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Think Brownstone’s Apple Watch Share: Brad and Amman

By Brad Sukala on September 10, 2015

This post is the second in a series about Think Brownstone’s Apple Watch Share. Phil and Sunkwon wrote about their initial reactions when we first launched the share. Now, the second wave of participants, Brad and Amman, have handed off the watch to the next folks in line. Below, they share their thoughts now that their scheduled time with the device has come to an end.

Brad

…And suddenly, my six weeks with the shared Think Brownstone Apple Watch was over.

That’s kind of what wearing the watch was like for me. I wouldn’t say that it was a revelatory experience or that I’m rushing out to buy one tomorrow, but rather I found it slowly integrating itself into my life in a way that made it feel entirely natural. Now that it’s gone, my reaction is more along the lines of, “Oh, it’s not here now. That’s too bad.”

That being said, and after a couple weeks of Apple Watch-less not-quite-purgatory, I think I’ll probably buy one for myself… later. Here are two and a half reasons why.

Fitness

I’ve owned and used a Fitbit for over two years now and have fully bought in to the idea of the quantified self as a motivator (5,770,036 steps and counting!). It is a rare day that I haven’t worn my Fitbit, and when those days occur, I feel cheated and strange. Given that, I’m also a natural candidate for the fitness tracking aspects of the Apple Watch.

If you’re not aware, Apple divides your activity into 3 categories:

  • Stand—Whether you were standing or not for one minute or more each hour of the day
  • Move—Your active caloric burn for the day
  • Exercise—How many minutes of exercise you had during the day

As a desk-ridden professional, I loved being reminded to stand once every hour—and yes, I followed my watch’s commands whenever possible, sometimes standing in meetings for no good reason beyond the tap on my wrist. Coming from Fitbit’s very concrete measurement of steps, I never really came to grips with Apple’s Move, though I appreciated the watch’s weekly recalibration of my target based on the previous week’s results. Exercise was pretty straightforward, but only because my main form was running—an exercise that’s easily tracked. If I was doing something less measurable, like weight lifting or swimming (reports say the watch is safe to swim with, but Apple officially says not to), I’d wonder about the value.

Despite these complaints, seeing the rings throughout the day was a great motivator to keep moving and doing all I could to complete the circuit. Anyone who doubts the power of gamification should spend 2 months with one of these devices to experience the motivational power of the idea. If I wasn’t a believer before, I would be now.

Notifications

I’m fairly conscious of how and when I interact with my phone. I’m not a person who decries how everyone has their faces jammed into a screen all day, but I also want to be present and mindful of the world around me. This is why I was so pleased when I noticed how much less I was pulling my phone out of my pocket. This is a phenomenon mentioned by many watch reviewers and I can totally understand what they mean.

The watch lets you filter your notifications in a way that even the most curated settings on the phone could not. I can see on my wrist if someone messaged me in Slack or a news story just broke, and then decide how to act. Of course I could do the same with a lock screen notification on the phone, but the act of pulling out the phone and interacting with it is surprisingly much heavier a task than checking your wrist. I am fully aware of how silly and meaningless this distinction sounds… and yet it exists and is meaningful.

The promise of apps

Cutting straight to the chase, third party apps (those made by people who aren’t Apple) are awful right now. Without delving into the technical reasons why, I can say that they are slow to the point of uselessness. It’s rumored that an update to watchOS in the fall will address this, but for now only Apple’s built-in apps are bearable.

What I’ve seen with those first-party apps is very promising, though. They are super-focused mini apps when compared to iOS. The stopwatch and timer are their own separate apps, for example, and I used them both quite frequently in the kitchen. The music controls were equally helpful. Controlling your Apple TV from your wrist is another I live in the future moment. If you’ve used Apple Pay on your phone, it’s that much easier with the watch. Directions are awesome, too.

These experiences, albeit short and hyper-focused, make me very interested to see what all the great app developers can do once they have the ability to run their code natively on the watch.

Concluding thoughts

After six weeks wearing Apple Watch, I’m fairly well sold, but still feel that it’s not something I need in my life. It made my relationship with my phone much better, but I also find myself doing fine without it. More likely than not, I’ll hold off to see what the rumor winds are blowing about a second generation unit.

Apple Watch is an eminently subtle device. It slowly works its way into your routine, but can just as effectively ease itself out, too. Apple calls the watch their “most personal device yet.” I think I get the sentiment, but the language seems off. Personal feels integral to me. I would call my phone my most personal device. I literally get anxious when I hand my phone to other people. Sure, the watch was strapped to my body, but that doesn’t mean it’s more personal. But “our most subtle device yet” doesn’t move product.

Amman

Not a watch, IMHO

Apple WatchAs a watch customer, nothing in me ever asked for an Apple Watch—which probably lent to my lukewarm reaction. The fanfare leading up to the release was enthralling, but as much as I wanted to like it, I couldn’t find the “why” of it. I lost interest after a few days of doodling to coworkers, and handed it in early.

As a designer, my disagreements are all about how the Apple Watch is positioned as a watch. The disagreements could probably be leveled at smart watches as a whole, but I’m picking on Apple.

Watches don’t emit light

But computers do emit light, which reminded me the Apple Watch is a computer every time I caught the cuff of my sleeve glowing.

Things get weird when you apply Moore’s law and technical obsolescence to a heritage piece like a watch. The gold “edition” models could be out in one or two product cycles. Would you hand an Apple Watch down to your kid the same way you would your favorite Max Bill automatic? The glow emanating from my wrist reminded me that I was wearing a future Craigslist item, and I believe one shouldn’t think of jewelry like that.

Watches don’t demand attention

(Other than the alarm, of course.) The Apple Watch, on the other hand, connects you to every notification you receive from apps or people throughout the day. Even when you aren’t looking, they tug at your wrist via onboard haptics like a child looking for a potty.

The conceit here is that you want to pay attention—that you want to give your focus to others and give them more access to you throughout the day. That is not necessarily so. You glance at your wrist because you want to know something, not because you want to be answerable to something.

Watches don’t need navigation

Glancing at a watch is mostly about a single moving data point (usually time). You develop that quick habit because you benefit from learning to move through your day according to it.

The Apple Watch demands more. You glance, and then navigate through layers of abstracted interface. It makes sense that a computer company would take such a thing for granted—that a watch-wearer might not forgive the imposition of a layered digital interface that requires navigation. Different data isn’t such a bad thing, but layered navigation feels too slow and heavy.

The upside of my experience with the Apple Watch was my renewed interest in wearables. I found myself spending late nights looking at old automatics and envisioning a renaissance of low-power or no-power wearables. I believe in specialized utility and sensible materials, and I’m excited to see what appears on the market after Apple has done it’s thing.

In the meantime, I’m a Withings Activité guy.

Stay tuned for the next Apple Watch share update!