Early reviews of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL)‘s smart watch indicate that the year’s most-hyped piece of bling almost lives up to the hype, at a cost of functionality.
First off, the Apple Watch is not a replacement for your iPhone. It’s actually designed to work in conjunction with the iPhone, assuming you have an iPhone 5 or a later model. The watch requires a connection between the two in order for the wearer to take full advantage of the watch’s functions.
Without an iPhone, you can do a few things, like boarding a plane, opening your hotel room, or calling an Uber, but the Apple Watch truly shines when it’s connected to an iPhone.
In many cases, the watch can only act as a remote control for streamlined versions of the apps hosted on the connected iPhone. The watch’s aptly named operating system, Watch OS, is not yet able to run the full versions of most apps on its own.
With this sort of relationship between watch and phone, the Apple Watch can feel like a solution that’s still searching for its problem.
Where the smart watch differs from the smartphone lies in its “taptic engine,” a system of various physical cues that will alert you to different digital notifications: phone calls insist while texts nudge, relatively independent of an iPhone.
As part of its “taptic engine,” the watch will also constantly monitor your heart rate as well as remind you to get up and move around when you’ve been sitting in the same spot for a long period of time.
Eventually, the system is expected to affect how you subconsciously interpret tactile stimuli. After years of use, a physical reminder to go for a run might trigger the endorphins that accompany exercise much like the effect that Pavlov’s bell had on his dogs.
Once you get past the Apple Watch’s complex yet rewarding user interface, you’ll notice that the watch works very much like a first-generation device, complete with all of the limitations and flaws you’ve come to expect from brand-new technology.
Third-party apps are pretty much useless right now, with Twitter and Uber coming up confusing and dysfunctional. Watch OS requires most apps to be retrofitted to its own specifications in order to support them.
Native apps work well but why wouldn’t they? I’m told that Apple Pay is magical where it’s available. Of the 1,000-plus apps that have been submitted to the smart watch, only about three dozen are currently available for testing.
Work In Progress
Many have commented that the watch itself is thicker than expected, about six quarters high, one of the downsides of its eight gigabytes of storage.
The battery lasts all day with regular use as advertised, which translates to over 18 hours in many cases, and easily outlives its counterpart, the iPhone, assuming that the phone bears the brunt of the app-load.
The Apple Watch doesn’t support any Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) products yet and makes no attempt to provide the wearer with a keyboard, browser, or a way to respond to emails.
The lack of a keyboard limits the user to default responses and dictating to Siri in order to respond to messages, or emoji for those less-demanding communications.
Trial & Error
Despite these initial hiccups, I expect the Apple Watch to eventually become almost as ubiquitous as the iPhone due in large part to Apple’s enviable market share and manic consumer base, but also based on the capabilities of future generations of the Apple Watch without a connected iPhone.
People like to say “wear the future on your wrist” when they talk about the Apple Watch, but I’d rather wear the new and improved future.
Much like the first iPhone, which lacked all the flourish and nuance that comes standard with today’s smartphones, the Apple Watch is still figuring out what it needs to be.
And as a product of a company known to regularly roll out updates far into the life of its devices, you can count on waves of fine-tuning to eventually result in the Apple Watch getting better with age, but ultimately resulting in a vastly superior Apple Watch 2.
Due to the watch’s inevitable obsolescence, technology at this stage is strictly for pioneers. It might be several months before there’s a world of apps and services beyond what Apple itself has already built for the watch to fall back on.
The Apple Watch starts at $350 and goes all the way up to $17,000 if sapphire crystals and gold alloy do it for you. The watch will hit stores April 24th but you can preorder it as early as April 10th.