Given my negative initial reaction after the Apple Watch introduction and having had some time to reflect on it, here’s a follow-up:
I’m still no fan of the Apple Watch. It introduces a few interesting new concepts and ideas that I’m genuinely curious and mildly excited about, but there are a few things about the Apple Watch that seem completely off-putting to me.
To begin with Apple Watch doesn’t seem particularly useful, at least if we go by the demos Apple showed during the keynote (Ben Thompson had some good thoughts on this). There are a few legitimately compelling use cases for the Apple Watch, such as its fitness tracking capabilities, haptic wayfinding guidance, Apple Pay, maybe even the Digital Touch messaging. However, watching Kevin Lynch mess around for minutes with a boring watchface before showing off what seemed like a bunch of glorified screensavers wasn’t compelling at all.
Then there’s battery life. While there isn’t any official word regarding its battery life, early comments suggest that we shouldn’t expect much more than one day, in line with common expectations and what other comparable smartwatches offer. Now I find it barely acceptable that I have to charge my iPhone every night, and my iPhone is the single most important and useful electronics device in my life. If my iPhone wasn’t so useful, it would probably spend a lot of time in a drawer with depleted batteries. As I said, I doubt that Apple Watch will be even remotely as useful as an iPhone, so it would probably spend a lot of time in a drawer with depleted batteries.
Lastly, the Apple Watch seems hard to use and I have some serious doubts about its usability. There are a few truly baffling interface design decisions, like this screen:
There are 50 tiny icons on this screen, without labels, some of them less than 2 millimeters in size. How you’re supposed to comprehend and interact with this screen, I have no idea.
Before demonstrating the watch, Tim Cook emphasized that they didn’t simply scale down the iPhone UI and strap it to a wrist, joking that certain interactions such as pinch-to-zoom wouldn’t work on a watch given its tiny screen size. Maybe you remember the slide:
Then, a few minutes later, we could observe Kevin Lynch, doing a lot of this:
Touching, tapping and swiping a whole lot on that tiny screen.
Apple’s solution to the touchscreen problem is the Crown, a small dial that you can rotate and push like a button. It’s very reminiscent of the iPod clickwheel. Unfortunately, unlike the iPod where all navigation was accomplished through the clickwheel and a small number of buttons, the Crown on the Apple Watch seems limited to zoom interactions, which seems to me rather unambitious and underutilized. The iPod provided a simple, intuitive interface for navigating thousands of items across deep menu structures. By comparison, the Apple Watch user interface seems obtuse and cumbersome. Sure, it probably looks a lot sleeker and sexier than the iPod’s simple list interface, but I highly doubt it will work better.
Maybe the final product will prove a masterful piece of interaction design, but until its release color me skeptical.