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SeSam is Péter Szilágyi, Engineering Manager at Ustream, residing in Budapest, Hungary. This is his playground.

Apple Watch: Day One

I’ve contemplated buying an Apple Watch before with the verdict that it was unlikely that I’d go ahead and do so. Well, this has changed. Following are my experiences during the first day of use.

Unboxing

I was surprised that the Apple Watch came in such a sizeable and elongated box. I’ve been expecting a cube shape, as in the case of many sport watches. Opening the box revealed the reason: the watch comes with a very nice plastic case. Under it are the user manuals and the charger cable, which is quite long, much longer than the iPhone cables.

Setup

Although the device is said come with some initial charge, mine didn’t. It was so drained I had to wait about fifteen minutes before I could turn it on. Unlike an iPhone, the watch didn’t turn on by itself after reaching a minimum charge either. Boot-up time isn’t something to write home about, I stared at the  logo for over a minute.

Although the Apple Watch works standalone with the latest software, a connected iPhone is required for it to reach its full potential. Linking starts via Bluetooth, then the phone reads the watch’s screen with the camera. In my case, a software update to 2.2.1 was also needed, which again proved to be quite lengthy. Despite the small size of the update (114 MB) it took half an hour to download and another thirty plus minutes to install.

The rest of the process was much faster. I’ve opted for installing all the apps which offer an Apple Watch companion. From this point the Watch app served as an extended Settings screen for everything Watch-related.

Odes have been sung to the excellent changes in watchOS 3 especially regarding the launch speed of apps and the rethought UX. Unfortunately, Apple does not offer a public beta of watchOS 3, not even to iOS 10 public beta participants.

Time and Notifications

Raising my wrist almost infallibly woke the screen, there was no need for flamboyant gestures. The downside of the screen not being always on is that unlike a traditional watch I can’t simply glance at it. This will probably remain an exclusive feature for the next generation Apple Watch.

Much better than a traditional watch are the changeable watch faces and especially Complications. For example, I’m using the Utility watch face with my next meeting displayed on the bottom. Just a quick tap shows the relevant calendar entry and I can quickly check which conference room I’d need to head to. Super neat.

Notifications come with sound and haptic feedback, although the latter can be missed due to its weakness even at max setting. It’s up to the app to decide what kind of actions the user can do with notifications. In case of Facebook Messenger, for example, one can one-button reply with a thumbs up emoji or dictate text. However, and this is a big issue for me, Messenger invariably expects English—system default language—dictation. As far as I know iMessage decides the dictation language based on the keyboard set for that particular contact, a feature sorely needed in Messenger.

Activity

A very useful addition to the Apple watch is the Activity app, which tracks active calories, workout minutes and standup time. These are represented by circles: once a circle is closed, the relevant goal is finished.

Upon setup the Activity app asked my initial goal and of course I replied that I’m as sporty as it gets, which translated into 1000 active calories per day. Turned out this was not that easy to achieve as I initially thought. My 10k outdoor run with  200m elevation gain only yielded 757 calories resulting in me narrowly missing my first day goal. This may be the result of the Nike+ app not receiving heart rate data from the watch, but more on that later.

Workout time was set to 30 minutes, which was almost covered by me riding the bike to work and back. Since I go for a run almost every day it put me way above the goal anyway.

Standup time is a neat concept. Every hour at fifty minutes I get a notification to stand up and walk around had I been stationary for the whole hour . If I can continue this for 12 hours during the day, the goal is met. My job usually involves a lot of walking around regardless but there are times I just keep sitting at my desk and it really does make a difference that should I forget to take a break a gentle tap on the wrist reminds me to do so.

Running and Cycling

I have two TomTom sport watches, a Runner Cardio and a Multisport,—both previous generation—the former with a built-in heart rate sensor, the latter able to track cycling and swimming, making it suitable for triathlon. The best thing about TomTom watches is that they can be connected to third party services like Nike+ or Strava and upload every workout to all of these.

I have started to run on Nike+,—and reaching 10,000 kilometres soon—so it is a service I’d not want to abandon. Although cycling had been added to Nike+ recently, still Strava proved to be a go-to app for people serious about cycling. And finally, my co-workers tend to use Endomondo to stage company-wide challenges which I love to take part in.

