Apple Watch reviews came out on Wednesday. I have only read a few so far.
Overall, the design and function of the watch is receiving huge praise. One of the most common complaints about it, or at least the one I care about the most, is that watch wearers will need to get used to the display not always being on. See below, written by Joshua Tapolsky at Bloomberg (click here to read his full review).
But what about the watch as a timepiece? I’ve found the experience somewhat inferior to that with a conventional wristwatch, due to one small issue. The Apple Watch activates its screen only when it thinks you’re looking at it. Sometimes a subtle twist of your wrist will do, but sometimes it takes … more. Many times while using the watch, I had to swing my wrist in an exaggerated upward motion to bring the display to life. Think about the way people normally look at their watches, then make it twice as aggressive. As a normal watch-wearer, the idea that I might look down at my wrist and not see the time was annoying.
Sometimes, even if you do the arm-swing motion, the screen doesn’t turn on. Sometimes it turns on, then off. Sometimes you tap it and nothing happens.
For all the noise Apple has made about what a remarkable time-telling device its watch is, I found it lacking for this reason alone. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t keep excellent time—it just doesn’t offer the consistency of a traditional timepiece.
I am most surprised, but also encouraged, by John Gruber’s remarks about feeling of the Digital Crown, Taptic Engine and force touch (click here to read his full review).
At Apple Watch’s introduction and several times since, Apple has emphasized that each breakthrough product in the company’s history, starting with the Macintosh, has required new input technology to support the interaction design. The mouse for the Mac. The click wheel for the iPod. Multitouch for the iPhone. (Unmentioned: the stylus for the Newton.) Apple invented none of these things (with the possible exception of the click wheel), but Apple was the first to bring each of them to the mass market.
For Apple Watch, Apple is billing the Digital Crown as the breakthrough input device. And, to be sure, there’s no other watch, smart or otherwise, with a crown like this. Eight years of daily iPhone use had me swiping the Apple Watch touchscreen to scroll at first, but I quickly learned to adopt the digital crown instead. It truly is a good and clever idea, and, presuming it is patent-protected strongly enough, the lack of a digital crown is going to put competitors at a disadvantage. You can scroll the screen by swiping it, but scrolling the crown is better.
But fundamentally, what’s novel about the digital crown is the context of the wrist. As a concept, it’s pretty much the same idea as a scroll wheel on a mouse — you rotate it up and down to scroll/zoom, and you press it to click.
To me, the breakthrough in Apple Watch is the Taptic Engine and force touch. Technically, they’re two separate things. The Taptic Engine allows Apple Watch to tap you; force touch allows Apple Watch to recognize a stronger press from your finger. But they seem to go hand-in-hand. The new MacBook trackpad has both haptic feedback and recognition of force touches, and Apple Watch has both, too. I don’t think Apple will ever release a device that has one but not the other.
This is the introduction of a new dimension in input and output, and for me, it’s central to the appeal of Apple Watch. By default, Apple Watch has sounds turned on for incoming notifications. I can see why this is the default, but in practice, I keep sounds turned off all the time,5 not just in contexts where I typically silence my phone. Taps are all I need for notifications. They’re strong enough that you notice them, but subtle enough that they don’t feel like an interruption. When my phone vibrates, it feels like it’s telling me, Hey, I need you now. When the Apple Watch taps me, it feels like it’s telling me, Hey, when you get the chance, I’ve got something for you.
Taps go hand in hand with force touch. When you initiate a force touch, the watch gives you haptic feedback — thus there’s no confusion whether you tapped hard enough to qualify as a force touch. (Force touches also carry visual feedback — on any force touch in any context, the display animates back in a “bounce”, even in contexts where force touch has no meaning. Also, I believe that on Apple Watch, force touch has no location — the only target for force touch is the entire display. There’s never any scenario where you force touch this button or that button. Makes sense on a display this small.) The taptic engine also ties in with the digital crown. Scroll to the end of a list and Apple Watch has a rubber band “bounce” animation, much like iOS. But on Apple Watch, the rubber band animation coincides with haptic feedback that somehow conveys the uncanny sensation that the digital crown suddenly has more tension. It feels like you’re stretching a rubber band. Now that I’m getting used to this on Apple Watch, it makes the haptic-less rubber band end-of-scrollview bounce on iPhone and iPad feel thin.
And without taps, Apple Watch is rather dull. The first unit I received from Apple seemingly had a hardware defect. Taps worked at first, but I found them surprisingly weak — so weak they were easy to miss, even with the watch strapped relatively snugly to my wrist. By the end of the first day, taps weren’t working at all. Apple sent me a replacement unit the next day, and it was like an altogether different experience. Without the Taptic Engine, Apple Watch is not a compelling device.
I have already stated that I am buying this device, but I will be sure to share any other information that I find compelling in future posts.