A Year of Complications With the Apple Watch

The past twelve months has been an adjustment for sure. For me, it was adapting to a new piece of tech after my trusty, analogue watch was substituted for the latest Apple Watch and coming from a conventional time piece, I was surprised at how much I had to readjust. While I had my reasons for getting one, I had no idea what it’d be like to live with one and the past year has provided a unique perspective on what it’s truly like switching to a wearable smart device. 

Default face on the Apple Watch
Out of the box, the default Meridian face on the Apple Watch

After a year of use, it didn’t exactly match how I had imagined its everyday use to be. In a nutshell, it changed the way I interacted with a watch, in some ways good and others not so good. Regardless, I expected X from the Apple Watch but in reality, I got Y instead. 

This post is not meant to be a review of the Apple Watch. If you want that, 9to5Mac or MacRumors do a fine job. However, as a fan of nice watches, I instead want to share my own thoughts on how I found the comparative experience. 

This post might just resonate with those still 50/50 and contemplating the recently released Series 7 Apple Watch in place of a traditional watch.

Hopefully this will shed some light on the subject for those sitting on the fence about smart watches and help you make an informed decision by sharing my personal feedback.  

Intro

The first day of having an Apple Watch, as received in the mail, shown with with its box.
Day one of Apple Watch, as purchased, shown with Apples famous, minimalist packaging.

It was always going to be a tough sell, to be convinced that benefits of a wearable smart device would be worth the price tag and whether to give up the loyal and dependable Swatch I was so accustomed to.

Since their release in April of 2015, Apple’s now iconic Watch (not iWatch as I had incorrectly called it for years) had always been on the radar as a potential replacement for the usual quartz watch wrapped around my left wrist. A watch I’d been wearing each and every day for as long as I care to remember. 

It took 5 years for Tim Cook to successfully market something appealing to me. A piece of wearable electronics that would indeed serve a purpose greater than simply telling of the time and be complementary to my other Apple devices. 

As it so happened, my purchase of a 44mm SE (GPS + cellular) coincided with the series 6 watch launch in September 2020. This was purely coincidental timing, as my charming Swatch Irony Aluminium started doing some funny things. It marked a suitable time to be retired from daily service and was the perfect excuse to finally get an Apple Watch. 

Swatch Irony Aluminium
Swatch Irony Aluminium

Why Buy an Apple Watch?

With over 100 million Apple watches sold since the initial release, those who have bought one have done so for a variety of different reasons. Many with a specific purpose in mind, and some simply because it’s from Apple and “it’s so hot right now”. I fall into the former of these two groups. And the way I rationalised this was as follows.

Ever since my yearly theme of 2020, the Year of Systems, I have been biased towards tools that make life lazier by design. The aim is for as little resistance as possible to be built into my processes and repetitive tasks, to reduce effort required to initiate or complete said task/s.  

An automatic Tangramatic Nereid Pacific (left) compared to the Apple Watch SE (right)
An automatic Tangramatic Nereid Pacific (left) compared to the Apple Watch SE (right)

One of those repetitive tasks is time tracking of my projects. For this, timers are in constant use, and I wanted a lazier way to start and stop the clock. My hope was the Watch could make that happen. 

How exactly would it make timers lazier?  As the watch would always be with me, a means of starting a timer, using the app Toggl, would always be close at hand. Whether that was writing for a blog post or doing something practical in the workshop. A timer should always be running. It would simply be a case of a few taps on the home screen, selecting the appropriate timer from the list and getting on with it. Once completed, hit stop. Simple, in theory anyway.

While timers was the primary rationale for the purchase, the assumption was there would also be some additional fringe benefits to boot. Not to mention, the sheer novelty of having such a device, essentially a tiny computer, strapped to your body. It’s pretty cool when you think of it like that.

Expectations

Grid view of apps on the Apple Watch SE series 6
Grid view of apps on the Apple Watch

As this Apple Watch is the SE variant, there was a healthy dose of nostalgia for the original iPhone SE (2016) which piqued my expectations. The assumption, from my previous wonderful years with the iPhone SE, was that a WatchSE would give similar years of wonderful usage. I had set my own bar high and expected something special from this “Special Edition” watch.

Prior to this, the closest thing I’d tried was a Fitbit Charge 2. At a fraction of the cost the Apple, I used the Fitbit as a ‘soft’ introduction into the world of wearable electronics. This was probably the wrong way to go about it as the Fitbit was in every way bad as the Apple watch is in every way good.

The Fitbit experiment was a letdown to say the least and only lasted 3 months. “Is this what wearables are like?” I thought to myself. It dampened my enthusiasm to a point where I was convinced, I had no need or want for the more expensive alternative. On reflection, it was not a fair comparison at all. If you’re looking at buying a Mercedes, you don’t first test out a Mitsubishi Mirage to draw conclusions on whether the Merc will be any good. 

