Just Smart Enough



Apple Watch

Does this sound familiar? You pull your iPhone out to check the time, and the next thing you know you’ve been scrolling through Twitter for 6 minutes and now you’re reading about the migration patterns of cats. You don’t even like cats.

I’ve worn a wristwatch for years. For one, I like to know what time it is. But also, wearing a watch is an excellent solution to passively checking Twitter and Instagram when all I wanted to know was the time.

Last year I wrote an article in praise of my analog watch. In short it was about how my analog watch does one thing well: tell time.

Now, my affinity for analog watches doesn’t mean I’m against the concept of the smartwatch. But after 8 years of having an iPhone within arm’s reach, my experience has taught me that the promise of convenient notifications and relevant information at your fingertips is almost always paired with the reality of distractions, tugs for attention, and perhaps even an addiction to the “just checks”.

Having the Internet in your pocket isn’t always roses and ice cream.

* * *

Naturally, I pre-ordered my Apple Watch the morning it went on sale. The little critter arrived just over a week ago.

As a gadget geek, I think Apple Watch is awesome. It looks great, it has some gorgeous watch faces, the fitness tracking and goals are fantastic and healthily addictive, and it pairs so well with my iPhone.

But just because it’s an awesome and fun gadget doesn’t guarantee it’s helpfulness. As I wrote at the beginning of this article, one of the reasons I wear a watch is so I can check the time without using my iPhone.

Not to be all philosophical, but one of the big question that’s been looming in my mind regarding Apple Watch is this: For those who want to spend less time staring at their iPhone, will Apple Watch make that easier?

After a week — which, admittedly, is a very short amount of time — my answer to the above question is yes: Apple Watch makes it easier to leave my iPhone alone.

Apple Watch fits, appropriately, right between a smartphone and a dumb watch. Apple Watch is certainly more feature-rich and “connected” than my analog watches ever were, yet it’s not anywhere near an “iPhone 2.0” type of product.

In other words, Apple Watch is just powerful enough to be useful and fun, but not so powerful that it’s distracting or frustrating.

Apple Watch certainly could be distracting if you let it. But that’s easily avoided by not installing too many apps or allowing too many types of incoming notifications. Where Watch differs from iPhone is that the former is not very good at being a passive entertainment device.

While you can install apps such as Instagram and Twitterrific on your Watch, using them is like reading the news on a postage stamp. Doable but not delightful.

Just Smart Enough

For me, there are three things that make Apple Watch great so far: Notifications that matter, activity tracking, and Complications.

Notifications

On my phone I already get only the most sacred of notifications: text messages, Twitter DMs, Slack Mentions and PMs, emails from VIPs, event reminders, Reminder reminders, new calendar events added to my shared calendars, Vigil alerts, Dark Sky weather alerts.

It sounds like a lot when listed out all at once, but aside from text messages, the vast majority of those things rarely ever fire. In fact, I take pride in how infrequently my iPhone beeps or buzzes.

And on my watch, I get tapped even less: text messages, event reminders, and Dark Sky weather alerts only.

We’ll see how this pans out over time, but so far getting just these few types of notifications on my wrist have proven to be immensely helpful and not the least bit annoying.

And using the Watch for messages is usually great. For the vast majority of the friends and family whom I text message with throughout the day, we communicate with emojis and short quips — something the Watch is perfectly suited for.

Activity

The activity tracking has is great. Too great, perhaps…

Getting those rings filled every day has become so compelling. It’s too soon to tell if it’s simply the fun of a new “game” that will soon wear off, or if the awareness of my activity along with the daily goals will bring about an improvement in my healthy activity and behavior.

Complications

As for the Watch face, I’ve settled in on Utility. I have the detail dialed down to the most simple possible. And I’ve three complications set up: activity rings in the upper left corner, current temperature in the upper right corner, and day + date on the face. Each morning I change the accent color, usually to match my shirt, because why not?

Apple Watch

At a glance I can see the time and the current temp, which is so nice. I’m getting ready to go for a run, should I plan to go to the gym or is it nice enough to run outside? … We’re about to load the kids up in the car, do they need jackets right now?

I have a secondary version my Utility watch face saved that has the timer complication at the bottom center. When grilling (which we do about 3 times a week now that the weather is warming up), it is great to have the timer just one tap away on my wrist.

As Ben Thompson wrote yesterday:

Complications are invaluable, and the delta between pulling out your phone to check your calendar, or the weather, versus looking at your wrist is massive.

Agreed. It’s the complications and the basic notifications that make Apple Watch just smart enough. Taking a little bit of time to set up what I do and don’t want on my watch has already paid dividends.

There is still much to be improved about the Watch’s core functionality (such as improvements with Siri dictation (editing, anyone?), and 3rd-party apps that don’t have to round trip to the iPhone). However, my first impression of the Apple Watch has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s attractive, useful, and, most of all, fun.