On April 24th, the Apple Watch turned one year old. It’s normal to judge a device on the first year of sales, and as such, the Apple Watch is coming up for review. I’ve been a user since day one, and have become unintentionally reliant on my watch since then. However, there are still many things that I don’t like about the watch, despite my reliance on a subset of it’s features. The first edition was never going to be all singing all dancing, but Apple have definitely left themselves with room to grow.
One year on, and the Apple Watch remains the best looking smartwatch and fitness tracker on the market. Recent attempts from FitBit, with the Blaze, feel and look cheap in comparison to the Apple Watch’s precision engineered enclosure and customisable straps. Perhaps the closest competitor in terms of design, is the Withings Activité series - it’s sleek, it’s minimal and isn’t obviously a fitness tracker.
Design is a real factor when it came to something that I was going to wear all-day everyday. I still remember the announcement of the Apple Watch, and where I wasn’t sure whether I would use the features and even wanted any kind of watch - I’ve never been a fan of wearing things on my wrists - I was instantly impressed by the design and engineering. And that holds true to this day.
Minimal, and for the most part unobtrusive, I love how the Watch looks. I opted for a Space Grey Sport Edition, with a black sport band, partly because thats the colour scheme of every other Apple Device I own, but also because it just looks right. I dabbled with a Silver Sport model and blue band before, and it didn’t look anything close to the elegant black edition. I feel like this resonates in the stainless steel editions too, however, in a less exaggerated fashion.
Elegance in design wasn’t just restricted to the exquisitely crafted digital crown, but was built into watchOS. The circular icons are just as distinguishable and defining a feature as the enclosure, and again, puts the Apple Watch leaps and bounds ahead of competitors in terms of aesthetics.
As beautiful as it is, the Apple Watch does however fall short in terms of functionality in comparison to competitors. Now I’m not talking about apps here - the app ecosystem is the Apple Watch’s saving grace - I’m talking about as a stand alone device.
Where the device delivers with a heart rate monitor, automated fitness tracking, bluetooth and Siri support, it’s lacking in GPS, real waterproofing and internal hardware. These factors combined, mean that Apple Watch is a pretty average fitness tracker in truth. It’s hard to hold this against Apple, they weren’t out to build a better FitBit, or a Garmin GPS System. However, if you are going to brand your product with ‘Sport’, it should deliver when it comes to activity.
I’m a very active sportsman, to date, I’ve run 4 marathons. Running was pushed hard in the early marketing for the Apple Watch, yet the lack of GPS limits it’s usefulness. Yes, Apple say that the watch learns your running speed, so eventually you can run without your phone, but without inbuilt GPS accuracy still is not what it should be when using the Apple Watch solo.
During my latest marathon, I used the Watch solo. According to the Watch, the 42.195 KM race I ran, was actually 49 KM - closer to an ultra marathon than a marathon. This really isn’t good enough.
This trade off between design and functionality may not just be an aspect of my thinking. Apple remain silent on Watch sales figures, although analysts predict around 12 million units sold, which is more than the iPhone in it’s first year. However, remaining quiet on figures this far into a products life cycle suggests to me that sales were not as strong as Apple was hoping. Perhaps integration of more features is the key to driving these sales up.
With all that said, it’s a testament to Apple that they have managed to make me completely reliant on a product, that from a sports perspective, is inherently flawed. WatchOS features such as Glances, Notifications and Siri have changed the way that I interact with my iPhone. I forgot to charge my Watch last week, and had to go a day without it. The constant vibrating of emails and group messages coming from my pocket was infuriating, and made my vow to never again fail to wear my Watch.
Despite the underlying feel of disappointment and longing for what could have been, I know that I will buy the next iteration of the Apple Watch, and that at one point in it’s lifecycle, that looks set to continue, all of the features that I need will be there.
As the first foray into wearable technology, and the first product line launched by Tim Cook rather than Steve Jobs, the Apple Watch can only be considered a success, generating estimated revenue of $6 Billion in it’s first year. To keep that figure rising however, is a different animal, and one that will take some taming.