Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Apple Watch: Married In Haste, Repent At Leisure

I open this piece by noting I have had three other fitness trackers, all Fitbits:
  • I started with the Flex, which was then at the price point and functionality the best available unit on the market. It suffered from horrible mechanical defects, particularly in its charging port, which became less and less stable over time. This was made even worse by the incredibly tiny cable that came with the unit. If the distance between the outlet to the nearest horizontal surface was larger than that, you could be assured the Flex would sooner or later (the older it got, the sooner) it would fall out.
  • The second Fitbit unit I owned was a Force. Again, mechanical issues with the charging port caused me to abandon it, unlike a number of owners who had contact allergic dermatitis with the surgical stainless steel bezel.
  • The third (and last?) unit was a Surge. Shockingly, it wasn't actually issues with the charging port that caused me to abandon it, but the wristband. The thing simply broke in two, and because of the nonstandard, single-piece construction, could not be replaced.
Thus Fitbit. Since Apple had previously given me a number of products I have used and enjoyed dating back to the Apple II days, I finally broke down and decided to get an Apple Watch. Also, because the Apple Watch had (so they claimed) fitness functions mirroring the more popular ones available in the many fitness tracking devices now available. Mainly, I looked forward to Apple's superior history of making mechanically bulletproof devices. It's been a mixed bag.
  • There's really no way to change step count or other fitness-related targets outside the watch's tiny user interface itself. This is, to put it mildly, extremely annoying for those of us with big man fingers. On the Fitbit, you had the option of making these changes on either the iPhone or website interfaces, but Apple doesn't even offer an iCloud web interface for their fitness functions.
  • The limited touchscreen size means a great deal rests on various gestures. Unfortunately, it is too easy to accidentally engage one of them and change something inadvertently. I have several times turned on my watch, only to discover that the watch face has changed, or some other app has randomly taken over the display (because it was engaged accidentally last).
  • I had a worst case scenario of this happen yesterday when my Watch made an unwanted 911 call for me! I had my wrist bent at 90°, and next thing I know, the phone's making a call to the local emergency dispatcher! This apparently is some kind of default, something I had to shamefacedly explain to the woman from the dispatcher's office who called me back because I hung up after making the call. (I have since disabled the default dial-911 state.)
  • Those glaring flaws notwithstanding, it's got some nice features. Particularly, the ability to answer calls (with lousy sound quality) is useful, especially if you don't immediately know where your phone is. Likewise the ability to control your music, if the phone must be somewhere else than on your person, the best thing if you're using Bluetooth. (The low power Bluetooth interface can be spotty if there's any large enough physical thing between transmitter and receiver... like a human bent in half, say.)
By far, it's not a good replacement for the Fitbit, and in fact is so weak in this area it probably shouldn't be on anyone's list for this purpose. Since launch, Apple has treated it like an afterthought, especially in the way it interacts with apps. A disappointment, especially at the price, which may be one reason Apple has materially dropped the price for its entry level watch to well below $200.

1 comment:

  1. My only real complaint about the Apple Watch is battery life, although I will agree that my Fitbit Blaze is better as a fitness tracker, being built for that purpose. But the Blaze's interactivity is erratic, annoyingly so--that is to say, it often does not do what it's supposed to do in terms of notifications or even displaying the time when I turn my wrist.

    I find the ability to see incoming texts and reply to them right on the Apple Watch to be quite handy. Its voice recognition is very good, so if my hands are busy with work I can send texts that way. Or, I can "scribble", which is like the old Palm's Graffiti, only better.

    For my wife the Watch has been a godsend, because it tells her when she's leaving her iPhone behind.