Apple Watch - Good Function, No Fashion
So, I got an Apple Watch Series 2 for my birthday – if you drop enough hints, sometimes things work out for you. It took almost a month to get it, and while I’ve been using it for less than a month, I’ve mastered just about everything I intend to master on it. I guess that puts me in “operational mode.” Since I don’t know anyone else who has one, I can’t send those haptic “love taps” and the idea of sending your heart beat to anyone strikes me as just “strange.” Long and the short, the Apple Watch is an above average tech gadget with some bad design features, but a seriously deficient fashion statement.
I got the Watch primarily to monitor my workouts. I’m a swimmer, and the first version of the Apple Watch was splash proof but not waterproof, or more specifically “water resistant.” So while I’ve heard of people taking a dip with the first generation Apple Watch, I’m not jumping in the pool wearing a $400 bauble that might not make it through the first lap. Even with the water resistant model now dubbed “Series 2” (to differentiate it from the earlier model which is now called “Series 1”), Apple’s web site does caution against scuba diving, water skiing (i.e. high pressure water) and steam rooms, but it’s fine for a pool or open water swim.
My swim workouts are fairly intense (two miles, variable intervals, all freestyle, all flip turns – my pulse is usually running around 80% to 85% of max.) and I usually hit the pool three times a week. For what I do, the Apple Watch works out great. In the Pool Swim app, you set the pool length (usually 25 yards or 50 meters), hit “Go” and you’re off. The display gives you total elapsed time, calories burned, laps swum (that’s helpful, because if you lose count, you have to assume the lower number), and total strokes – all good swimmers count strokes per lap, but I never thought of adding them up.
The one thing you can’t see in the Pool Swim app is heart rate. There is a heart rate sensor, but to get that, you have to unlock the watch (i.e. spin the crown), return to the Home screen (press the crown), and switch to the Heart Rate app by tapping an icon that’s a little bigger than a pinhead. That should be accessible through the app.
That gets to the one part of the Apple Watch that I find particularly annoying – a ridiculously overcrowded Home screen packed with icons you can’t remove, most of which I will never use. This is bloatware gone to the extreme. I guess if you have an iPhone (I do) and you’re going to wear the watch all day (I’m not, we’ll get back to that in a minute), maybe some of this stuff is helpful. However, when I’m in the pool, my iPhone is a mile and a half away (beyond the range of Bluetooth) sitting on my bedside table.
With your iPhone close by you can read your emails, check and respond to texts, set alarms, turn my Nest thermostats on and off, and I don’t know what else, but none of these are things I want to be doing on a watch. I would much prefer to uninstall (or at least hide) the apps I have no need for and get icons for the four or five things I do need bigger and easier to tap.
However, the biggest downside for the Apple Watch, and the reason that I don’t wear it outside of the pool, is that it is butt-ugly! The display only activates when you raise your arm to look at it, so most of the time, it’s off. When you get right down to it, this thing looks like a big black Chiclet strapped to your wrist. When I see people wearing these things, I just look away.
The actual faces are attractive enough, and you do have some ability to customize them; it’s actually nice to have the temperature as well as the date displayed. However, most of the time the display is off and you’re left with an unattractive black lump hanging at the end of your arm.
Apple has done as well as anyone in the wearables space, and essentially dominates in the smartwatch category. IDC ranks Apple number two in the wearables space for 2Q 2015 with 20.3% of shipments behind market leader Fitbit that had 24.9%. For 2Q 2016, Fitbit grew to a 25.4% share while Apple essentially tied with Garmin for number three (behind Fitbit and Xiaomi) at 7.0%. Those sales were likely hampered by the hangover effect as it was widely known that Apple was coming out with the next generation later in the year. We can expect to see Apple surge in the fourth quarter as shipments of Series 2 devices ramp up and the company cuts the price for the Series 1 models.
However, wearables face a big problem across the board in the “fashion” department, and anything you put on yourself becomes “fashion.” I’m not big on jewelry; I don’t have an earring, no bracelets or necklaces and God knows, no body piercings. I’m basically a watch and a wedding ring guy. I’ve got a couple of really nice watches that I find to be far more attractive than Apple’s “lump of black,” so when I get out of the pool, my Apple Watch goes back on the bedside table where the charger is.
Outside of the “I really don’t care what I look like” set or folks who want to flaunt their workout credentials, I foresee “fashion consciousness” as an ongoing challenge to wearables. The Apple Watch is functional, but as something to wear, it’s just plain ugly – and I really didn’t need to check my pulse that often. It’s not as bad as Google Glass (that was “dweeb central”), but until they come up with designs more attractive than the big black Chiclet, wearables have a big obstacle to going mainstream.
The Fitbit at least shows at least some design sense and it’s smaller which makes it less obtrusive. However, until someone starts producing wearable that is also “fashionable,” I think the wearable market will remain a niche of a niche.