Matt Gemmell

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An action-thriller novel — book 1 in the KESTREL series.

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Farewell to the Apple Watch

tech 4 min read

A year and a half ago, I wrote effusively about how I’d integrated the Apple Watch into my life. There’s a companion piece, linked from that one, about how the device helped me to use my iPhone less too.

Today, things have changed considerably, and I’m getting rid of my Apple Watch.

I recently wrote about my perception of increasing problems with software quality at Apple, therein mentioning the problems my wife and I have had with various Apple apps and devices, notably including our Watches. At time of writing this article, watchOS 3.1.1 seems to have fixed the disproportionate battery drain, and hopefully also the workout-tracking inconsistencies — but for me, it’s come too late.

It’s an old story. My trust was damaged, so I distanced myself and took time to re-evaluate what I really wanted, and found that I could manage just fine on my own. By the time solutions were offered, I was already mostly out the door.

Maybe it’s a continuation of the iPad-ification of my personal technology; I’ve abandoned my MacBook, and now use an iPad full time — which has given me the same kind of abrupt, sobering change in perspective. I used the same strategy as always: just pay attention for a couple of weeks, and note what I’m actually using, and how that list differs from what I think I’m using. For the Watch, towards the end of my active period of use — which finished yesterday — I was:

  • Checking the time or date often.
  • Making contactless payments once or twice per day.
  • Reading notifications for calls, messages, emails, and calendar events many times per day.
  • Tracking workouts two or three times per day.

But workout tracking got idiosyncratic and unreliable for a while, so I gave up on it weeks ago. It also stopped being useful for motivational purposes long before that; working out is part of my life now, and I genuinely don’t need a device to remind me or nudge me about it anymore. So remove that from the list.

I can make contactless payments with any of my credit or debit cards on their own, or indeed with my iPhone. I have no payment methods left that aren’t contactless and instant. That’s just daily reality here in the UK. Maybe it’s more novel and a greater gain in convenience in the US (I don’t know; their payment technology and authentication seems primitive in comparison to here), but actually the Watch was the least comfortable way for me to pay, due to the wrist-twisting involved, even if it did seem the most futuristic. I’m not going to shed any tears about that, as I’ll just wave my card or phone at the reader instead. So remove that from the list too.

Time and date: any watch will do that. And as for notifications from my phone, or rather a very select subset of them (and I really ought to disable email notifications anyway) — lots of fitness trackers can show you those from iOS, without the need for any jailbreaking or other nonsense.

And then there’s nothing left. Nothing except the lowest battery life of any fitness-focused wearable out there today, and inordinately lengthy software updates, and #AppleSoftwareQuality, and a vast array of features that I never, ever use. To wit:

  • I had no third-party Watch apps. Their complications (mini-displays on the watch face) don’t update reliably enough, for one thing, and I just never saw the need. Pointless distraction.
  • I disabled all forwarded notifications except for the basic ones noted above.
  • I switched off the reminders about Stand hours, because the Watch isn’t very good at actually recognising when you’ve moved sufficiently. I always move around for at least a minute every hour.
  • It can unlock my MacBook (about once in every three attempts), but… I don’t use a MacBook anymore.

My usage pattern was ludicrous, given what the thing can do. To me, it was a wristwatch with some notifications, and I was charging it every night. The notional benefit of long-term heart-rate monitoring (I have a heart condition) is nullified by it only taking readings every ten minutes unless you’re actively in a workout, which of course consumes a lot of power and can’t possibly be left on all day. And because of Apple Pay, I had to unlock the thing every time I put it back on.

What I actually need is something much simpler as a health tracker, and a basic timepiece. If Apple happens to make a future model with truly multi-day battery life (when tracking 2-3 workouts per day, and constant heart-rate monitoring at least every five seconds), plus an always-on time display, I might be interested again. For now, no.

I’m a different person than I was, and this kind of gadgetry needs to fade into the background. It was too demanding, in terms of the overly-clever interface of swipes and taps and wheel-spinning and button-pressing, and it’s silly to plug your wristwatch into power every night.

That’s not to say the Apple Watch isn’t a great device! It integrates really well with an iPhone (which I still use far less than I did before the Watch), it’s reasonably attractive given its technological constraints, it’s comfortable to wear, the build quality for me has been exceptional (I have the stainless steel model with sapphire glass, which is the most miraculously tough electronic device I have ever owned, by a very large margin), and it certainly does a lot of stuff. Oh, and I loved changing the watch band to suit my mood. Never got tired of that.

It’s almost as impressive a gadget as it was when I previously wrote about it — but I just don’t have the same relationship with it anymore. It’s another of the recharge-craving, update-requiring, computery things in the house, and I’d pared back my usage pattern past the point of credibility. It became overkill, because Apple dropped the ball and made me reconsider how much I needed it, and the final verdict wasn’t in its favour.

Perhaps, as with the iPad, I’ll circle back around in a few years’ time when the balance of promise versus compromise looks somewhat different. But for now, I need to cut this thing out of my life, and simplify — so that’s what I’m doing. My wife already sold her Watch, and I’m following close behind.

I’ll strap on a Fitbit Charge 2, and/or my gold Rotary as the occasion requires, and find something more important to think about instead.