At this week’s Apple event, the Apple Watch got new bands and a $50 price drop. That was it. A software update came out later that day, but got no mention on stage at all. I have had my watch since day one, and if I were to get a survey today measuring my satisfaction with the product, I would have to place myself in the “unsatisfied” category. Yes, there are things that work fine, and there are features I am happy to have. But a large part of the promise of the watch, for me at least, is still falling flat almost a year later.
The biggest reason I use my watch is for fitness. Third party fitness apps were very limited in the first watchOS, but in the second gained, in theory, first class capabilities. Unfortunately none of the apps I have tried using have worked reliably. They either crash at best, or corrupt data at worst. I have had to stop so many runs to take my phone out and restart my fitness tracker there because of the watch’s instability. If the promise of the watch was to touch your phone less, it has failed here.
Even other apps and complications have not been a good experience. I think just about every Apple Watch owner has experienced opening an app, seeing the spinner turn for what feels like forever, and then giving up and taking out the phone app instead. Third party complications frequently do not update often enough to be useful. Even built in apps have difficulty syncing data with my phone. For example, I have an event in my calendar on the watch that I deleted weeks ago, but it refuses to sync to the watch, even as other events do. If I cannot rely on the information on the watch, I end up taking out the phone again.
From my own informal questioning of other watch users there seems to be a split. Many are perfectly happy with their watch. But I almost uniformly heard from these people that they are not using very much, if anything, beyond the built in functionality. That’s fine, but that isn’t how Apple sold this product, and it is not a good sign for it as a platform going forward. It seems like a lot of developers have abandoned their watch app entirely, as it has proven difficult, if not impossible to make it work well.
When the iPhone first came out, people would ask me about it and if it was worth getting one. Back then it was an enthusiastic “YES”, and I could easily launch into a 15 minute demo of all the reasons a person would really want one of these. I was hardly the only early adopter doing this, and within a few years virtually everyone was buying a smartphone of some kind. With the watch, my response has been much more muted. The best answer I can give is “I like it” and maybe I would show how it tracks my activity.
At this point I have uninstalled nearly all third party watch apps and will revert to the built in, base functionality for now. I think the best I can hope for is that Apple Watch 2 solves a lot of the issues of this first generation hardware. I am willing to accept that the first version of a new product will have its share of issues. But with watchOS, each release seems to be getting less stable than the one before. That isn’t good. I want to love the Apple Watch, I really do. But right now it feels more like we are merely tolerating each other.