In praise of the ambitious, indispensible Apple Watch

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Apple Watch is a great early adopter device. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Apple Watch is going to be a big, fat mainstream hit. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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Most early reviews of the Apple Watch didn’t do it justice. It’s fine, they said, but not for everybody.

Come on! COME ON!!!!

The Apple Watch is the most exciting gadget for years. Its ambition is huge. It does a ton of stuff. It’s not some silly smartwatch — it’s a computer for your wrist. And I’m loving it.

Yeah, it has its quirks, and it’s far from perfect, but it’s a great vision, and it’s only going to get better!

It’s a ton of fun, and it works great — except when it doesn’t.

The fun begins with the unboxing, which is the best yet.

I know this sounds precious, but taking the Apple Watch from its box is a beautifully designed experience. It’s a little bit of product theater, introducing all the elements of the Watch to the new owner.

I was delighted by the super-clever Sport band — which tucks under — and the quality of the fluoroelastomer material (I got the basic aluminum Sport model with a rubber strap). It’s sturdy and seems long-lasting, and the texture makes it feel a little luxurious. I loved that the watch came with two wristbands in the box — big and small — so that it fits everyone.

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The Apple Watch has drool factor in spades. Even the cheapest rubber band is beautifully designed and made. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

But that was just the beginning of the fun. Here’s what I’ve done with the Apple Watch so far (with a hat tip to Eric Alba):

Customized the watch face: I gotta admit, after following the prompts in the setup app, I was completely flummoxed. I had absolutely no idea what to do! This is the first Apple device ever that I couldn’t figure out on my own. I wanted to change the watch face, but couldn’t figure it out. I had to watch a video — Force Touch! Duh! But I was soon playing with every customization I could think of. After figuring it out, it became tons of geeky fun.

Selected the Modular digital face: It displays several things, including date, battery power, activity and a stopwatch. Data — it’s what this thing is designed for.

Took several phone calls on my wrist: I loved this. I’m a big fan of speakerphone in general (mostly so I can continue to stare at my computer while talking). Calls are great on the Apple Watch, even outside. Not for in public, though; that still feels too weird.

Asked Siri for directions to a sandwich shop: The lunch spot popped right up and the watch directed me via haptic feedback. One glitch: It took a few minutes to alert me that I had arrived. Still, the experience was easy, cool and helpful.

Checked my resting heart rate: Not dead yet!

Sent some emojis to my wife: She was freaked out by the animated gif. She thought I’d done something bad and was trying to soften her up.

Dictated some messages with Siri: I was surprised that the dictation worked so well. So far, it’s been about 90 percent — much better than my experience with the iPhone.

Bought coffee: At Whole Foods, I got some coffee and then some groceries. It was super-easy and scary-fast. It’s so easy to spend money this way.

Played some music: The tunes were on the iPhone sitting in my pocket. I’m still not sure if using the Apple Watch is easier than clicking a button on my headphones or fishing out the actual iPhone. Handy for skipping tracks, I guess, but the jury’s out.

Controlled the Apple TV: It is a great remote control for the Apple TV.

Set several cooking timers: So handy for not burning everything while cooking dinner. The Watch is great for setting timers, reminders and calendar events via Siri.

Sent a heartbeat: I used the Friends button to send my heartbeat to to @roblef. The heartbeat function is freaky-strange and something you want to reserve for intimates, not colleagues. The Friends button is OK, but I’m finding it easier to initiate most contacts via Siri.

Kept it stealth all weekend: No one commented on the watch. I was expecting it’d be spotted everywhere and I’d be mugged in the street, but it passes the subtlety test. Nobody noticed it (or at least, nobody said anything to me).

Recharged it: There’s been so much unnecessary fuss about Apple Watch battery life. It lasts all day and then some, even with a lot of use.

Took three showers: After losing a couple of fitness bands at the gym, I’m relieved I won’t have to take the Apple Watch off post-workout.

Shazamed a song (is that a verb?): Tried it twice; worked twice. Shazam on your wrist is totally great, and I’ve read reports that it works even in noisy bars.

Checked my activity level: I like the idea of closing the circles in the Activity app. However, it reminded me to stand when I was already standing, and so far it hasn’t pushed me to run a marathon.

Checked the time: Multiple times. I know it’s old-school wearing a watch to see the time, but I’ve been a watch wearer forever. I’m a big fan of lifting your arm to see the time. Apple Watch’s motion detection has been pretty good — about 95 percent — and more reliable than the old Casio Pathfinder I wore for years (which lit up).

Adjusted the strap tighter: It’s only been a few days, but so far the Sport band is comfortable to wear all day. I had it loose to start but pulled it tighter. I thought it’d itch and get sweaty, but no problems.

Checked a steady stream of notifications: The screen stays dark when you get a message or notification — a clever touch. The watch sends a gentle haptic tap, but only lights up when you lift your wrist to look. I was initially a bit puzzled by this; why wouldn’t it light up? But eventually I realized it’s deferential. You check your messages in your own due time; by staying dark, the watch is not screaming for your attention. It’s quieter and more subtle.

Apple Watch: an indispensable device

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Your body is a machine. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Photo: Jim Merithew / Cult of Mac

This list adds up to — dare I say it? — an indispensable device.

The Apple Watch has already become an essential gadget for me. I honestly can’t imagine I’ll set it aside.

For a lot of things, it offers a better experience. It’s a better way of doing things.

Apple Pay is infinitely better. So is taking phone calls, funnily enough, and messaging is great, too. But most of all I like notifications. The Apple Watch allows me to stay in constant touch with my online life in a way that’s thoughtful and unobtrusive. It actually helps me manage and respond to the endless stream of messages, texts and updates.

But will the Apple Watch be a mainstream hit? Will it become a must-have device like the iPhone? So far, reviewers says it’s cool, but will not be adopted by the masses.

I think it will.

It’s the first vision of a wearable computer that isn’t embarrassing. It doesn’t make you a weirdo cyborg, and it enhances your other devices in meaningful ways.

Right now, it’s a great accessory to the iPhone, but it will soon enough become an indispensable device in its own right.

It’s clear Apple is laying the foundation for a very, very ambitious computing device.

“The functionality of the product that we’re making is absolutely incredible, the power of it,” said Tim Cook earlier this week.

Yeah, the Apple Watch is confusing and a bit muddled, but that’s testament to Apple’s ambitions. It already does a ton of stuff, and it’s a platform for a ton more.

With the addition of new apps, new features and maybe new body sensors, it’s possible to imagine that at some point the Apple Watch will become the iPhone — and a lot more.

Just as the iPhone enabled previously unimaginable things like Uber and Snapchat, the Apple Watch is a platform for stuff that we can’t imagine right now.

It will bring personal computing to your body in ways that are difficult to imagine.

The possibilities will only grow. It’s the promise of the future, and I’m extremely optimistic about it.

As much as apple has hyped Apple Watch, they’ve actually undersold it.