While the Fitbit was a garbage, lump of plastic, it was at least a reference point for how a bad smart watch looked, felt, and functioned. From this vantage, the Apple Watch should be a big step up. And it was.

Left hand detail of the Apple Watch SE showing speaker outlets
Left hand detail showing speaker outlets
Face detail of the Apple Watch SE showing screen
Face detail with screen off
Right hand detail of the Apple Watch SE showing Digital Crown
Right hand detail showing Digital Crown

From my limited research into the Apple Watch, that came from 5 minutes on Google with search terms like “Apple Watch Reviews” or “Is the Apple Watch Any good?”, I wasn’t sure that it would work out as I’d hoped as a productivity multiplier. The assumption was there was some form of usefulness to be unlocked from within. What exactly that was only time would tell.

Between the time of ordering online and receiving in the post, and after even more googling Apple Watch related articles, I had convinced myself this gadget would definitely revolutionise my day-to-day life.  

Reality

I had pinned my hopes on the Watch being an effortless timing companion, which it was, for a little while. However, it didn’t take long for this to plan to fizzle out. While the Toggl app did what it needed to on the watch, the time and effort saved was minuscule relative to simply using an iPhone or Mac. As the apps on these later devices function perfectly for the purpose, it wasn’t worth the investment of energy for set up and use on the watch. 

Grid view of apps on the Apple Watch SE series 6
Grid view of apps on the Apple Watch

Not all was lost however, there was more the watch could be used for, I simply needed to find what those other uses were. Otherwise, what would be the point of owning such a watch? To use this style of device purely for telling the time would be pointless. It would be the digital equivalent of having a Swiss army knife but only using the little fold out scissors. Luckily, the Apple Watch has many other blades.

One of those blades, and the one I found to be most beneficial, were the health and fitness apps. I had expected these apps to merely be a handy ‘also included’ feature, but instead they turned out to be the most heavily relied on of all the apps installed. 

Why exactly did these apps shoot to unexpected practicality? For starters, to begin a workout or exercise routine only requires two taps on the screen. This follows my lazy by design philosophy and meant a better than likely chance for frequent usage. Additionally, as running is my preferred activity, the apps ability to accurately map the route with GPS and monitor heart rate, are amazingly useful features. Being able to look back over a jog and follow the progress is a powerful motivating tool.

With cellular coverage, there’s no need to lug the phone around and paired with a set of Air Pods and pumping Spotify playlist, it’s incredibly energising. Energising enough to get me going on a frequent and consistent basis. In fact, it’s the main reason that I have increased the regularity of my exercise routine. In this area, the electronic time piece trumps its conventional rivals. 

Apple Pay on the Watch is an incredibly useful feature at the supermarket.
Apple Pay on the Watch is an incredibly useful feature at the store.

There are some other little features I like about the Apple Watch. I like the timer function, I use it almost every day; I like the Flashlight, it’s not the best flashlight ever but it’s always there when I need it; Apple Pay on the watch is incredibly handy at the supermarket; and there’s much to be said about Siri shortcuts. I’ll just say that it has tonnes of potential. There’s also a heap of other features I’m not mentioning that are mindlessly useful in everyday life. 

So the Apple Watch is all good then? Well no.

Reality – The not so good parts

The dreaded loss of connection icon (top centre), indicating Watch and Phone no longer paired.
The dreaded loss of connection icon (Red icon, top centre), indicating Watch and iPhone no longer paired.

It cannot all be good. Although just mentioned are numerous examples of what I like about the Apple Watch, there is plenty not to like about it either. Some critiques are petty and nit-picky but keep in mind their validity when compared to a traditional watch.

I’ll get the nit-picky, first world complaints out of the way first. It’s not the prettiest looking thing. After all, watches are pieces of jewellery first and foremost, they are meant to work on an aesthetic level above all else and at a basic practical level by displaying time. Apple have flipped this dichotomy with a product focused on function and practicality at the expense of looks. It’s not ugly, but it is certainly underwhelming to look at.

Close up of the Chronograph pro in surf blue featuring orange nato band
Close up of the Chronograph pro in surf blue featuring orange nato band

Luckily, the looks of it can be easily changed. The face can be edited with different styles, colours and complications. There is literally an infinite number of screen configurations. Add to this the boat load of different bands and bracelets available and there’s no reason that the soulless, dull look can’t be jazzed up with a bit of individuality. I personally have attempted to cover-up the frumpiness with a surf blue, chronograph pro face complemented with a bright orange, nato band and to be honest it looks pretty schnazzy if you ask me.

