As an Apple aficionado since the age of 10, I was pretty excited about the chance to test the new Apple Watch. From a purely aesthetic point of view, the Watch is appealing and well-designed like all of Apple’s products. Its rounded corners are inviting and the screen has a surprisingly high resolution. And of course it works seamlessly with the iPhone; pairing the Watch with the iPhone is pain-free and quick. You can even activate the iPhone’s camera from the Watch, although I haven’t yet figured out a time when this would be useful.
Therein lies the biggest problem for me with the Apple Watch. I’m not the first person to suggest it, but it is difficult to figure out exactly how the Watch is useful. I should mention that I’m personally disinterested in the Watch’s fitness tracking capabilities, which is probably its most important feature. So if you’re like me and you’re not dying to know how many thousands of steps you take each day, figuring out the value of the Apple Watch is tricky.
It’s not for a lack of applications. As something of an iPhone power user, I have 137 apps installed, and 30 of them have Apple Watch versions available. But that does not mean that I have 30 usable apps on the Watch. For one, many of the apps have problems opening or loading. Even those that do work reliably are sometimes laughable in their uselessness. News apps, for example, tend to simply show incredibly brief headlines (one example: “Is duty-free really worth it?”) that leave you confused or lack context. Then again, is there really a need for a news app on a 1.32” screen?
The most useful thing most apps can do is show you notifications that in turn must be further explored on your iPhone. This makes the Apple Watch more of a glorified pager than anything else. Even though you can see what’s going on (new message, new Facebook post), you’re mostly powerless to do anything about it until you take out your phone. Using the Watch can thus be a frustrating experience. Some might argue that the Watch will allow you to see notifications and then determine which are important enough to merit a response. I suppose if you receive dozens of notifications every hour and can’t be bothered to spend 2 seconds taking your phone out of your pocket, the Apple Watch might be for you.
Then there is the question of social etiquette. Farhad Manjoo, who wrote an intriguing review for the New York Times of the Apple Watch when it first came out, has suggested the Watch “could address some of the social angst wrought by smartphones.” By only glancing momentarily at the Watch, he says, we can save ourselves from the social disruption of taking out our phone. Yet in my experience using the watch around friends, I was reminded that glancing at one’s watch, even momentarily, is a universally recognized symbol of boredom and impatience. It is not at all clear to me that raising your wrist to look at an Apple Watch notification is less rude than discreetly sliding out your iPhone.
In the end, how useful you find the Apple Watch will depend on how you interact with information. If you like the style and elegance of Apple products and you’re into tracking your fitness, you’ll probably love it. If you’re a die-hard Tweeter who rejoices in 140-character or less updates and quickly swiping through content, you may like Apple Watch as well. If you’re like me, however, and you prefer reading the whole article or being able to always respond to a notification that interests you, the Apple Watch can seem like more of an impediment than a handy tool. At least I’ll always know what time it is.