Bani McSpedden was invited to pre-trial the Apple Watch. Here, his first impressions …
I’ve been wearing the Apple watch, polished steel version, since taking delivery of it at Apple headquarters in Silicon Valley on April 1 – after midday I should add – and the first thing I can tell you is that it’s quite an addictive little device. Is it a replacement for a traditional watch? No. It’s not so much a mesmerising machine as a mighty module, and it doesn’t have the same character or charisma.
But it’s better than just being another way of telling the time, and in many respects is a real advance on the traditional watch.
How so? On the wrist you discover it’s beautifully crafted, incredibly tactile, and so comfortable to wear you forget it’s there.
Even little details like strap changes have been addressed in an ingenious way. The straps on Apple’s watch – in four styles from silicon to fine leather and metal versions – slide into the case rather than loop around a spring bar, making switching from one to another as simple as pressing a recessed button.
Why traditional watchmakers haven’t come up with something like this after all these years – well, a century – is a mystery.
But while the devil – or in this case the gods – might be in such detail, where the Apple Watch modifies old habits is its array of options and functions, not to mention fun stuff, that has you glancing at it for much more than just the time.
The options let you customise the watch face in an endless variety of ways – choose from analog, digital or graphic displays, the later ranging from animated Mickey Mouse faces, to floral blooms.
I opted for a rather traditional looking black face, stripped down to just the 12, 3, 6, 9, numerals, with white hour and minutes hands and an orange seconds hand. Yes, you’ve a whole palette of colours at your disposal.
After setting that up it was time to delve into the seemingly endless functions you now have on your forearm, ranging from fitness prompts and apps to weather forecasts, world time, stock prices, notifications, messages and maps.
You access these functions in three ways, through the watch’s touch-sensitive face, through a unique digital crown, and via an elongated button underneath the crown which provides a short-cut to calling or messaging contacts.
Did I find this a bit complicated? No, but it takes a little learning after which it becomes intuitive, just like using an iPhone, which of course is the base station you use to set up the watch, the mother-earth around which it orbits.
Which raises the question – why not simply use your iPhone?
At my briefing in San Francisco, Apple’s designers told me that one of the aims of the watch, almost contrarily, was to free users from pulling out their phone so frequently, to make it easier to access things in an unobtrusive way.
I took this with a grain of salt until I began wearing the watch, which alerts you to the arrival of a message with a gentle tap on the wrist, and lets you reply with just a tap on a pre-determined selection of responses which are automatically tailored to reflect the gist of the message.
I found I was able to respond to three messages during one meeting without anyone in the room noticing. Brilliant.
In a similar category – and I’m still not sure if this comes under the heading of “practical” or just plain fun, where the Apple really differs from your usual watch is you can talk to it – and it responds.
Call it the Dick Tracy feature, but thanks to Apple’s Siri voice command system you can ask the watch to instigate various tasks without touching a thing.
The watch comes alive with the instruction “Hey Siri” after which you can ask it call a contact, brief you on the weather, or guide you to a destination – did I mention the watch displays maps, and you can zoom in using the digital crown?
If this is all positive, I found a couple of things less so. While lifting the wrist automatically brings the dormant watch-face alive, there’s a short lag, say a second, which is a second longer than glancing at your standard watch.
Then, once there, that image seems to disappear rather too soon – watch folk find staring at a watch face a strangely calming experience, and for it to fade to black too quickly is a little disappointing.
But in short, my week with the Apple watch has been a week experiencing a different relationship with my forearm. Quite simply it’s not so much a watch, certainly not as we know it, as a new generation of wrist-wear.
And what about my BA (before Apple) timepieces? Will they now simply lie dormant in the sock drawer, ticking over in the hope they’ll be rediscovered or favoured now and then?
Truth is I’ve found that if I’m only wearing the Apple upstart I miss them, and obviously won’t stop wearing them – like a fountain pen versus a roller-ball, there’s something truly special about cogs and springs – and, something you never have to charge. (Not that the Apple was such a chore here – the battery lasted all day and evening, I simply charged it overnight alongside my phone.)
The good news is that, strangely, my left wrist seems the natural place for the Apple, whereas I normally wear my watch on the right wrist. What this means is there’s really no contest at all – just a happy answer as to why God gave us two wrists.
*Bani McSpedden is watch editor of the Australian Financial Review and watch-next.com.