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Apple Watch UX Review

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Author: Sean Burton
Updated: 03 Oct 2015
Apple Watch UX Review

Exactly a week ago, I received my Apple Watch Sport (Space Grey 42mm version with black strap). The follow article relates to my experience during the last 7-days.

The arrival

When I purchased the Apple Watch, back in April, I received several emails from Apple with the initial delivery date set as 3-5 weeks away putting the arrival as late May/early June. With all the hype surrounding the Watch this proved to be quite a long wait, made worse by a order update which stated that the order was 'in processing' with an expected delivery date of 22nd-29th June! However, this expectation was significantly over achieved, with the Watch actually arriving on May 29th.

Unboxing

External packaging with tab for ease of open Apple Watch: Box contents

From the outset the experience was very Apple - underplay the expectation but over deliver on the experience. The Watch comes packaged in a brown cardboard box - which is surprisingly heavy at around 1Kg - with a tab for ease of opening. Inside is a white box with embosed Apple Watch text, which contains:

  • A slim white plastic box with the Apple Watch Sport complete with attached sports stap;
  • induction charging cable + new style plug with folding legs;
  • smaller strap piece (for those with smaller wrists);
  • brief (Very brief!) user guide

What's nice, is that the Watch comes partially charged which means that you can get started straight away.

Getting started

Apple Watch: Pairing

Once you have turned on the Watch - achieved by holding down the lower button for a few seconds - then you are guided through basic language selection. You are then asked to pair the Watch with your iPhone (5C or above with iOS 8.1 or above). This is achieved by using the bundled 'Apple Watch' App on your iPhone. The pairing itself is quite unusual, in that the App shows a live image from your iPhone's camera, which you use to capture an animated image on the face of the Watch. It is the quickest and easiest pairing process I've used, with the possible exception of the NFC based 'Tap-to-pair' approach, whilst also managing to exude elegance.

Once you're paired then you're ready to go... And this is where the learning curve starts to go up, and things become pretty App specific. It's tempting to think of the Watch as an iPhone on your wrist, but that impressions gets dashed pretty quickly as you start to hit up against certain App limitations - especially if you use email and social media.

Functionality

When you first start using the Watch, the most obvious feature is clearly the actual time keeping function. There are 10 stock watch face designs and all can be customised to differing degrees. Again here is where you start to hit certain limitations. The majority of the watch faces can display additional infomation via, as Apple calls them, Complications which are small icon sized widgets that both display bite-sized info and link through to more information. But, and it's quite a frustrating 'but', not all of the watch faces allow Complications and there are only a limited set of Complications. For example, some of the more aesthically pleasing faces, such as Motion, don't allow you to include any complications at all and other such as 'Astronomy' and 'Solar' don't allow any customisation. As such, you'll likely find that you use several different Watch faces depending on your mood and/or requirements. This isn't a complete negative, but I was left feeling a little underwhelmed as I was unable to get any faces to quite match my needs. Overall, there's a good selection of information available via the Complications, but it isn't anywhere near the same level as available via your iPhone.

Apple Watch: Motion watch face Apple Watch: Astronomy watch face Apple Watch: Solar watch face

I've already aluded to this, but one of the first things you realise with the Watch is that it isn't an iPhone. If you start with the premise that the Watch is smarter than a mechanical watch, then you're not going to be disappointed. The Watch has lots of positive points, but it's also got plenty of limitations, which requires you to use you iPhone instead. The Watch supports the new Handoff features of iOS8, which allows you to start something on the Watch and complete it on your iPhone. Siri is a prime example of this. I've grown quite used to using Siri to look stuff up on the Web, and thought that Siri on the Watch would work in the same way - it doesn't. As the Watch doesn't include any form of web browser, you're unable to search for stuff on the Web. Instead Siri will inform you - by text only as there is no audio feedback - that you will have to use you iPhone to complete the task. The Handoff feature helps here a bit, but it still feels clunky and completely removes the point of having used Siri via your Watch.

One of the nicer features is the ability to use the Watch as a remote trigger for your iPhone Camera - open the 'Camera' App on the Watch and it automatically connects to your iPhone and opens the Camera App on your iPhone, giving you a live preview from the iPhone's rear camera (you cannot switch to the front camera via the Watch App, but you can via the iPhone App) with the option to take a picture or a delayed picture - the iPhone flash is used as a countdown indicator, which is a nice attention to detail. I've found the remote camera live preview quite handy as it effectively allows you to have a basic video monitor - place your iPhone in a location pointing at what you want to monitor and then use the Watch to get a live preview (assuming your in WIFI or Bluetooth range).

