Apple Watch Product Review

apple-watch

As of May 2015, I have been wearing the Apple Watch for a month now, with two weeks of that month being spent overseas in Malaysia & Singapore. This article documents my experience in wearing the 38mm sports edition. To read up on my thoughts of the product in general, visit the Apple Watch Product Line page.

Purchasing Experience

The Apple Watch is one of the most diverse product lines and when you consider all the different possible combinations, it could become quite overwhelming and complicated. The fact that in this first inaugural launch, Apple has gone for a wide berth product launch makes me wonder if this is a sign of a new Apple at play. Under Steve Jobs, he was ruthless in simplifying the customer and product experience. True, a different environment and context was at play when he trimmed the Apple product catalogue down to a basic four products – Apple was fighting for survival – but this product launch does make me wonder if this was how Steve Jobs would have done it.

 

According to the Apple Store catalogue there are 38 models to choose from, 20 models for the Apple Watch, 10 Sports models and 8 Edition models. Ultimately, the reason for such a high number of models is because you are mixing the following attributes:

  • Size: 38mm or 42mm
  • Case Material: stainless steel (Apple Watch), aluminium (Sports) or 18-Karat gold (Edition)
  • Case Colour: silver or space black (Apple Watch), space grey (Sports), rose or yellow (Edition)
  • Wristband design/material: sports bands, buckles, Milanese loops, leather loop or link bracelet
  • Wristband colour: white, black, midnight blue, bright blue, soft pink, stone, brown, light brown, space gray, blue, green, pink, rose gray, or bright red…

Partly, the wide choice of models reflects the fashionistic nature of the product as a watch, worn to be a fashion statement.; highly personalised. The core product itself is really the case, which has the material and size permutations. As part of the purchasing experience, potential customers are encouraged to visit a store where they can try it on. Apple has got it right by creating that personalised experience. On the evening of product launch, I managed to get a try-on appointment where I was guided one-on-one through the different models and allowed to wear the different display units. The entire experience is impressive in itself and you can appreciate the efforts Apple has gone to in specialised training for the sales consultants who lead the process. Wearing gloves and presenting the display models in a special casing creates the impression of a high-end watch/jewellery store. The entire pre-sales experience oozes and cries out luxury!

Even now, almost six weeks since launch, the Apple Store is an exclusive channel for the actual purchase of an Apple Watch. You cannot purchase an Apple Watch in store, only try them on. This is likely to remain consistent for the Edition models since each unit is priced in the order of $10000. So let us now discuss the contentious issue of pricing.

The Apple Watch models have a price range of $799 to $1629 (all pricing here is in AUD) with 10 different price points. For the Sports models, the pricing is $499 for a 38mm screen and $579 for the 42mm. Four price points exist for the Edition models, varying from $14,000 to $24,000. The following table is based on my efforts to summarise and normalise the data available from the Apple Store (Australia):

apple-watch-pricing

 

To analyse the data, the following insights become possible:

  • An $80 price differential exists between the 38mm and 42mm model (excepting the Edition 18-Carat gold, which suggests using gold for the additional 4mm sizing carries a $3000 extra cost)
  • Classic buckles and Milanese loop wristbands cost the same.
  • The dying and colouring treatment of producing the stainless steel case in space black costs an additional $150.
  • The different between a sports band and modern buckle could be $300 (Watch) or $10,000 (Edition). Perhaps the $10,000 difference is because the colouring treatment to get the rare colours of “rose gray” and “bright red” is in the order of $1000s…?

At this point in time, given this is still the first iteration of the Apple Watch, unless you are have money to waste, consider the path I took in getting the basic 38mm Sports model.

Unboxing & Packaging Experience

When the Apple Watch arrived, I first encountered a big box:

IMG_0079It made me wonder why Apple would go to such lengths to package a watch in a box that could probably fit a 21-inch iMac…

IMG_0080That’s right – hit bang in the centre of this giant box was my Apple Watch!

IMG_0082

 

Discarding all that cardboard, I then removed the standard, obligatory plastic wrapping to officially lift the lid on this sleek box, which gave us the first hint of the next layer. As you can see in the image below, the layout resembles that of a typical iPhone or iPad box with the device presented on the top layer.

