Lessons Learned After a Week with Only an Apple Watch Series 3

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I’m not new to the smart watch craze. Back in 2001 I purchased my first smart watch: the Web @nywhere watch which then retailed at $85. Wearables have come a long way since 2001, and Apple’s latest watch—Apple Watch Series 3—makes the small, tech accessory even more versatile by adding cellular and GPS. So, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could use just my Apple Watch for day-to-day tasks and leave my iPhone behind for an entire week..

There are a number of scenarios in which users may not be able to use their iPhone, ranging from a few hours to a few days. Maybe their phone was lost or stolen, maybe it was left at home or in a pocket, or maybe it was left behind for their next camping trip. By forcing myself to use only an Apple Watch for an extended period of time, I would really be able to push the tiny wrist computer to its limits. And by doing so give users an in-depth understanding of its highlights and limitations.

Here’s What Went Wrong

I started my iPhone-less week on a Sunday afternoon, and immediately their was an issue. Many of the apps I had installed in preparation for the week didn’t work without an iPhone, had to be setup with an iPhone initially, or just didn’t function the way I had hoped. Additionally, a lot of the apps—most of which are popular on iPhone—were lazily designed for Apple Watch. By this I mean they didn’t work well, were very limited, or had quite a few bugs.

A Lot of Third-Party Apps Heavily Rely on an iPhone

Perhaps the biggest issue by far was that most apps still require an iPhone connection. Even apps you’d expect to work on Series 3, like Yelp, August, and Tweetbot.

Hyundai’s Blue Link app—which allows me to start, lock/unlock, and locate my vehicle from my watch—became unusable without an iPhone in my pocket. This seemed ridiculous; its only function is to send simple commands to my SUV.

Even the August app for my August Smart Lock was rendered useless without a connection to my iPhone X. It’s worth noting that while the August app itself wouldn’t work, because the lock is HomeKit enabled I was still able to lock and unlock my door using the Home app or Siri. That being said, it seems odd that such a simple and critical-use app requires an iPhone connection.

Some smart home devices—such as my Canary security system—don’t support HomeKit, but their apps worked without iPhone, so this wasn’t an issue. On the other hand, my C by GE smart lights were rendered useless as they don’t have support for HomeKit and they don’t even offer an Apple Watch app.

Yelp was surprising for me, I expected the location based app to work since it was so simple and geared toward finding businesses. Unfortunately, it indicated my iPhone wasn’t found. Foursquare on the other hand worked like a charm!

Developers Are Lazy (When It Comes to Apple Watch)

It’s often said in the world of programming that good developers are lazy. This is because good developers code programs to do things for them. But when I say developers are lazy about Apple Watch development, it’s not a compliment.

Foursquare was an instant reminder of how lazy Yelp developers are. Both apps are essentially the same, the difference is one worked without iPhone, the other did not. Kudos to Foursquare for getting this right. That being said, both apps are pretty limited in functionality, but this is likely a limitation of the watch itself.

It’s Not Entirely Apple’s Fault

Other than being able to make phone calls, read and respond to messages, start workouts, and check things like the weather, the Apple Watch becomes kind of useless without an iPhone. Should this be surprising, probably not. But I’m sad to admit I expected a little more. What’s really disappointing is that the issue isn’t really Apple’s fault, it’s the third-party app developers.

All of Apple’s apps (even Workflow) worked fantastically without an iPhone and they offered a lot of functionality. Third-party apps—on the other hand—were buggy, didn’t work without iPhone, or offered extremely limited functionality that was often coupled with poor design. Sure, the platform has to be rewarding to really capture developers’ attention. And arguably Apple Watch is still a relatively new platform. But, before you say it’s Apple’s fault for limiting what developers can do, this just isn’t the case. There were some apps that proved that. There are some great games on Apple Watch

While the tiny city builder isn’t really useful for much, Micropolis and other games—like Field Day, Tiny Armies, and Bubblegum Hero—show that you don’t need an iPhone to design quality Apple Watch apps. Micropolis and Field day have great graphics (for a watch game), advanced game mechanics, and keep track of your progress using only your watch.