From a usability perspective the Watch is pretty intuitive. Before I used the Watch, I wasn't particularly convinced with the 'Digital Crown' input - a scroll wheel on the side the Watch - which have a few different roles: scrolling (rotate); return to Home screen (single press); switch between watch face and last used App (double press); activate Siri (press and hold). The scrolling in particular is very helpful as it allows you to see the whole screen, which is important given the small screen size. Beneath the Digital Crown is a regular button that gives you quick access to you favourite contacts (as defined on your iPhone) via a single press and as a power button (press and hold). Lastly, if you quickly prss both buttons together a screen grab will be taken and the image saved to your iPhone camera roll.

Aside from the physical buttons the screen is touch enabled along with the new Force Touch control, where you press down hard on the screen rather than a simple tap. This input method tends to result in addition menu or configuration options and is the one area which take a bit of getting used to. For example, in the Mail App using Force Touch on the list of emails does nothing, but if you're within an email message then the Force Touch gesture shows three menu options: Flag; Unread; and Delete - options which you wouldn't know about unless you used Force Touch. Apple is investing heavily with the Force Touch gesture as they are bringing this functionality to most of their other devices. I can see it replacing the need to 'Right-click' or 'Option click' menus, but as the options aren't visible it means that you have to try using the Force Touch gesture on different screens to see if additional options are available - and then remember where this was. This kind of discoverablity requirement results in a signficant additional cognitive load, which is very unlike Apple. Clearing the Watch has very limited screen space and so I can see the need to this type of interaction, but it currently feels a little under developed and in need of additional thought as to which options are needed and where they should be available from - hopefully this will come with time.

My last comment on functionality is on the Watch's performance. In general everything is smooth, but the Watch face can be slightly tardy to activate (by about 0.5 second) - to save battery it turns off and then turns back on when you raise your wrist or tap the screen - which can feel like you're waiting for it slightly. Additionally, one of the key features of the Watch is the 'Glances' feature - accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the watch face - which shows a brief preview from installed Apps. In principle this is a great feature, but the glances alls seemed to be needing to load and often took 10-20 seconds to appear - again resulting in the feeling that you're waiting for the Watch. This may have been a balancing act to optimise battery life, which is something i was initially worried about but have so far been completely satisfied with - I'll go a good 18 hours of normal usage and so will easily get you through the day. However, I have noticed that my iPhone battery life has suffered slightly by having a constant connection with the Watch. This is largely offset by the fact that I'm using my iPhone less as I don't need to check it for notifications as frequently, but I'm finding that I'm finishing the day with around 10-15% less battery than I did before having the Watch. Not a major problem, but one I more conscious of than before - personally, I'd prefer Apple to give more attention to battery life and less to thinness!

As more iOS Apps include Watch functionality and when native Watch Apps launch later in the year I can see that the functionality of the Watch will take a big leap forward - currently it is a helpful addition, but nothing that's particularly ground breaking - especially for a device costing more than £300.

Notifications

One of the main reasons I decided to purchase an Apple Watch was for the notifications. And here the Watch excels. The 'Taptic Engine' allows you to configure the Watch to notify you via tap - a noiseless vibration - rather than via sound (although by default the Watch will make a sound too) for all notifications from your installed iPhone Apps. This gives you a very subtle prod to check your Watch. If you have just received the notification then it'll be shown on the screen, in place of the Watch face, with a few calls top action (CTAs), such as 'Reply' or 'Dismiss' and the ability to click through to the originating App. If a short interval has passed or you have more than one notification, then a small red dot will appear on the top-centre of the Watch face indicating that you have notifications waiting - a simple swipe down from the top of the watch face (and only the watch face!) will display the notifications. The Watch is great at the notifications, and I particularly like the fact that the notifications are synchronised with your iPhone meaning that you're on;y notified in one place - if you're wearing the Watch then you'll get the notifications there, but if you're actively using your iPhone or you've taken your Watch off, then the notifications will be displayed on your iPhone. This is a lovely attention to detail, which really reflects real world usage. However, again there is a 'but'. Notifications are again limited - the two most notible examples I had were from Mail and Facebook. I tend to get a lot of emails, and it's great being able to quickly be alerted to incoming emails, without having to constantly check my iPhone. But, the Apple Watch doesn't allow you to reply - even a basic reply - to your emails. This is particularly annoying as you can reply to incoming iMessages or Tweets. My assumption is that this was a judgment call by Apple to stop people trying to dictate long form emails resulting in memory and performance issues for the Watch.

