First impressions on Apple Watch.

I’ve been very busy lately, so I’ve been detached from a lot of the discussion surrounding the Apple Watch. This has actually been an interesting scenario for me, since I’m usually soaking in information by the time a new Apple product reaches me, but it’s left me with a feeling of being a bit of a blank slate this time around. I’ve been able to approach the Watch with fresh eyes for the most part, experiencing it in as close to a normal fashion as possible.

As such, I didn’t read everything I could find in advance. I didn’t watch walkthroughs, I didn’t read a single review. I got my Watch late yesterday evening, and finally sat down with it after the day’s events had wrapped up. Slowly, methodically, and for the first time with almost no background knowledge on the device save for what I saw in the keynotes, I opened the box and began exploring.

It goes without saying that this is an entirely new interaction design that will almost certainly confuse people out of the gate. I say this as someone deeply entrenched in the thinking behind software interfaces–it’s not terribly intuitive when you first lay eyes on it. Which is not to say it’s bad/wrong/doomed/etc., merely that it’s different enough from the iOS conventions so many people are familiar with, that there’s a definite learning curve. I think in-person sessions may go a long way to alleviate those adjustments, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of those happening at Apple Stores over the coming months.

Say what you want, it’s extremely polished for a 1.0 product. Coming from a Pebble Steel, this feels like a quantum leap forward. The ability to interact bidirectionally is fantastic, and changes the utility of having a small computer mounted to your arm at all times. I’ve already delighted in dropping quick reminders or text replies, and then immediately returning to the task at hand.

I’m still uncertain as to the overall connections between apps, glances, and notifications. I understand what each is for, but moving between them doesn’t feel clear to me yet. I’m beginning to see why some apps only need to be a glance, whereas other apps have no reason to use a glance and just need to be on there somewhere. I’m fairly certain that these will become more useful and refined now that developers have hardware in hand. As with the original iPad, you do the best you can in the vacuum of the simulator and hope for the best to hit launch day. Cheers to anyone who pulled it off, because there are some great implementations already, and they’ll only get better.

I’m a righty; I wear my watch on my left hand. The first thing I did was flip the body and reorient the Digital Crown. It feels far more comfortable on the lower left, as you don’t need to contort your right hand to manipulate it when you need to access it. Scrolling it is a little tougher in this position, but that’s an action I haven’t seen a need for (yet) apart from gazing at the UI as it shrinks and grows. It’s a nice trick, and I’m sure someone will manage to find some utility for it, but it seems superfluous to me for now. Tapping and swiping feels much better.

That said, tapping and swiping isn’t super easy. Touch targets are sometimes extremely small, and the slight delays involved in transmitting controls back and forth to the phone–as brief as they are–sometimes leads to a disjointed feeling within parts of the UI. It’s a 1.0 thing, sure to be alleviated as the OS matures and developers’ comfort with it grows, but it’s noticeable now. There will undoubtedly be many things that still feel faster to accomplish by picking up your phone, and that’s fine.

Which brings me to my final point: this device is so not a replacement for your phone. It’s a satellite, a small, intelligent drone dispatched to move with you when your phone is pocketed, on a table somewhere else, or otherwise out of reach. As a user, set your expectations accordingly, and as a developer, understand that you absolutely don’t need to build a multi-level navigational stack to accomplish what you think you need to. Isolate a core set of tasks, refine them, and present them in the simplest way possible. Make what you send to this device as concise as possible. Your users will appreciate the value in the tightened experience, and you’ll save yourself some headaches in this early incarnation of the Watch OS. As capable as it is, it’s glaringly evident that it’s only a stepping stone to something more right now; adjust your targets accordingly.

Overall, after only a few hours with it, I can safely say I really like it. I have some serious reservations about specific design choices within the OS (creepy Mummenschanz emoji being a big one), and I’m not sold on some of the purported interaction choices yet. But I grew to like the Pebble, having been a longtime fan of traditional watches and a serious smartwatch skeptic prior to that. This is a fantastic extension of iOS with incredible potential for the future. It’s not the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a really cool first step and that’s how the most interesting things always start.

Author: Seth Clifford

I'm here for the open bar.