Inputting Text on an Apple Watch is Frustrating

Although the plan was to use Apple Watch for an entire week without my iPhone, I only made it a few days before realizing that I needed my iPhone to be productive. One of the major drawbacks is text input. Scribble works well enough, but it’s not intended for long sentences or paragraphs. As a writer and Twitter addict, my watch just wasn’t enough.

As a former Palm Pilot user (insert Obi Wan Kenobi gif here), I kept trying to swipe to the right to space and to the left to backspace. This simply resulted in unexpected hyphens and other characters. In all honesty, it would be a lot easier if Apple would just add some shortcut gestures.

While you can use dictation for text input, this isn’t always socially appropriate depending on the situation. I thought my “Scribble” skills would get better over the week, but most of the time it was just frustrating.

Third-Party Apps Need Better Notifications Options

Notifications are another issue on Apple Watch. Sometimes you find an app you only want to use on Apple Watch. Unfortunately, enabling notifications for the app carries over to the phone as well. The result is getting a lot of notifications in two places that can be overwhelming.

I think Apple really needs to consider choosing which device the notifications appear on: Apple Watch only, iPhone only, or both. Currently the only option is to mirror iPhone notifications.

Mail on Apple Watch Is Brilliantly Stupid

No seriously. Mail is a joke. It doesn’t display images (despite the Retina display), it cuts long messages short, and most of the time requires the user to open the message on their iPhone.

I get the Apple Watch is going to be more simple than the iPhone, but the mail app isn’t practical for real-world use, and this became apparent very quickly when forced to use it without my iPhone.

Twitter Needs to Come Back

I like Twitter. So I was very disappointed when they discontinued Apple Watch support. I installed Twitterrific and Tweetbot so that I could continue to use Twitter without my phone. Things didn’t go as planned. Not only did the apps require a connection to my iPhone, but I couldn’t figure out how to view my timeline. Without access to my timeline and other basic functionality, these apps were completely pointless.

Unfortunately there seems to be a growing trend of developers removing Apple Watch support from their apps. Most recently, Slack announced that their app would no longer be available on Apple Watch citing that users can still receive notifications from the app.

But notifications shouldn’t be developers focus, not anymore at least. Apple Watch Series 3 has a great processor and LTE connectivity, now is the time to add apps to Apple Watch and push its limits, not remove them.

Apple Watch Needs a Microbrowser

You never realize how much your rely on services like Google, IMDb, and Wikipedia until they’re no longer in your pocket. There are some reference apps for Apple Watch, but many require a connection to iPhone or only have limited information.

To a point, I understand why Apple didn’t include a browser. In fact, a week ago I would’ve said a browser on a watch is stupid. The watch probably isn’t going to make a great Web browsing experience; and, the Internet as we know it isn’t formatted for tiny screens. But, the text input and Mail app experiences are also horrible and they included those.

I’m not saying they should add a terrible browser because they have a terrible mail app. What I am saying is at least I can check my mail and at least user feedback can improve this over time.

After trying to use Apple Watch independently, I think wrist browsers need to be a thing. Will they get used on a daily basis? Probably not. But for quick searches they could be very useful. Back in the day we had WAP browsers on our mobile phones (which were arguably more limited than Apple Watches). I think if a browser for Apple Watch were available some useful content would be created. At the very least, developers could create Web-app like content for popular sites search as Google and Twitter.




Did Anything Go Well?

Absolutely! While there was a lot that went wrong or a lot that could’ve been better, there was also a lot of things that went very well. In fact, forcing myself to use only my watch showed me I don’t use it enough. Series 3 is capable of so much, and I know I’ll be using it more going forward. Here are some things that were really great without my phone.

Messages

I know, I know. I said text input is terrible, and it is. But only for long sentences and things you would generally use a qwerty keyboard for. For quick replies it’s fantastic. iMessage on Apple Watch features Tapback, Digital Touch, and emoji. You can also send recent items from your iOS devices, such as stickers and handwritten messages. Additionally, you can send an animated emoji, a preset reply, or dictate/scribble a new message.

