've always felt that the first time one sees and holds a product is quite telling as it can be used to judge not just the connection to a product, but also brand and company. There are companies besides Apple that have a similar ability to create such emotional connections, but it's rare for a company to mean so much to so many people. 

Extensive packaging for Apple Watch Sport.

As part of that introduction, the packaging that a product comes in plays a crucial role as the experience begins at delivery or purchase. I've always been intrigued by Apple packaging because of the time and effort put into something that will never look as perfect as when it is first opened. The Apple Watch Sport packaging is no different. Weighing in at a pound, the box had a noticeable and substantial weight to it. I would go so far as to say Apple Watch packaging was the most extensive, and thought-provoking, I have seen out of any Apple product in a very long time. No wonder the UPS delivery man mentioned how heavy the Watch box felt. Most of the weight is due to the white elongated case that Apple Watch comes in. I'm still not quite sure what to make of it; is it a carrying case or a cradle for my Watch while charging? The one I have is a less fancy version of the Watch collection case and a very distant cousin of the Edition case. However, even this case represented a faint connection or similarity that Apple relied on between Watch and traditional watches. Only watch wearers would be able to discern the familiarity. 

The Apple Watch came with a number of instructions, such as how to put the watch band on one's wrist, which I thought symbolized how people have tuned out modern-day watches to the point of not even knowing how to put one on.

The overall Apple Watch setup and pairing process with my iPhone will be fine for anyone comfortable using an iPhone. I did not encounter any issues. For those with a bit more hesitation, I think Apple holding special Apple Watch introduction sessions at Apple Retail locations is a smart move as it may be a bit overwhelming. 

The Watch Band

One trend that has taken place over the past few weeks is the Watch bands getting the most attention out of the entire Watch discussion. The interesting aspect of that is the band has very little to do with technology. I don't think that is by mistake. Of course, the bands are indeed a byproduct of manufacturing technology and innovation, but for the average consumer, the Watch bands are about fashion and personalization. 

Apple hit a home run with this initial sports band. It looks and feels great. Even putting the Watch on extra tight to see if there was any impact to my wrist's circulation, I was unable to have it leave any marks. I suspect the way the band connects to the Watch case, leaving a small amount of space between the case and skin on each side, is the primary reason I have a hard time having the band leave any marks. The slight protrusion at the bottom of the Watch where the heart rate monitor is allows me to enjoy the feeling of a nice tight band on my wrist without most of the negatives, such as perspiration, usually associated with such a thing. I can wave my arms and the watch will not move, which produces a certain kind of calm and relaxation. Even during a run, the Watch band performed well with no discernible markings while my previous running watch band would indeed leave marks because I had to wear it tightly in order to have it remain in place. I suspect the rubber band will change shape somewhat as time goes on, but with a small/medium band piece also included in the box, I am not concerned about the band becoming more loose as time goes on.

One interesting thing is that when I look at myself in a mirror with the Watch, the aluminum case melts away, and it looks like I have a white band with a black piece in the front of my wrist. It is hard to see that I have a watch case connected to a band.  They just look like one piece. I suspect this is the primary reason why the Apple Watch doesn't look quite like a smartwatch even though it is a rectangular piece of glass attached to a watch strap. I have definitely become more doubtful in recent days that circular smartwatch faces are anything but a calculated bet to grab sales from traditional watch owners that are familiar with a watch's circular look.

Watch Faces and Notifications 

I have long thought that the wrist is an interesting place for technology, breaking down some of the more complex tasks found in an iPhone to easier to digest bits of information. That doesn't mean that we take iPhone apps and shrink them down, keeping the same thought and design process, but applying it to a watch. Everything needs to be rethought. I've downloaded a few third-party Watch apps (or should I say extensions of iPhone apps?) and there really isn't much to write about. While some are adequate, I just couldn't find any that really got my imagination running. However, after only 12 hours of use, a few value-add uses for the Watch became apparent. 

One thing I am discovering is I really don't want to look at my watch screen too much. I could very well go a full evening at home with barely looking at Apple Watch. I don't look at that as a negative. While things can (and certainly will) change, I have no desire to sit on the couch and play with my watch while my iPhone is somewhere else in the house. Instead, I am finding myself wanting to feel notifications, or at the very least just turn my wrist periodically and look at the watch screen and see what I need to know quickly. The information can be as trivial as time or temperature. 

