Like many “techies,” I rushed to get my hands on the Apple Watch as soon as it was available. I was excited to try the new technology, wooed by the many benefits I anticipated it would bring to my daily life. But the reality quickly squashed those expectations. Just a few days later, it was clear I couldn’t wear it comfortably for a matter of hours, much less days. That is certainly a problem. As a CTO from a mobile engagement company, I would argue the Watch is not worth the investment – from both a technical and a social standpoint – at least not yet.
Technology – especially wearables – should blend into a person’s everyday life, not cause discomfort or distraction. Here are the four main problems I encountered, along with my thoughts on potential improvements:
For a technical guy, the configuration of Apple’s latest device should be simple and intuitive, right? Not so: The setup and syncing of the Watch involves a configuration of each app, which becomes complicated, especially since the default on the Watch is to sync all compatible apps present on the iPhone.
What would make more sense is to have a list of all apps that are compatible with the Apple Watch, and then give the user the ability to thumb through them (including screenshots and videos) and decide which ones to sync over. In other words, I could have The Weather Channel app on my iPhone, but NOT on my Apple Watch. You can do this today, with the Apple Watch app, but it’s more of an after-the-fact process and not immediately obvious. It’s also presented as a list, not in an App Store format.
The Pebble has been doing this since day one (minus the video), and users can selectively decide which apps to load and unload. Since the Apple Watch is basically a slave to the iPhone anyway, putting more power in a main Apple Watch app on the iPhone would be intuitive – I actually expected this to be the way it would work. While this approach could basically be viewed as another App Store, it would make sense to have a dedicated Apple Watch App Store, or at least a dedicated area of the App Store on the iPhone.
Until Apple fixes the problems of configuration, I believe mass market consumers will either abandon their watches or outright return them.
As many experts predicted, the battery drain is terrible – for most, the Watch barely lasts a few hours before dying and sitting uselessly on their arm. Speaking of the arm, the heart rate sensor is uncomfortable – and of course, reports claim the sensor is spotty on tattooed skin. In addition, the UX is tough to navigate on the device and within app.
Of course, this is a first generation Apple Watch, so we can expect that Apple will evaluate what went wrong and make improvements. That said, if you have to offer training sessions and “Try-On” appointments, it’s clear that it’s not nearly as intuitive as it should be. Thankfully, Android Wear, which has been out more than a year, has recently pushed a new, more intuitive interface, so the precedent is already there.
While the Watch stays locked when off the wrist, notifications and alerts are unlocked on your wrist – putting people in an uncomfortable situation when their Watch pings. Particularly in the enterprise, this could lead to potential security breaches, since a person you’re meeting with could inadvertently read a message that’s being displayed on your Apple Watch. Perhaps we’ll see some advanced settings in the future for being able to put your Apple Watch into “meeting mode”, where you have to swipe to see a message. Today you can silence notifications, by swiping and then tapping Silent Mode, or Do Not Disturb. Or you can turn on Notification Privacy, which will stop the full notification from appearing. Again, not immediately intuitive, though, and it would be better if you could set a time limit for something like “meeting mode”. With the Pebble, users can turn notifications on or off, or just leave it so that they only get alerted when there’s a phone call. Again, these enhancements come with the maturity of the platform. The Pebble has been around a while, so it has evolved over time, much like Android Wear.
Expect to see a lot of hype around potential security concerns, as more Apple Watches hit the workplace. Remember, though, that most of these are theoretical. For example, there are Apple Watch apps that will unlock your computer and will likely unlock your home and your car. All of these have the potential to be security concerns, but they’ve likely all existed on the iPhone before now, so the concern has only now been elevated to your wrist.
4. Return of the “Glass-hole”
The Watch is supposed to help us in our daily interactions. Yet, from a social standpoint it’s incredibly off-putting, with the constant interruption or pinging of the Watch during social exchanges. It’s similar to the dilemma faced by those wearing Google Glass, who became so socially annoying, they were given the nickname “Glass-holes.”
This brings up the question: Are wearables changing our etiquette for the worse? It’s already unsettling to see someone bury their head in their phone while having a conversation with you. Now, with the Apple Watch, will we suddenly be “ok” with people talking, then glancing at their wrist, then talking, then swiping their wrist, etc.? You’d expect that people would know when something isn’t socially acceptable, but perhaps Apple needs to create a “social pause” feature, similar to the “meeting mode” that I described above, where the Apple Watch itself goes into a hybrid mode, so that we can be more human.
Being connected at all times is useful, but in front of other people the Watch failed me every time. Emily Post, a leading voice of American manners, has compiled articles/guides for use of smartphones and tablets, including the right places to use them. There isn’t a guide for the Apple Watch yet, but maybe there should be.
Ty Rollin is CTO at Mobiquity.