The Apple Watch is a statement in more ways than one; aside from a few minor quibbles, it shows a lot of promise.

Share story

Practical Mac

The Apple Watch experience, more than that of any other Apple product, is defined by details. Some are amazing and genuinely delightful, while others remind you that Apple’s foray into a new category of computing is still a first-generation product.

A few of those details became immediately apparent to me in a week of wearing and using the watch. The build quality, materials, and (dare I say about a product produced in the millions of units?) craftsmanship of the Apple Watch are stunning. On the wrist the thickness doesn’t feel bulky, as many of the side-on photos suggest.

Many people will gloss right over the appearance, but before shrugging those observations off as just fashion or eye candy, remember that the watch is a deliberate visual statement. To sell a watch — any watch — to potentially millions of people is to sell fashion, because it’s always visible on your wrist, not tucked into a purse or pocket like a phone.

Unlike with mechanical watches, the watch’s display is usually off to conserve battery power. When you raise your wrist, the face lights up to reveal a crisp, high resolution Retina screen. The quality is impressive: The smooth animation of the second hand on one of the faces prompted a friend to exclaim, “That doesn’t look digital at all.” That raise-to-wake motion has worked well in my experience, but the screen goes back to sleep too quickly.

My battery concerns evaporated when I accidentally left the watch on overnight, and didn’t charge it until it was down to 12 percent — 36 hours since the previous charge.

More small software details add up: Ten watch faces are available, most with options to customize the “complications” (a traditional watch term for added functions), but you can also use those to create ready-made versions for specific activities, like the Simple face with a stopwatch and time instead of the current temperature and activity level.

One amusing (to me) option is the ability to set the clock ahead, for people who habitually run late.

However, don’t expect to intuit the interface right away. Aside from checking the time, two features you’ll use most are Notifications and Glances. Responding to notifications as they arrive is quick, thanks to pre-made responses and Siri dictation, which I’d say has worked well for me about 80 percent of the time.

You can also swipe down from the top of the screen to reveal all notifications, like the iPhone. Glances are quick peeks into some apps’ data, which appear when you swipe from the bottom of the screen.

But those swipes work only when you’re viewing the watch face, not within apps or on the Home screen, which displays apps as a flotilla of soap bubbles. The mental model you construct to make up for lack of visual cues for those features isn’t consistent throughout the experience.

After almost a week of using the watch, I also still forget that many functions, like clearing everything in the Notification list, are available via Force Touch, which involves actually pressing harder (not longer) on the screen.

And then there are little rough-edge details that have cropped up the longer I use the watch. Pressing the side button brings up the friends screen, but it can display only 12 names. And that screen is the only way to access the Digital Touch features like tapping, drawing doodles, or sending your heartbeat to someone else with an Apple Watch.

Many apps suffer quite a bit of lag when communicating with their counterparts on the iPhone, and sometimes the watch doesn’t realize its own abilities. For example, you can tap the Mail app from the Home screen to check your email, but if you ask Siri if you have any new messages, it tells you to use the Handoff feature to open the Mail app on the iPhone.

Even Apple, with its enormous success, design sensibility, and massive research and development efforts, still creates 1.0 versions of software that need to be shaken out in the real world.

All that said, I like the Apple Watch quite a bit, and see a lot of promise in it. I purchased a 42 mm aluminum Apple Watch Sport, but every model, regardless of case or cost, is equal in the eyes of software. These issues are all things that can be worked out in software updates.