At Apple’s “Hey Siri!” event on September 9th, the company announced a slew of new Apple Watch models and bands, along with the iPhone 6S, iPad Pro, and Apple TV. To be clear, these watch models are not a second generation product internally; The specs and components remain the same. They are already in stores, so our best guess is that Apple is trying to squeeze as many sales as possible out of the product with this refresh. For example, there is now a new “rose gold” watch, which is a popular colour choice among many.
As an owner of an Apple Watch, it took me a long time to come to grips with purchasing the product and why it is needed in my life. Now that Watch OS 2 is on the rise, let’s examine how the landscape of this device has changed, even though the hardware is still very much generation 1. If you did want to pick up one of the new watches, can it be justified? While it’s not our job to convince you either way, we can point you in the right direction towards your final decision by giving you 5 pros and 5 cons of the device and detail each. Fellow staff writer Justin Wack has written and podcasted extensively about the watch from his perspective, so please check that out as well.
1. The device is a great exercise companion.
One reason I myself got an Apple Watch was the heart rate sensor, as well as its ability to track burned calories and workout sessions. I don’t think the device will transform non-exercisers into health freaks. That’s a lifestyle choice which should depend on more than an accessory device, and a watch alone (without guidance or companion resources) is not enough.
With that said, the main watch face can feature percentages and hours/minutes for what you’ve accomplished. Standing, minutes run, and calories burned are the three main objectives here. Your heart rate data is dumped directly into the iPhone’s health app under “vitals” on your dashboard, so you can chart your most active periods of the day (or whether you’ve felt stress/anger) easily on your iPhone. There are, of course, standalone heart rate sensors that you can buy that interface with your iPhone with Bluetooth, but that is all they’ll do.
2. Requesting an Uber, using maps
Let’s talk about productivity, which is a second reason you could get a watch for. While you can certainly request Uber cars and use directional Maps with your iPhone, having it on your wrist can help if you need to pay attention to crossing streets or walking around. Here, I feel as though those who are blind or have a visual impairment benefit more than your average person. Usually, we are already carrying a cane or guide dog in harness. This can often restrict one hand, and with an iPhone in the other, there’s no mobility left. The watch will give you that “one hand free” experience, and I have found that the vibrations for left / right being different is useful. As for Uber, you’ll get notifications when your driver is close, and can check updates directly from your wrist. Again, if you’re dressing or getting ready, you might not want to pause and interrupt your workflow just to check Uber and unlock your iPhone.
3. You can now compose E-mails from your wrist, too!
Watch OS 2 will introduce e-mail composing from your wrist, which I’ve found super useful when I wanted to reply to something work related that is urgent. You can, of course, remove that stupid gloating “Sent from my Apple Watch” signature, and dictate professional-level e-mails. Dictation is more accurate with the Watch, if only because the microphone is closer to your face. From experience, the only time I had to re-dictate messages was when in a crowded area or if others were talking nearby. Keep in mind that the Apple Watch only has one microphone, so noise reduction is not as heavy as it is on your iPhone.
4. The watch lets you dictate without an iPhone, and secretly has Wi-fi built in.
The Apple Watch does work without an iPhone, as it syncs your Wi-fi network passwords and data if it is a 2.4 gHZ network. Although Apple claims that the battery drain will be greater when not paired, it will allow you to send messages with Siri, and actually use it as a watch (without notifications). If you forgot your phone at home like I did one time, chances are, you won’t be at a huge loss since you can reply to friends and do basic functions without it.
5. Notifications that don’t wake up your phone
As an Android user, one complaint I have always had about iOS is that my screen wakes up with every notification. This would be fine if VoiceOver wouldn’t blurt out the time and notification count whenever a new Facebook chat message comes in, for example. Having the Watch means that I now have a solution, although an expensive one, which only vibrates my wrist. The iPhone does not turn the screen on, and who knows. I might be saving a little battery life as a result. This could be argued though, as the watch is always in contact with Bluetooth LE (low energy) with my phone. Regardless, not hearing “8 notifications” is a relief. I would annoy coworkers at times when I forgot to silence my phone with the volume down completely.
Cons of having an Apple Watch, and why you might want to forgo it
You know how the Apple Watch can mirror your iPhone’s settings when it is set up? I’m going to do the same. Let’s mirror those pros and see what cons we get!
