Can You Live Without an Apple Watch?

April 9th, 2015

Apple seeded an Apple Watch with a number of specially selected tech journalists, and the first reviews are in. Even though I haven’t yet considered whether to try one out at an Apple Store, I am intrigued by the possibilities. But it’s definitely not a slam dunk.

There are certainly lots of good parts. It’s mostly fast, fluid and stable, though apps are sometimes slow to load, and it does the things Apple claims it does. Battery life, claimed to be 18 hours under normal use, appears to be on track. One review I read spoke of having the Apple Watch last longer than an iPhone during the test period. The only downside appears to be the charging pad, since it’s just too easy to separate the two, and the fact that it takes up to two and a half hours to fully recharge. But the larger criticism is that the new scheme forces you to have yet another charging cable on hand when you travel.

While it’s clearly not as bad as one blogger — who had never tried an Apple Watch — claimed, there are some new skills to learn. So you’ll need to get accustomed to Apple’s new Force Touch feature, now also available on the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display and the thin/light MacBook. It’s mostly a matter of getting comfortable with pressing harder on the touchscreen for added functions. The only downside is that, once you are used to this routine, you’ll accidentally press harder on touchscreens and touchpads on gear that doesn’t have this feature yet. You’ll also need to learn to use the digital crown for zooming and activating Siri, plus the second button for your contacts.

None of this appears to be difficult. But when different gadgets offer different functions and different ways to access those functions, you can expect it’ll take a few days to get accustomed to everything.

Some might suggest Apple should have attempted to make the Apple Watch work more like an iPhone, but pinch and zoom on that tiny screen makes less sense. There have to be accommodations for its size, and Apple appears to have done things in a sensible way.

To allow you to make and receive phone calls on an Apple Watch, which uses your iPhone to do the heavy lifting, there’s a built in mic and speaker. But it appears the speaker system may not deliver loud enough sound for noisy surroundings. A Bluetooth headset would be the best solution for frequent calls. Well, unless you don’t like having those things in your ear.

I get all the new fitness functionality, and the clever combination of features that let you access the information you want with a casual glance rather than an extended session. That helps keep battery life as high as possible, and it also makes Apple Watch more convenient for busy people who hope to free themselves from at least some long sessions with mobile gear. So is Apple Watch a potential replacement for the iPhone, the true iPhone killer? Not until it’s powerful enough to exist by itself without tethering, and that might take a few years to happen.

The taptic features, such as getting subtle reminders when seated to get up and exercise your legs, is a real plus. I can grok this since I’ve been undergoing treatments lately for a chronic back problem and exercise does help.

The reviews suggest Apple’s own apps are the most compelling out of the starting gate, and it will be a while for the killer apps to emerge for the platform. To be sure, you don’t expect the Apple Watch to do all its tricks with a version 1.0 operating system and version 1.0 apps. That will come in time.

As smartwatches go, it appears Apple has made its case for being leader of the pack, and certainly the leader when it comes to the highest prices. I also expect demand at the start to be high, and there are indications supplies will be quite short. Apple will only allow you to buy just one during your shopping session, with no indication whether there will be fast delivery or you’ll have to wait.

Apple also requires that you reserve the Apple Watch you want or place your order online. There won’t be lines snaking around an Apple Store with customers hoping for instant gratification when it goes on sale on April 24th. In addition, Apple won’t be including Apple Watch sales figures in its financials as a separate line item, though I suppose something will be said if demand is extremely high.

Sales and profits for the March quarter will be revealed on Monday, April 27th. Coincidentally, that will be right after the Apple Watch’s first weekend on sale, so I’m sure the tech media and financial analysts will be paying really close attention to see what might be revealed. Even if Apple says nothing, I expect the question will be asked by one of the analysts present at the quarterly the conference call. How Apple responds will say a lot.

But after the initial demand is satisfied, will customers find the Apple Watch to be an indispensable wearable? Or will they opt to save their money and rely on their iPhone? Will some people buy iPhones just to be able to use an Apple Watch?

The impression I get from the reviews is that, once you’re past the learning curve, you may indeed wonder how you lived without one. Maybe, but it’s not near as indispensable as a smartphone. That’s also the question I will ponder as I decide what I can afford, and whether an Apple Watch will meet my needs. It’s not a question that I can easily answer.

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