Geek Rants

Apple Watch: What’s it For, Really?

  • June 3, 2015

Okay, so I’ve had this somewhat spendy bauble for about a week now. When I landed a very lucrative consulting gig late last year I decided my congratulatory self-gift would be pre-ordering an Apple Watch when they became available. I make no apologies for being a fan of Apple products: their quality control, attention to detail and hand-tailored hardware/software integration provide my Studio with technology that “just works” and saves me tons of time otherwise wasted in the “care and feeding” of my IT infrastructure. YMMV but in my experience the alternatives didn’t work out and, since I switched, things have been great. I will continue to vote for them with my dollars (and watch the value of the AAPL stock in my retirement portfolio continue to bloom).

When poring over the options I did a little head-scratching. What kind to get? The larger screen was a no-brainer: even my laptop has a 17″ screen. I am addicted to as much screen real estate as I can get. I am, however, also no fashionista and “fashion statements” impel me to give a disgusted eye-roll. I finally took the most straightforward approach from my perspective: the black (okay: “Space Grey”) aluminum watch with the black sport band. Not only one of the less spendy options, but I believe you can never go wrong with basic black. And there it was.

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Okay, two paragraphs of babble and a flashy picture, and I still haven’t answered the question: what does it DO?

The simple answer is it removes the necessity for taking your phone out of your pocket for several common actions, much less walking around holding the thing. No, you can’t take a selfie with it, but you can use it to remotely control your phone camera so that selfie doesn’t have to involve holding your phone stiff-armed. So, what else? Instead of trying to wax eloquent let me just illustrate some use cases that have come up for me. Full disclosure: I own a business and my office phone is forwarded to my iPhone. I do a LOT of business via that connection and some of this stuff might not be as useful to you.

First off: driving. I’ll start with the biggest (to me): I despise those Borg-like bluetooth earpiece things. I think they are goofy looking, and I haven’t even had mine on the charger in years. I used to keep my iPhone propped in a cup holder so I could see the caller ID and decide whether that were a call or text worth pulling over for, addressing as soon as I got to my destination, or simply dealing with later. Now I can just glance at my wrist to see—and if I need to take it I can do so right then, Dick Tracy style. It’s a hands-free phone device that I can accept.

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Same thing for email, texts and other alerts. I get a light wrist tap and at the next light a quick glance at my wrist tells me what I need to know so I can plan how, when (or whether) to address an event. I can even reply to texts by dictating a quick reply (even if it’s just “I’ll get back to you in a few” and, no, I don’t actually read a whole text unless I’m stopped) and the interface is so simple I can respond by touch and my eyes never leave the road apart from that first quick glance to see the ID. Tell me you never look at your radio to change channels while driving and I’ll listen to potential objections.

There is a host of apps that connect the Watch to the iPhone. The main interface has something called “glances” that present you a quick flick-through list of the more useful ones after just a single swipe up: weather is one for me, being a golfer. I have two predictive radar map apps each of which is on a “glance” so that now I don’t have to haul out my phone to check the coming rain.

Speaking of golfing: I used to carry around a dedicated GPS golfing device; no longer. My iPhone has a very good golfing app but, as is the case with any smart phone of any make or model, running the GPS full-time drains the battery like a maniac on a binge. In addition, (here it comes again) carrying the phone in my pocket and hauling it out before each shot is a real pain. Well, my GPS app is Watch capable. That means I just leave the iPhone in a pocket of my golf bag (which is where every phone on a golf course belongs—with the ringer off) attached to a spare battery pack and use the Watch to check distances to hazards and green with a glance at my wrist and a finger flick.

That mapping power translates to non-golfing use, as well. Maps is right there and you can dictate a location and get turn-by-turn spoken directions all from your wrist. Siri is fully functional via the Watch—though for some search results you’re told you need to use Handoff and check your phone. There’s only so much the screen can hold.

Battery life? Not a problem at all and I am using Hell out of this thing. On one memorable day there was 37% left at the end of the day when I put it back on the charger; most days it never gets below 50%. Since I almost never go anywhere on business (which is the main reason I go out) without my laptop, the USB Watch charging cable means I could always juice it up on the go if for some weird reason I had to.

In general, I’m finding this thing useful as Hell. I’ve never been a “watch guy” and my trusty old Timex usually sits in the basket with my car keys until I go somewhere. Now I find myself putting on the Watch first thing in the morning and wearing it all day. It’s become that useful to me.

Do I need it? Of course not. It’s about convenience, even a little increased efficiency. Taken to the extreme your phone itself is just a convenience: you could always travel across town (or the country) to communicate with someone. The Watch is just another step in that direction, and I’m digging it.

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