I wore my 42mm Apple Watch Space Grey Sports daily for about 6 months. I pre-ordered it the minute pre-orders came available and was very excited to receive it. I am an early adopter and a general fan of Apple design (although less of a fan of their software these days).
I’d worn a Tissot wristwatch for about 15 years, but once reading about the Apple Watch, it made me ask a few fundamental questions about the purpose of a watch. I started to understand how watches were at least 50% a fashion item as opposed to being purely a utility to tell the time (which is why I wore mine). The more I thought about it, the more sense it seemed to me to give a smartwatch a try – if I am going to wear something on my wrist and I’m not that fashion-conscious, I may as well make the most of it and get as much use from it. I also realised that my current watch was really showing its age.
Unfortunately, the Apple Watch did not live up to its hype or the expectation I had for it. I don’t actually blame it for this; it is literally a 1st generation product and I can’t think back to many 1st gen digital products that lived up to the expectations of a modern digital consumer – our standards are exceptionally high! However, the future is called that for a reason and I can only wear on my wrist what is available today, and today the Apple Watch is not worth wearing (for me).
(The enjoyment of any watch is, I now understand, a very personal thing. The following assessment is therefore true only for me, but I’m just going to say that once rather than appending “in my opinion” after every sentence that follows…)
If a product is comprised of form and function, the Apple Watch doesn’t deliver on either. While the design is modern and well executed, and probably some of the highest quality hardware engineering you can expect for £350, the design lacks any form of emotional quality. It simply doesn’t evoke any response in my heart when looking at it, unlike almost any normal watch. I can’t quite put my finger on why; maybe it was just too black, too metal, or too flat. Rather than looking and feeling like a watch that also does smart things, it looks like an Apple computer that happens to tell the time, and that wasn’t what I wanted to see when looking at my wrist. The fact that almost every single UI element was a circle but the physical watch shape was a rectangle never quite worked for me either; I started longing for a round watch.
I actually tried to reduce the gadgety look of the device by buying a 3rd party leather strap from Pad & Quill, which was great and made a huge difference, but a strap can’t save the watch from itself.
Before and After: Standard Space Grey Apple Watch Sports and with Pad & Quill’s leather strap
This is the thing I didn’t anticipate or appreciate about buying a smartwatch; that it needs to feel right. The desired feeling is specific to each individual, but for me I realised I wanted to feel like I was wearing a watch, not a computer.
This one is easy to critique. The Apple Watch needs to mature before the functions it provides will be more useful. Some basics are limiting it off the bat – namely speed and reliability. Apps are painfully slow to load, and sometimes don’t load at all. As I read once, computer interactions are measured in hours, smartphones measured in minutes, and smartwatches measured in seconds. I.e. if doing something on your watch takes longer that it would take to do on your phone, there’s no point, and that was the problem with the Apple Watch. Using it for anything that involved any interaction with it was an exercise in frustration as you sit there staring at the spinning wheel.
Other niggles made it annoying, like having to make an awkwardly-horizontal wrist movement just to get the screen to light up and tell the time, and playing cat and mouse with the home button as you could never quite tell if it had recognised your press, then it would but only after you’ve pressed it again so you’d go back and forth endlessly. And don’t even get me started on Siri, which worked about 1 in 10 times. If Siri doesn’t work 100% of the time, it is worth trying.
Get used to this
As many others believe, I think the Apple Watch simply tries too hard to do too much, probably because Apple don’t really know how people are going to use it, so they want to give people options to see how it pans out.
What this meant was that the trade-off between form and function (sacrificing form for increased function) didn’t balance, because the function wasn’t there. So I was left with a smartwatch that didn’t feel very smart.
(Just to re-iterate, this is my personal experience. My wife absolutely swears by her Apple Watch, mainly because of one of her use-cases – her phone remains in her handbag and she can now see notifications, messages and calls without having to find her bag).
So what next?
I made my mind up and sold it, and had started reading and learning about mechanical watches. I started to appreciate the thought and work that goes into a lot of watches out there, and how in fact the function isn’t necessarily that important – there is something about watches that appeals to our vanity above all else. I used to think I liked an understated watch because I wasn’t into fashion, but that’s probably not true – having an understated watch is still a fashion decision like any other.
I knew I wanted to wear an analog watch. I was happy to forego the smart capabilities – in fact, I had come to realise that I didn’t want to get closer to my digital life, but in fact the opposite. I struggle enough to maintain a balance between being engrossed in digital and real life, and I didn’t need another device making it harder. The Apple Watch managed to remind me of how increasing my digital interactions wasn’t always a good thing.
The only brand I fell in love with was Nomos. They are an independent German watch manufacturer making waves as they build their own movements in-house and strike a difficult balance between minimalism and unique design (minimalist watches are all the rage right now but they generally look overly bland and lack subtlety). This is quite unusual as most watchmakers, even the big players, buy movements from only a handful of Swiss manufacturers. The Nomos design is also unique and right up my street. Unfortunately they start at about £1,500 and the ones I like are about £2,500, so a Nomos was out of the question – there simply is no justification for spending that sort of money on a watch, for me.
Nomos Tangente Neomatik
I then nearly bought a Tissot Luxury Automatic – a mechanical chronometer (very accurate) with an innovated movement giving it an 80 hour power reserve (how long it stays ‘wound’ when not on the wrist), but at £650 and with quite a bland design, again I couldn’t justify it.
Tissot Luxury Automatic Chronometer
I then kind of gave up for a few weeks until I stumbled upon Farer. They are a UK-based watch designer whose style I immediately liked, and when I showed my wife the Stark watch, it was the first one where she immediately said she liked it, which was a significant moment!
So I ordered it! And now I am a proud owner of a ‘dumb’ wristwatch. It doesn’t have the aficionado appeal of a mechanical watch (it has a battery), but it is really well designed and presented, and at £380 was much more affordable (although granted still pricey for a Quartz watch).
My Farer Stark which arrived today
So for now, I am having a dumb wrist, and it feels great. There was something about the Apple Watch that was trying to solve a problem that didn’t exist. There were moments of genius that I think will evolve into something in due course (for example, customisable complications and tap to turn navigation), but these are bogged down by unnecessary feature bloat and poor performance.
Give it a few more years to evolve and, just like the iPhone, I’m confident it will mature and live up to its own lofty standards, but its not there today, and today I feel much better wearing a normal watch. I’ve accepted my own levels of wrist vanity and am pleased I have found a solution that allows me to tell the time and feel good about it.