The end of this month will see the release of the Apple Watch, a product that was officially announced late last year that has many people speculating about how having an extension to your phone that you actually wear will change how we operate. As someone that tries to withhold judgement about products until we know what they are - rather than what they promise to be - I have held off on figuring out how the Apple Watch could or should fit into my lifestyle.
Recently though, early reviews of the watch have come out and - upon reading them - I've been pretty disappointed. As a runner that enjoys the outdoors, I was hoping the Apple Watch would incorporate all of the things I would need to abandon all of my current running tech (namely an iPod and Garmin GPS watch) but the Apple Watch's current form just doesn't seem up to the task. Here's why.
The watch is slow, even as a watch
The Apple Watch doesn't have an always-on display, opting instead to light up when users raise their wrist to look at the screen. There have been some reports in these early reviews that the Apple Watch can be a little slow or unreliable when trying to get the face to light up, but most dismiss that by also noting that tapping the screen can bring it to life. This might be a minor issue during regular activities, but in the middle of a workout I don't want to have to wait for my watch to light up or have to tap it in order to see my pace or time. Especially in a race or serious workout, small distractions like this can impact performance.
Music controls leave something to be desired
When I run I usually have headphones in, and there are two very good reasons why I won't want to use the Apple Watch to pipe in my audio for workouts. The first is that I listen to podcasts while I run most of the time, and the Apple Watch apparently cannot load podcasts. The second and more important reason is that controlling music on a device affixed to your wrist requires it to be controlled by two hands. When running, tying up both hands even for a moment to make a slight adjustment is not desirable. I'd rather just feel for the volume control on my phone one-handed and have that be that.
The Apple Watch doesn't track via GPS
To be fair, this isn't entirely true. As a phone accessory, the Apple Watch can track and log runs via GPS, but only if it is within range of your iPhone. This means the watch won't be able to serve as a standalone outdoor running tracker in any serious capacity.
The Apple Watch's heart rate measurements are finicky
Although I don't currently wear a heart rate monitor, the idea of having one built into a smart watch is appealing - or at least it would be if it were always accurate. Current reports about the Apple Watch note that the device only measures a user's heart rate every few minutes, which won't be entirely helpful - particularly for runners trying to do interval training. On top of this, Verge writer Nilay Patel experienced instances of the watch measuring his heart rate as half of what it was supposed to be in some instances, which further adds to my hesitations.
Tap communications aren't instant
I am by no means a particularly social runner, but I do like to communicate with my SO about when I'm starting or finishing a run. Especially when we're running on different schedules or running at different paces in a large race. Initially upon hearing of the ability to tap to other Apple Watch users, I was intrigued at the idea of being able to develop little coded taps that would beam directly to my SO's wrist to replace having to pull out my phone, type out a text, and hope she sees it. Unfortunately this isn't how tap messages on the Apple Watch function. Although tap messages will notify other Apple Watch users, the tap messages being sent aren't instantaneous. Instead, they push a notification to the wearer who then has to open it before feeling it, like some kind of haptic snapchat. Although this could still be useful, it's current implementation feels weird and less than ideal.
After looking into all of these features and how they could possibly improve even just one area of my lifestyle, it seems like the Apple Watch shows some promise but isn't quite there yet. Folks from Apple have said that there will be updates released for the watch before its final release date to improve performance. Even with a snappier watch though, there are just too many things that will keep it from successfully supplanting or even enhancing my workouts in its current form. As a result, I'll likely skip the Apple Watch until Apple releases something that can effectively replace running with a GPS watch and an iPod.