The Apple Watch is arriving on the wrists of customers around the world starting today, but there are still plenty of outstanding questions about Apple’s foray into the smartwatch market. That’s hardly a surprise, since this is a new device and a new product category for Apple.
Here’s an explainer that covers some of the key questions I’ve heard from people about the Apple Watch:
Can I buy one at the Apple Store?
Nope. Right now, the Apple Watch is strictly mail-order only, and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon. Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts made it clear in a memo to store employees that the only way for people to get one of the new smartwatches on their wrists is through the company’s online store, since Apple’s supply of the devices is so constrained at the moment.
Of course, the Watch will eventually be available through Apple’s retail stores, but for right now, the only way to get one is to place an order online. Those people who want to make sure they get one as soon as possible should order now – Apple is currently listing arrival times for all Watch models as sometime in June.
What can I do with the Watch?
There are a whole lot of features packed into the Apple Watch, which could probably fill a book. That said, there are a few marquee features available: first there’s the ability to get information from your phone on the Watch without having to pull your phone out of your pocket. That’s done through three different types of interactions: notifications, glances and apps.
Notifications are exactly what they sound like. When something happens, you’ll get a buzz on your wrist that you can either act on or dismiss. That first option is important, though, since properly-configured apps can allow you to take care of business right from the notification. Glances give you quick access to information about things like weather conditions and stock price data just a few swipes away from the Watchface (which is the default screen when a user raises the Apple Watch.)
The Apple Watch comes pre-installed with a number of apps, including fitness tools, a remote control for iTunes, and an app for music playback. Users can also load their own third-party apps onto the Watch using the Apple Watch app on an iPhone.
Finally, there are a few other key features, starting with Siri. Apple’s virtual assistant makes an appearance on the Watch, and allows people to perform functions through voice commands. (Voice recognition plays another key role with the Watch, namely allowing people to transcribe notes and messages, since the Watch doesn’t have a keyboard.) The Watch also supports Apple Pay – just double-tap the side button (after authenticating the device with an iPhone) and then hold the watch against a NFC-capable payment terminal to pay over the air.
What kinds of third party apps are available for the Apple Watch?
Right now, just about everything under the sun. There are games, fitness tracking apps, news apps, travel apps, social networking apps, and more. There’s a dedicated App Store inside the Apple Watch app on every iPhone running iOS 8.2 or greater that includes all of the applications that are compatible with the new hardware.
There are about 3,000 apps built for the Watch at its launch, and we’ll likely see more applications in the coming months as developers familiarize themselves with the Watch and come up with how they want to use the new device.
How will the Apple Watch get me in shape?
Of course, the Watch won’t make you healthier on its own. Using any kind of fitness tracker requires a certain level of personal commitment to act on the data that’s coming in. That said, the Apple Watch has packed quite a bit of fitness-sensing information into a small package. It uses a set of LEDs and light-sensitive photodiodes on the underside of the case to measure a user’s pulse, and has an accelerometer to measure step data like many other fitness trackers on the market today.
The Watch also comes with an Activity app that coaches users to stand at least once an hour, and helps them set fitness goals every week to improve their physique. There’s also a dedicated Workouts app that helps users track different types of workouts like outdoor runs and sessions on an elliptical trainer. It’s worth noting that the Watch relies on the iPhone for GPS tracking, so athletes who want to leave their smartphone at home will have to choose between detailed tracking or a lightweight trip.
Can I use the Apple Watch without my iPhone?
Yes and no. The watch is at its most useful paired to an iPhone via Bluetooth, and third-party apps can only function when the Watch and iPhone are paired via Bluetooth. That said, it’s not completely useless without a connection to the iPhone.
For runners and other exercise fiends who would prefer to leave their iPhone at home (for example, those people who own an iPhone 6 Plus), the Watch will track workouts including step and heart rate data without the aid of a connected iPhone. People who have Bluetooth headphones can pair them with the Apple Watch and listen to music on playlists that they’ve downloaded to their wrist without a connected iPhone.
