I grew up in a very small village, apart from weekly games of cricket, there was very little excitement available. Due in part to the lack of local entertainment, I immersed myself in comic books and science fiction novels from the local library.
Most of the comic books available were American imports, a local newsagent had a small selection for sale, but that selection would vary, so it was never really easy to follow multi-episode story arcs. I would perhaps get Superman issue 487, then the next one available might be 512.
One day I was looking at the import comic shelf and one caught my eye. Somehow the newsagent inadvertently stocked a run of Dick Tracy comics that covered a decent sized story arc. I will admit that I was more a fan of superheroes than a mortal detective. But the chance to follow a whole story, rather than disjointed episodes meant that I spent rather a lot of money on six precious Dick Tracy comic books.
Dick Tracy had several gadgets, but his most famous was his two-way radio (later video) watch.
Tracy would use the watch to call for help, report on the scene and generally get out of a trouble.
I loved the idea.
So much so that I once took apart a walkie-talkie and tried to add a strap to the components so that I could have one.
I finally have one now. It is made by Apple.
My journey to the Apple watch began with digital watches, my very first told me just the time and the date, but it was super accurate. I also might have got through a lot of batteries early on, because I was simply in awe of its ability to tell the time to the second, day in day out and I kept pressing the button to light up the LED display.
Complications followed, stop watches, alarms and multiple timezones all appeared on my wrist. Then, all of a sudden I discovered the joy of a simpler analogue watch and my love affair with digital died over night.
Various smart phones came and went in my life, but deep down I always wanted to get the Dick Tracy watch, the two-way wrist radio. As Smart phones got ever bigger, I realised that taking to a monolithic slab looks pretty dumb, walking around wearing a earpiece actually looks even dumber, so I never got around to that. I always liked the idea of talking to my wrist-mounted two-way radio.
Then came the dawn of the smartwatch.
The first thing that I realised is that moving the notifications to my wrist is pretty awesome if you are on a crowded train, or in a business meeting, or you are baking or riding a bicycle, or, probably doing a million other things that mean that it is simply inconvenient to pull your phone out of your pocket, all you need to do is to glance at your wrist and there is the the notification that your phone was telling you about. This is magical.
The second thing I realised is that my wrist was vibrating an awful lot and I need to thin out the notifications.
I learned that lesson wearing a Sony Smart Watch 2. Sadly thinning the notification system is annoyingly difficult, the, rather poor, integration with Android was such that it very much took an all-or-nothing approach. Additionally many notification that were cleared on the watch needed to be re-cleared on my phone. This actually made things worse for me. Eventually the experiment in smart-watch ownership was declared a failure and I swore I would never get another one.
A couple of months ago, I started to wear an Apple Watch.
Setup and pre-requisites
In order to use an Apple watch, you need to have an iPhone. This is pretty fundamental. The watch will perform quite a few functions when your phone is not connected, but really to leverage the majority of the functionality that is available, you really need to keep your iPhone in touch with your Apple watch.
You also need to have at least an iPhone 5 with the latest, greatest, version of iOS installed. This will give you a new, Apple Watch application. It is from here that you control your Watch’s functionality.
The first job you need to do is to pair the watch and the phone. This is almost ridiculously easy. Once you open the app it prompts you to turn on the watch and point the camera at a swirling, almost hypnotic pattern that it is displaying on the un-paired watch face.
That is it. You are ready to go. My advice here is to just wear it and play around with it. But, based on my previous experience, I wanted to cull the notifications before they drove me insane.
It seems that I am not alone in wanting to limit the notifications, Apple have devoted a vast swathe of the application to fine tuning them. In general the watch is setup so that it will mirror the iPhone notifications. At a hight level, each application’s notification can be turned on or off for the watch. I personally do not care if my father has played a new word against me in our epic Word with Friends battle, so that notification is off on my watch, but remains on, on my phone.
Beyond mirroring iPhone notifications, you can also choose to modify them somewhat in terms of how they notify you.
Because I am somewhat deaf, I generally mute my devices, I hate the idea of my phone or my watch playing an annoying ringtone in public and being entirely unaware that it is me that is to blame for everyone checking their phones.
Since I originally setup my notifications, I have found that I have muted more and more of them. I do not need my watch to tell me about every single e-mail, or every single sale at B&Q. My setup alerts me to the more important messages and e-mails only. This suits me. One odd side effect of this is that I ignore any alerts that do not mirror to my watch. Initially I turned off the iPhone alerts, but then I realised that subconsciously I am aware of an unimportant alert on my phone, because I felt it buzz. This is actually useful. So I re-enabled haptic alerts for my phone only. Now I check the less important alerts at my leisure rather than ripping it out of my pocket avery time it vibrates.
One thing to note here is that the notifications are not all dumb ‘look at your phone’ notifications, depending on the application, the notification is linked to functionality, I can reply, via Siri, to text message, or see the details on an e-bay item that has shipped etc. As the platform matures I would expect more and more applications will follow this model.
Once I had the notifications under control, it was time to actually customise the display.