After my experience with Apple Watch, I’m more likely to use Messages on Apple Watch to respond to texts rather than just view them as a notification.

Music (with AirPods)

Music is another awesome aspect of Apple Watch. With a pair of AirPods (or Bluetooth headphones) and a cellular connection you can stream various radio stations and your playlists. Without cellular you can add playlists to the watch through the Watch app.

The only real downside to Music is it doesn’t let you search for music. Apple should consider letting users Force Touch to bring up search and browse options for a better listening experience.

Home

I mentioned earlier that my Canary security camera and C by GE smart lights don’t support HomeKit. But there are many alternatives that do. Apple Watch did a great job at unlocking my door without my iPhone via the Home app. As more products add HomeKit support, Apple Watch could become a must have for smart home users.

Health Tracking

Apple Watch already shines at tracking my health, and even without my iPhone this didn’t change. I could track my exercise, movement, heart rate, sleep, water intake, calories, and more without any problems.

Weather, News, and Stocks

Checking the weather and stocks is so much better on your wrist, like checking the time. A lot of the time I find myself using my iPhone for things my Apple Watch can do more easily. But using your watch to check glance-able information like outside temperature and stock prices can help your iPhone’s battery last longer and save you time.

While news is more limited, notifications from the News app and other third-party apps can help you get the headlines of the day without ever looking at your phone. And the News app lets you save articles to your phone for later.

Location, location, location.

What good is GPS if you can’t use it? Yelp quickly becomes useless without your iPhone, but the Maps app, Find My Friends, and Foursquare work great.

Using just your Apple Watch you can get directions, locate your loved ones, and map your run. You can also share your location with others.

Hitch a Ride

As long as you’ve setup Uber or Lyft ahead of time, you can call a ride from your Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular + GPS. Uber worked better for me, sometimes Lyft just wouldn’t load at all.

Get Your Game On!

Apple Watch games can be surprisingly useful for passing time. On one occasion I drove my wife to the store, but opted to stay in the car. I went for my phone to read the news or browse Twitter and remembered I only had my watch. No worries. I decided to try some games on Apple Watch.

The games I installed were Micropolis, Field Day, Tiny Armies, Pokémon GO, Trivia Crack, and Bubblegum Hero.

Pokémon GO was the only one that appeared to rely on the phone (although it may have limited functionality, not entirely sure). The others were great, but my favorite were Trivia Crack and Bubblegum Hero.

Trivia Crack made me realize I was still connected to the outside world and had really good gameplay for a wrist application. Bubblegum Hero was addicting, easy to play, and most importantly, fun.

Games on Apple Watch make your wrist tire quickly, but they work and they’re fun for passing short periods of waiting.

Making Calls

Making phone calls on the Apple Watch is easy and the call quality is okay. In my tests callers often couldn’t hear certain words and sometimes background noise cut me off. The audio on the watch isn’t very loud either. Of course, both of these issues can be easily remedied by using AirPods or other Bluetooth headphones.




Final Thoughts

Apple Watch obviously wasn’t meant to be used independently, but in situations where you can only use your Apple Watch it will get the job done. To get the most out of your Apple Watch in the event your phone dies or is lost, be sure to install and setup the apps you’d like to have. You won’t be able to catch an Uber if you don’t login on your iPhone initially.

Its disappointing that third-party apps on Apple Watch aren’t as well designed as the watch’s default apps. That being said there are a lot of great apps available on Apple Watch and most don’t have any major issues when paired with an iPhone.

My experience with my Apple Watch showed me its not as versatile as I thought it could be; but, it also made me realize just how many things are actually better using an Apple Watch.

If I’ve learned anything at all, it’s that I don’t use Apple Watch enough for the things that it excels at. Going forward, I’ll be using my Apple Watch a lot more (but I’ll also be sure to keep my iPhone close by).

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