Friday, December 23, 2016

Apple Watch First Impressions

 ...from a former Pebble user

When Pebble announced their acquisition by FitBit, I was cautious about the future of the product: I backed the original Pebble on Kickstarter, as well as the Pebble Steel, Time Steel and finally, Time 2 when the opportunities presented themselves. But then recent things like having a total reset screwing up all my settings (and needing to do a factory reset to get things back) and a limited lifetime (and no more warranty support) for the existing units, I decided to look elsewhere for a good smartwatch.

As a longtime iPhone/iPad user I'd looked at the specs for Apple Watch when it was first released, and between the significant cost difference from the Pebble (like 4x more expensive, depending on the edition and band choices) and significant hardware limitations (Single-day battery life? Really? Not water resistant?), the sale of Pebble was making my smartwatch options pretty bleak.

However, the recently released Series 2 from Apple addressed 2 of the 3 biggest faults I had with the platform (nothing is going to address the cost problem: this is Apple we're talking about, and all of its options are boutique-priced) by adding significant strides to battery life along with 50M water resistance.

So I pulled the trigger and yesterday was able to take delivery of a 42mm Stainless Steel with Milanese Loop band in Space Black.
42mm Apple Watch Series 2 in Space Black
with Milanese Loop band
If you're interested in an un-boxing, you can search elsewhere. Suffice it to say that, in typical Apple fashion, the watch was simultaneously beautifully and over-packaged; a fair expectation for an $800 timepiece, whether it comes from Apple or not, but the amount of material waste from the packaging hails back to when Apple thought they were competing in the luxury timepiece market rather than the fitness wearables market. They really, really could've gone with less.

I started by placing the watch on the charging disc for a few hours to make sure it was well charged, then I went through the pairing process. Unlike Pebble, the Watch doesn't use two different Bluetooth profiles (one standard and one low-energy), and pairing with my iPhone 6s running iOS 10.2 was smooth and less error-prone compared to my usual experience with Pebble pairing. If there's one thing to be said for getting the two devices from the same manufacturer, it's the effortless user experience with pairing.

Before purchasing, I visited a local Apple store to get a feel for my choices in cases and bands. I selected the 42mm over the 38mm because of the larger display and my old eyes. The stainless steel case is a heftier feel over aluminium (or ceramic), which I definitely prefer, and there was a noticeable difference between the 38mm and 42mm as well, solidifying my choice of that size. Lighter watches tend to slide around to the underside of my wrist, while heavier ones seem to stay in place on the top. And if I have to deal at all with the watch on the underside of my wrist, the sapphire crystal of the stainless steel & ceramic cases was a must. I also prefer the heavier link band, but between the $500 premium and its "butterfly clasp" (which I hate), there was no way I was going with the Apple link band. The Milanese felt "weighty" enough in comparison to the link band, and its "infinite adjustability" had some appeal as well.

Once I had the watch paired and on my wrist, I started digging into the features I'd come accustomed to on the Pebble. Probably the biggest surprise was the dearth of watch face choices: unlike the Pebble ecosystem, with thousands of watch faces to choose from—everything from utilitarian designs to homages to Star Trek to the silly "Drunk O'Clock" face—the handful of faces available in the Watch ecosystem was a big surprise.

Worse, while all the Watch faces are customizable to some degree, all of them have the limitation of disallowing the customization of "time" itself. The face I'm most accustomed to on the Pebble—YWeather by David Rincon—is nearly reproducible on the Watch using the "Modular" face, but the options—or "Complications" as Apple terms them—aren't very flexible and make "time" a less-prominent feature in the face. Which, in my opinion, sort of defeats the purpose in a watch face.
Apple Watch

If I could just move the Time to the center section and make it more prominent, while moving the date to the upper-right, it'd be good enough...

Notifications are also very different on the Apple Watch; the most significant seems to be the suppression of all notifications when the phone is actively being used, which I'm extremely unhappy with. Among other things, it means that I'm not getting notifications when I've got the phone plugged into power and showing a route in Waze. Even when the phone is locked & screen is off, I'm finding that notifications I usually received on the Pebble are missing/silent on the watch: I've yet to get a notification from Slack, which is one of the busiest apps on my phone after Mail itself.
Yes, I've made sure that things like "cover to mute" is disabled and "mirror phone" is set for pretty much all of the integrations on the watch, but the only type of notification that I get seems to be Messages and Calendar.

Application integration is nice for many apps I have on the phone; being able to quickly raise/lower the garage door using GarageIO on the watch instead of the phone is nice, as is checking the home alarm. However, it does seem that some watch app integrations require the phone-based app to be running (or at least "backgrounded") in order for the watch component to function. It's not consistent, so I'm still trying to figure out which ones need to be running in order to work.

The blob of apps in the App Layout sucks, however. While I have the ability to move apps around to change their proximity to the "central" Clock app, the fact that there are so many that I'd just as soon never see—even after telling Watch to uninstall the integration—is mind-boggling when you consider the minimalist design elements used everywhere else in all Apple products.

At any rate, I'm still getting used to this thing, but from my perspective, I like parts of it, but other parts are still inferior to Pebble