Cycling is the easier activity of the two, because if I track with Strava, I can export a GPX file and import it to Endomondo. It is still a hassle, since only one file can be imported at once. Running is more complicated Nike+ being a closed system and all. Fortunately, there are hacks allowing me to export runs the same way as bike rides then upload them. Still, I wish it was as easy as tracking with one service, then seamlessly and automatically sync to all others.

Enter the Apple Watch. I obviously wouldn’t want to wear two watches simultaneously so I went ahead and tested my preferred services. Both Strava and Nike+ offer companion apps, even if they are but glorified remote controls, so the phone is needed to be in the vicinity for them to work. When cycling I have it in my pocket anyway, and I usually listen to music while I run, so this was not an issue for me. Not having to fish the phone out every time I wanted to check something was a big advantage in itself.

I did not feel the Strava app to start slow. Due to the surrounding buildings my GPS watch takes its time to find the signal anyway, so I am used to wait a little before I can start. It was pretty bad, however, that since I have defaulted Strava to running, I had to change the workout type every time I started the Apple Watch app. It is achieved via 3D touch, but it is mighty unreliable: it takes ages for the watch to realise I have swapped from running to cycling and it also has the tendency to just switch back to running anyway for the hell of it.

Another issue was with the GPS signal: currently the Apple Watch app does not display GPS strength, meaning I have no way to tell if the phone in my pocket precisely positioned me yet or not. I already have a ride which started putting me all over the place before finally finding my correct position.

A good thing that upon wrist raise the watch shows Strava instead of the watch face. Less favourable is the fact that the app is not updated instantly and takes a few seconds to reconnect to the phone and refresh the displayed data. Also the heart rate detection felt spotty at best afterwards. I am hoping this will be resolved with watchOS 3 when apps can remain in the memory and don’t need to completely reload every time.

Nike+ seems to lag behind in several aspects. For one, the app claims that “Currently Apple doesn’t allow developers to access the heart rate sensor.”, when in fact all I had to do was to enable it in the Health app for Strava. Also, the app instructed me to “Tap General, select Activate on Wrist Raise, then select Resume Previous Activity.” Without this raising the watch took me to the watch face despite the fact that Strava resumed the app out of the box. Unfortunately, if I want a run to appear in Nike+ without manually adding it I have to use their app because there is no upload functionality. Finally, Nike+ does not have a GPS strength indicator on the workout start screen either.

Other than the woes detailed above both apps worked flawlessly during rides and runs. I missed the HR data from Nike+ and I wished the apps instantly updated automatically.

Some of these problems may be addressed in watchOS 3. Still, from my point of view the easiest way to integrate services would be the Health app. If—similarly to TomTom MySports—the Health app would include third party integrations I’d only need to use Siri to start a run or a ride and all the rest could be done in the background. Third party services would receive workout details complete with HR and GPS via their respective API. Of course, even though every app can read and write data in Health, it is not in the interest of these app makers to simply copy the workouts.

Battery

While it felt like ages it might have been just the excitement and the novelty that made me restless during the initial charge. On my first day I went to bed with 40%+ battery life left on the watch. Since Sleep Cycle,—my preferred sleep tracker—does not have an Apple Watch app it is not necessary for me to keep the watch on my wrist while asleep.

Nightstand mode, however, irked me: I expected an always on screen with the charger attached yet it seemed that touch is needed for the screen to wake up.

Conclusion

I haven’t regretted my purchase one bit. I found that handling notifications became much easier and many tasks that had previously required me to produce the phone from wherever it was placed were now easier to complete.

I’m thrilled by the prospect of watchOS 3 making me feel like I own a “whole new watch”.

I went for the 42mm Gold Aluminum Case with Gold/Royal Blue Woven Nylon strap. My iPhone 6 Plus is gold too, so they match. Everyone I’ve seen wearing an Apple Watch had a Space Gray Aluminum Case with Black Sport Band, so I dared to be different.

We’ll see if the notorious District 8 of Budapest gives me any trouble.