Two Years with the Apple Watch

It’s been nearly two years since I wrote my mini review of the first-gen Apple Watch. With connected devices becoming more commonplace, I’m also becoming more conscious of which upgrade cycles I am committing to. There’s the iPhone every two or three years for $1200 CAD a pop (unlocked with max storage), the iPad every three or four years with a range of $1100–1500 (depending on physical size and storage), and the 13″ Macbook Pro every four years at $2500–3200 (depending on CPU and RAM). The upgrade cycles vary a little, but that’s a lot of money spent on tech before I even mention the watch.

Watches are things I never really thought needed replacing in only a few years’ time. They’re supposed to tick and tock…until they don’t, and then you’re supposed to replace a battery and restart the cycle for another few years. So what could possess me to want to replace this $550 Apple Watch with another one this fall, after just two years of usage?

A lot of little things, really. Here’s what I’m enjoying so far…

Weather

The one widget I use most often on my watch is Carrot Weather. It’s sarcastic, it basically wants me to fall into a volcano, and it’s really useful for finding out whether the day will be Winter-y, or just kind of Global Warming-y. That’s the difference between wearing a coat meant for -30, or just throwing on a hoodie and walking out the door. Carrot Weather’s watch complication makes it very easy for me to check what the weather, current condition, and chance of precipitation are. Raising my wrist shows me that information in one single line, and it only takes half a second to understand. Two years in, it’s still really cool to be able to read the weather off of my watch.

Timers and Alarms

One of the things I had always wanted in a watch was a silent vibrating alarm. There’s nothing like it for waking yourself up from a nap, or even a whole night’s sleep. The vibrating alarm isn’t just useful for waking me up — I also really love it for timers. I use timers multiple times throughout my personal and work day, and I love how easily I can be alerted without disturbing anybody else. If Apple sold a watch with just Siri and a timer and alarm, I’d still have bought that.

Quick Replies and Scribbling

Quick replies were available with the release of the Watch, but Scribble came along with watchOS 3 and provided an entirely new way to send messages. Scribble allows you to literally write notes on the screen, in order to start a text message or quickly reply to a notification. It’s absurd how well this feature works. It’s one of the very best designed features of the watch, and it’s a fantastic alternative to Siri in situations where it would be awkward to talk to my wrist.

I’ll never scribble for very long, but it’s definitely a good enough feature to tell my friend to “meet me on SW side”. While there are many aspects of the first-gen Apple Watch that are too slow for my liking, Scribble is almost always at full speed.

Controlling Apple Music

I’ve switched back to Apple Music once more from Spotify. I may write about that change in more detail soon, but it basically boiled down to library management. I think Spotify is an amazing service for music discovery and sharing, and it has killer playlists. But it’s a pain to manage music across devices. The Spotify library feature just doesn’t cut it for me, and I much prefer the iOS music app and yes, even iTunes, to Spotify’s desktop app.

The watch makes it easy to quickly lower the volume on my current song, change the tune if I don’t like it, or navigate my artist library and play an entirely different album — all without touching the iPhone. The only thing the watch is missing is the ability to queue up songs with the Play Next feature. However, I’m not really sure how they’d accomplish that without adding a tap-and-hold gesture, and Apple wants to keep the complexity of the gestures down for now.

Notifications

I have to admit, I was a bit cocky about notifications. I thought that I had turned off more notifications than the average user, that I had things under control so I wouldn’t get trapped in a cycle of always glancing at my wrist. But it happened anyway, and the watch is worse, because it’s adding a triage step to my notification checking. I could sometimes miss the iPhone’s vibrations, so I’d only check if I remembered to, or out of habit. With the watch and the taptic feedback, it’s far less likely that I’ll miss a notification, and when I check it, I only have a limited ability to take action. If I want to send a more complex reply or make a change to an appointment, out comes the iPhone. In other words, I end up taking out the iPhone anyway, because the watch introduced the impulse to do something.

So I’m trying to make things a little more hardcore in terms of notifications allowed on the watch. I just want texts from friends, VIP emails, and task reminders. Nothing else is allowed to stay in my Apple Watch’s notification center, and I’m hoping that will help me feel a little less distracted by the device. If that doesn’t help, I’ll just take everything off and only add notifications as they feel needed.

What I’d love in the third-generation Apple Watch

Let’s get the really easy stuff out of the way: more battery life and a faster watch are a given. The latter will actually be my primary reason for upgrading. I like everything the watch does now, I just want it done faster.

I’d like that extra processing power for on-board voice recognition. I have a feeling that Siri itself still requires a lot more processing power or battery than the watch can provide, but when voice dictation breaks on the watch — which it can do about 30% of the time — you just feel stupid for having tried it. Any time you are raising your wrist to say something, the watch should listen or tell you that it can’t parse dictation right now.

The next Apple Watch should also be a better timepiece. It should improve with an always-on display or reduce the screen wake to an almost imperceptible level. I’ve made peace with sacrificing the battery life of an analog watch for the convenience of a smartwatch, but over the last two years I have noticed that delay in turning on the screen. It’s silly to have any kind of time delay for checking the time in a premium accessory that’s supposed to specialize in just a few specific tasks (with time tracking being the foremost among them).

What I’d want from watchOS 4.0

My wishlist for Apple hardware isn’t particularly imaginative, it’s really requests for “more of the same, but better”. My software wishlist is a little more demanding.

I want faster access to music playback. I think watchOS 2 had it right where I could swipe up to see my playback controls from any watch face. Now that the playback controls are considered an app, instead of part of Control Center, they’re at least two interactions removed from the watch face. I usually have to press the multitasking button, and then tap on Now Playing, and then skip the song. I think watchOS 4 should bring playback controls right back to the Control Center, or even center them on a music-focused watch face with dynamic album art.

I’d like to be able to set a few things on other devices with the watch. It would be great if I could control my iPad or iPhone’s volume from the watch, remotely. Or change things like the sound source of my iPhone from Bluetooth to iPhone Speaker. The watch could make for a great little command center for all of my Apple devices, since it’s on me all of the time. Given how flexible the iPad is for media consumption, I think it would make a ton of sense to allow some Watch-iPad interoperability in the future.

The home screen. iOS could use a home screen refresh anyway, but the honey comb interface is just terrible. It’s too small to navigate, it’s a complete mess for any kind of app organization, and it doesn’t feel like any other part of the UI. Even simplifying the home screen to a set of app pages would be better than the confusing honeycomb that persists in watchOS 3.

Will I get one?

To be honest, when I started this article, I was 100% positive I was going to get an Apple Watch 3 in Space Gray. I’ve actually already put the money aside for one. But as I examined the other types of purchases I’d like to make this year — other lenses for my camera, a gimbal for video — I realized that there are other things that can help me in entirely new ways. Investing in a new Apple Watch probably won’t help me do anything entirely new, it will just perform most of my current tasks more conveniently. So even though it feels like a non-conclusion, I’m back on the fence until I see what watchOS 4 will bring this June.