The rate at which technology has advanced in the last decade is astonishing. Hardly anybody had wifi in their homes and the PC market was booming. Things then started to change. Laptops and netbooks ate into the desktop computer market, smart phones took over from their feature phone counterparts as the must have gadget and netbooks eventually gave way to tablet computers.
But where does this leave us now? Currently there is a large area of development regarding wearable technology and companies are scrambling about trying to jump onto this bandwagon. Ranging anywhere from glasses to watches there seems to be no bounds as to what designers and engineers are turning into ‘smart’ products. One of the most eagerly anticipated wearable devices is the Apple Watch (or Watch if you will). Announced last year after many months of speculation it will be launched this Friday on the 24th of April.
As per the last two big Apple product line announcements with the iPhone and iPad, the Watch was previewed many months ahead of its due launch date. It was dubbed by Apple as their most personal device ever. As a result of this statement and a slight shift in policy in that you cannot buy the watch in person at launch (online order only for a good few months). What did this mean if you wanted to buy one of these ‘personal’ products but didn’t know which one was right for you? Well, Apple decided to allow the general public to make appointments to try the watch on from the 10th of April at their nearest Apple Store.
Naturally I made an appointment for the 11th of April as I wanted a shot of the watch. Before I go any further with this post, I would like to highlight that I am still not overly convinced by wearable technology at the moment. The idea of needing to charge my watch up every day does not appeal to me. However, this does not reduce the fact that the Apple Watch ended up being a very tempting proposition during and after the 15 minute try-on appointment.
I digress and I am getting ahead of myself. On the 10th of April, just after 0800, I was in the position of knowing I would be passing by the Apple store the next day and as a good idea to kill some time, I could spare 15 minutes to go in and have a go. I made an appointment at work as did the person sitting next to me. 1030 on the 11th. A time chosen because it was early enough for most people not to have ventured into town so it would be quiet.
Upon entering the store, it was noticed that the layout had changed slightly. There was now a dedicated area for the Apple Watch. In this case, two tables that had previously been occupied by iPads and iPhones. One of the two tables had a number of leather/suede mats and demo Watch units mounted on a plastic base with a larger screen displaying information. The second table had an inset section with a selection of watches in different configurations. This inset section was covered with a glass panel so you couldn’t touch them.
As my allotted time began I was asked if I had an idea of what version I would like to try on. I didn’t. I ended saying the 42mm Apple Watch with link bracelet. Apart from the bracelet being far too big, it needed most of the links removed to fit my weirdly thin wrists, it became apparent how small the watch actually is. Looking at photographs of it online is quite deceptive. I initially thought the 42mm watch would have been far too large. As it later transpired, the 38mm watch in my opinion was too small.
I ended up trying various options that were available in the locked drawer at each try-on ‘station’. Both 42mm and 38mm sizes were tried as were different bands. A particular favourite band was the leather loop. This strap has link like features that are magnets embedded beneath the leather. When fastening, it was extremely satisfying and as a design, it is a very nice alternative to more conventional and traditional strap types.
£16,000 worth of watches
Since gold is a material that I am not overly fond of, is expensive, and wasn’t available at the Apple Store I was at (the lowest price gold Apple Watch Edition starts at around £8000), the next version I tried was the Apple Watch Sport. Cheaper than the Stainless Steel Apple watch, it is manufactured from Aluminium. After holding both versions in my hands the weight difference, albeit small on paper, was quite large. The Watch Sport being the lighter and could arguably fall into the same category as the iPhone 6 in that they may be too light as you think you will break them….
The standard strap for the Sport is a moulded in a synthetic rubber. It is soft to the touch and obviously well made but the usability is quite poor. It is very difficult to fasten without putting your wrist down on the table to support the watch. In fact, I even needed help to do it then. However, despite this, it is very likely it would become easier if I had to do it every day. The Store employee who was there at the time agreed. She even said there was differences between those she worked with as to the best way to fasten the sport strap.
In terms of the physical design and manufacture of the Apple Watch, initial impressions are good. Both versions I tried, and all the watch straps appear to be extremely well made and should last a long time. I asked how long the battery life is expected to be and was told 18 hours depending on usage. Slightly poor for a watch but for what it can do as a first generation product it is verging on impressive battery life. If I had to choose one, and if I had the money to spare to spend on one of these watches, my ideal combination would be the 42mm Stainless Steel watch with light brown leather loop. This combination would cost more than my iPhone 6, coming in at at £599. If push came to shove, I could opt for the Aluminium Sport watch and buy the leather loop strap separately. The total I would have to pay for this combination would still be a fairly significant £468. Based on this figure, I think I will stick with my trusty Braun watch that I am yet to change battery in after 15+ months of usage.
The stainless steel Apple Watch
Up to now, I have only discussed the watch’s physical attributes. When it came to the software side of things, I didn’t spend too much time using the demo station. I was far more interested in the design of the watch rather than what was on screen. In my short time with the demo unit it was noticeable that your finger covers most of the screen very easily. You do however control most of the watch functions with the digital crown and button on the side of the watch. The learning curve is steep. This is especially true in comparison to how easily other Apple products are to use. I wasn’t able to take full advantage of the software. In saying this, neither were the workers in the store as they, for the first few days, were still learning it. Therefore, I will reserve judgement on the software until I am able to try it for longer. One thing I will mention about the software is that there isn’t any watch faces that I like. None of them sit right with me. Currently there is no option to create your own or add custom faces.
Overall the Apple watch is a very impressive piece of design and will likely be a very popular product. But it isn’t for me. Yet. I don’t quite see the need for a smartwatch let alone another product, especially a watch that would need charged every day! However, it will be interesting to see how this product influences the market (if at all) and what the public perception is when it comes more into mainstream use. Only time will tell…