1. The device is a good health companion, but reviews are mixed when your iPhone is not nearby.
Many reviewers claim that the Apple Watch, although becomes more accurate without your phone, will still have a 10-20% inaccuracy tracking your running or other exercise data without an iPhone on your person. I can attest to the fact that it does become more calibrated of step count the more you use it with your iPhone, but because the hardware has no GPS or location tracking, it will never be 100% equal. It’s best that you wait for the second generation, which (hopefully) will have this baked in. And if you love to swim? I wouldn’t risk the watch to go underwater for too long without suffering some damage or corrosion. It’s just not worth it.
2. Most apps are bite-sized, require you flick between pages for additional content. And Blind Square or other vision-related maps apps? Forget it!
Let’s talk about a typical app interaction on your Apple Watch. While Uber is not a big offender of this, other apps (such as Apple’s own messaging app) are. You click to compose a new message by force-touching (or doing a harder tap) on your screen in the message list, at which point a compose button pops up. Now you press “add contact”. If you have favourite or recently used contacts, they’ll populate a list, but if you don’t, press “add contact” again and either scroll through a list of many many contacts (if you have 800 like I do thanks to Facebook sync,) or dictate it yourself. Of course, when presented with a list of contacts, you only have a limited grid of numbers, so if you have 5 Davids in your phone? Forget it. You find your contact, press it, and now you have to press a compose message button. Next, scroll through a bunch of pre-defined responses (or explore to the dictate button at the bottom if you’re intuitive), at which point you can dictate. But wait. If you didn’t customize it so that your message is sent as the dictated text or audio, the watch will prompt you next whether you want to send it as either. Whew!
Other apps are terrible offenders of this multi-step, complex interaction model.
While Apple’s maps app will now provide transit directions on your watch, this is limited to a few cities, and yours might not be one of them. And since there exist specialized mapping applications for those who are blind, these don’t have proper apps as of this writing. (APH and other devs? This is your call to action. Watch OS 2 gives you abilities to run on the device and do taptic feedback, so please.)
3. Compose e-mails? Not if you can’t do heavy inbox management, you might not.
The Apple Watch app (which is now pre-installed on iPhones running 8.3 or greater of iOS) allows you to customize what inboxes are on your watch, and which ones sync. This still requires a connection to said phone with Watch OS 2, but if you want to quickly scroll through messages and reply to many at once, the Apple Watch is not a place where you’ll be doing this from. You also can’t browse individual folders or switch among them, so if you sort your messages to folders with filters, it could be harder to take advantage of the built-in mail client. Depending on your workload, it might not be more efficient to use it as opposed to your iPhone. And if you want to dictate paragraphs upon paragraphs? Don’t do it with Siri. There’s a higher chance of it making a dictation mistake with the more text you spring forth. This one’s your call.
4. The Watch is still iPhone dependent, no matter how you see it.
Even though the Apple Watch works without your iPhone nearby, users of multiple devices (such as myself) do get a drawback. If you are on Android (or use it as your daily driver), you still need an iPhone to set up the device. You will also need it to sync various data across to your iCloud account, so it is definitely not ecosystem free, although again — Watch OS 2’s native apps will lessen this burden. This is important to consider when buying though, because you are essentially locked into Apple a bit more by owning this item.
5. Notifications are still complex: Clear it on your watch and it goes away from your phone; Clear it from your phone, and it…
The Apple Watch is an odd beast. If you clear a notification from the watch’s notification center, it’ll disappear from your phone, but if you clear it from your phone, I have still found that it sticks around on my watch. I feel like this should be a toggle of behavior, but it is not here yet. Also, unless the app in question has an Apple Watch counterpart, don’t expect to do much else with that notification. While it’s still useful to see it on my watch, 90% of apps I own do not have watch versions yet, so responding to, say, Facebook Messenger is impossible as of now. It will be coming, though, as confirmed by Apple.
This is pretty much the state of Apple Watch in late 2015. Has Watch OS 2 made it a “must-have?” Not yet, although we are still awaiting the response from developers to make apps for the device. I suspect that a few of these items could become more “pros” than “cons” once this is done, but the watch will still remain an OPTIONAL utility that you need to justify for yourself. Well-designed, good quality apps will change the landscape a lot, but as we’ve seen, not even Facebook is willing to publish a watch app because the news feed of people consists mostly of pictures and videos, which would be hard to manage on it. If your phone is not in reach always, it could be a good companion device, but then again — can you get up to reach your phone to begin with anyway? These are the questions every new buyer will grapple with, and the fish is your choice to hook or let back into the water at the end of the day.