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Apple’s Lovely, Potentially Overwhelming Wristwear

My admittedly short time trying the Apple Watch makes me wonder if it might be able to do too much.
March 9, 2015

The Apple Watch looks and feels fantastic on my wrist—unlike most smart watches I’ve tried, it’s not too big or heavy, it has a bright, crisp display, there are just two buttons for navigation, and its touch screen is incredibly responsive. But you know what? It’s also a little overwhelming. 

One version of the Apple Watch features a stainless steel case and a black leather strap.

I’ve been itching to try out a fully functional version of the device since Apple first showed it off at a media event last September. At the time, the company only allowed us reporters to check out a clearly unfinished device running demo software meant to show off a few marquee features (see “The Apple Watch May Solve the Usual Smart Watch Annoyances”).

But on Monday, at an event in San Francisco where Apple showed off the watch again, along with updated laptops and other products, I got my chance to play with the real thing for a few minutes. A demo attendant strapped an Apple Watch on my wrist: a luxurious gold version of the device, completely out of most people’s price ranges with a starting price of $10,000, and available at select Apple stores when the device goes on sale April 24 (presales will begin April 10). There are much cheaper versions—Apple Watch Sport, which will start at $349, and Apple Watch Collection, which will start at $549—but when you’re in a room filled with reporters angling for hands-on time with a hot new gadget, you take what you can get.

And so I got the fancy watch. And at first, it was really cool. Its leather band felt buttery on my arm, and the crown—traditionally used to wind a watch but in this case used for navigation on the tiny screen—turned smoothly. The display, which is force-sensitive, had just enough resistance to my fingers that there was no mistaking swipes for firm presses. The battery life is supposed to last for 18 hours, which is a smidgen of the week-long battery life you’d get with the much simpler Pebble smart watch, but then the design and capabilities of the Apple Watch are far greater.

Shortly, though, I started to feel like the device might actually be too capable. There’s a cute home screen showing all your apps as little bubbles, but more than, say, 10 of them, makes the screen look crowded. You can swipe up to see all kinds of “glances”—things like weather, your calendar, music controls, stock prices, and more that you swipe across the display to see one at a time. And you can customize watch faces down to minute details like whether you want to show the phase of the moon in one corner and your activity in another, or vice versa. Oh, and you can pay for things with the Apple Watch. And check in at the airport. And look at a live feed of a video camera, receive calls, read full emails, check Instagram, hail an Uber, send your heartbeat to a friend who also has an Apple Watch, and more.

A lot of these things can be done with other smart watches. But on this device whose industrial design and user interface feel like odes to simplicity and elegance, it felt overwhelming, and I started to wonder whether Apple’s vision for the smart watch is too broad (see “So Far, Smart Watches Are Pretty Dumb”). I’m impressed with the efforts to make a stylish, comfortable device that is fairly customizable to users’ whims and wallets. But I suspect some buyers will feel overwhelmed by all the things you can do with the Apple Watch, causing those who aren’t rabid first-adopters to question whether they really want it.

With the arrival of the iPhone and, subsequently, the App Store years ago, it felt like I had endless possibilities in the palm of my hand. I could play games! Or find a restaurant review! Or get a cab! It was magical. I’m not sure I need that many options on my wrist.

I’m impressed with the things the Apple Watch will be able to do automatically, like give you a little pulse on the wrist to let you know when to turn if you want to navigate somewhere without staring at a map. And it looks like Siri may be a lot more helpful on the watch than she’s been on the iPhone, as you can apparently say “Hey, Siri” to get her to do your bidding (such as, “Hey Siri, remind me to take the clothing out of the dryer when I get home”). I’m excited to try the Apple Watch out on a bike ride—and for health-related apps, too.

Tim Cook is right; as he said Monday, the Apple Watch is the most personal device Apple has ever created. “It’s not just with you, it’s on you,” he said. “And since what you wear is an expression of who you are, we designed Apple Watch to appeal to a whole variety of people with different tastes and different preferences.”

Looking at the device, that’s clear. And when I have more time to spend with the Apple Watch, I’ll get a better sense of whether I’m one of those people. For now, though, I’m not quite sure.

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