I (finally) quit my Apple Watch
I had been so incredibly excited to get an Apple Watch back in 2014 when it was announced. I hoped that it would improve my life, unlock new home automation possibilities, and perhaps even keep me in shape. Ultimately, I was wrong.
Before the Apple Watch, I hadn’t worn a watch since 2002, when my employer at the time had been handing out Timex beepwearPRO “pager” watches to its developers. We were “encouraged” to take them to ensure that we could always be reached to fix things after-hours (or even at the office, eek!) I was ultimately quite happy to hand the watch back to that employer when I left, and I had no remaining interest to wear a watch of any kind. Of course, around this same time, everyone was starting to have cell phones, with a network-updated time always available right in your pocket. Why would I bother wearing a watch when I was already carrying around a “timepiece”?
But then came the modern world of wearables, and the rumors that Apple was developing some type of smart watch or wearable device. I was already starting to do some fitness tracking with my iPhone, especially once they added the motion co-processor to the iPhone 5s in 2013. With all of the notifications I was getting and messaging I was doing, it started to make sense that if some of that could be done without digging out my iPhone, it could make my life easier. Changing my Hue lights’ colors and unlocking my August smart lock from my wrist could really make me feel that the future had arrived. And, a heart rate monitor that was fairly accurate would be helpful for more accurately tracking workouts. And I have to admit, when Apple announced “The Watch” in September 2014, I really, really wanted it. I didn’t care about the new iPhone 6 devices, since I figured I’d be able to use the brand-new Apple Pay with the Watch paired to my existing 5s. It would later become my very first experience with heart rate and accurate fitness tracking, NFC technology, and the Watch even got me to adopt two-factor authentication where possible, since approving those requests would become a snap. And of course, having Siri, dictation and general home automation available right on my wrist were pieces of the “Apple Watch Puzzle” that I hoped would “complete my digital existence”.
It was the first Apple product that I stayed up late to pre-order it. I went to the Apple store for a try-on appointment. I bombarded my poor friends on social media with articles and posts about the Apple Watch. And eventually, I got the shipping notification and I received my Space Gray 38mm Apple Watch Sport with Black Sport Band on Thursday, April 30th, 2015. Going back through my photos, I can see just how many pictures I was taking of my Watch—both on and off my wrist—back then. I was showing it to everyone, paying for things anywhere Apple Pay was accepted. (Probably just buying random things just to try it out and show it off.) I exercised more, and the tracking data was fascinating. What was this?! I could actually understand how many calories I was burning during workouts instead of just a “guestimate”? Amazing! I started messaging more, just to use the new animated emojis and “texting from my wrist”. I enthusiastically used all of the features and new apps to get the full Apple Watch experience.
Of course, the Apple Watch cost was a small investment. Sure, I was frugal and opted for the base Sport model with the basic band. (And thank goodness I got AppleCare, more on that later.) But then, I started accessorizing it with bands…and my new wearable became more expensive. I almost turned into Rene Ritchie from iMore—who seemingly has every Apple Watch band that exists—except that I just bought the Sport band varieties, though mostly the less expensive, generic ones. Eventually I lost count, but let’s just say I essentially have an entire rainbow assortment now. A small point though, no one has ever made a Sport band in a beautiful, deep green. Come on, manufacturers, get on it…I’d buy at least one of them!
I would be automatically shamed by my own Apple Watch for not wearing it.
Apple, of course, worked to keep the Watch exciting after the initial release wasn’t quite as “amazing” as everyone hoped it would be. They released watchOS 2 just a few months after the first Watch started shipping to customers in 2015. It made the Watch feel a bit snappier, and provided new features and ways to use the wearable. It was clear that this wasn’t just a “hobby” product for Apple. “Excellent!” I thought, since I had hoped to keep using mine for a long time to come. In 2016, they announced new Series 1 and Series 2 Watches, with watchOS 3. At that point, I was running my own business (on a minimal budget) and the new Watches weren’t compelling enough for me to really want to upgrade.
But even with software updates, new band colors and varieties, and additional capabilities, I slowly started to tire of my once-beloved Apple Watch. In late 2015 I decided to join the “giant phone revolution” and upgraded to an iPhone 6s Plus. Because of its added usefulness due to its size, and the fact that I had started working from home, I was rarely away from my phone. And many times, text messages and notifications would show up first on my iPhone, and then on the Watch. Why would I bother trying to respond on the Watch when I could just as easily do it on my full-sized phone? Apple Pay was cool, but sometimes reaching out to a payment terminal to put my wrist in a certain spot was awkward, or impossible. As nifty as it was, sometimes it just wasn’t worth the hassle. And, being heavily embedded in the tech world, there were days where I wanted to be as far away from technology as possible. But if I didn’t wear my Watch, I wouldn’t get my full calorie and step counts, which meant I couldn’t “close those activity rings.” Thus I would be automatically shamed by my own Apple Watch for not wearing it. And forget attempting sleep tracking, since the battery life just isn’t quite there yet. But I digress.
