I was enthused by Apple a few years ago when they announced updates to the WatchOS Bluetooth audio APIs that would allow apps to stream audio to Bluetooth devices. This meant I could get a watch that tracks my run while I hear to podcasts! No more having to figure out where to carry my phone, or be alone with my thoughts (the horror!).
I’d like to say that I carefully weighed the pros and cons of the device (as a PM obsessed with devices and user experiences), but in reality, I pre-ordered the thing and then started imagining how my life would be radically changed with a new Apple Watch.
Since the device would not be shipped for a few weeks, I spent more time than I should thinking about the possibilities of not only having audio routed to wireless headphones, but of the Apple Watch with cellular connectivity intrinsically redefining my relationship with technology — it could be a way to leave my phone behind and still be connected to the online world — in this world, I could:
- Be reachable if someone texted or called
- Consume the most vital things to operate at work such as mail and calendar
- Be able to stay in touch with others through social apps like WhatsApp
- Reduce my usage of scrolling apps Instagram/Twitter
- Force myself to consume less and experience more
It all sounded perfect, so besides willingly giving Apple my money in exchange for a new Apple Watch 4, I decided to pay the monthly cellular add-on so the watch could be its own online device. I was about to jump to the future science-fiction promised long time ago.
Fast forward 2 years
I still use my Apple Watch and pay the cellular service for it. I have to admit that I regularly feel like I’m losing money on the cellular add-on when I don’t use the watch. In this new work-from-home world, I’ve felt less and less the need to use the watch, so this might be the deciding factor on canceling it.
In general, I am quite disappointed at the overall Apple Watch experience and will most likely not get a new Apple Watch in the foreseeable future.
Before I list all my usage scenarios, I recognize I might not be the core target audience for a cellular Apple Watch (other than the disposable income threshold, or the inclination to use new tech devices).
Some of my scenarios:
- I enjoy listening to podcasts when I work out/run/bike (and use bone conduction headphones to hear incoming traffic — stay safe, kids!) .
- I am a heavy email/calendar user — especially setting up meetings at work (and need to see calendar availability for multiple people at the same time).
- I regularly alternate between English and Spanish (and Spanglish tbh).
- I am a heavy consumer of podcasts (a couple of hours per day in between commuting, working out/running, and just hanging out).
- I tend to try out a bunch of apps/services/hardware and will most likely get into corner cases quickly
- I've used a few Garmin Forerunners and Fenixes (3+5) before getting the Apple Watch, so "this wasn't my first smart-watch rodeo" (Battery life on the Fenix 5 is ~1 week with occasional workouts/runs 🤯)
A (non-exhaustive) list of disappointments
Not all shortcomings are the same — some are deal-breakers, and others are just annoyances. As a general disclaimers, I've re-set the watch a few times in these two years, and even started with a fresh iOS once, so these repro again and again.
Failing to play podcasts when I’m in a run without my phone.
This is the quintessential reason why I bought the watch — to play a podcast while I’m running. The device fails again and again to play Podcasts. Here’s the most annoying part: it has cellular connectivity; I pay extra for this. Yet I see again and again the [Podcast] is temporarily unavailable. Why? You HAVE network connectivity!
Updating Podcasts episodes
I'm paying for cellular connectivity — why do I need the iPhone for this again? Also — why am I seeing no new episodes on my DAILY-updated podcast? I left the watch charging all night… maybe Sara Koenig needs to get to the bottom of this.
The Podcasts app crashes a lot
I’m in the middle of some great story or reportage when suddenly a silence stretches longer than it should. Cliffhanger? Nope. When I turn my wrist, I notice that the Podcasts app closed suddenly… for the third time this run.
“Open the [app] on your phone to start using [app] on your watch”
I’m looking at you, Strava! I’m out in the street, warm-up done, mentally focusing, when I open the Strava app, and realize I need to use my phone (which is back in my office or apartment) to use the watch app because of some stupid update. Same thing happens with Radio, and other apps. Again — you have network connectivity, it should just work!
This is a quick one. I understand that the device is small, and has a power-hungry display and cellular network connectivity. As I understand, Apple limits APIs to ensure that only certain apps can use cellular network to manage battery. I'd like to have choice in granting individual apps permissions to use that, but alas, Apple thinks they know better. You buy their ecosystem, you play by their rules.
In any case, the watch is still faaar behind the ~1 week I get with my Garmin Fenix 5, but it's not exactly an apples to apples comparison.
Leaving work, I tried to use dictation to text my wife or friends. I ALWAYS need to change the dictation language to Spanish when I do this (EN-US is my OS default). It should be easier for the watch to associate languages with message recipients. My assumption is that this might require work since dictation might be a component of the core OS and not the app it is invoked from, so there might be some additional piping required to build support for this.
Delivering on the vision of the future… or purposefully not.
Even if Apple can deliver on the vision where your Apple Watch becomes a way to interact with others, be productive, and experience more while putting the phone down, it was not until later, that I realized the conflicting reality:
Delivering on a futuristic vision without the iPhone goes against Apple's core business model.
Apple does not want users to stop using their phones. They need their customers to use their phones even more. More usage will result in higher spending across their ecosystem (app store, services, and even hardware), and therefore even higher revenue — like USD$13.3B in Q2 2020.
I can't possibly imagine GPMs at Apple standing in front of their leadership saying: "our goal is to deliver on a vision for the future… at the cost of reducing user engagement with their iPhones and — consequentially— our revenue".
Yes, I appreciate the heart-rate monitor and being able to discretely get notifications, but I can get the same using devices that deliver better trade-offs for me, such as a Garmin Fenix (with much longer lasting battery).
…and that’s where I lose all hopes for the Apple Watch. I don’t feel like I want an almost-smart device that depends on its big brother phone to always be around in order to deliver on a futuristic vision where I live a richer life without a phone.