It’s Time to Give the Apple Watch a Rest

Apple watchAs someone who writes about technology for a living, it behooves me to try out new devices and new technologies when they become available to the general public. Because of this, I bought the first Apple Watch when it was released, and bought the second iteration of the device was updated a few months ago.

But I’ve never been truly convinced that the Apple Watch made my life any better. So it’s time to give the Apple Watch a rest. In the next couple of days, I will remove it from my wrist and place it in a drawer. I want to ignore it entirely; I still write about this stuff, so I will test it from time to time as Apple updates the device’s software. But I don’t see any reason to keep using the Apple Watch.

Apple used early Apple Watch buyers as beta testers and guinea pigs. The device was poorly thought out at its launch: it tried to do too much, and it didn’t do anything as well as it could have. The improvements made in the third version of the Apple Watch software changed many things about the device, and for the better. Nevertheless, for the way I live and work, it just doesn’t offer me any compelling features.

For a year and a half, I have used the Apple Watch for three things: time, fitness tracking, and notifications. For the first of these, the Apple Watch is an excellent device. It keeps time. Like watches do.

FitbitFitness tracking is a mixed bag. The Apple Watch is very unreliable at tracking activity. The only type of exercise I can do is walking, and the Apple Watch just isn’t accurate at counting steps. If I compare it to the Fitbit One, which I wear on my waistband, the Apple Watch records from 10 to 20% more steps. The Fitbit One is extremely accurate; I have tested it and compared it to other fitness trackers, and, because of where it is worn, it counts steps correctly. All fitness trackers that you wear on your wrist either undercount or overcount. In addition, the Apple Watch incorrectly records active minutes, its heart rate sensor is wonky, and, seriously, that thing about having to stand once an hour for twelve hours… That was neat for about two days.

Notifications are the only thing that I will miss. It is practical to have my watch vibrate when I get a text message or a phone call, but I have only ever really used the Apple Watch for those notifications. Early on, I realized that one can drown in the sea of notifications so I turned most of them off. I will have to adjust my iPhone, to make it vibrate a bit longer (I always keep it on silent) when I get messages or phone calls. But I can live with that.

Using third-party apps was a horrible experience early on, but, even now that they launch faster, I don’t find any to be useful. It’s too much of a hassle to use the tiny display of the Apple Watch when I have my iPhone handy. As such, I have only used Apple’s stock apps, with the exception of one or two apps that added complications.

I understand that, for people who lead more active lives, notably with commutes, the Apple Watch may be more attractive. I work at home, so the advantage of getting information when I’m on the move doesn’t exist for me. You may find the Apple Watch just fine for the way you live; it just doesn’t offer me any advantages.

One more thing, and I’ve thought this from the beginning: the Apple Watch is ugly. In ten years, when Apple has figured out how to make an attractive wearable, we’ll look back on this device the way we now look at those watch/calculators from the 1970s. It’s just unattractive design. I don’t blame Jony Ive; he had to work with the limitation of a rectangular display, and I predict that Apple will make a round one at some point, which will be a lot better looking.

One thing that’s interesting is that the Apple Watch has made me rethink watches. For a long time, I did not wear a watch. But with the Apple Watch, I have found that I check the time fairly often. So while I am going to put away the Apple Watch, I’m going to buy one or two analog watches. I like nice things; an attractive watch is a piece of jewelry, and, since I don’t wear any other jewelry, it might be nice to make a change. But I will no longer need to worry about charging a watch every night (to be fair, the second generation Apple Watch lasts about two days on the charge), or remember to put it on so I can get notifications and track my activity.

Max billSo, in a couple of days, when I get the nice new watch that I’ve ordered (this watch, with its subtle design, thanks to Boxing Day sales here in the UK), I will put the Apple Watch to rest. I’ll go back to using my Fitbit One to track my activity, because I do want to keep track of my step count, in order to motivate me to stay active.

It’s been an interesting experience, and I can understand that for some people — people a lot more active than I am – the Apple Watch is a useful device. Part of the promise of the Apple Watch was that it would simplify my life, because I’d need to use my iPhone less. But rather than simplify my life it has just made it more complicated.

My iPhone does what I need, and I really don’t need another device connected to it.

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22 thoughts on “It’s Time to Give the Apple Watch a Rest

  1. Clearly a biased article. Maybe you should tell your readers about your paid advertisement for Fitbit.
    Go do some actual research. Apple Watch is one of the most accurate fitness tracker and heart monitor. And did you even bother calibrating it the first time you got it? The first time you fire it up, you have to walk (or run) outside for 20 mins with the phone in your hand so that the GPS can calibrate it.

    • Gee, maybe you could tell me about my paid advertisement for Fitbit.

      You’re one of those people who think anyone who disagrees with you is a shill. Maybe read some more on my site first before accusing me of such things.

