Issue: 13.3 (May/June 2015)
Author: Marc Zeedar
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Article Length (in bytes): 9,328
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Article Number: 13302
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I got my Apple Watch late on Friday before the Xojo Developer's Conference (XDC), so naturally the trip was a great way to test out the new device. What was it like using an Apple Watch for travel to Austin and at XDC?
The most surprising thing is how understated the Apple Watch appears. It looks like a regular watch. Traveling with it, I never got a single stranger commenting on it or giving me curious looks. Even at a tech conference with a majority of Mac users, few noticed the watch until they saw me demoing it. If you thought the watch might make you appear even more like a tech nerd, forget that fear. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the general public won't notice, even if they catch you fiddling with it. To them, it's just a watch.
Of course, at XDC, once people discovered I had one, I had to show it off and explain about my experience. Demoing the watch is a tricky thing as the screen automatically shuts off after a few seconds if you're not actively touching it, and it's sort of awkward to show someone your wrist. You can't really take off the watch either, since once it breaks contact with your skin it automatically locks and the only function that works is the watch face (this is a security feature so a thief can't use your watch).
What impressed me most is that despite heavy use during the extra-long days of the conference (demos, frequent time checks, app use, email checks, and lots of text notifications), the watch never once ran out of juice. I usually had the watch on by seven and didn't take it off until midnight, and the lowest battery level I ever had was fourteen percent. One day I finished with 54% left!
Battery drain does vary considerably depending on what you're doing (on the worst day I demoed for several minutes the watch's ability to act as a remote camera to your iPhone, which taxes both the screen and Bluetooth communication), but in general, battery life is not a big concern. I had worried it would be like early iPhone use, where you often didn't use your phone because you were so worried about running out of power. I never once didn't use the watch because of low power worries; if I didn't use the watch for something, it was because what I was doing required the additional features of the phone (i.e. an extensive reply to a text message).
So other than demoing the features, what, exactly, did I do with the watch on my trip? There were a lot of things, but the number one feature use surprised me: checking the time.
Like many, I haven't worn a watch regularly in years, and I was shocked at how convenient it was to flip up my wrist and see a clock. Of course, I was traveling and at a conference: making flight connections and seeing how long before the next session are not things I routinely do at home, where my schedule is less, uh, scheduled, but quick access to the time was remarkably helpful.
The next most useful thing I did was use the watch to hail Ubers for my transportation. I was lucky in that my cousin lives in downtown Austin, so I was able to stay with her family just a few minutes from the hotel and use Uber to get around. Granted, getting an Uber on your iPhone isn't difficult, but when you're already carrying a laptop bag and other items, being able to check on the proximity of your taxi with a flip of the wrist is mighty nice. Several times a driver called or texted me and I was able to respond right from the watch.
While many watch apps have early-release bugs, I was blown away by how well the Uber app worked. The features are utterly minimal: when launched, there's a screen showing you how many minutes away the nearest car is and a large "Request" button. That's it. Once a car is en route to you, you get a map showing both your locations as well as details about the driver and car (driver's name and photo, car make and model, and the license plate number). It's all a little tiny on the small watch screen, but very handy (I just temporarily memorized the first and last letters of the plate to make sure I got into the right car).
Silent notifications and easy response to text messages were useful features. During the travel, I often had my hands full or was in a situation where pulling out my phone would have been awkward; it was comforting to be able to glance at the watch to see if the message was important or fire off a quick standard reply ("thanks" or "okay" or "I'll get back to you later").
During the conference
everyonehas laptops and cell phones out all the time, so I figured I wouldn't use the watch much there. That turned out to be true about half the time—if my computer was asleep or I was using my phone (taking a picture or typing an email) but, it was often easier to look at my wrist to see if there was something urgent. (It's the same with phone calls, though I don't get that many of those. Who calls any more?)
It was also extremely handy for doing email triage during the more boring parts of a lecture. (You can't reply to emails on the watch, but it is handy for deleting those you know are junk.)
One negative I did experience is that in a conference setting, the watch's tinny speaker is utterly useless. You cannot hear anything, so don't even think of using it as a phone. Siri voice recognition is also similarly constrained, but mostly because you feel quite silly talking into your wrist with people all around. (It might be okay for reminders or info-getting, but not so great for personal text messages.)
What other things did I use the watch for during the conference? The stopwatch was useful for timing my presentation so I knew how much time I had left. (I considered using the Keynote remote app to control my slides, but in my tests it kept leaving the app and switching back to the watch face too often to be reliable, so I used a Bluetooth clicker instead.)
I used the Knock app a few times to unlock my laptop, but it was frustratingly inconsistent (most of the time it didn't work).
My experience with the Orbitz app was similar—when it worked, it had my travel itinerary right on my wrist, but usually it complained I wasn't logged into my account on my phone and the watch displayed nothing. Once I launched the phone app, the watch app would remember things for a while, but usually by the next time I wanted to use it, I was logged out again.
I used the Passbook app to display my XDC pass and register for the conference Wednesday morning—Dana read the barcode right off the watch!—but that was a one-time use thing.
Apple Watch did track my movements, recording my heart rate, calories burned, and my standing count (how often I stood at least a minute every hour). Nice, but I'll find that sort of thing more useful at home, where I can make better use of the feedback. (Apple Watch was not helpful when it kept scolding me for sitting too long during a four-hour plane flight!)
Of course, Apple Watch does many other things I didn't use, in part because I was at a tech conference with all my other toys handy. I would have liked to see how well the watch worked for providing walking directions (it apparently taps you for turns and guides you like a native through a foreign town), but I was too busy to have time to walk around Austin. (I'll definitely try that feature on my next vacation.)
The Apple Watch will not change your life the way your iPhone did. It's more subtle. I'd compare it to keyless entry on your car: convenient, luxurious even, but not, strictly speaking, essential.
But just as the iPad finds a wedge between the phone and the laptop, the watch finds an interesting niche in front of the phone. And just like some buy a bigger phone and don't feel the need for an iPad, many won't find Apple Watch useful for them.
Personally, I found it worked remarkably well on my trip and is an ideal travel companion. The jury is still out on how useful it will be at home during my regular work schedule.
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