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Apple Watch : Dial down the hype

Visvaksen P | Updated on May 16, 2018 Published on November 25, 2015

bl26_tech_AppleWatch3.jpg

bl26_tech_AppleWatch.jpg

It may be the best smartwatch around, but the question is – do you really need a smartwatch at all?

The powers that be in the tech industry want us to believe that there’s a wearable computing revolution underway. But so far, it feels like little more than a digital era re-enactment of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Even Apple, the almighty bellwether with a long and storied history of ignoring new technologies until they are ready for perfection, has thrown caution to the wind and jumped onto the bandwagon with the Apple Watch.

Despite Tim Cook’s plaintive protestations to the contrary, the Watch feels a bit prematurely born by Cupertino standards. Make no mistake, it is most likely the best smartwatch around at the moment. But whether a watch being smart adds much to your life at all is still highly debatable.

Design and hardware

The Apple Watch may be weighed down by existential quandaries (which we will get to momentarily), but the device is impeccably designed and built from the kind of materials that traditional watchmakers would charge a king’s ransom for.  

Sure, the Apple Watch isn’t cheap either – the low-end Sport version kicks things off at a little over ₹30,000 and the most expensive Apple Watch Edition costs more than the average sedan. However, when you remind yourself that the device has a display that uses the kind of glass typically used in space shuttles, the expense makes a little more sense. Apple gives you the option of choosing a body made of aluminium, stainless steel or 18-carat gold, all of which come with a sapphire coating to protect your Watch from the elements. There is also a huge selection of straps that you can pair your Watch with. They are ridiculously easy to switch and are mostly top-notch in terms of quality.

The Watch is a little bulkier than you’re probably used to, but not to the point of being out of place. The right side of the watch features two buttons – one opens a list of favourite contacts and other, an innovative little dial called the digital crown, which allows you to open the app drawer, return to the watch face, access Siri and scroll through lists.

Apple’s design chops, combined with the fact that it got the time correct pretty much all the time, makes the Apple Watch worth coveting and the price puts it in the same bracket as a decent luxury watch.

However, comparing the Apple Watch with a Rolex is a bit like comparing Hollywood actor George Clooney and his wife Amal. While both of them are blessed with stunning good looks, only one is also an internationally renowned human rights lawyer. The innards of the Apple Watch consist of a 520 MHz S1 processor paired with PowerVR graphics and 512 MB of RAM and 8 GB of storage space – all of which adds up to considerable computing power. But what actually makes it smart, is WatchOS 2, the operating system custom-built by Apple for your wrist.

Software

The operating system primarily performs three tasks – it delivers notifications, provides information from WatchOS-compatible apps and tracks health-related data. The notifications are available via a pull-down list but unlike on Android Wear, they can only be received from supported apps. A select few apps like Mail and Messages also provide options for acting on notifications.  The Apple Watch can also make and receive calls via the inbuilt microphone and speaker. You can also store and playback music files locally – up to a limit of 2 GB. However, the speaker is barely good enough for voice calls in a quiet environment, so using it as a stereo is a bit of stretch.

The home screen can be customised with various different watch faces and widgets that provide useful bits of information pulled from apps. Swiping up from the bottom edge reveals Glances from apps that support the feature. This view can be used for limited, mostly passive interaction with apps like Twitter, Google Maps, Zomato, Uber and even some simple text-based games. Most of these apps are an exercise in extreme frustration, featuring limited feature sets that will require you to pull out your iPhone in order to accomplish anything beyond the most basic tasks.

The one area where Watch apps excel is in the health and fitness space. The lack of a real input mechanism beyond Siri’s voice recognition hamstrings regular apps that rely on text instructions. But since most health apps draw their information from hardware sensors, developers have been able to build a wide variety of imaginative apps that help you track your vitals, learn and stick to exercise regimes, and foster healthier habits.

Why it doesn't work... Yet

Wearables in the watch form factor are fundamentally flawed due to their lack of viable input methods. Voice recognition technology has made rapid strides in recent years, but no amount of technological progress can overcome the fact that you look like an idiot when you're talking to your wrist in public.

Since the Watch is a companion to your iPhone rather than a replacement, it offers little in the way of unique, standalone features. The health-related features of the Apple Watch - which is the only functionality that it is not merely replicating from your iPhone - are useful but not yet compelling. And similar features are available from specialist fitness bands that are significantly cheaper.

Apple claims that the Watch can save you time and simplify your life. But in our experience it did the opposite by introducing an additional attention-hungry screen into our workflow. If you thought you had a problem with notification addiction earlier, good luck trying to ignore the digital noise with a device that is tethered to your body. And since the Watch requires a special magnetic connector to charge, you are encumbered with yet more baggage in the process of trying to simplify your life. Battery life hovers around the two-day mark, which is great for a smartphone, lousy for a watch and probably the new standard for a smartwatch.

Verdict

The Apple Watch is arguably the best smartwatch available today. But that doesn’t change the fact that smartwatches, in their current form, are little more than digital cruft that companies are trying to market to users despite the fact that it doesn’t fill any obvious, pressing need. With the additional premium tacked on to its India price due to the vagaries of taxes and exchange rates, it is hard to see this device interesting anyone beyond the most ardent Apple devotees and maybe a few watch collectors.

Price: ₹30,900 onwards

Love: Build quality, design

Hate: Lack of soltuions to the existential questions

Published on November 25, 2015
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