It has been around for five years now. When it started out, not too many people gave it too much of a chance against established players. Today, the Apple Watch outsells the entire Swiss smartwatch industry. It is not as if Apple’s wrist hugger has had no competition – Google threw the kitchen sink at it with the Android Wear brigade, Samsung is still trying to upset its Applecart and well, there was the conventional premium watch industry and its “we will never wear a smartwatch” adherents. And yet, five years down the line, the Apple Watch is pretty much bossing the smartwatch and some would even say the premium watch segment.
What is the reason? The hardware? The apps? The design? Everyone has their theories, and that includes the good old “people will buy anything that Apple makes” rationale (no, they do not as anyone has been around in the PowerCube era will tell you, but that is a different story).
Speaking personally, I think one Apple Watch feature beats all others: proactivity. The Apple Watch is not a passive passenger on your arm. It reacts and it almost talks to you right through the day.
The notifications are kinda neat…
And I am not referring to the message, social network, and mail notifications. While they can be useful, they basically make the watch an extension of your phone, and after a while, can become a pain. I actually turned them off because I kind of got tired of looking at my watch every time there was a notification – and there were many (blame me for not managing better!) – it also appeared very rude if I was in a meeting. No, when I talk about the proactivity of the Apple Watch, I refer to its ability to notify me of matters that I would not otherwise notice. Not with my phone, anyway. More importantly, these notifications are rather personal in nature.
Of course, the most talked-about of these is the elevated heart rate alert, which tells you if your heart rate rises even when you have been stationary. But then that is for exceptional circumstances, and I hope you never ever get one of those alerts – I have received a few, and believe me, it is very disconcerting. No, useful though it is (indeed, it can literally be a lifesaver), the elevated heart rate alert is not addictive and not an example of the Apple Watch’s ability to converse with you. The same “life saving but not regular” logic applies to use fall detection, a feature in which the Apple Watch sends emergency messages to your contacts when it senses that you have fallen and are not moving. Even the walkie-talkie feature which almost everyone uses a few times is just too much of a pain to use regularly. And no, I am not a fan of shouting “Hey, Siri” at my watch or taking calls on it, although I do plead guilty of running Shazam and simply holding up my wrist to let the app identity a song.
…but some alerts are gently special
No, for me, what really reflects the Apple Watch experience is not the “power features” that make a “computer on your wrist,” but those gentle nudges, asking you get up when the watch senses you have been sitting for too long – although it can sometimes get a little annoying (I plead guilty to snapping “you wish!” At least twice in public when the watch nudged me to stand) Or its sensing that you are walking a little faster or even running and tapping you on the wrist to ask if it can start recording a workout. There are also steady reminders that you needed to close your activity rings (basically do a certain level of activity every day) with hints about how far you are from your target. And well, there is also the ability to figure out if you are in too noisy an environment – I was actually surprised to see my watch telling me that the ambient noise around me was too loud and could affect my hearing during a product launch.
The best thing is that I did not have to tweak any major settings for this to happen. It was all built into the watch, mostly by default. It does not sound like much on paper, but in a gadget world where most things are programmed and scheduled, the Apple Watch comes across as something that seems to have a life of its own. And its gift of showing concern for your activity levels and health – on its own – make it perhaps one of the most friendly gadgets I have ever used. I do not mean “user-friendly,” but “friendly,” in the real sense of the world.
If that sounds eccentric, then just consider this: it sits on your wrist, it worries about your sitting for too long, it gets alarmed when your heart rate rises, it pings you when it feels you are working out but have forgotten to turn on work out mode, it warns about excessive noise…even its manner of alerting you – those taps on the wrist – is so different from the vibrations and alarms we have got accustomed to.
It is a blend of the personal and the proactive that makes the Apple Watch still a formidable proposition – some would say the only proposition – when it comes to smartwatches.
Five years ago, while reviewing the first Apple Watch, I had written:
It will not “blow your mind” while it is around (honestly, its price is likely to stun you more), but when it is away, it will make you sigh when you look at your wrist and only see the time. And wonder why you don’t feel a tap on your wrist when you remain seated for a while, advising you to get up and take a short walk.
The Apple Watch does not pull you into a new world of possibilities.
It nudges you into it. Gently. Elegantly.
Five years down the line, it still does.