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Notes: The Apple Watch 3 Has Me Back on the Kool-Aid

TECH

Notes: The Apple Watch 3 Has Me Back on the Kool-Aid

With updates throughout the hardware and software, the latest wearable proves its value

by Josh Rubin
on 01 November 2017

When the original Apple Watch launched in the spring of 2015 I was obsessed with the promise of a wearable to end all wearables. After all, Apple did it with the iPhone—a device that changed the world for businesses and consumers alike and set a course for all phones to follow. I committed to wearing the Watch daily for about six months. Once the novelty wore off, so did my desire to wear it. I found the usability and functionality to be just OK, and in the competition with my love of traditional analog watches, the tactile sensation of an automatic’s rotor and the craftsmanship of tiny gears won out; I stopped wearing the Apple Watch. Fast forward to the Watch 3—I've been wear-testing the newest LTE model for over a month and am loving it—comparing it to the first version is like night and day.

While the case on the new Apple Watch 3 is slightly deeper, it's undetectable when on the wrist. The rest of its form remains unchanged from earlier generations which is fine—gentle curves and thoughtful proportions make it a versatile design that can easily be dressed up or down with an array of swappable bands. From the beginning I was always impressed that a traditional watch crown was reimagined as a scrolling and clicking interface for on-screen elements. It’s that strive for simplicity and re-imagination of the intuitive that Apple is so good at. That said, there were many screens in past versions of the operating system, like the application dock, that didn’t scroll vertically—now in watchOS 4, they do. That dock, and the ability to customize it from the Watch's companion iPhone app, are a perfect solution to the app cluster view that's beautiful to look at but not the epitome of usability.

In September, during their keynote, Apple featured the above video as a segue to the Watch news. It's a moving collection of anecdotes big and small from Watch wearers about how the device has changed their lives. I resurface it because it opposes a point I've made about activity-trackers for ages—I know how active (or inactive as is often the case) I am so I don't need a device to tell me about my waking hours. Moving from understanding to action is a giant hurdle, though, and it's the latest additions to watchOS 4's activity tracking that have changed my attitude on the device. The "Smart Coaching" activity notifications aren't one-off alerts anymore, they're now part of an ongoing dialogue that maintains context for your usage with thoughtful timing of key alerts. Morning messages often remind you of your past day's performance or nearness to achieving a goal, while "breathe" reminders only come when there's nothing on your calendar and you're not active—the right set-up to actually stop, take a moment and focus on your breath.

Improvements to Siri on the latest Apple Watch are another reason I’m hooked. A new Siri watch-face blends all the information you need for your day into a single view. Talking into the Watch has always been awkward and listening to it is challenging given the small speaker size. The new version's volume is improved, but the optimal usage is with AirPods or other Bluetooth earphones through which Siri can now both speak and listen. And given this week's roll out of streaming music support directly to the Watch, this is especially important because voice is a much better way to navigate a massive song library than trying to scroll and peck on the Watch’s small screen.

The Apple Music streaming service works really well, by the way. Behind the scenes is a choreography between the Watch, iPhone and your earphones to determine the most efficient connections between the devices and to the cloud so that battery life is maximized. For example, listening to music on my AirPods via Bluetooth from my iPhone which is streaming over LTE from the cloud, the Apple Watch simply acts as a remote to control playback and volume. But when I leave the phone on my desk and go outside for a walk the stream is handed off to the Watch’s LTE connection without a skip. As soon as I'm back near my phone the scenario reverts, ensuring the smaller Watch battery is doing as little as possible—in turn living its longest little life possible.

I anticipate continuing to wear the new Apple Watch for a long time, but have already started mixing my analog watches back in to the routine. No, I'm not wearing two watches at once (though I have considered it). Achieving activity goals, or "closing rings" in the Apple vernacular, has become a little addictive so I now push to get those done earlier in the day when I want to put on a different watch for an evening out, for example.

Images and video courtesy of Apple

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