IMG_0083I will return to unpacking the case which contains the watch. It was meticulously wrapped in a thin plastic paper wrapping. You can see the watch container/case out of the box.

IMG_0084Concentrating on the main box, the middle layer of documentation lifts off to reveal the charger and USB/power connector.

IMG_0086

 

Returning to the watch case, opening it up reveals the watch laid out, along with a second wristband. The Sports model comes with two wristbands – one for smaller wrists and one for larger wrists.

IMG_0088

You can see that the smaller wristband is attached by default. The instruction sheet shows you how to remove and swap out the wristbands as needed.

IMG_0093

 

As expected with all Apple products, there was no need to charge it for the initial power on. As part of the set-up process, one of the first steps is to pair the watch with an iPhone. The main experience for this setup process is via the My Watch app, which is bundled with iOS 8.2:

mywatchapp

Usage

Given the dependency and pairing between the Watch and iPhone, the way you set up your notifications on the iPhone will largely determine how the Watch also notifies you. Using Bluetooth to maintain the connection, the number one impact that most Watch wearers will observe is that additional impact the Watch will have on you iPhone’s battery life.

Since I was overseas for the first two weeks of use, and I chose NOT to get a local SIM/service with data, the full capabilities of the Watch were not utilised during my travels. Core in-built functionality focusing on the Health and fitness tracking metrics operated fine without an internet connection. Having first been introduced to the Health app on the iPhone late in 2014, the accuracy and data collection from the Apple Watch make the Health dashboards and reporting more accurate.

The addition of new Apps to the Watch interface is via the My Watch app on the iPhone. The layout of app icons can be a little confusing since the screen size limits the viewing area. However, via the digital crown, zooming in and out becomes possible as a workaround.

The number one Watch app for me has been Activity, which is a key feature promoted for the Sports model. The radial measure fully utilises the square screen of the watch and the overall view combines the three main categories of Move, Exercise and Stand. The goal setting and awards structure help to make this a highly usable and fun app for motivating a healthy lifestyle. The Stand module includes the hourly notification/alert to get up and move about in order to meet that target/goal.

The digital crown provides a natural way to zoom in on the app layout screen, and is also clickable to trigger a ‘back’ function. The side button is a shortcut for accessing the dial of contacts. As a default, the list of contacts is sourced from your iPhone list of favourite contacts, although over time, you may look to customising it so that your contacts with an Apple Watch are listed instead… The side button can be compared to the power button; if you press and hold it the screen presents two options for power off or reserve power. The reserve power mode is a special mode for the watch whereby it enters a state of ‘dormancy’, and all smart functions are disabled.

Interacting with the direct screen presents a host of new opportunities to learn and adjust to the Force Touch technology. A simple sharp tap produces a different outcome to press and hold. This functionality is best demonstrated and experienced through the interactions possible with your contacts: you can tap the screen to trigger a haptic alert on their end, use your finger to draw and doodle a message/picture to them in the form of a recorded screen capture, or use two finger tap to send your heartbeat. Pressing and holding your finger down on the clock face brings up the customisation options.

The watch has a very good and reliable gyroscope sensor; it knows when you lift the watch or even tilt it for viewing – the screen display is activated as a result. The black background of the screen is intentional as well since the screen is based on OLED technology and it is more efficient in saving battery power to not have to consume power to display blacks. This helps to explain the battery life of the watch; use of any other technology for the display screen would have compromised battery life even further.

Siri on the Apple Watch has slightly different capabilities compared to her iPhone delivery. When messaging a contact, recording your speech leads to two options – sending the audio recording or translating it into a written message. Based on discussions with a friend who also has a new Apple Watch, the voice-to-text conversation is highly accurate.

Another tip that I have learnt is how to take a screen capture. The trick is to think of the crown and side buttons are the equivalents of the home and power buttons on an iPhone/iPad. Holding down the side button, tapping the crown takes a screen capture. One feature that has practical uses is using the watch to control the iPhone camera. In truth, there are a lot of new features and apps available on the watch. The similarities between iOS and Watch OS allow a high degree of assimilation and familiarity to the Watch user. Where the iPhone interface for iOS is more square icons, the Watch interface utilises a round icon presentation. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen brings up the Glances set of screens which are customisable. Swiping down from the top of the screen brings up the familiar notifications screen. Dismissing a notification on the Watch results in the notification number on the iPhone to be reduced.