The Watch has two very valuable ways of displaying or giving information.

  1. Watch faces
  2. Notifications  

Turning my wrist and being able to see my selected Watch face automatically means that the ability to customize Watch faces to put specific information on that initial screen would be an incredible value proposition. It is no surprise that third-party app developers (as well as Apple) sense the untapped opportunity. The iPhone home screen displays nothing until the home button is pressed, and even then initially just time, data, and the slide to unlock button are displayed. In contrast, the Watch face provides much more valuable information without the need to do anything besides look at the Watch. I could also open an app on Watch and it will remain displayed on the watch screen (like a running app), however the hierarchy is still built around Watch faces.

Modular, Solar, and Utility Apple Watch faces.

In addition, the tapping and sounds from notifications, followed by a prominent position on the Watch as someone goes to check the notification by looking at their watch, represent additional valuable attention and location for information. While Glances are indeed easy to reach with just one swipe up from the Watch Face, the sheer number of them may limit their value a bit. I consider the Glances to be equivalent to apps on an iPhone home screen: easy to reach, but still one among a few. 

Apple Watch Use Cases 

Apple is aware of this type of attention hierarchy and will act accordingly by, I suspect, retaining much of the power around Watch faces for the foreseeable future because it impacts the user's experience to such a degree. But the implications of this hierarchy are indeed interesting for what the Watch can be used for. 

The Apple Watch will excel at:

  • Recording aspects of my behavior/movement and then providing feedback. Track miles run, sending me taps after each mile, or monitoring health vitals and then creating recommendations.
  • Real-world notifications. Notify via tap or sound that a shower or thunderstorm will be at my current location in ten minutes. 
  • Identification. Use Apple Watch to enter my office and home, unlock a car, as well as contain information that is inaccessible when Watch is removed from the wrist.

While there are other devices, including the iPhone, that can do most of these tasks, it is the ability to have it on the wrist in a more ergonomic fashion, void of additional distraction, that makes things interesting. In addition, the aspects of maintaining identity once the Watch is attached to my body is, in a weird way, incredibly refreshing and reassuring. 

A few hours after my Apple Watch arrived via UPS, I took it out on a seven-mile run. I don't take my iPhone on runs or any physical exercise that involves motion, so I was going to just use the Watch as a timer, knowing it didn't have its own GPS.  Around eight minutes into my run, I received a slight tap on the wrist, I lifted my wrist up, and it said I had ran one mile. Having run this same route for years, I knew it was spot-on. Throughout my run I was getting accurate mile readings. How is this possible when the watch doesn't have GPS? Apple had previously asked me a few questions during the Fitness app set-up including my height, weight, and age. In addition, since I have been running for years, I have a pretty consistent stride. I suspect that consistency is what gave the Watch the ability to measure my stride to produce mileage and be so accurate without any iPhone calibration. 

The ability for the watch to give me information (mile readings) without needing to look at it (taps) was incredibly valuable to me and my needs as a runner, especially with not having to carry a bulky iPhone. I actually found myself every so often lifting my wrist up to see other metrics such as my mileage pace. The Watch is essentially taking elements that I used to rely on a few devices for and combining them into a device where fitness and health is just one feature. This is why there is something more behind Apple Watch. 

Early Signs of Behavioral Pattern Change

While it is early to reach any conclusions about long-term behavioral change, I have noticed that I have an urge to see why my Watch is tapping me or making a noise. I had very few vibration and sound alerts for my iPhone, so it may just be a realization that allowing some kind of notification through the filters could prove to be valuable. In addition, I have this weird urge to keep the watch on regardless of what I am doing once I put it on each morning. If I am washing my hands or am wrist deep in food preparation, I don't think twice about keeping my Watch on. It's not so much an annoyance to take it off that is the primary culprit, but I am starting to sense a little bit of connectivity as I am wanting to not miss something. Having it be so comfortable helps in this regard. 

Apple Watch Is Definitely Not a Watch

There is no question in my mind that the Apple Watch is not a watch. The way I use the device is nothing like the way I would use a watch. While Apple is undoubtedly taking certain elements of the watch world to sell Apple Watch, much of that is merely due to providing some level of comfort and recognition to avoid consumer backlash and risk aversion. It is much easier to position the Watch as a better watch than an ancillary iPhone screen. The Watch is something different. 

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