Revisiting the Apple Watch: Giving Cupertino a second chance

A few months, and a few updates down the line, do we have a watchOS convert?
Revisiting the Apple Watch

A couple of weeks after the Apple Watch went on sale in April 2015 - and our executive editor James Stables had published his review - I wrote a post on How the Apple Watch let me down.

It wasn't that I didn't like the Apple Watch. It was that it wasn't the slick, complete Cupertino experience I was hoping for. I wanted a benchmark setting smartwatch. But I felt Apple delivered a device that was full of holes.

On the whole, the team liked the Apple Watch. Not loved. But, if you read a transcript of an exchange we had before publishing our final score, you'll notice that I was probably the most negative of Wareable's editors with regards to Apple's debut smartwatch.

Smartwatch shortages: Android Wear MWC no show is a good thing

However, given that Apple has since rolled out watchOS 2 and added some pretty big features to the mix, I thought that it was only fair that I revisit the Apple Watch to see if any of my concerns had been addressed.

I'm an Android Wearer, day to day, but for the past month or so I've had Apple's tech timepiece slapped on my wrist. Have I noticed an improvement on my original gripes from just after the launch? Read on to find out..

"I want to be able to go running sans-smartphone and have my run accurately tracked by GPS..."

We all know that this is still a big no-no. WatchOS 2 didn't bring a magic key with it to unlock secret new hardware inside the watch. We're going to have to wait for the Apple Watch 2 before we see GPS inside a watchOS 2 smartwatch.

And that's a real shame because Android Wear is absolutely brimming with GPS-enabled smartwatches. There was one already on sale when the Apple Watch arrived and, almost a year later... there are now two.

Oh, wait. Actually, maybe GPS in smartwatches isn't want everyone wants after all.

And, with the likes of the Garmin Forerunner 630 and the Polar M4oo bringing smartwatch-esque notifications to dedicated running watches, maybe that's the way forward. Not every smartwatch user is a runner. I am, but that's fine. I accept that now.

However, I'd like the choice from Apple. Like the 2016 Moto 360 range, I'm hoping for an Apple Watch sport edition to arrive at some point. With sport meaning more than a rubber strap next time round.

After all, while we still rate the Apple Watch's health and fitness tracking as average at best (even after the watchOS 2 tweaks), the fact that all the major players - Endomondo, MyFitnessPal, Strava and so on - can tap into the platform is definitely exciting.

"On that run I'd also like to be able to listen to my tunes, whether that be offline Spotify synced tracks or stored MP3s, direct to my Bluetooth headset..."

This is possible. Well, the MP3 part, at least. And while Spotify isn't yet on board, the Apple Watch can now sync offline playlists following the launch of Apple Music. This is good.

Then again, as detailed in our in-depth guide on getting music on your Apple Watch, "it is one of the most opaque processes ever created."

It really is painstakingly awkward to do when it really shouldn't be. Even the ancient Adidas miCoach running watch handles MP3s with a simple drag and drop.

Come on Cupertino, you can do much, much better.

"After my run I want to pop into Starbucks and get a coffee and pay using my untethered watch..."

Yes, yes and yes. Apple Pay on the Apple Watch is the single greatest thing to ever happen to me.

But while that's a touch exaggerated, I am still genuinely excited about how brilliant it is, and how easy it is to use, weeks after first loading my Visa card onto my Watch.

Not my first choice Visa card though - my main bank doesn't play nicely with Apple Pay yet. Although I'll give Apple the benefit of the doubt here and assume it's my bank refusing to play ball due to its own contactless payment system being in competition.

That quibble aside, Apple Pay is a major plus point. Not only have I been buying stuff and blowing minds at as many places as possible – even receiving this 'compliment' from an excited Italian barista: "Oh look at Mr Superman with his magic watch!" – I've also got used to using my Apple Watch as my Oyster card on the tube. Super.

"I want to scroll through my emails and Facebook messages and reply to a couple while drinking my coffee. After all, I'm online through the free Wi-Fi and my Apple ID is all synced up..."

This is hit and miss still. Whereas Android Wear lets you do a heck of a lot while not tethered to your phone but connected to a trusted Wi-Fi network, the Apple Watch's options are severely limited.

Sure, iMessages pop through, and you can even take calls if your network supports Wi-Fi calling but there are no third-party app notifications on offer at all.

And, just like the Android Wear Wi-Fi mode, things only happen on networks your smartphone knows already.

I'm hoping that the Samsung Gear S2, boasting the world's first programable eSIM, paves the way for much more tether-free action from both Google and Apple in the near future. Apple is part of the GSMA alliance to make remote SIM provisioning standard, so it could happen.

"I want to unlock my front door using my Apple Watch and my smart NFC lock and I want Nest to have cooled down the flat because it knows I'm all sweaty after my run..."

This is sort of possible. Although this particular concern was very specific, I think I was more aiming at the lack of genuine apps for the Apple Watch in my original moan.

WatchOS 2 arrived with native apps and, while the numbers are impressive, there's still no killer third-party apps for the Watch. What is does have are a lot of useful additions that make the glance feature of the Watch much more useful.

This specific case in point - there are an array of smart lock apps which work even when an iPhone isn't connected, and apps like Kontrol allow smart thermostat adjustment. I'm not sure if there's a specific app that combines the two (let me know in the comments if there is), but the tools are definitely now in place for a developer to create one.

"Apple didn't really address the fundamental smartwatch problem; why do you need one when your phone can already do everything it offers..."

No one has though, right? The more time I spend with the Apple Watch (and the more time I spend with Android Wear too), the more I realise this might not matter.

Smartwatches are becoming their own 'thing' gradually and, already, with one major software update the Apple Watch has evolved from a slick looking, but not all that useful, device on my wrist; to a slick looking, but pretty useful, device on my wrist.

And I'm basing that purely on Apple Pay and some of the additional Wi-Fi features watchOS 2 brought with it.

It's a small step, I know, but it's a pretty significant one. Smartwatches won't kill the smartphone (that's the job of hearables, you'll see) but they will become extremely useful entities in their own right. Step by step, little by little.

And while many of my original gripes about the Apple Watch remain, I look back nine months and realise my expectations have changed somewhat. It's not that I now expect less from a smartwatch, it's that I now have a different outlook of what I want from one.

And while I'm still firmly in the Android Wear camp, I realise that I was being stricter with Apple than I was with the likes of Sony, Motorola and LG. I was punishing Apple for not being exceptional straight out of the box while at the same time giving Google's platform room to breathe in an embryonic industry.

So, while I'm still not as much of an Apple Watch fan as some members of Team Wareable, the improvements in the last few months have made me really excited about what comes next.

And I'll miss Apple Pay like mad when I slip my Moto 360 back on.

2 Comments

  • Johnny says:

    It seems to me like the reason you might hold apple products to a higher standard is because of the image they have cultivated. When they released the first iPhone - essentially creating the smartphone class - they didn't do a half-ass job. When they released the iPad, they reinvigorated the tablet market - a product all but left for dead.

    The reason you expected more from the Apple Watch, as you should have, is because Apple makes great products. Even though the first iPhone may not seem like much now, it was revolutionary. The iPad, MacBooks, etc. Beautiful products that work with ease.

    The Apple Watch fell flat for a lot of people because it isn't that. It is a decent piece of technology but it falls short of what we have come to expect from the company. If they had been first to market with a smart watch, the product might be an acceptable submission. Hopefully their next generation is more Apple appropriate.

  • Daniel_Richey says:

    I could not have said it any better! Well said, Johnny.

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