The Apple Watch one year on: Why we're frustrated by what could have been

The Apple Watch has been a success, despite Apple's best efforts

So the Apple Watch turns one year old this weekend. Many happy returns, for he's a jolly good fellow and so say all of us. And it's been a wild year. Think back 12 months and smartwatches were niche adventures for the tech crowd. Now Android Wear is being used by the likes of Fossil, Michael Kors, Nixon and Tag Heuer.

And by most metrics, the Apple Watch has been a success for the company. In 12 months it's become the number one smartwatch manufacturer and along with Fitbit, taken control of a nascent wearables market. Not bad for a one-year-old.

But this success seems to fly in the face of Apple's attempts to hobble its own product. To understand where we are one year after the Apple Watch's launch, we have to look back. And at every twist and turn, the Apple Watch has been undercooked and under developed.

In our review period we highlighted a number of examples where the Apple Watch found a niche, only for it to significantly under achieve.

The list is long: the sports tracking is terrible, even though the Apple Watch Sport exists. What is that about? The reporting of fitness is more basic than a $15 activity tracker, even though there's a heart rate monitor built in. There's a crippling lack of functionality when you step away from your iPhone.

Plenty of people have voiced their wishlist for smartwatches. Smaller, thinner, long battery life, GPS is the usual list – in addition to the fabled “killer app" – these are all valid requests, but they all require new, more expensive technology that in some cases isn't available. But what we're asking for is possible today, with the Apple Watch's current technology.

Now, Apple would likely say that it built the watch and it's up to developers to make this stuff happen. That's the model that worked for the iPhone. For example, Misfit should make the ultimate fitness tracking app that leverages all the data the Apple Watch can offer.

But Apple, again, has stifled the chances for the Apple Watch to grow.

It wasn't until the release of watchOS 2 – the big update that dropped in October – that Apple allowed developers to access the smartwatches sensors. That act was an anchor, dragging against the launch momentum of the device, which incidentally still lacks quality apps.

watchOS 2 was billed as a big update to the Apple Watch, but in reality added very little. There were few fun or pleasing additions – it just brought shortcomings up to consumer's expectations.

Since then things have stalled. Even the diagnostic port – the hidden socket that hinted to a bright future of smart straps, has been quietly hobbled by Apple so pesky third parties can't built interesting accessories.

While an Apple Watch 2 would be a brilliant addition to the smartwatch and tech world, there's still so much that can be achieved with this model. The big opportunities are being missed and the project feels like it's needlessly stalling. There's no reason why Apple's Activity app shouldn't measure resting heart rate over time. No reason it can't tell me if I'm fitter than I was when I bought it.

The reason that in 2016 the Apple Watch has no killer app is because Apple has not created the conditions for that to be made. And that's a real birthday party pooper.

What do you think?

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  • nadigel·

    "... No reason it can't tell me if I'm fitter than I was when I bought it."

    Everyone... Garmin, Polar, Fitbit, even my beloved MS Band 2 has underperformed in this area. With some of these gadgets, you get a done of data, with very little interpretation. I still think MS health (online) makes the best use of their data, but I still scratch my head and think: "Am I in better shape than last month... the month before?"

  • binarybound·

    Great article James! You hit several points that I think Apple Watch owners completely agree with. I especially enjoyed reading, "it just brought shortcomings up to consumer's expectations."

    Personally, I don't think I would buy another Apple Watch at it's current price=point. Instead I think I am beginning to become more interested with other "smart" devices like Fitbit's Blaze and Microsoft's Fitness Band 2 as well as the Pebble Round.

    At most, my Apple Watch is a notification panel with fun activity tracking features that could be so much more but just aren't and I question whether they ever will be.

    -James @binarybound

  • yogibimbi·

    For any smartwatch to succeed, first it has to make a valid point for the space on a wrist. You can (and indeed, a lot of people do) carry two or even more smart phones on you, but having more than one watch on your wrists is plain stupid, and swapping watches according to activity, won't cut it either, because it's tedious, even if it takes just a minute or so, and you're most likely forget it (or the other watch) half of the time.
    People who buy the current crop of smartwatches are either attracted by the novelty, brand name, or are no watch power users (which is perfectly fine, nothing derogatory implied), or any combination thereof. To really make a valid point for the "smart" part, a watch has to be a standalone, like the upcoming LG Urbane 2 and provide ergonomics and stamina that will make it work decently enough with a smart phone. I wouldn't hurt if cellular providers also made shared SIM plans accessible to everybody, so you don't have a different phone number when you go out just wearing your connected watch. But greed and short-sightedness on behalf of the providers keeps that from happening. They just don't see that a smartwatch user who buys an additional shared SIM for his watch brings them more money, than a potential smart watch user who does not buy a smart watch, or does not buy a second calling plan for his watch.
    And then you have the other "power watch" users, whose current wrist hardware puts the bar pretty high, such as myself (yeah, I am modest) with the Suunto Core, where the new Casio smartwatch just barely heaves itself over the bar and the Nixon seems to be the first one to provide the functionality and then some.
    In an ideal world, there will be a hybrid between the LG Urbane 2 and the Nixon The Mission, or people have to take to wearing one watch on each wrist, and not forget to take off the Urbane 2 when going for a swim.

    And the Apple Watch is not even a close contender in either of the categories so, Apple, please, in order for me to make any money with your shares, start thinking outside of your "we are Apple and people buy our shit anyway" box and start making something that can actually compete.

    • j.stables·

      eSIM tech really has to make an appearance on the next Apple Watch.

  • KevinBsg·

    Totally agree that Apple is their own watch's worst enemy. You can't even display your step count on the face of the watch! It's embarassing!! I have both the Apple Watch and Pebble Time. The Pebble Time does every thing the Apple Watch doesn't do, and does it in a simple, easy to use manner. I hope Apple seriously looks at how to improve their watch. But it seems they resist every improvement with a "we know better than you" attitude, so I find it unlikely. Innovation is dead at Apple as can be seen in all of the innovative phone features that Apple adds after others have truly innovated them first.