Many Small Things

1 May 2015

I’ve had the Apple Watch for a week now, literally. Although a few quick software updates will drastically improve the device, I think I’ve come to terms with how the product fits into my life for the foreseeable future.

It’s not a necessity. It just isn’t. Even if it becomes an iPhone independent product, which I think is inevitable, its form factor limits its essentialness.1 Many tasks are too complicated to ever be feasible on wrist-sized displays. There may come a day when interacting with computers does not need physical input, maybe through some kind of technological telepathy, but that is really far off. As long as devices need displays, the watch will always be a companion product.

This means that the Apple Watch fills in niche roles in your life. Checking Twitter whilst on the sofa waiting for the kettle to boil. Replying to texts whilst you walk down the street. Controlling wireless music playlist in the kitchen whilst preparing dinner. Getting notified its about to rain when chilling in the park.

Enjoying the Watch revolves around finding enough of these small conveniences to justify keeping it strapped it to your wrist. These use-cases aren’t immediately obvious but I’ve found loads of these opportunities spring up in my week’s testing. As the product becomes more capable, more parts of my life will benefit in small ways. Once the watch can help do many small things for many people, it will become ingrained into society like the smartphone has.

I’ve seen a lot of analysis state that the Watch is about Glances and Complications rather than apps. I think that is a misguided line of thinking. The apps have a reason to exist and will become better at fulfilling that role once they don’t suck (which probably means a native SDK, although I have pondered whether a ‘better’ WatchKit SDK would suffice). You swap between the different features of the Watch as is required by the current task.

The watch face is part of this story too. A lot of the clock face customisation options offered is about personality and aesthetic customisation but there is some consideration of utility as well. Users with particularly busy schedules are going to lean towards using the Modular face with dense information display, for example.

Buying the Watch today requires a leap of faith. You have to believe that it will help you because it isn’t evident from Apple’s marketing or by playing with the device in the store. The fitness stuff is by far the easiest way to sell the Apple Watch 1.0. Through both the Workout and Activity apps, the Watch offers some very comprehensive fitness tracking. It’s not that you couldn’t go for a run before, but now that action is made better by wearing the Watch. It is a subtle but crucial distinction.

The other elements of the Watch are less tangible and much harder to explain. I don’t how Apple is going to be able to convey the feeling of frequent usefulness I expressed above in far fewer words to the general public at retail. Thankfully, as I don’t work in Apple sales, that’s not my problem to solve. What I do know is that I took a blind stab and bought the Watch sight unseen, albeit with a 14-day returns policy as insurance. A week later, I don’t want to take it off.

1 Surprisingly, that’s not a made up word.