Wearables are a huge deal today. In fact, it’s one of the hottest growing computing categories on the market right now. Nearly every place you look and every person you actually look AT has some kind of wearable tech with them. Smartwatches and fitness bands seem to the easiest to spot, and nearly everyone at the office is wearing one, too.
Perhaps the biggest and most anticipated entry into the wearables/ smartwatch category is the Apple Watch. Is it the nirvana of wearables? Is it everything that its hyped up to be? Was it worth the wait? These are all GREAT questions.
In part three of this four part review, let’s take a look at what the software on the device and on the iPhone – how well does it all work together? What does it look like? How easy is it to use?
Is the Apple Watch, with the way it works, the device for you? Let’s get into how it does what it does and find out!
You’ll find that this one is long, kids, but mostly because of all the screen shots and descriptions. Hit all the sections; but if you need to skim over the pictures, you’re still going to get value out of the review.
Software and Interfaces
There’s enough information in this section that it could – and likely should – be a whole review unto itself. However, for the sake of continuity, I am not going to split this off by itself. Expect to find a great deal of information and screen shots in this section, however. There’s a lot to digest.
Aside from the interface on the Watch, which is not bad; the bulk of the control of what happens on your Watch is dictated by what you do on your iPhone. At this time, you can’t run an Apple Watch without either an iPhone 5/s or 6/+. (However, as I finish writing this, Apple has just announced their Fall 2015 iPhone Event, entitled, “Hey Siri, give us a hint.” One can only hope that means that you’re going to see more of her not only in the iPhone, but in the Watch as well. A better working, smarter, and more sophisticated Siri couldn’t hurt here. Obviously, for Siri to get better, the issues that I encountered with Bluetooth audio will need to be resolved. If you can’t hear her and she can’t hear you, then an improved Siri on the Watch ain’t gonna mean squat…
Aside from Siri, however, the guts of the functionality of Apple Watch rests in your iPhone and the Apple Watch app. The only thing that you really DON’T do here is pick the watch face and complications you want (see below). Nearly everything else is done in the app.
If you don’t have an Apple Watch, then you either haven’t seen the app, or if you’ve downloaded it, it likely hasn’t made much sense without having the actual hardware next to your iPhone. I’m going to take us through the major screens in the app and give a brief description of what each does.
Activity Monitoring and Health Integration
One of the biggest things that you can do with Apple Watch is track your physical activity. However, I’ve not had much luck with this, to be very honest. No… it’s NOT because I’m a fat slob (still). Its more because I’m really NOT certain how the Watch actually TRACKS activity. It’s all a bit confusing.
You’ll note from this screen in Apple Health that its taking activity and movement information from both my iPhone and my Watch. This is important to know, because they both measure things a bit differently (though slightly) and they internally reconcile things so there isn’t any duplicate data, especially since I often have both with me at the same time.
As you can see from this screen, I’m wearing my Apple Watch nearly every day. However, you’ll also notice that while I meet my Stand goal nearly every day, I don’t come close to my Movement or Exercise goals at all.
This is where I have a huge issue with the way that data is calculated and stored. Apple Watch is really counting Active Calories. Microsoft Band (and others, I suspect) are counting Total Calories.
According to Microsoft Band, I’ve burned over 11,000 calories this week. According to Apple Watch, I haven’t even come close to that.
The difference in my daily calorie counts is the difference between active and resting calories. I burn more resting calories than I do active calories. Apple Health doesn’t really give you credit for resting calories. You need to get off your fat behind and move to get the credit and achievements (of which I have NONE because I’m clearly not moving enough.)
However, I do seem to be standing enough…
At issue here is NOT that I’m getting credit for both with MS Band vs. Apple Watch. The issue is that you don’t figure this out until after you notice this kind of discrepancy. Many people that use Apple Watch may have moved to it from some other kind of fitness band. Those likely bucket active and resting calories together as well. The Fitbit, MS Band and Nike Fuel Band do.
You don’t figure this out because no one tells you and it really isn’t written down anywhere for you to read. If you recall my unboxing of my Apple Watch, there really wasn’t anything in the box except the Watch and an extra 1/2 of the watch band. The Apple Watch and Activity apps on iPhone also don’t tell you or give you any kind of a hint on this.
While not a deal breaker to any extent, it is a huge hole in the way you understand how the Watch works…
Apps and Glances
With WatchOS 1.0, Apps and Glances are pretty much the same thing. Currently, there aren’t any native apps for the Watch. All you have is a Glance, or a shortened, sort of “appling” that is related to an iPhone app. Glances are, in fact, an off shoot or a Watch version of an iPhone app.
The biggest problem I have with Glances is that nearly every iPhone app I have wants to install a Glance to my Watch. You do that, and you’re quickly fill your watch up with a lot of junk. Not every iPhone app well as a Watch Glance. For example, unless you’re walking somewhere and need specific directions, GPS based glances are highly unlikely to get used, at least on my wrist. Turn by turn directions pop up on my iPhone easily enough and honestly I’ve likely got the GPS app screen active on the device anyway while I’m driving. I don’t often walk to places that I don’t know directions to, so having step by step or turn by turn directions pop up on my wrist don’t help much (and can honestly be distracting…)
As I mentioned, some glances can be very powerful and very good – when they work. The Weather Underground glance, for example is really great; but I’m having issues getting it to retrieve information from its parent app under WatchOS 1.01. Under WatchOS 1.0, it worked without an issue.
