Apple Watch One Year In

A lot of virtual ink has been spilled the past few weeks writing about the pros and cons of Apple Watch one year into its life. Folks are talking about must-have features for version 2 and of course there’s plenty of debate about whether to classify Apple Watch as a flop or not.

I won’t spend time re-hashing any of that as you can go read it elsewhere, but I do want to give my impressions of the device and share how I have settled in to using it. These habits give some insight, at least anecdotally, into what Apple Watch’s actual potential might be for “revolutionizing” its segment.

I still wear my watch every day. My default/favorite watch face is the Modular Multi-Color. In terms of complications on this face I use the date, time (obviously), next calendar event, battery percent, outside temperature, and finally drive time in minutes (via ETA app).

I also consume a large number of notifications on the watch, including email (both personal and work) as well as text messages. I recently upgraded to the iPhone 6s from the 6 and sold the old phone on Ebay–the bid notifications on my wrist were helpful and fun.

The most compelling benefit of the notifications is that I don’t pull my phone from my pocket as often, nor am I constantly checking the phone for activity.

Glances get occasional use. I do check the weather glance a couple times a week, and perhaps the heart rate just for amusement (more on activity tracking later), but most of the glances go un-used.

This leads me to the biggest weak spot on the phone: the apps.

I don’t use apps on the phone, pretty much at all. I don’t find them in any way compelling and in no way are any of them more convenient than the same feature/app on the phone. In most cases apps are more of a pain due to the small screen, clumsiness of tapping little virtual buttons and manipulating the interface, and limited features.

I will occasionally go into the Weather app from the Weather glance, and I’ve recently installed the Canary security app (though have yet to use it). I have a total of three 3rd party apps installed, almost never used.

I’m not going to make a phone call on my wrist, compose an email on my wrist, or browse my photo library on my wrist. I’m not going to look at a map on my wrist, or check my calendar on my wrist. Though I’ve only used them a couple of times, the timer and clock apps do at least make sense–the Apple Watch is a timekeeping device after all. Most of the rest of the apps are gimmicky or have no real use case, however.

Third party apps on the watch are almost entirely a joke. Why would I want to look at data on my wrist? Why would I EVER want to play any games on my wrist? It begins to get tiring very quickly to hold your wrist up long enough to engage in a game. Nobody is going to choose that over their phone for gaming.

Finally, I’ll talk about the exercise and activity tracker components. I am not a fitness nut per se, but I am an avid pick-up basketball player, typically playing 2-3x a week. Though I’m very curious about activity and calories burned during games, I don’t wear the watch for basketball because I don’t want to 1) get the watch damaged or 2) hurt somebody else getting hit (e.g. in the nose) with the watch. I do find the activity tracking pretty compelling, I just don’t get use out of that feature myself.

It seems to me Apple could not come up with the one compelling use case for the watch, so they crammed in everything to see what would stick. I don’t have a problem with this approach, and we’ve certainly had time to see what has stuck.

Most folks are calling for more independence from the phone via cellular networking in the watch. I disagree. More autonomy is not what is needed, as the watch is never going to be a phone replacement for anyone. Its highest and best use is as a compliment to the watch and a first-order member of the Apple ecosystem. Rather than cram in more features, I want to see the watch case slimmed down and more attention given to making Apple Watch the best notifications and activity companion on the market. Trim down the default apps to the most compelling use cases, and make them more compelling.

On the third party apps side, companies need to think seriously about real uses cases for their watch apps, not just being “on the board” with a watch app just for the sake of having it. The watch is not a phone, so why are we trying to build tiny-sized phone apps for it? Instead, think about the watch and wrist in their own light and how to exploit the location for the most impact on the user’s routines.

Finally, a trimmed down Apple Watch, devoid of gimmickry, needs a lower price point. People perceive value in terms of what they get back for their money. Its OK for the watch to be more focused and do less (this is the Apple way, right?), but the price might need to come down on models other than the Sport in order for the value proposition to work for a larger market. If Apple could trip the Watch down in terms of its scope, perhaps production costs would come down too, therefore a price reduction would not effect margins.  I am not a reactionary “Apple must build cheaper stuff to increase its profits” goon, I recognize their strength is at the premium end of the market, where they can vacuum up all the profits in the segment and avoid the commoditization of their products.  In this case, however, I think the Apple Watch is simply out of reach for too many otherwise curious interested buyers.  Since its not a must-have product (let’s face it, you more or less have to have a smart phone these days) the potential buyers are more price sensitive.  Maybe the recent price drop on the Sport is enough–we’ll see.

Bottom line is this: I like my watch and would buy it again, but its not life changing and it is not must-have. Apple has some more work to do here.