September 2016:

Apple Watch Series 2 is very likely going to be the Apple Watch I finally buy.

I did.

I’m nervous I’ll find it all a little underwhelming when I finally have it in hand

I have.

Apple Watch (even Series 2) is slow, frustrating, and hamstrung. Much of that will go away in time, but it doesn’t help me today. Here’s what I‘d like to see from Apple Watch Series 3 and watchOS 4.0.

  1. Speed. Wait times for almost anything Apple Watch can do are measured in seconds. In a race between my iPhone and my watch, nine tasks out of 10 can be done more quickly from the phone even starting with the handicap of being in my pocket. That‘s simply not a great experience. Double the speed and double it again. There is something that can be done without significant hardware and engineering improvements, however: unlock the home screen. The watch will always be faster than the phone if all you need to do is roll over your wrist. The system of pre-designed faces and limited slots to add complications severely decreases this potential. I’m under no illusions Apple is likely to decrease its control over the watch face, but it’s a misstep, in my opinion.

  2. Siri. Google and Amazon have been getting a lot of love for devices that are always listening, but Apple’s “Hey Siri” isn’t bad. I’ve been using it since the minute it came out. It took Apple a while (I had a lot to say about this six years ago), but enabling passive listening is a game changer. It’s cool to have a device that listens for your commands in your living room or your kitchen; it’s magical to have one constantly at hand. Raising your wrist and speaking a command is the killer app for Apple Watch. The display (or at least the interactive display) ought to be a secondary, almost last-resort option. It’s cumbersome at best to precisely tap something on your wrist. Interactions spanning more than a few seconds (and most do thanks to the aforementioned sluggishness of the entire experience) are so awkward as to discourage any future attempts. Using your watch is in many cases actually less convenient than using your phone. In reality, instead of having both hands to work with you end up having neither. At least with the phone you can (the rise of mega phones notwithstanding) use with one hand. Unleash Siri and the watch will begin to come into its own as a platform.

  3. Sensors and Sensibility. I walk up to my Mac, it unlocks. I go to bed, Apple Watch tracks my sleep. I run a mile, iCloud knows my heart rate, my location, my speed. What else can Apple Watch do? It can sense light and dark. If the ambient noise gets louder, it could automatically make streaming media louder. It could share more across iCloud. Timers, for example, could be synchronized. Series 2 added GPS. Will Series 3 add cellular? What’s the humidity right now? What’s the temperature? How far am I from my phone? My laptop? My wife‘s phone? Sure, some of these are ridiculous. Many more I haven’t even listed. For Apple Watch to have a unique existence apart from the iPhone rather than being simply a second smaller, less capable screen (useful as that sometimes is), it must differentiate. Be more rugged, more elegant, more playful, much less expensive. Make the microphones better, improve the speakers, make it easier to use when wet, make the battery last all week. It’s not hard to imagine ways the watch can diverge from the phone. It is, unfortunately, hard to articulate and execute a vision potentially at odds with what by any measure is already a very successful product.

  4. Smarts. Notifications as they currently exist on the watch are shockingly primitive. Not only do you have scant control over what shows up, when, and how, the very idea of manually controlling notifications is overwhelming to most people. There is ample opportunity to improve in this area. If I were to have a quick go at it, I would start with differentiating between critical, important/urgent, and unimportant. Did my Nest Protect just go off at home? That sounds borderline critical to me. Is my wife’s heartrate unexpectedly elevated? I might want to know that. My wrist is literally the best place to get my attention. Did I leave the doors unlocked at home? Did an important client just email? Is there unexpected traffic on my normal route to work? Probably something I would like to know but maybe not an actual emergency. Did someone on my VIP list text? That’s a bit different than a spam phone call from someone trying to convince me that if I give them my credit card number I can have a free night’s stay at a Marriott. Just-in-time notifications, reminders, and info/interaction screens done right could make the watch an invaluable asset. Today’s notifications are naïve at best. With another generation of design and engineering, though, we might really have something.

The Apple Watch today is not a product I can whole-heartedly recommend to most people. It simply falls down too often in too many areas. Still, I’m not unhappy with mine. My expectations have mostly been met. I can track my heartrate while lifting or running. I have a discreet alarm to wake me up in the morning. The app ecosystem is slowly growing and maturing. I like getting a sneak preview of the future, and, I guess, I’m willing to pay for it with a little discomfort. Once speed is no longer an issue and a cellular radio emancipates it from the iPhone (allowing your wallet and keys to be integrated into the one thing you take everywhere), Apple Watch will be a truly magical product.

Stray Thoughts

  • Dictation should end after a pause, like it does on the iPhone. This seems like an easy fix.
  • I love the Nike version, but it’s crazy to me that I can’t edit the Nike+ Run Club complication.
  • The app constellation metaphor strikes me as a big mess, but what do I know.
  • I’ve been using the watch constantly for six months and I still barely switch watch faces and never use the app switcher. I think this says more about the design of the watch than it does about me.
  • Apple helpfully allowed Nike’s Volt to be a color across watch faces but does allow other faces to use Futura. Ah, well.
  • You can take a call on your watch (and hear the other person), but you can’t play music, podcasts, or hear Siri talk back to you. This totally makes sense and is not weird at all.
  • I like to turn off “Wake Screen on Wrist Raise” when I go to bed. It’s an annoying several taps to get there. I wish it could be part of a scene or some other more convenient way. Who wants their watch to light up constantly while they toss and turn? Related, why can’t I set the screen to an arbitrary brightness? It‘s possible to gradually bring up the brightness when the watch is off, but you’re limited to three pre-set levels of brightness in settings. At the very least, give me a notch or two below the current darkest settings for night.