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  • The Apple Watch and a Buggy Rollout

    April 30th, 2015

    You just know that Apple’s marketing machine has been in full force trying to convince you that the Apple Watch is absolutely amazing, about to take over an industry that has, so far, not gone very far. Reviews present a more nuanced view. It’s a fashionable, trendsetting gadget, but somewhat rough about the edges.

    Understand that I have not had direct exposure to an Apple Watch. But I read a lot about it, perhaps a large book’s worth, and I have examined the illustrations. So I know a fair amount on an academic level, and personal experience will come. There are things worth observing, however.

    At first, I felt it would be easy to learn the new controls, such was Force Touch and the Digital Crown. But, based on what I’ve read and the information guests on my radio show have conveyed, it clearly takes time to understand what does what and which technique works better to accomplish a particular task. Worse, it appears that Apple turns on too many functions, particularly notifications, when the smartwatch is first set up. This may help reduce the learning curve at the expense of annoying people with too many distractions.

    For the most part, problems appear to be software related. So when functions aren’t as responsive or reliable as they should be, it’s quite possible a software update will fix it. Sometimes moving your wrist to activate the display simply doesn’t work, and sometimes it appears the Apple Watch just stays on, sucking battery life, when you’re doing routine things that aren’t about glancing at your watch, such as driving. Perhaps a nuanced threshold setting would be useful to allow for the differences in the way people do things.

    While Tim Cook was clearly proud of the fact that some 3,500 apps have been released for the Apple Watch, he didn’t mention the fact that they, in large part, appear to be buggy in key respects. Reviewers have consistently mentioned slow launch times as a typical symptom. In fairness to developers, they were pretty much flying blind in producing these apps, since it was done in large part without actual access to an Apple Watch. So one expects ongoing software updates will help.

    Now the basic setup instructions appear to be clear enough, offering so many features in a version 1.0 device may have served the marketing purpose of demonstrating how the Apple Watch beats the competition, but at the expense of making customers more confused.

    As I read this material, I thought about the release of the very first iPhone, which also introduced you to new ways of doing things. But there was no Force Touch, no Taptic Engine, and the Home button was pretty intuitive. Ditto the volume controls that were similar in layout and function to other mobile handsets. The Sleep/Wake button was easily mastered. But the Digital Crown is a multifunction control, although that’s not unusual for a watch. The side button also reminds me the of the extra buttons on a chronograph.

    The user interface, though described as fluid, also exhibits the consequences of taking a tiny screen and making it do lots of things. It just takes longer to get accustomed to how things work, and that’s to be expected. Could Apple have made it simpler? I’m not an interface designer.

    Understand I am not trying to review a product I haven’t used. Instead, I’m trying to look over the shakiness of the Apple Watch and understand what it might mean.

    Again, Apple is trying to do things that haven’t been done before, at least not on a device of this sort. There are a number of other smartwatches out there, but they don’t seem to have been as carefully engineered. Pebble works well by doing less, so there’s not as much to learn.

    The biggest problem is that, when customers want to show off their new purchase, it may not always work the way they expect. This is particularly true if the display doesn’t activate with a wrist motion.

    As more and more people get an Apple Watch, and Apple fields tech support questions, I expect software changes will be made to make the setup and usability process smoother and simpler. When I read of skilled tech journalists saying it took about a week to get accustomed to how things work, I wondered how many people would put up with the process. Understand a Mac is a whole lot more complicated to use, and don’t get me started with Windows, but we’ve had decades to get used to making those things work, but people still have problems.

    Isn’t a watch supposed to be simple? Even then, some want more, such as the ability to monitor your sleep and, of course, a longer-lasting battery. There is even a published report claiming that people with tattoos on their wrists might find that the Apple Watch is less sensitive. We’ll see.

    Meantime, the general sense I get from the articles I’ve read is that Apple Watch has a few glitches and, while a beautiful timepiece, is not as yet indispensable to your digital lifestyle.

    Of course, I could say the same about the first iPhone.



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    One Response to “The Apple Watch and a Buggy Rollout”

    1. dfs says:

      Some of the issues Gene talks about are touched on in the course of the Ars Technica review of the Apple Watch (http://arstechnica.com/apple/2015/05/03/review-the-absolutely-optional-apple-watch-and-watch-os-1-0/). This is a long review, but well worth readomg/

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