One Week Living With the Apple Watch

By Christopher Phin on at

The only way – the only way – to grok the Apple Watch is to wear one, not just long enough to write an initial review of it, but actually to see how it fits into your life. (In fact, that’s a pretty good rule of thumb for any piece technology, especially a new class of device. Commenters take note.)

As Benedict Evans mused on Twitter, “you can’t understand a smart watch until you stop trying to test it and just let it fall into your life”. Here, then, is the story of my first week wearing an Apple Watch – my first seven days of trying to work out what this new thing is and what it means today and in the future.

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Apple Watch diary day one: Friday 24 April

The postie rings around half ten, and hands me a surprisingly hefty package. He’s obviously relishing his role as Santa, and tells me that most of the signatures on his clipboard that day are from people getting an Apple Watch delivered.

Like a good millennial (shut up; being born in 1980 counts), I Periscope the unboxing. Lots of questions – and plenty of requests to show the folding UK plug again.

Setup is a bit of a pain, just because unlike with the simplicity of the original iPhone, the Watch is making its debut at a point where the iOS experience is already pretty complex, and setting things up how you like them can be laborious. Plus, rearranging the apps on your home screen using the accompanying iPhone app is the least fun sliding tile game ever. That said, only Apple could make QR codes sexy – and the slowly spinning cloud of glowing particles that the Apple Watch shows during the process of pairing with an iPhone is hugely pretty.

My friends and family are not, however, so I spend ages finding flattering photos of them so that my contacts screen looks Apple-grade. It’s not long before my arm is aching, holding it up to interact with the Apple Watch.

I take my daily walk, and this time program in the destination on my iPhone. The taps on my wrist when I should turn left or right are delightful and effective – though quite subtle when you’re thumping along the pavements.

By about 7pm, the battery needs charging. A bit worrying, but it didn’t arrive fully changed, and I have been using it a lot. I click the charger onto the back and am surprised that it’s not held fast; it’s secure enough, but if the cable was cut off I think I could flick it and it would spin in place on the back of the Apple Watch.

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Apple Watch diary day two: Saturday 25 April

My alarm goes off on my phone as usual; it’s annoying that because of the battery life I can’t easily wear the Watch at night so it can wake me silently with taps on my wrist, as watches such as Withings’ Activité can.

I strap it on. Whoever programmed the algorithm to wake the screen has done a bang-up job. I notice few false positives, and it’s rare I need to manually tap the screen to make it come on.

And hey! Having a watch – that’s with a lower-case ‘w’ – is great! I suspect lots of Apple geeks, who haven’t worn a watch in years, are suddenly remembering how handy it is to be able to glance at your wrist and see the time, instead of having to pull out an iPhone, wake it, look at the time, sleep it and replace it in a pocket – and that’s if they don’t also get pulled into other apps on the phone when all they really wanted to do was know the time.

I’ve noticed I’m already far more sanguine about the neurosis of picking up my phone before I walk out of a room, even just at home, since the Apple Watch is always with me. (This does mean I lose my iPhone more, but I can just ping it from the Apple Watch.)

It’s fun – and handy – turning my Philips Hue and Elgato Avea lights on and off from my wrist, but I immediately, childishly, get annoyed that Logitech hasn’t yet updated its Harmony app so I can control my AV setup from there too. Plus, HomeKit would help here, especially if – as seems a safe bet – it was integrated with Siri. Siri’s fab on the Watch, and being able to say ‘Hey, Siri; turn on the TV’ when I’m in the kitchen fixing myself a drink – and having the TV on, the amp set correctly, the lights in a preprogrammed recipe by the time I walk through to the living room – would be ace.

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Apple Watch diary day three: Sunday 26 April

My wife and I go swimming, and I’m annoyed that this meagre amount of exercise won’t be recorded by the Watch, since it’s not fully waterproof. (My low-grade, not-really OCD desperately wants to complete those Activity rings.)

There’s a definite ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ thing here. I already have AirPlay speakers in most rooms of my flat, and my music is stored on a Drobo connected to my Mac mini acting as a server, and now, when I have music playing throughout the house, I can skip tracks and play/pause on my wrist. Now, I know the phrase ‘on my wrist’ is starting to grate by now, but it’s actually a surprisingly big deal; the difference between taking a computer out of your pocket and having it already out on your wrist is both tiny and huge.

I’ve finally stopped trying to use the damned thing today as well. By which I mean, I’ve stopped trying to raise my wrist, go to the home screen and do things on the Apple Watch like I would on the iPhone. That’s not what it’s for. Apps aren’t the primary interaction point. Most of those iPhone-like tasks should be done, duh, on an iPhone. The Apple Watch, as I’m discovering, is about quick glances, snippets of data delivered through the Complications on the watch face, notifications, and Siri.