Here are the Glances that I use and a brief description of all of them.
I’m not going to spend too much time on this for a couple of very key reasons. I know Apple Pay works. I’ve been able to use it on my iPhone, but only occasionally, as its not widely accepted by BRAND here in the area of suburban Chicago where I live. However, many “tap to pay” or NFC terminals do exist.
I’ve had a number of issues using the Watch to pay for things; and that’s either me or the infrastructure not being setup quite right and not Apple Pay. I say me, because of the way that Apple Pay wants to be activated on the Watch.
Like Apple Pay on your iPhone, if you hold your Watch near a Tap to Pay or Apple Pay terminal, Passbook is supposed to automatically open to the last active card you used and will prompt you to pay with that card.
The white bar in the shot above bounces at you and the words, “Double Click to Pay,” appear. What ensues next is a ballet dance as you hold your wrist near the terminal and you bouncing back and forth between this screen and your Friends screen as you try to pay with your Watch.
Most of the time I give up and either grab my iPhone and use it, or just forego Apple Pay and use the card reader. A Force Touch on the screen might have been a better choice here instead of the hardware button. It would be more accurate and easier to activate.
Out of the dozen or so times I’ve tried to use Apple Pay on my Watch, its only worked once. I also seem to have issues with Apple Pay and my American Express card. The number and transaction never transfer to AmEx correctly and I always get a fraud alert. I’m not certain what’s up with that. I’ve called AmEx about it a couple different times, and they’re at a total loss.
The Cutesy Stuff
There are a few unique things that the Apple Watch can do; and they kinda fall on the cutesy side. While kinda cool, they are in no way meant to be anything productive or value added. Like I said, they’re cute and that’s about it. These items are completely unique to Apple Watch, as no other wearable currently on the market does these things, or anything else like them. That’s either because no one else has figured out how to do something like this… or because no one wants too. Cute only gets you so far.
All of these items are accessed and sent via the Friends menu on the Watch. They show up as a Notification on another Apple Watch… and that’s part of the key. Not only do you have to have an Apple Watch to send them, you have to have one to receive them. They do not come across on your iPhone. They go straight to the Watch and are totally ignored by iPhone.
You can send any combination of Taps, Sketches and Heartbeats to a single user at the same time.
You can send a haptic tap to someone on your Friends list if they have an Apple Watch. Select the friend you want to tap with the Digital Crown. After selecting them, tap their picture or initials and a blank canvas appears. Tap the canvas again with a single finger and a round circle will appear in the color you’ve chosen. (Color can be changed by tapping the small color disc in the upper right corner of the Watch screen and then rotating the Digital Crown…)
You’ll see the circle, like a ripple, appear and then slowly decay inward until it disintegrates. If you think about it, Taps are really nothing more than digital sketches. (see below)
Among some of the most widely publicized things you can do with Apple Watch, Sketches are likely the most common things sent between friends who have Watches.. To send a sketch to someone, select the friend you want to tap with the Digital Crown. After selecting them, tap their picture or initials and a blank canvas appears. You can immediately start drawing on the face of your Watch with your finger. As soon as you stop, the sketch disintegrates on itself and is sent as a Notification to the Watch owning friend. The sketch’s color can be changed by tapping the small color disc in the upper right corner of the Watch screen and then rotating the Digital Crown. However, if you try to change colors, the first part of the sketch (before the color change) will be sent to the user. While you will be able to change colors, you won’t be able to continue the sketch with the new color selection before the color changes on you.
Using the same mode to identify the recipient of a Heartbeat (via the Friends menu), place two fingers on the blank canvas of your Watch and Force Touch and hold. You’ll pick up the beat of your heart. You’ll capture as many beats as are counted while force holding your fingers to the screen. When you let them go, the notification is sent to the recipient.
Watch Faces and Complications
One of the best things about Apple Watch is that you can customize the way it looks. With the Fitbit Surge, the Pebble Time, and the Microsoft Band, you have a single device display or watch face. Not so with the Apple Watch. With it, you have a choice of up to ten (10) different faces. There are also eight (8) complications.
Simply put, there aren’t enough of either of these. The Watch needs more Faces and more Complications. Again, One can only hope that with WatchOS 2.0, we’ll have a bit more choice and/ or flexibility here.
Part 3 Conclusion
The biggest issue I had with the software was with the discrepancy between resting and active calorie burn and count. That one really confused me. I’ve been wearing my Microsoft Band since Christmas Day 2014, and I’ve come to rely on it as a baseline for all smartwatch and activity band review criteria in this roundup. When the numbers don’t match up and it’s difficult to figure out why, things can become very confusing.
The Watch is currently running WatchOS 1.01; and its software functionality is definitely reflective of a 1.x revision level. There’s some low hanging fruit that Apple can quickly gain and provide value from in the anticipated Watch2.0 update that involves changes to Notifications, options for turning glances and apps truly on or off as well as adding additional watch faces and complications or by providing users with additional means to customize existing faces.
This area needs work, but it’s not a train wreck. Expect an update of some kind in late September or early October when WatchOS 2.0 is released. I’ll hopefully have some good news to report at that point.
Come back next time for Part 4 of my four part Apple Watch review. In Part 4, I’ll wrap it all up and put the Apple Watch to bed.