  2. I have become more dependent on my Apple Watch over time. And with the AirPods it is even more indispensable. Many reviews of the AirPods have failed to comment on how much it’s ui seemed to be designed with the Apple Watch in mind.

    • I’m a bit under whelmed too with the Apple Watch functionality, but still like it enough to keep it on. But the Airpods.. That’s like HECK NO! just can’t get over its awkward ugly design :-(

  3. I shall defend Mr. Mcelhearn as I actually posted a comment some time ago thinking a blog post was a paid advertisement and his response stated it was not, he could have been lying but I believed him, why, because if you are a long time reader of his he has been very clear and honest about paid blog posts and his opinions come off as genuine. I do wish he would stop going on Gene Steinberg’s podcast because it could unfairly link him to the fraud style donations Gene pleads for every six months when he writes the same charity request that he is about to be evicted from his house, shameful and why I don’t visit his website anymore but I will visit this one.

    As for the Apple Watch, wake me up when it is fully independent of the Iphone, I hate smartphones, I want a watch that allows me to never use a smartphone and actually makes technology disappear.

  4. Your comment about making the vibration longer stumped me for a minute, because somehow I did not know or remember about the ability to customize vibrations on the iPhone 10. I’ve now used that feature, since I also keep my phone on silent nearly all the time. It might be worth a reminder blog post for your readers.

  5. I cannot entirely disagree with Kirk, but I cannot totally agree with him either. I think the whole ‘fitness’ thing with watches etc is a bit of a fad and not really of any interest to me. I haven’t worn a watch for about 30 years as there are so many displays of time that I can easily look at, but there are times when it is nice to have it so readily available.

    And it looks nice. I do think it’s a very attractive piece of kit and I can easily change the actual watch display and/or the strap to suit my mood and no other watch has ever been such a chameleon.

    But do I need it? Nah? It doesn’t do anything that I want to do yet cannot do almost as easily without it. Will I keep it? Sure and I’ll keep wearing it because I like it. It has re-awakened my desire to wear a watch for the occasions when it’s useful to do so.

    Although the Apple Watch seems expensive, it probably isn’t when compared to other well known brands of watch. It’s the straps that I think are way overpriced. The Stainless Steel strap is a beautiful work of art and very clever in its design. But over £400 from Apple, yet only £20 on eBay. Is it the same? Well I cannot tell the difference and I suspect it’s probably from the same factory. I realise there will always be sources of supply that undercut Apple themselves, but by that much is outrageous really.

    So as far as I’m concerned, the Apple Watch is great. Looks good with a selection of different, reasonably priced straps. Not for everyone I realise, but I love it.

  6. I agree that you can change the faces, and that’s interesting, but they all look a bit comical after a while. They don’t have the subtlety of a mechanical watch face, because the lines need to the thick enough to be visible. And they can’t really do any faces on a white background, because they won’t be visible, so they’re all on black backgrounds (unless you use photos).

    I think the Milanese loop is a beautiful watch band; it’s the one I use. I’ve seen some knockoff versions, and they’re very close, but not quite as nice. I’m not a fan of the big, heavy metal watchbands myself.

  7. I really like your posts, Kirk, but this one sounds a bit like a bored kid that doesn’t want to play with last year’s toy anymore.

    I received my first Watch, a series 2 model, two weeks ago and I find it very useful – especially on the go for reminders, notifications, directions, check-ins and the like.

    And yes, it’s just an accessory, a tiny remote terminal for the iPhone. But it’s doing a great job for what it is (at least for me). I’m still pretty impressed how well some app developers make use of the device.

    Do I really need it? Nope. But it makes life a bit easier many times a day.
    Just my 2 cents.

      • I’ve had mine for nearly a year now, and I still wear it and find it useful on a daily basis. Sure, it tells the time like any watch, but it also has other glanceable information that I won’t launch an app just to see. Stocks, fitness tracking, weather, travel…it’s all configurable and dynamic, depending on what I’m doing. During the rainy season, I have a weather app running so I know when it’s about to start raining. While I’m traveling, I can glance and see whether or not my flight is delayed. It’s a nice, simplistic view of information that I would otherwise have to go to my phone for. And with mobile alerts (again, configurable), I would sincerely miss using my watch if I didn’t have it.

  8. First, the guy who accused you of advertising for Fitbit is an idiot. Second, I’m glad you emphasized that your experience is personal and others may find the watch quite useful. I am one of those “other” people. I received the original watch on launch day and find it far more useful to me in the last 6 months than the first six months.

    We share some similarities; we both work from home and my primary use is also fitness, but far from my only use. I won’t bother going into the many other useful thing I use it for here. I will only address the fitness function.