Took a phone call on my wrist today. Acceptable, but a bit laggy. A second call came in while I was doing the washing up, and not being sure where my phone was, I quickly wiped a finger on my t-shirt to dry it, answered the call on the Watch, but then as I was talking, dried my hands completely, located my phone, and used Handoff (by swiping the icon that appeared at the bottom left of the iPhone’s lock screen) to transfer the call to the phone without missing a beat. Bingo; I get it now.

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Apple Watch diary day four: Monday 27 April

Discovering lots of pleasing little hacks. I’d never have thought of this until I was wearing a Watch, for example, but I was looking for something on a top shelf today and used the remote camera view app so that I could look high up by stretching my arm up holding my phone and looking at what it was seeing on my Watch.

Decided I should take advantage of being able to change the watch face, so used a few different ones throughout the day. It was fun, but switching between analogue and digital readouts meant my poor old brain took an appreciable fraction of a second more to parse the time when I glanced at the Apple Watch. Plus, only Simple let me add the Complications I wanted.

Battery life is completely fine for me; I’m regularly ending the day with a third or so of battery left on the Apple Watch. Indeed, since I apparently have so much spare battery, I’d like the screen to stay on for a few heartbeats longer when triggered.

Not that bothered about the slight delay in pulling info in from the iPhone. It’s usually fine. But occasionally, (third-party) apps launch and then just show a black screen or struggle to install. And that’s irritating as all get-out. IcanhazWatchOS1.1plz.

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Apple Watch diary day five: Tuesday 28 April

Trip though to London from my home in Bath today to do a spot of lecturing. Arrive at the train station to pick up my tickets, and rather than having to have printed out my receipt from thetrainline.com with my collection reference on, or even to pull out my iPhone and spend a few seconds unlocking it, launching Mail and searching for the confirmation email, scrolling and pinching to zoom to show the reference, as I join the queue at the machines I swipe up to the glance for thetrainline.com on my Watch and there’s the code I need to punch in to retrieve my tickets. I know, I know; the difference sounds minor, but again, that tiny difference is huge, and not just because it feels different and thus somehow futuristic.

And then, as I was waiting for the train, I went into a Starbucks on the platform and bought a coffee by scanning the Starbucks card’s 2D barcode in Passbook on my Apple Watch. No Apple Pay, no problem. Well, except for the problem of shopping in Starbucks.

Curiously, I’m not noticing many people noticing the Apple Watch. Why, I can’t say, but unless your sense of self worth is predicated largely on strangers recognising you as a trailblazing early adopter, this is no bad thing.

The lecture went well too; plug the iPhone into the projector over HDMI, launch the Keynote app on the Watch, and I can control the slides from there as I stride manfully around in front of my audience. It’s a smidge awkward, but I think that might be because I’m not familiar enough with it. We shall see.

I also received my first dick pick (a sketch from another Apple Watch owner) today. I was not comforted by the knowledge that this technology is called Digital Touch.

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Apple Watch diary day six: Wednesday 29 April

Spent a preposterous amount of time today fiddling with my Digital Crown. When you use it scroll to the top or bottom of a list, you’d swear the resistance of the dial changes – becomes stiffer – but it’s just my brain lying to me, overridden and tricked by what’s happening on screen. I could only prove to myself it didn’t actually feel stiffer by twiddling the Digital Crown with my eyes closed. Happily for all involved, I did this in the privacy of my own home.

I realised I was so unfazed about battery life that having added a battery level indicator as a Complication on my watch face early on, today I removed it. I don’t need to worry about the battery.

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Apple Watch diary day seven: Thursday 30 April

I’m writing less for each day, because, well, the novelty is wearing off. But unlike with some tech, what I’m left with as the novelty wears off isn’t bad or boring or forgettable. It’s as if the novelty was a thick slime I had to scrape off so I could see the real value beneath.

I was in the kitchen earlier and couldn’t remember what we were going to have for dinner. I lifted my wrist and said “Hey, Siri; send a message to my wife. Is it chilli for dinner tonight?” It felt like I wasn’t using a computer, even one as removed from the traditional image of an IBM PS/2 squatting on a desk as a smartphone is.

It didn’t get it quite right – quite understandably, if amusing, it transcribed ‘chilli’ as ‘chilly’ – but it was a glimpse of a potential future, a future where computers vanish. It might be awful; it might never come to pass. But it’s fun having a little taste of that future today.