Once a user has authenticated their Watch with an iPhone to use Apple Pay, that will also function away from the phone, unless the user in question removes the Watch from their wrist. And, of course, the Watch will still provide timekeeping, timers and alarms without an attached iPhone.
Does the Apple Watch work for people who are left handed/right handed?
Yes. The Watch can be set up in either orientation on either wrist. Apple always displays the Watch with the Digital Crown in the upper right-hand corner, but it’s possible to flip it around and adjust the display of the watch for use on either wrist, using the settings.
Personally, I prefer having it set up like Apple has always shown it – in part because that matches the way I have always worn a watch before. People who want to get a sense for the feel of the different orientations can go into an Apple Store and try on one of the Watches for themselves.
What’s this about sending my heartbeat to a friend of mine? Isn’t that kind of creepy?
One of the Apple Watch’s features is called Digital Touch, and allows you to essentially reach out and touch another Apple Watch user who’s in your contacts list. There are three basic functions: you can tap a pattern to the person, send a drawing, and yes, send your heartbeat.
The first two options are easy ways to get someone’s attention and silently communicate a message. A quick series of taps could stand in for a text message that says “hey, want to get coffee?” While sending your heartbeat has received a lot of press, I don’t think it’s the sort of feature that you’ll use with most people. I’ve felt what the heartbeat pattern is like, and it feels very…personal, for lack of a better term.
At the same time, that degree of intimacy seems to be precisely why Apple chose to include it in the Watch’s feature set. I can count on two hands the number of people in this world who I would even consider sharing my heartbeat with. But it provides a sort of unparalleled connection for people who are already very close.
How long will my Apple Watch’s battery last?
Probably all day. Apple says that users can expect to get 18 hours of use off a single charge with moderate use. People who are leaning on the Watch to do a whole lot of things may see the device run out of juice before the end of the day, and people who don’t use it much at all could likely stretch its battery into a second day if they really needed or wanted to.
The Watch also has a power saving mode that allows people to get a glimpse of the time even while the device’s battery is running critically low. But really, this is a device that’s designed to be charged every night alongside an iPhone.
Reviewers who were able to get their hands on the Watch early weren’t bowled over by the device’s battery life, but they largely seemed to find it adequate for a day’s worth of use. This is a common problem when it comes to smartwatches with full color displays – driving all of those pixels requires plenty of power.
Should I buy an Apple Watch?
That depends. I’m looking forward to receiving my Apple Watch when it arrives next month, but that’s because I already know that I enjoy using and owning a smartwatch. The Apple Watch promises to be even more useful than owning my Pebble, so I’m looking forward to it.
This isn’t a product for everyone, and it’s possible that it’s not right for you. With the price tag that Apple has attached to this device, it helps to be certain. Here’s a quick three-question quiz to help evaluate your decision:
- Do I see myself wearing a watch on a daily basis?
- Will having access to information from my iPhone on my wrist improve my quality of life?
- Will I feel okay if I spend several hundred dollars on a smartwatch only to have it become outdated in a year?
If the answer to any of those was “no,” it’s worth reconsidering your decision to buy an Apple Watch.
What if I don’t like my Apple Watch?
Apple offers a 14-day return policy that will allow people to get a full refund for a Watch that’s still in good condition. So, if you end up having buyer’s remorse about your new smartwatch, it’s possible to bring it back. That said, buyers of the Apple Watch Edition should be aware that their return process will be much more arduous. Apple is reportedly taking plenty of precautions when it comes to ensuring that nobody has shaved any of the gold off the Watch to make a profit.
For people outside the 14-day window, there’s always eBay or Craigslist.
And there you have it – key questions about the Apple Watch, answered. Have any others burning a hole in your brain? Ask away – I’ll tackle them in the comments or on Twitter.