    I used a Fitbit for a couple years, but find “counting steps” to be nearly useless. I want to know how much energy I have expended, not how far I have travelled in a day. I live within a few minutes walk of a trailhead in Chugach State Park in Alaska and take daily hikes. Once on the trails, I have many options on a network of trails. I can walk 6 miles on one trail and burn 500 calories, or take another trail to a nearby mountaintop and burn 800 calories in the same 6 miles. Both hikes record about the same number of steps.

    I find that if I take the same hike in about the same amount of time, the calorie count is almost always within 2%. I don’t know (or care) if this is accurate, but it is incredibly “precise” (e.i. consistent). I have tested this on hundreds of hikes and record the results for various trails to confirm the consistency. If I feel energetic on a particular day and hike faster than usual, the calorie count is consistently slightly higher. I don’t think I would get this level of consistency if the heat rate monitor was “wonky.”

    I like to make sure I burn the same amount energy every day (about 800 calories “extra” per day), and the watch allows me to monitor this regardless of the type of activity. If I spend a couple hours doing yard work, the watch records the energy expended quite well, while the Fitbit fails completely to yield a “step count” proportional to how much energy I expend. I may burn 400 “extra” calories mowing the lawn, so I take a shorter walk to “top off” my daily calorie burn later in the day. My Fitbit step count simply records a small number of steps that have little relation to the energy expended.

    I suppose a step counter is OK if you get all your exercise walking at a consistent pace on a flat surface, but it certainly doesn’t meet my needs. I still have the original watch and have no desire to get a the latest model with GPS. I always have my phone and the new model doesn’t offer anything significant for me. Keeping a variation of the original was a great idea. I could continue writing at length about the other things I love about the watch, but will spare you!

    • Haven’t you seen that you can track your walks (or runs) with the Fitbit app? It uses the iPhone’s GPS, and gives you a map, splits per mile or kilometer, and other stuff. I should have pointed that out in the article, because it’s one thing that many people – like yourself – do want, and they don’t realize that it’s possible to do it. The Fitbit also counts active minutes, far more efficiently than the Apple Watch. With the Apple Watch, I can walk on my treadmill for a half hour, and get, say, seven active minutes; the Fitbit generally counts them all (plus counts active minutes when I’m moving around the house a lot, such as cleaning.)

      As for the calories burned, none of the device are accurate; they’re all just guesstimates. The Fitbit app gives you an estimate, which I’ve found isn’t that different from the Apple Watch.

      • Yes, I do like the other options you mentioned that the Fitbit app provide. However, I use the “Runmeter” app on the iPhone which gives the data you mention (maps, elevation profiles, splits, etc.). You equate the Apple Watch to the Fitbit as both being inaccurate guesstimates, but the Fitbit is fundamentally deficient because it lacks a heart rate monitor.

        My example of the two 6 mile hikes; One with a 200’ elevation gain and the other with 2000’ elevation gain show the advantage of the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch will give a 500 calorie burn on the 1st and a 800 calorie burn on the 2nd (with very consistent results). The Fitbit gives me essentially the same calorie burn for both hikes.

        The Fitbit is great if all your exercise is at the same level of intensity, or if all you want are steps (or active minutes). I prefer to use energy expended as my “go to” metric and (in my experience) the Apple Watch is far superior to the Fitbit. They may both be “guesstimates,” but the Fitbit provides a guesstimate with far less data. Plus, I happen to like about a dozen other features about the Apple Watch that the Fitbit lacks. I even like the look of my black watch with a black sport band (but I have terrible taste)!

        You get what you need from the Fitbit; I don’t. Isn’t variety wonderful? We are both happy with our options!

  9. Hello Kirk, I just purchased a series one on sale from Target. It was sort of an impulse purchase, but it was a great sale, so I decided to take a chance. I was one of those that felt the Apple Watch was really not a “must buy”, since it mostly mimics the things on my iPhone. I have not worn a watch since the purchase of my first iPhone back in 2007, and in truth have not missed it. But I do enjoy the notifications, and other subtle functions like being able to control tracks from iTunes while keeping my iPhone safely in my pocket. And it’s actually quite refreshing to just glance down at my wrist to see the current time without having to find my iPhone. Also, being able to send out a signal from my watch to find said iPhone when placed somewhere under a magazine or pile of papers on my desk has really come in handy for me.

    I have a few weeks to see if I’ll end up keeping the Apple Watch, but so far for me, it’s a keeper.

  10. I do wonder if there are significant gender differences in the market responses.

    In my observation, men keep their iphone in their pocket — trouser or jacket — women generally don’t use pockets, so they keep their iphone in a purse or are forever putting it down somewhere. There are lots of consequences to this, as any man knows who has tried to ring his partner in a noisy location. Vibrating alerts are not effective.

    One would think the watch a good solution in this situation. Except none of the women in my acquaitance would ever consider it sufficiently attractive to want to wear it.

    But that’s just my observation. Has there been any market measure of Apple Watch acceptance by gender, I wonder?

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