Fitness

The fitness tracking is great for me - I'm not a hard core fitness person, and frankly anything that can drag me aware from my computer is a bonus. It's early days, by I do feel that the Watch will help me to improve my general fitness. It automatically measures basic movement, excercise, and standing, which means that you start to get prompts and updates without having to do anything.

iPhone: Activity App - Monthly view iPhone: Activity App - Day view iPhone: Health App Apple Watch: Weekly Fitness summary

You can add the 'Activity' Complication to most of the watch faces and it'll show an icon with 3 rings depicting how you're progressing towards your daily Move, Stand, and Exercise targets. Additionally you can open the 'Workout' App and choose from a range of workouts, such as 'Outdoor Walk', 'Rower', 'Outdoor Cycle', etc. For each workout you can select a range of targets, such as calories, time, distance, etc. I've used a few of these an they seem to do what they say and should offer most people a good range ot choose from. My only real gripe is the Heart Monitor - which feeds into the Excerise Activity measurements - which currently seems to be a bit random. Apple have said that the behaviour is intentional (see: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204666#9to5mac) but there have been lots of occasions where I've gone for a 30-minute walk and the Watch has only recorded a few minutes of Excerise. This can obviously be a bit demoralising, but I can also see this leading to a new 'fitness tracker' walking style with people madly swinging their arms in an attempt to get the tracker to register the movement! I'm sure that this will improve with time, both with me learning how to get the most out of the Watch and via future software updates.

Wishlist

  • Ability to reply to Email / dictate text anywhere
  • Slightly faster display of watch face when raising your wrist
  • Significantly faster loading of Glances (e.g. Refresh every X mins setting)
  • Ability to configure default display timeout (e.g. Default to watch face after App inactive for X mins - currently you can either select watch face or last used App)
  • More consistent Heart Rate detection or a better explanation of how 'Exercise' is calculated.
  • Twitter App / notifications to allow 'Reply'
  • Twitter App to give some indication of which Twitter account it is associated with - I have 3 accounts activated on my iPhone and there is no indication on the Watch as to which one is active.
  • More extensive control of Complications
  • Ability to design your own watch faces
  • Facebook App
  • Ability to view Siri search results on Apple Watch
  • App switcher to mirror iPhone multi-task switcher, allowing quicker access to open Apps via swipping rather than having to return to Home screen.

Wrap up

Overall I'm impressed with the Apple Watch - it's a great 1st generation device - and I hope that future software updates will resolve the minor niggles that currently exist.

I'd love to hear what you think. Is this helpful? Let me know in the comments...

Update (25th September 2015)

Well, I've now been using the Apple Watch Sport for 4-months and have applied WatchOS2.0 and so I thought it was time to write a bit of an update.

The Apple Watch HAS made me think more about fitness, but it still has some irriating querks, such as completely failing to register exercise minutes for no reason I have yet to fathom. I've tried it tigher, looser, but sometimes it just seems to think that I've not been exercising. This seems to be particularly the case if your arm isn't moving - such as pushing a pram - but this isn't exclusively the case.

I've actually be quite impressed with the battery life - I can nearly get 2 days of use out of it - but that might be more down to having started with very low expectations! The battery life is certainly much better than on my iPhone 5S, where I've seen at least a 30% drop in battery life since installing iOS 9.0.1 - I can rarely make it past 3pm (getting up around 6am with basic web & email usage), whereas with iOS 8 my iPhone usually made it until 10pm with around 10-15% battery life.

Lastly, I do like the new Photo watch face, but would really like to be able to add basic complications to the screen. It's a real pain having to swipe down to see your notifications, meaning that you have to have both hands free to use the watch - so why not just use you iPhone??

So after 4-months of use, I'd say that I'm still not entirely convinced about Apple Watch as it currently stands - I see it's potential, but it isn't there yet.

Update 2 (3rd October 2015)

Since installing iOS9.0.2 my iPhone battery life is considerably better - I'm now reaching the end of the day with +30% which was much better than with iOS8, so it does lool like iOS9 is living up to its promised extra 1hr of runtime (thankfully!)


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