When you tilt your wrist to look at your watch, it lights up and tells you the time. This is not only seriously clever use of a motion sensor, but it is a great way of reducing battery usage compared to watches that are always on. Because it does not require you to press a button (I’m looking at you, Sony Smart Watch), then the experience is closer to a regular analogue (or LCD) watch.
There are a number of watch faces available. Each one can be further customised to add or remove ‘complications’. Complications beyond the standard Apple ones are available in the App store too, so for example you mix a traditional watch face with fitness data and almanac information. Or you can go digital and add all manner of information.
My first couple of weeks saw me adding more and more complications to the display, such that eventually I could not actually tell what time it was. I could however tell you the time and weather in Singapore and the sunset time locally along with how my move-target was looking and the current temperature.
This is all very cool, but essentially useless, the sunset time is useful to me about once a week, the time in other time zones even less useful and the temperature is pretty easy to guess by looking out of the window. Beyond that, the shade of orange that I had chosen for the display reminded me of digital watches from another era.
It had to go, it was pretty much the opposite of what I treasure in a traditional watch.
Information overload was a serious problem. So i started to strip away the things I did not really need and I ended up with something very simple, just the time and the day/date.
The level of customisation is very deep though, so I was even able to select the colour of the second hand – although, somewhat annoyingly, I was not able to delete it entirely.
I’ve been using this face for a long time, it suits my minimalist approach to many things.
It is also incredibly easy to read in the dark. Maybe everyone except me had realised this already, but being able to flick your wrist and read the time in the dark is very nice. It is way better even than the ‘superluminova’ on my Deep Blue divers watch.
Heath and Fitness.
For the last few years, I have been on a personal health quest. As I tend to think that there is no problem that cannot be solved without throwing technology at it, I have worked my way through numerous personal fitness devices and applications.
One of the big selling points of the Apple watch is its inbuilt Heart Rate sensor. Combined with the increasingly complex HealthKit application on the iPhone, this will, in theory at least, monitor my fitness and my movements and allow me to leave some of the gadgets at home.
If this sounds like it is too good to be true, well, read on.
In the past when I have worked out, I have used a Bluetooth Heart Rate Chest Strap and one of several applications on my phone. This, combined with my with and age give a good indication of the number of calories that I have burnt. A simple ‘calories in vs burnt’ will give me an idea of when to stop eating and in theory at least this will allow me to reach my fitness and weight goals.
The Apple watch has an inbuilt fitness application that performs two major functions.
- It monitors how much you move around each day
- It tracks your exercises.
In the past I used a FitBit to measure my steps and EndoMondo to track my exercise. All of this data would flow into a third app that I used to measure food intake and my weight.
For the majority of the time the watch does a very good job of tracking my movements. It works out a target and reminds me to try to beat it each day. I generally stand up when it reminds me and there is a series of awards that it gives you, in the shape of badges, for beating your goals.
Where it stumbles though is in the ability to track my heart rate with a decent degree of accuracy. If I am sitting at my desk, the readings agree with my bluetooth HR strap, if I am riding a stationary bike then it is close, but there are obvious holes in the data points, but if I am doing something ‘athletic’ like playing badminton, then the number of holes in the data increases and the accuracy decreases, unless the strap is fairly tight.
In testing the number of calories burnt measurement tends to be 5-10% lower than that reported by Endomondo with a chest strap. This is perfectly fine by me, I would rather it was a tad understated.
Beyond telling the time, notifying me of messages and tracking my fitness, the feature that I have found most useful is Apple Pay.
Apple pay was launched a couple of months ago in the UK, not all banks are currently taking part, but luckily the two banks that I use are both signed up and I was able to use Apple Pay to buy things, from the outset using my iPhone. Now being able to use my Watch has stuck me firmly into James Bond Gadget land. It is extremely convenient to use is versus my phone or, shudder, finding the physical card in my wallet.
One ‘hidden gem’ that I was totally unaware of was that it is incredibly easy to change the band. Mine came with a black ‘sports strap’, but really truly I wanted one of the leather or metal bands. Apple charge rather a lot of those bands though and I simply could not justify £379 on a metal strap. Luckily the aftermarket is teaming with bands of varying quality. I was able to get a nice leather strap from Amazon for £20, then a couple more from e-bay. Eventually I discovered that it is possible to buy the lugs, so any 22mm strap will work.
Obviously this opens up a whole range of possibilities.
The Apple Watch is not for everybody. To get the most from it you need to be embedded in the Apple infrastructure and either already own a relatively modern iPhone or you need to be prepared to buy one as a part of the package.
I always wanted a Dick Tracy two-way radio watch, but now that I have one, I realise how insanely silly you look trying to answer a call on your wrist. Yes it works, but you look and feel like an idiot when you actually use it as such.
The health monitoring features are very nice, but if you decide to leave the watch at home for a day, you feel guilty about missing your targets.
In general it can be customised to a great degree, but there are no third party watch faces, so you are limited to an ‘Apple knows best’ approach beyonds additional complications that accompany apps.
Finally, the battery life. I’ve left this to last deliberately, many people simply assume that it is tough to get through a day with it. This is a long way from the truth. It is easy to get trough a weekend without charging it. And then some. Battery life it simply not an issue. At All.