The other petty complaint is about the battery life, or more specifically, the frequency of having to charge the battery. Compared to a quartz watch where the battery might need attention once a year or an automatic watch that simply needs a wind every now and again, having to charge the Apple each and every day (possibly two days if stretched out) is a pain in the arse. It must be taken off for a few hours at a time and put on its magnetic charging dock to suck electrons from the mains. While I have no doubt that as batteries become more energy dense and electronics trend towards even greater levels of efficiency, the need for a regular charge will decrease. But at present, a traditional watch is superior given current battery technology.

Looks and charging aside, there were more annoying issues during this year. Annoying technical issues specifically, which caused the watch and phone to drop connection at random times and required a full factory reset to resolve. Twice. I get that anything with a processor, RAM, and UI is bound to splutter on occasions, it’s almost to be expected. So, when the little, red phone icon with a cross through it appeared on the watch screen, I didn’t mind. In fact, it was semi-anticipated. Annoying no doubt, but not a deal breaker by any means. 

While still on software glitches, it struggles to connect with 3rd party apps smoothly. The issue is mainly when syncing between devices, taking actives and functions from the iPhone and onto the watch or vice versa. Audible and Phillips Hue are what spring to mind of the non-compliant apps. While they work most of the time, there is a latency and delay which is truly frustrating. For the time wasted waiting for everything to sync properly, it’s just as easy to get the phone out of my pocket and use the equivalent iOS app, which works 100% of the time. It’s difficult to get an independent app working faultlessly on a proprietary operating system, hence why native apps always run smoother than those from non-Apple developers.  

An example of the syncing issues encountered with 3rd party apps.
There were many instances of syncing issues with 3rd party apps.

I can deal with average looks, poor battery life, and software gore. That doesn’t much bug me. However, what did was how the Apple Watch changed my watch usage behaviour.

With a traditional watch, a quick glance is all that’s needed to get important information, what’s the time now or maybe what’s the date today? That all changed with the Apple Watch. Suddenly I would look at everything but the time. How are my activity rings progressing? Is it going to rain soon? What’s that notification flashing at the top of the screen? 

On occasions I would glare at the watch, with the need to know the time, only to be distracted by all the spam on screen and a moment later realise I hadn’t actually checked what the time was! The best way to describe this behaviour was that I was looking ‘past’ the watch and instead paying attention to all the flashy, shiny things around the edges. The watch was no longer a means of telling the time, rather it had become a source of distraction.   

But probably the most noticeable behavioural change was how rude it made me when interacting with others. There’s no other way to put it, but the Apple Watch encourages bad manners, and I was no exception to this. 

Allow me to explain. It is considered impolite to glance at a watch while in conversation with another person. It implies the conversation is taking too long, or the time spent chatting is eating into something more important, or worse still the conversation is going nowhere and is boring. How often have you been in a conversation with someone who is wearing an Apple Watch (or any other smart watch for that matter) only for the wearer to receive a notification, detach their attention from you and redirect it towards the screen of the watch. Anecdotally, most smart watch wearers I know are like this. And in the early months of me wearing mine, I was doing the same thing. A message came in – look at the watch; a call was coming in – look at the watch; some random, non-urgent, non-important, push notification – look at the watch. 

To fight back against this social faux pas that I had developed, I did something that many would consider contrary to the purpose of a having a smart watch and turned off most of the notifications. This included messages, emails, and all calls apart from the important numbers. Virtually anything that would cause unnecessary distractions. I found this to be the only way I could make the Apple Watch feel like a ‘watch’ watch once again.

Having all the notifications come directly to the watch was both good and bad ways, but mainly bad as it’s massively distracting and concentration shattering. By stopping or severely limiting these notifications, I was no longer being pestered constantly.

Final Thoughts

Close up of the Chronograph pro in surf blue featuring orange nato band
Close up of the Chronograph pro in surf blue featuring orange nato band

Having lived with it now for 12 months or thereabouts, it has changed the way I have interacted not only with tech but also with the whole concept of watches themselves. I would go so far as to say the Apple Watch is more closely related to my iPhone than the Swatch it replaced. This should serve as food for thought for those unsure about whether the Apple Watch is suitable for them. I was one of them 12 months ago but now can say I’ve been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. 

Steve Jobs famously said (talking about the iPhone in 2010) “We’re not perfect, phones aren’t perfect. But we want to make all our users happy” and I believe that this is applicable to the Apple Watch. It’s not perfect by any means. But does it make me happy?  It makes me exercise more and exercise increases endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline, and endocannabinoid – all brain chemicals associated with feeling happy. So yes, in an indirect way, it does make me happy.

Am I going to be rushing out to buy the new series 7? No. Am I going to stop wearing an Apple Watch all together and go back to regular analogue watch? No. This Watch has proven itself a practical tool although not in the way I had originally planned for. If you can manage the distractions it causes then it maybe just right for you. 

Otherwise, just stick to a regular tick-tock watch.

Baden Jones
Baden Jones

Automation electrician by day, blogger at night – Captivated by technology and always busy tinkering away on something in the workshop.

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