I love my smartphone. Like many of us today, I couldn’t live without my phone. I don’t do anything these days until my phone tells me I need to do it. Ok. Maybe slightly hyperbolic, but I can certainly say without exaggeration that I’m a more organized and productive person because of my phone.
But, the idea of a smart, wearable device? I didn’t get the point of it. Why would I want to take the functionality of my phone and compress it into an even smaller screen? It’s already tough enough to navigate my 4.7-inch smartphone. The idea of navigating an interface only slightly larger than a postage stamp was laughable.
Still, the barrage of advertising, glitzy displays at the local Best Buy, and social media pressure were wearing me down. Being an early adopter by nature, I was already very late to this game, so when I discovered I could get an Apple Watch using my credit card points, I decided it was time to take the plunge. I was still very much the skeptic, but the price was right to jump in.
That was 10 months ago.
As I expected, my Apple Watch was silly. Sure it was cool that Mickey Mouse tapped his foot in time with countless other Mickey watch faces around the world, but I wanted my watch to be more than that. An engineer at heart, while I can appreciate the aesthetics of a clean, elegant design, when it comes to my electronics, functionality-with-purpose is priority number one. The Apple Watch was certainly a clean, elegant design, so I decided to give it a little more time and see if could grow to have a purpose in my life.
Social Media seemed like a good place to look for reasons to own a smartwatch. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see smart mobile devices as part of an evolution that arguably began when Gutenberg’s printing press enabled the mass production of printed material. Is there any greater example of the mass production of information (or disinformation) in the world today than that produced on smart mobile devices? It only makes sense that the designers of smart wearables would want to make it easier for us to publish even more content to the ever-growing Cloud for all of us to consume.
But it wasn’t working for me. Sure, I could get notifications when information was posted to my Facebook feed or notifications from Instagram and Twitter, but still, the postage stamp sized window into this world was silly. It was like watching a movie through the keyhole of a locked door.
Ok. So Social Media didn’t work for me, but I’ll admit, I’m not the typical fan of social media. Maybe if I changed my focus to something more relevant to my own interests, such as newsworthy current events, maybe the experience would be different. This immediately felt more useful. Notifications from CNN that SpaceX successfully landed a rocket on a floating barge, news from Huffington Post that the sugar industry paid scientists to tell us we liked things that are sweet but that’s ok, or news from ESPN that my favorite sports team just swept our archrivals. Sure, I couldn’t read the entire articles, but these were important things, things I wanted to hear. I likened it to the old days when a friend would call me on my landline and say, “Hey did you hear about . . .” My reaction would be, tell me more. In today’s scenario, I pulled my phone out my pocket and read, as the late Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”
So what’s the score so far? Social media didn’t do it for me. But instant access to news headlines was a definite win. There’s a glimmer of hope for me and my Apple Watch, so what next? I like the convenience of text messaging. Who doesn’t? I like getting notifications from my daughter that she arrived safely at her destination. And I’ll admit that more than a few trips back to the grocery store to pick up that missing ingredient were averted by a timely text message in the checkout line. Text messaging was an immediate notch in the win column for the Apple Watch, and let’s be fair, probably for any wearable worth its weight. The subtle tap on my wrist, a glance at my watch, and, hey, it’s my daughter again. This time it’s a fun fact about something that happened at work. Nothing urgent, but now that she’s moved out on her own, it’s nice to stay connected. And had it been something urgent, I could have pulled my phone out of my pocket and called. Yes. That’s right. I still use my phone to make phone calls. That was the real win for me. A quick message subtly delivered to my wrist. In the past it would have been a chime from my pocket followed by the question, should I put down what I’m doing so I can pull my phone out of my pocket? The difference of being happy to hear from my daughter about something funny at work versus an annoying interruption about something that wasn’t all that important.
Health and Activity
Health tracking has been a target of smart wearables since their inception. Entire companies have been founded on the basis that we need wearable devices to keep track of our activity. So I decided to see if the Apple Watch would help improve my health. I was not immediately sold on this one. The concentric circles indicating Moving calories, Exercise minutes, and Stands that Apple puts front and center on the Activity app didn’t connect with me. I was expecting to see numbers. It seems like every day I hear someone asking “How many steps did you get in today?” The Activity app will show you steps, but you have to dig for it, meaning I had to click and swipe around on that little postage-size screen to find it. The Apple Watch did not win me over as a health and activity tracker. I’ve grown accustomed to monitoring Moving calories, but I still dig into the app at the end of the day to see if I met my real goal in terms of steps.
So…what’s next for Watch?
Personal Assistance (a game changer)
I was about to declare the Apple Watch, at best, a nice accessory. As smartwatches go, it looks great, so a great-looking nice accessory, but certainly not a necessity. In comparison to my phone, which I’ve already said I couldn’t live without, the watch was a bust. But then something happened. My wife reintroduced me to Siri.
I was making coffee one morning. I like using a French press, and since I don’t do anything until my phone tells me to do it, I was using my phone’s timer to tell me when the brew was ready. My wife suggested I use my watch timer instead. I know the watch has a timer, but it doesn’t have a preset 4-minute timer. You have to find the app and then clumsily adjust a custom timer and tap start. She says, “Not like that. Tell Siri to time it for you.” Up to that point, I never seriously used Siri for anything. To me, it was a gimmick. But it was an interesting suggestion. I tried it and it was a game changer. “Hey, Siri. Four-minute timer.” Four minutes later a subtle tap on my wrist and I’m pressing a fresh cup of coffee. Wow. As user experiences go, that was as clean and efficient as it gets.
It just took off from that point.
Some time later, I am out walking the dogs. It’s cold outside. I’m wearing mittens (yes, it’s that cold). “Hey, Siri. Tell my wife we’re almost home.” Siri sends off a text message. My phone remains in my pocket and my hands remain warm and protected from the frigid air. Another win for Siri and the watch.
“Hey, Siri. Remind me to respond to that message from John when I get home.” A reminder is promptly set and when I get home, a subtle tap on my wrist with a note reminding me to respond to John.
“Hey, Siri, Call my mother.” Moments later I’m talking to my mother. Well, more like listening to complaints about not visiting often enough.
“Hey, Siri, What’s the score of the Pirates game.” Sadly, it’s disappointing news.
“Hey, Siri, Remind me in the morning to schedule an oil change.”
“Hey, Siri, Is it going to rain tomorrow?”
“Hey, Siri, Show me my calendar.”
“Hey, Siri, Schedule a task at 4:00 to finish my proposal.” Siri responds, “You have a conflict at that time. Do you still want to schedule the task?” “Hey Siri, Yes.”
Interacting with the watch is suddenly practical and useful.
So it’s coming up on a year with my Apple Watch and as much as I hate to admit it, I was wrong. My watch is not as silly as I predicted it would be. I had it wrong. It was never intended to replace my phone. It works with my phone. It makes my phone more useful. Many of the interactions that required me to pull my phone out of my pocket can be done conveniently through the watch, the majority with Siri’s assistance. Most of the notifications that chimed in my pocket are now delivered privately as a tap on my wrist. The watch has created a curiously paradoxical effect. While I interact less directly with my phone, the phone’s functionality has become more accessible. And I’ve become a more efficient and organized person.
I have to admit, It didn’t happen overnight and interacting with Siri certainly isn’t always the best option. For instance, I don’t ask Siri to tell me the time. Sometimes even a smartwatch just has to be a watch.