The real reason behind my eventual boredom with the Watch? Lack of promised home automation convenience…one of the main reasons I purchased it in the first place! The Amazon Echo had been released less than a year before the Apple Watch was announced. And thus, one of the real tests of the Apple Watch’s convenience began when I got an Echo Dot in early 2016. If I was already at home, why would I ask Siri to do something via my Watch if I could just yell at Alexa from across the room? (Siri, to be sure, is limited in many ways compared to Alexa.) But beyond Siri vs Alexa, I just couldn’t get used to trying to use smart home apps on the tiny Apple Watch screen—and I have pretty small fingers. Even considering that the Watch would get noticeably faster over the next few years, using the screen to navigate devices and scenes was just too tedious. Either icons were too small, or functions that I really wanted to use were left out of Watch-based apps. Some would say, “just use Siri and avoid the screen!” But, I'm not actually a big HomeKit user in my daily life. Maybe I’m easily frustrated because I’m a power user? Maybe it’s because I’ve been had home automation in one form or another since the early ‘90s? I don’t know. But honestly, if it takes me more than a few seconds to execute a smart home scene, or to adjust a device or light, I tend to get frustrated. Due to a hardware issue with my original Watch during this past summer, Apple replaced it with a refurbished Series 1. And while the new model was a bit faster, the same core issues remained.
But eventually, I discovered that I rarely actually used my Apple Watch, except for fitness, and I finally just quit wearing it.
Apple tends to take things slowly, adding a few features every year, but rarely going “all in”. To be fair, the Watch is still fairly tied to the iPhone, although it has more independence recently with the Series 3 with cellular. But why is a Watch app for a smart lock, for example, still unable to connect directly with its lock via Bluetooth? Today, that app has to cross-connect to the iPhone, and then the phone initiates the command to the smart lock. It would certainly help with control and proximity-based automation if I went for a run without my iPhone. Why can’t my Watch provide the proximity control for smart home products like Zuli’s Smartplugs? (Those devices can turn on and off automatically as you move from room to room, automate Hue lights via proximity, and even assist with a Nest thermostat’s presence detection.) Wearables, in general, hold promise for smart homes, the Internet of Things, and interacting more closely with our connected world. But right now, they’re just not quite there yet.
So eventually, after continuing to argue with myself about the usefulness about the Watch, it came down to this: Every day, I would tell myself to “just quit it”, and every day I would just put the Watch back on. And somehow, some little alert or helpful notification would try to pull me back in. But eventually, I discovered that I rarely actually used my Apple Watch, except for fitness, and I finally just quit wearing it.
I forced myself to go without the Watch for a full 30 days. The first few days through the first two weeks, I constantly felt anxiety about not wearing it. My wrist felt “naked” without it. I wished I could get rid of my Apple Watch “tan lines” quicker. Every time I would get dressed, I would think “which Watch band coordinates with this outfit?” and then remember, “oh yeah, I’m not wearing it anymore.” I would instinctively try to start an activity on my wrist for running and cycling, and then realize I needed to pull out my phone instead. (And I didn’t have to wait or confirm that an app’s connection was stable between the two devices.) I did miss the exact calorie counts, but it was indeed one less number that I had to keep track of. I was already keeping a lot of numbers in my head: “How many views are my videos getting?” “How much revenue have I earned from Amazon this month?” “What’s my average number of new subscribers per week?” So, I actually enjoyed just tracking my workouts simply for how many miles I’ve run or ridden, like I did pre-Watch. And besides, I could always get a chest strap to start monitoring my heart rate and calculating calories again…no awkward wrist tan lines required!
Apple’s September event has now come and gone. I didn’t find the iPhone 8 or X compelling, nor did I feel drawn to the new Apple Watch Series 3. Fitbit has just launched their new Ionic smart watch, and I suppose I could look at it. But then again, I’d need to get all new watch bands, eek! Perhaps it’s just that I’m harder to convince of the usefulness of certain gadgets these days, since I’m quite inundated by technology in general.
Today, after living without my Apple Watch for a full two months, I do miss a bit of its convenience, notifications, exact calorie counts…and having the time right on my wrist. But I think I miss it most for its fashion value, probably because I have nearly the cost of an entire Apple Watch invested in Sport bands. But I don’t miss worrying about not wearing it often enough. There’s part of me that wants to go back to it, and part of me that doesn’t. One day, a new wearable might win me over. But for now, this one is not on my wrist, or paried with my iPhone.
(A few days ago, I discovered that there is now a company making an Apple Watch Sport band in dark green as I had always wished for. Does this mean I’m somehow secretly wanting to go back to the Apple Watch Life? I don’t know, maybe I just need to join an ex-Apple Watch support group!)