My (practical) Apple Watch wish-list

With the company set to hold a media event on Monday — six months to the day since Tim Cook first stood on the Flint Center stage and unveiled the Apple Watch — we're about to move out of our current period of vaguely-informed speculamalation and into the era of somewhat more informed speculification. At that point, we'll be perilously close to the time when the Apple Watch really ships, and pundits can actually start complaining about the real product rather than jousting with straw men wearing extremely expensive timepieces.

My point is, are we there yet? No? Okay, then, with a very short amount of time to go before we know incrementally more about the Apple Watch, here's my wish list for the next six months of the Apple Watch. You know, when we can actually use the thing.

It needs to last all day

Back in September, Apple didn't really discuss the Watch's battery life, other than to describe charging it as something you did at night. That suggests either solar power — let a thousand rumor-sites bloom at that very thought — or a daily charging cycle. It's understandable that Apple didn't want to get more specific than that: After all, neither the Apple Watch's hardware or software were close to completion at that point, and power consumption and battery life are often some of the last things to come together before a product goes final.

The "at night" statement made the goal clear, though: Apple wanted Apple Watch to be a product that could last all day. And I imagine Apple engineers have been spending a lot of sleepless nights trying to meet that goal in the past six months.

It's the right goal. In normal use — not tapping endlessly and keeping the screen active all day, because who does that? — the Apple Watch needs to get you roughly from the moment you get out of the shower in the morning to the moment you slip into bed in the evening. Anything less is a failure.

Does the Apple Watch need to last longer than a day? I don't think so. Maybe I lack some important perspective here, but I always take my watch off before I go to bed, if not before — and thus, charging it overnight makes a whole lot of sense to me. In fact, it's probably a good idea to get into a routine when it comes to charging a smartwatch: My Pebble runs out of battery all the time because I don't need to charge it more often than every five or six days. Since I don't need to charge it every night, I don't... and then I forget to charge it at all.

It's going to be a while before the Apple Watch or any other smartwatch with a bright backlit phone-style screen is going to last a week at a time. So for now, carrying a waking day's worth of power is a worthy enough goal.

It needs to value the quick and glanceable

Last year, after wearing a Pebble for a year, I wrote on Macworld that "Wearable devices like this should be simple, and interacting with them should be effortless. If I need complexity, I've got that phone in my pocket, packed full of apps."

I don't dispute that the Apple Watch can do numerous things that we use our iPhones to do now. But I'd like Apple and its community of third-party developers to emphasize the simple action over the complex. The most important interaction with a smartwatch should be a glance — to check the time or quickly see what's going on. The glance is powerful. The glance is why people started strapping tiny clocks to their wrists in the first place. If smartwatches are to replay this migration from pocket to wrist, the glance must reign supreme.

The second most important interaction with a smartwatch should be a quick one: On the Pebble, this was rudimentary — push a button, dismiss a notification. On the Apple Watch, it can be a much richer kind of interaction, offering taps and swipes and choices between different options — but these should still be quick. Tasks on an iPhone take a matter of minutes; on the Apple Watch, they should be over in a matter of seconds.

It needs to not get lost in its gimmicks

Coming out of the September 9 event that introduced the Apple Watch, I was concerned by the device's lack of focus: The default screen shows at least 16 apps. I also tried hard to steel myself against Cranky Old Man syndrome but... The Watch's 3D custom emoji builder, the sparkly draw-a-symbol feature, and the thing that sends your heartbeat to a friend don't feel useful, they feel like gimmicks. Yes, they're whimsical. Yes, I can see my daughter using that feature — assuming she and all of her friends were sporting $350 iPhone accessories — but it all seems a bit like putting the cart before the horse.

One of the beautiful things about the original iPhone was that although it didn't do a lot, what it did do, it did perfectly. Apple prioritized fewer features in order to have them all be polished to the highest degree. What the Apple Watch needs to do well is provide glanceable information and simple interactions that improves the life of its wearer. If it does those things right, those emojis and heartbeats won't matter as anything more than a bonus. But all the emojis and heartbeats in the world won't appease an Apple Watch owner who has less-than-polished software on their device.

It needs to keep my phone in my pocket

At its core, the Apple Watch must provide useful information that reduces reliance on my iPhone. I want to be able to pull out my iPhone for serious interaction, but ideally the Apple Watch would dramatically reduce the number of times I need to do that during the day.

In addition to telling the time, the Apple Watch needs to relay my important notifications and allow me to act on them, assuming that those actions can be quick and easy. One of my frustrations with the Pebble was that I was able to see texts I was receiving, but not reply to them quickly. The Apple Watch seems to be capable of addressing that particular scenario. So what else can it solve? How many times during the day will my iPhone stay in my pocket because the Apple Watch is able to inform me and receive my reaction without me needing to dive deeper?

We'll know soon enough

Two years with the Pebble has made me optimistic about the value of smartwatches, but also wary about overselling the technology. I'm optimistic about the Apple Watch, but guardedly so. If it can provide me with all the glanceable information I need and accept all the interactions I require — all while its battery stays charged — then I'll happily accept those customizable emojis and creepy heartbeat messages.

Jason Snell

Former lead editor at Macworld for more than a decade, wrote about Apple and other tech companies for two decades. Now I write at Six Colors and run The Incomparable podcast network, which is all about geeky pop culture, and host the Upgrade and Clockwise tech podcasts.