So when the Apple Watch was announced, I wrote a post explaining I want one because I fail DEX checks often. (For you non-RPGers, “DEX” refers to “dexterity.” “Failing a DEX check” means, basically, I drop things…. A lot.)
In the post, I described how a device attached to my arm or wrist, either a phone itself or a device wirelessly tethered to one, solved several accessibility, safety, and convenience issues related to having low strength and coordination as well as the inability to walk due to Cerebral Palsy. I listed several benefits such as a reduction in phone drops as I use it or transfer to my driver’s seat in my van, not missing calls due to fumbling the phone and canceling the call, easier controlling of media playback in my van and elsewhere, and the added safety of my phone literally being attached to me should I fall out of my scooter, etc. (I have literally done the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” thing. Had to be rescued by two passing soccer moms once. Not fun.)
I planned to try a friend’s Apple Watch to make sure I could manipulate the physical buttons, use the interface, and simply strap it onto my arm. At my 50th birthday party, my dear friend let me test his newly acquired Apple Watch and I did try it. I had no problems using it! So I figured on ordering one to be delivered in June. Later that night, as the party wound down, the same friend handed me a bag and said, “I got you a special gift.” HE GOT ME MY OWN APPLE WATCH SPORT!” Speechless I was. I asked him what he planned to do if the testing of his had shown I could not use it. He said, “Tell you to sell it on Ebay before the June batch hits!” I’m still floored by his generosity two weeks later.
After two weeks with my Apple Watch Sport, the bigger sized one, I feel like I’ve had it long enough to make some observations:
- Getting started: Setup was fairly easy, although you do most of it from the Watch app on your iPhone, not the Watch. I did watch a few how to videos for setup tasks I was not getting and how to choose music sources on it. But, I was up and running with it quickly.
- Comfort: The larger Sport does not feel heavy on my arm at all. It feels like a watch. And Apple included a smaller strap you could swap onto it so it fits on my scrawny arm without a long tail of strap hanging. The closure mechanism was awkward for my gimpy fingers but I am adapting. I may get something easier later.
- Interface: Once you spend some time with it, using the Apple Watch is not hard, but it is different than other iOS devices and you do have to adapt to it a bit. Using the digital crown to click to the home screen or scroll and zoom works well and you learn to try Force Touch, a hard press and hold, to bring up secondary menus on most apps and for customizing your chosen watch face.
- Phone calls: Answering calls is easy and the speaker phone on the Watch is sufficient in most non-noisy places. If I cannot hear it well in noisy environs, I simply pull out my iPhone and pick up the call in progress. I may invest in a Bluetooth earpiece if I can find one I can actually put on myself. The Watch has no dialer that I have found. If the person I’m calling is not in my Contacts, I can’t call them from the Watch. So, I do need to get out my iPhone for that.
- iMessages: Upon receiving a text or iMessage, you simply swipe downward to read it. You can dictate a reply and send it as audio or text. Or, you can reply with several replies prepared by the Apple Watch based on the previous conversation. You can also simply send an emoji. If the recipient is another Apple Watch user, you can also send a little drawing you create on the screen. The only thing you cannot do is type a reply on the Watch.
- Watch functions: The included watch faces are adequate. I chose Modular and customized the color to a dark blue and tweaked it to display the time, date, temperature, next alarms set, battery percentage and the next calendar item. The Apple Watch has a Wrist Raise feature where the face lights up when you raise your arm. I turned it off because it I wear it to sleep and it lit up every time I moved. I just tap it to wake it.
- Haptics: the default haptics appear to be sufficient to vibrate and let me know I have a call, a message, etc. I actually turned off the sound notifications and ringers on both the Watch and my iPhone 6 Plus. No more embarrassing ringing in meetings, at movies, etc. The alarm haptic reliably wakes me in the morning. This was something I wanted because, thanks to my CP, rolling over in bed to kill an alarm on the nightstand is a slow, process. My poor wife always gets awakened as the alarm beeps as I roll over to it. Now, the Apple Watch wakes me only and setting the alarm is as easy as pressing and holding the crown to activate Siri and saying, “Set an alarm for 6 in the morning.”
- Battery Life: After two weeks my normal usage has not brought it below 40% by the time I get out of bed in the morning. I charge it while I shower, etc. in the morning and it’s back at 100% by the time I’m dressed and ready to start the day. It takes maybe an hour or two to charge fully. I have heard from a friend that the smaller Sport is not holding up for him but I do not know his usage habits. I use it for phone calls, basic info/weather checking, running music and podcasts from my phone, and simple message replies. I never “disconnect” the Bluetooth tether to my iPhone.
- Media Playing: Once I figured how to force it to play music directly stored on my iPhone instead of the Watch (hint: Force Touch) I was set. I carry about 25 Gigs of MP3s on my iPhone and I’m too lazy to select only 2 Gigs to store directly on the Watch. Start the iTunes Watch app, Force Touch it and you can choose your iPhone or Watch as the source. You can also set the current song list to Shuffle and Repeat or not. Again, try Force Touch on every app! Podcasts are an addiction of mine and the app I was using had no Watch version. The buddy who gave me the Watch came to my rescue by suggesting I try OverCast which already has a Watch app. It works slick and plays every podcast I love. Now, I need Audible to make a Watch app for my other addiction: audio books. But, in the meantime, I can download the book as an MP3, put it in iTunes and play it that way. It will do for now.
- GPS/Nav: I found the Maps app to be problematic. It does not speak directions like it does on the phone and the screen goes dark quickly to save battery. Since I use hand driving controls, I cannot keep tapping it to wake it up. I will need to bring the iPhone to the driver’s seat with me when I need nav help.
- Health Apps: I muted all of them. Every time it told me to stand up and stretch I decided it was mocking me. I may play with the heart rate app when I watch my beloved Dallas Cowboys this NFL season, though.
- Security/Safety: The Watch stays on my arm and the iPhone stays securely in my scooter bag for most mundane tasks. I do not drop my iPhone when answering it and I do not accidentally cancel incoming calls. When I transfer into my van’s driver seat I leave the phone in my scooter bag and now have both hands free for transferring. That improves safety right there. If I do fall out of my scooter, the Watch is right there with me. I actually feel nervous and incomplete now when it is charging and not on my arm.
Overall, I’m happy with it. Does everyone need one? Heck, no! But, for my situation the Apple Watch adds convenience and safety I want.
An additional note: the friend who gave me the Apple Watch happens to be blind. Apple is far ahead of Google’s Android in accessibility and screen reader technology for users who are blind. The vast majority of blind users of smartphones and tablets use iOS devices. (And, forget about Blackberry and Windows Mobile.) The combination of Siri and the Voiceover screen reader make iOS devices very accessibly to blind user right out of the box. Usually, folks who are blind need someone to set up technology for them before they can use it. As my buddy said on Facebook, he just got the Apple Watch out, activated the shortcut for VoiceOver and he was using it. Done. No help needed. So, if I am any sort of Apple Fanboy, there is why.