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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.

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.

17 Comments
  • I wanted the stainless steel but it looks like it will be about $600. I'm happy with the slate black( whatever it's called) sport just as long as it works the same as the others. I really hope they don't pull that with each version does something more. Yes I know the body material is different but Obviously not a lot of guys ( unless your desperate) will be getting 38mm size in sport. Sites are saying only $50 more but I feel it will be $100 more based on price difference in their other devices. So we will see. If my 42mm sport costs $450, then after taxes and apple care I'm looking at already about $600... Ouch. A lot for a watch and first gen. But I'm an apple fan boy so I will be up at 3am Est ordering it hopefully on the 13th. Sent from the iMore App
  • I think you are wrong on a lot of this and being a trifle insulting. There are actually LOTS of guys who will be buying the 38mm watch. For anyone with thin wrists (not just women but probably at least a full third of the male population on the planet), the 42mm watch is simply too big for the wrist. A lot of guys will ignore this and get the giant chunky watch anyway, but they would look a lot better with the 38mm one. It's also a bit foolish IMO to think they will price the sizes differently. There will be one price averaged for the material costs of both of course. I will be buying the steel one with the expansion bracelet but without the (to me) cheesy black coating. My estimate is that the steel watch itself will be $450-$500 and that the steel link bracelet will be another few hundred at least. Once you add AppleCare, all the taxes, the fees, then put 50% on top for the "you live in Canada" tax, it will be as close to a thousand as makes no difference, perhaps even more.
  • Lol /\....... Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed...guess we will see Monday. All I know is if they all 3 have the same function minus the material they are made of then why buy the edition of stainless steel when in 1 year it will be old tech.... Braising myself for your response! The anticipation!!!!!! Sent from the iMore App
  • Nice article! I think emoji isn't a gimmick, if you get and yes or no answer it will be easy to respond with a thumbs up or down . The heartbeat is just for fun and sure our gf or wife's will appreciate it.
    Ty apple for making my Monday more fun can wait !! Sent from the iMore App
  • I purchased an expensive (for me) watch in 2002. I wear it 100% of the time, and surprisingly, I haven't grown tired of it. It's a good piece of jewelry so there's no chance I'll be getting an Apple Watch, but I expect to be entertained by members of the positive press (like Jason), as well as the click-bait pundits. I can hardly wait for Monday.
  • Correction: You won't be getting one at *first*. :-) The fact that you are here considering it makes me feel that you might be a customer for Apple Watch 2.0 or 3.0.
  • Great article Jason, I agree that battery life is important. That being said I think that having to charge the battery on a daily basis maybe an advantage. Having used the pebble for a couple of months last year, I noticed that I would forget to charge the watch and it seems that everytime the watch battery would die, it was shortly after I left the house and I would be without the watch all day. By having to charge the watch daily (just like my phone), it should become a habit to take off the watch before going to bed and charge it. I am curious when everyone thinks the watch will be available. Samsung really left a juicy date out there for Apple. With the new Galaxy s6 releasing on April 10th, woule Apple move the release date to kill any press Samsung hopes to get the day their new phone is released.
  • I'm so happy to finally find someone who agrees with me about the giant 3D animated emoji's and the heartbeat stuff. Personally, I don't mind the heartbeat thing too much. It's there for all the 14 year old girls of the world and the rest of us don't have to use it. I agree it was somewhat of a "mistake" to worry about including that or to highlight it in the demonstration. If it's truly something everyone will use, we will "discover" it ourselves anyway. There is no need to promote something like that as a key feature. The emoji's really leave me cold though. They are UGLY. And they are TACKY. And there are very few things concerning Apple products that you can say that about. I've spent a lot of time over the last six months trying to figure out why Apple would not only use them, but also actively promote them as a main feature.
  • Come on why do you have to hate on the emoji's? ;-) I would not use them all the time but for a quick message to the wife I would. The heartbeat feature will get old quick.
  • Not all emojis in general. THEESE emoji's. I use emoji's all the time. I've done a lot of art and design work and have degrees to prove it. My assessment is that these particular, 3D, GIGANTIC, animated emoji's are the UGLIEST thing I've seen from Apple bar none. They are the kind of thing you'd expect to find on a cheap Chinese knock off IMO. Edit: On reflection, I think the reason they exist is because it's an obvious "plus" to be able to respond with a simple emoji considering the space and text limitations of the watch, but "regular" emoji's don't take advantage of the retina screen they are pushing. Ergo, fancy "retina" emoji's (that are ugly and tacky).
  • Your thoughts about the Heartbeat thing, and giant emojis are my thoughts exactly! I pretty much said the same thing in a comment on another Apple Watch post a few days ago. To me, all that stuff will be pretty useless. Seems like something kids would enjoy, but I don't suspect that 10 year olds are the target demographic for the Apple Watch. I actually agree with everything you said in your post., Good stuff. I'm excited to see where this whole watch thing goes in the coming years.
  • I think you're missing a core use case: the Apple guys keep talking about intimacy. I'm not sure they know what to do with it, but I can imagine my wife and I using the hell out of those simple communications channels. Just chatter - but's that what drove the adoption of text messaging. We're digital pioneers, I suppose - too early and too old to be natives, but we've been online since 1990 or so - and I suspect there's a lot of use in distributed intimacy, Almost zero-friction chatter with loved ones. That's what those gimmicks are about - they're probably not the right way to do it, but they're what they were playing with to explore that problem space. I got the impression from the seminar that they knew they didn't have the right answers yet. The Apple Watch isn't a smart phone accessory, it's a tool for low friction intimate communications with your loved ones and with your closest apps.
  • The emoji's do look like something Microsoft or Android would make on their phones... Tacky Sent from the iMore App
  • I agree about the gimmicky stuff. I don't think any of that should be of serious note. The main things are going to be handling and responding to notifications, battery life, health aspects, and Apple Pay. I would almost dare say that even Apple Pay is trivial as a feature. Let's face it, anyone with an iPhone 5 or 5s wanting Apple Pay but, strapped for cash isn't going to pass up a phone upgrade for a $350+ watch that gives them that one extra ability they are lacking.
  • I am hopeful that the magnetic charging thing is a thin tab. I would like to be able to slip it under my watch on my wrist while sitting at my desk and wear the watch while charging. I would really like to keep the watch on while sleeping for sleep tracking purposes.
    I suspect this thing is going to have a tiny battery. i also expect that tiny battery will be capable of reaching full charge in 30 minutes or so. i really do not think this charging thing is such a big deal.
  • I got my first mobile phone in 1989 (which I hardly ever used), but when I did start using them more regularly since around '95, the long standby time on all those Nokia's, Motorola's and Sony Ericsson's that I had, often came back to bite me when they ran out of juice right when I needed it. However, even though I have charged every smartphone I've had since the iPhone 3G on a daily basis, it wasn't until I got the 6 Plus that I could actually get through a working day without a quick boost mid to late afternoon. So I also hope the  Watch can last from the moment I get out of the shower, to bedtime. Anything less will be a failure, under normal and reasonable usage patterns. Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm surprise that nobody's asking the most obvious of all questions: Will the watch electronics be upgradable? With prices for the Edition edition in the thousands, I'm sure many will hesitate buying version 1 when it will be obsolete in a very short time (like the first iPhone was obsolete when iphone 4 came on the market). But an expensive shell made of special gold would make a lot of sense if it's innards could be swapped and thus updated to the latest version for at least a few generations. I almost bet, but I surely hope that Apple has that up its sleeve on Monday.