The Watch, my Apple device of the year

Looking back, the five things that were most relevant to me this year in an Apple context were:

  • The echoing absence of a renewed Mac mini
  • The wall-to-wall iOS/macOS bugfest
  • The Touch Bar folly (and MacBook Pro keyboard problems)
  • The Watch Series 3
  • An overall feeling of disenchantment with both iOS and macOS

Working through these, the only one I think I can be positive about is my experience with the Watch. I’ve ranted often enough about how much I hate all-in-one locked-down machines, how much I like the ridiculously outdated (but utterly silent) Mac mini still on my desk, and I’ve been trying really, really hard not to write about how much I’ve come to loathe the Touch Bar, the absence of a physical Esc key and, overall, the temperamental and clackety keyboard of the new MacBook Pro (which I’ve started having a few problems with myself).

When my birthday rolled around this year, I had a conundrum (besides the usual “should I spend $VALUE amount of money”): I’m in dire need of a new desktop machine, my iPhone 6 is well over three years old and will likely not see another major iOS version, and besides Apple hardware, there are more bits of home infrastructure that need replacing ASAP.

As it turns out, everything works well enough (for the moment) that there was no pressing need to upgrade–I had the battery on my iPhone replaced last Summer (giving me first-hand experience of its relationship to performance), and I find the iPhone X’s lack of Touch ID to be a major put-off (based on my experience with Windows Hello, I think Face ID is much more useful on laptops and desktops, and prefer to explicitly unlock smaller devices with my finger), so being Apple‘s Animoji guinea pig wasn’t really on the cards.

I am also considerably put off by the iPhone 8’s glass back (which I still consider to be a dumb choice, regardless of Qi charging and better radio transparency), so getting a new phone was out1.

But there was one device I was sure to use all day, every day, and that made sense to upgrade from both an economic and timing perspective: my original “Series Zero” Apple Watch.

I have zero interest in an LTE-enabled Watch, but the 38mm WiFi model is readily available here, and considering I got the original at $100 off early last year and that I found it to be worth every penny but too slow overall, upgrading to a Series 3 was pretty much a no-brainer.

So here are my (short) notes on it:

Pluses:

  • Right off the bat, the Series 3 is much faster. Everything that runs exclusively on the Watch loads and runs nearly instantly, including the Workflow actions I have for sending pre-defined messages and getting live updates from public transit services. Some apps are still split affairs, though, which means that my pokey iPhone 6 is actually slowing down my Watch…
  • Siri (which always worked well enough, given my reduced expectations) now talks back, which is nice. I wish it was more useful to keep track of workouts, but on the other hand I’ve had great success using it with HomeKit (more on that in a later post).
  • The battery lasts me well over two days in average use, although I’m currently experimenting with the Watch as a sleep tracker (using AutoSleep) and recharging it daily during breakfast and morning ablutions.
  • Overcast is just glorious on it, and (besides Outlook) the third-party app I use the most, although I have zero interest in listening to podcasts from my Watch–I’m happy enough using it to navigate and play back what’s on my phone during my commutes.
  • The physical improvements (waterproofing, brigher display) are secondary, but welcome.

Minuses:

  • Regardless of what you think of the Marc Newson design twists, I wish the thing was round and looked more like a conventional timepiece.
  • Although I’m now accustomed to lifting my wrist to check the time and understand the constraints of an OLED display, I still wish there was an always on time display, even if dimmed.
  • Watch face customization is still a limited affair. Given my interest in progressing towards an as yet unspecified degree of fitness, I use an Activity variant, but wish I could mix and match layouts and complications better. On the same topic, the Siri watchface is completely useless since it has zero integration with non-Apple appplications.
  • Apple decided to break the Music app (and playback controls) by making it fully independent of the phone, which is stupid if (like me) you have zero interest in loading music onto your Watch and would rather use it as a remote for controlling playback on your phone. The sorest point for me is that Apple clearly expects you to pair your Bluetooth headphones to your Watch too, completely mangling the much more common use case of taking calls on the go.
  • Some apps (like WhatsApp and Google Maps) are still missing in action. I can reply to WhatsApp messages but have no on-device app, and I’d rather ask people for directions than use Apple Maps.

Some of these downsides echo Apple‘s particular brand of single-mindedness about how people should use their devices, but so far the benefits outweigh them–since I started wearing the original Watch, the activity and workout features have had a positive effect, and I now exercise regularly (if lightly, given the insane worklife I lead).

I think that’s a great return on investment, if you ask me.


  1. I’m also quite interested in seeing what kind of upgrade the SE gets next year–I love the smaller form factor, and getting updated internals in an easy to grip metal casing would probably be the sweet spot for me. ↩︎


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