Barely Good Enough

Consider this a lukewarm endorsement of the first-generation Apple Watch. I received my 42mm Apple Watch Sport on launch day, and I was really excited about it. I had my expectations in check, but I think it’s fair to say I wanted to love the watch. Unfortunately, I’ve mostly been disappointed. Yet I keep wearing the watch every day, because it’s just barely good enough to keep me coming back.

By far, the biggest problem with the Apple Watch is that it’s just too slow. As Dan Moren recently pointed out, what makes it all the worse is that the whole point of the watch is to get information quickly:

The problem with the Apple Watch is that we’re being asked to strap something to our wrist—to attach it to our very body—without it delivering on the corresponding promise that it will be much faster to use than our phones. The stale data and the lack of speed means that either you have to stare at your Watch for several seconds and hope the data updates; or tap on the complication to load the Watch app, which as we all know takes a good long while as well; or simply give up and pull out your phone.

Nonetheless, I keep wearing the watch, for two main features: notifications and activity tracking.

Notifications is the lesser of the two. There are times when it’s nice to see a text arrive without digging my phone out of my pocket. That’s especially true in the winter, when getting to my phone means going through a layer of coat and gloves. A quick look at my watch tells me whether I need to go through the trouble. At the same time, notifications are frustrating because I usually want to respond to them. Most times an emoji won’t do, and I just don’t want to be that guy talking to his wrist to dictate a reply. I’ve limited the number of apps that send notifications to my watch, but I do find a few of them useful.

The biggest feature that keeps me coming back is activity tracking. Honestly, it’s great. The combination of steps, heart rate, and active calories is really useful, and motivated me to get a little more exercise. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’m in better shape today because of the Apple Watch. (I’m not the only one.) Other devices like FitBit do similar things, but if I’m going to wear something on my wrist all the time, it may as well be a device that integrates closely with my iPhone.

Without those two features, I’d probably have given up on the Apple Watch months ago. There’s a ton of stuff that I thought I’d use but don’t. “Hey Siri” sounds cool as an idea, but is terribly unreliable in practice. (My wife likes to laugh as I hurl expletives in frustration at an unresponsive Siri.) Sports scores and weather work properly, but are often slower than using my phone. I do use Apple Pay from time to time, but I wouldn’t mind using it from my phone instead of my watch. Even complications, a watchOS 2 feature I was excited about, have underwhelmed. They’re just too slow, too limited, and have too little developer support to be very useful.

That’s not to say that the Apple Watch is doomed – far from it. But in order to be anything more than a marginal product, the next version needs to be far more responsive. Everything from reliability of turning the screen on when I move my wrist to loading data to opening apps must get better and faster. If the next version of the watch improves nothing except speed, that’ll be a huge step toward being more than barely good enough.