April 27, 2015

Apple Watch review – first impressions

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Apple Watches have arrived at the Odecee office, and our team have been fighting over who gets to play with them. Mobile Engineer Ashton Williams was one of the first to road test the Apple Watch; here he shares some of his initial thoughts.

In terms of its core functions, the watch has some great features, and a few that are fun for a day. You can tap your contacts on the wrist from afar, crudely draw them a sketch, and even send them a digital beating heart that matches your heart rate. If that appeals to you. Ultimately, though, the Apple Watch is all about the apps. At first glance, here are my thoughts on some pre-installed and third party apps.

Activity and Workout – both pre-installed and made by Apple – are the best apps in my opinion. Activity gives the user a simple visual representation of the amount of time they’ve spent standing, moving and exercising in a day, and gives targets to work towards. Workout allows you to easily track formal exercise, offering detailed information on speed, distance, heart rate and calories burned. All that data gets collected onto your iPhone for some impressive analysis.

The official Twitter app is arguably a little overloaded with buttons and menus; Twitterrific, on the other hand, has been designed with great restraint. It doesn’t show your full Twitter timeline on the watch, only notifications and quick statistics. You could easily forget about the much nicer reading experience you would get back on your iPhone if it weren’t for the clever reminder – the app shows the ‘Unread Tweets’ count, but not the tweets themselves.

Woolworths have also done a great job. Instead of copying all the functionality of the iPhone app over to the watch, they have limited it to just the store location and your shopping lists. Users can access their lists on the watch, with products sorted into aisle order, and it is easy to cross off items while shopping. The more ‘heavy-duty’ activities – like searching for products to create the shopping list and viewing daily specials – are still undertaken on the iPhone.

Pulse VIC, a free public transport app for Victorians, is great. The watch shows a simple view of your public transport trips with a large readable countdown to your next service. What this app desperately needs, though, is a glance. A glance is the quickest way into an Apple watch app, providing immediately relevant information with just a ‘swipe up’ (e.g. a user’s next meeting or airport gate information for an upcoming flight). Public transport info seems like an obvious candidate for a glance.

The Amazon app is a perfect example of a company trying to stuff a full iOS app onto your wrist. The choice to include the ability to search for products and purchase them in a single tap on the wrist is questionable. It’s too easy for a user to accidentally buy a product, as seen in this CNET review video:

For organisations looking to release their apps for the Apple Watch, designs that work for Today Extensions in Notification Center on the iPhone can be nicely adapted. If you have actionable notifications that will also work well.

I found the most useful apps had a good glance, leading you to tap to open the app, or had notifications that I wanted to respond to. Finding apps in the bubble menu requires precision and didn’t feel comfortable when walking.

Overall, the best Apple Watch apps at this point are the ones that show restraint in their design. Unlike the iPad – which gave apps more screen real estate to fill with features – the Apple Watch needs apps that have been trimmed down to fit this new form factor.

It will be interesting to see which apps are brave enough to scale back.


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Categorised in: Digital, Product reviews, Technology

This post was written by Ashton Williams