 

Time is also a key part of understanding and reviewing the Apple Watch. Apple Care is offered as a standard two-year offering; $79 is the charge for the Sports model and it has the standard terms in covering hardware faults, whereas the Watch model Apple Care is $109. The durable material of the wristbands, particularly the plastic of the sports band has so far proven to be holding. I found that when travelling throughout Malaysia/Singapore, the warmer weather meant the wristband was slightly tighter, whereas the Winter/colder weather means the positioning fits better.

An average day’s usage tends to drain the battery down to around the 40-50% mark. Following my existing habit/pattern of charging my iPhone nightly, I also charge the watch overnight irrespective of whether I need to or not. Using the watch at work means, like my phone, it is on mute most of the time. I find the haptic sensor notification very handy, particularly since I have already controlled the flow of notifications on my iPhone to be quite minimalistic; my email is NOT push notified, but set to manual pull as a means to minimising both iPhone/watch battery life.

Integration between the iPhone and Watch includes core Apple apps such as Phone calls, Messaging, Email, Calendar, Contacts, and Music. You can send and receive phone calls from your watch; the microphone does operate best if you raise your wrist/watch to your mouth… iMessage notifications come through to the watch and preset responses are available for a quick acknowledgement. There also is the option to respond verbally via the previously cited voice-to-text translation/audio recording options. I personally do not think Email is a worthwhile integration given the longer length of the means of an email communication. Also, this reflects my existing decision to limit email notifications on my iPhone. Calendar reminder notifications on the Watch are definitely a handy feature, although beyond that I think the iPhone remains the primary user interface. The Contacts interactions are a unique offering of the Watch and have been demonstrated in their various advertising – in particular the ability to send your heartbeat to contacts who also possess an Apple Watch.

As part of providing a remote functionality for the Music app, the watch has the ability to output the music directly or to choose the iPhone output. Internal 8GB memory allows for a pre-loading of selected playlists and thus, allow the user to play music directly from the watch whilst jogging and leaving behind their iPhone. use of the Force Touch press and hold interaction present additional options for the Music app such as switching between the iPhone and Apple Watch sources, as well as changing the output.

The range for the bluetooth was tested in the office. I left my iPhone at my desk and walked away. The signalling for bluetooth enabled me to walk approximately five desks away (10 metres). The watch purports to have Wi-Fi which is also reinforced by the way AirPlay works, although you cannot directly connect the watch device to a Wi-Fi network. The use of Wi-Fi is to combine with bluetooth for the purposes of AirPlay.

Other more prominent uses of Apple Watch include Passbook and the digitisation of previous hardcopy forms of communication. The Qantas Passbook app was one example of the recent news reporting that the airport infrastructure struggled to cope with compatibility of reading the small Apple Watch display of a boarding pass… Unfortunately, Singapore Airlines has not yet developed their Apple Watch solutions and Passbook boarding passes are limited to selected destinations.

Overall, whilst initial reports prior to the official release raised grave concerns, the subsequent launch and proving of the product has allayed much of the fears. Apple remains characteristically silent on details behind sales and demand, but it is suspected that the wheels are slowly turning in what will become the next pillar of the Apple story of success.

In my opinion, as a first product release, this is a solid performance by Apple given the intense level of expectation that the media has generated rightly or wrongly. There is a an expectation that because it is Apple, this product has to perform if not outdo their previous product launches. It should be observed that Apple tends to work iteratively. Look at the evolution of both the iPhone and iPad, and how they have evolved from their initial launch form factors. Each subsequent product has leveraged the previous such that it is reasonable to expect great things from the Apple Watch. Apple has never sought to be first to market with a product, but instead has worked at their own pace to deliver a packaged product/solution that aims to deliver a solid performance.

Given we are still progressing through the first financial quarter of the product release, it is still early days to conclude on how successful the watch is. The range of estimates on sales seems to be between 15M at a conservative low-end up to the more bullish 30M+. Expecting the Apple Watch to perform or even outperform the iPad launch is not realistic given the nature of the product and the constraints that Apple themselves designed into the product. They chose a time of the year which is relatively calm, so that they can ramp up production. The northern hemisphere summer season is approaching so we can only watch (pun intended) and wait to see how the Apple Watch progresses.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments