I’ve spent the last month with the Apple Watch Series 3, and during that time a few key observations have stood out. One of the big value propositions of the Series 3 is the cellular connectivity, and that is the part I was most interested to try and see how not having to have Apple Watch tethered to my iPhone changed the overall experience.
I tried just about every use case I could think of from the obvious ones of sports and fitness to running errands, going out to dinner, I even spent an entire Saturday with my iPhone turned off and relied only on Apple Watch as my source of connectivity to the Internet. I love the promise, but many of the software experiences are not yet evolved enough to support long periods of time on Apple Watch only.
Now, we can debate if that is ever a goal, but to be honest, I think it should be whether or not anyone believes someone will spend half a day or longer on just Apple Watch and without their iPhone. I completely understand the current perspective that Apple Watch is not a replacement for your iPhone, and it is not, however, there are times where I want certain experiences to stand on their own and not require the iPhone. Email is a good example. I still wanted to check and read email, perhaps reply short responses with Siri, or at least be kept up to date on my email. But Apple’s email app continually tells me there are things in the email that can’t be read on Apple Watch, and I can read the full email by looking at it on my iPhone. When you don’t have your iPhone with you, this is a frustrating message.
This was one area where the experience was inconsistent as some emails could be read and responded to on Apple Watch and some could not. My point is here, is what being iPhone-less caused was an expectation that apps, and certain app experiences, should work independently of the iPhone. This may simply be an area where app developers have not yet caught up.
The app developer challenge with Apple Watch is probably the clearest problem I see facing the platform. A few weeks ago, I wrote how connectivity on the Apple Watch would change the product from accessory to platform, but developers have not yet caught onto this shift. Part of the problem is the small installed base, and lack of third-party app demand from consumers. However, as more consumers go out into the world without their iPhones, they will start to want apps to stand on their own and provide more full-featured experiences.
This was the one thing that surprised me when I left the house without my iPhone. I found myself wanting to use many of the apps I regularly use on my iPhone even if just for a brief check-in, or to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Things like Twitter, Slack, Apple’s Notes app, Overcast (my podcast app), and a few others. Most of these apps still assumed a tether to the iPhone as a part of their experience and didn’t deliver on the standalone experience I was hoping. Given the iPhone tether on all previous versions of Apple Watch, these developers truncated their app experience in some capacity and that becomes abundantly clear once I started leaving my iPhone behind and going out into the world.
Apple’s Messages app, and Maps app, stocks, calendar, etc., all delivered on what I expected as a full-featured and stand-alone experience on the Apple Watch, but the paradigm shift in software is necessary for this platform to live up to its potential. I think my desire to use more third-party apps, as I do on my iPhone, while Apple Watch only was one key observation that stood out to me. If that is the case, then as more consumers move to an Apple Watch with cellular connectivity, then developers are going to need to catch up and embrace the Apple Watch as a true platform now that stands independent of the iPhone.
Lastly, Siri is a standout feature of Apple Watch now. Not just because it has a voice and speak back to me but because Siri now is faster and works much better with previous versions. While being out in the world with only Apple Watch, I relied almost exclusively on Siri for text input. Largely dictation as a primary input. But apps that support Siri were helpful here letting me use Siri as an interface to their app. But here again some experiences fell short. Like when I’d ask Siri to see if I have any new emails, she would say she can help me on my iPhone and a button appears to that says “open on iPhone.”
There is a great deal of potential, from what I experienced, around Apple Watch Series 3 and the possibility of less dependence on iPhone. But the reality is that once you leave the house without your iPhone, your expecations around using the Apple Watch change. It is here that, unfortunetly, Apple and third party developers have more work to do to meet the needs of customers.