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My year with the Apple Watch: Good-looking tech, still flawed

Michael deAgonia | April 29, 2016
It's got a lot going for it as a wearable, but remains a work in progress.

When it comes to the Apple Watch, it's important to know this: Before its arrival last year I was 1) initially skeptical about the whole concept; 2) willing to give it a try as details emerged; and 3) among the first wave of buyers to plunk down $599 and put it on my wrist. I've been loving and hating on it ever since.

I'm not alone, at least when it comes to buying. An estimated 12 million Apple Watches have been sold and it's dominating in the wearables market. But even fans like me can see that there are areas where the Watch still needs improvements.

Let's start with what the Watch does really well.

What works (hardware)

Overall, the design of the Watch works: It's a good-looking piece of tech that doesn't stand out as techy. The Watch succeeds because it looks like a watch. During the past year, I've used the Watch while sleeping, swimming, showering, exercising, and many other times in which it has taken direct hits. I bought the stainless steel model with sapphire display and the materials have held up well. Kudos to Apple for getting the material build right with this first-generation device.

Apple iWatch digital crown [black] 
Credit: Apple

There were a number of hardware advances that make the Watch special, the Digital Crown chief among them. It is as precise and fluid today as it was on day one. Being able to scroll through lists and scan the day's appointments or weather on the Watch Face is more than handy, and using it as a Home button or to activate Siri is inspired. Apple engineered a crown with functionality that seems downright obvious in retrospect.

The other bit of hardware that truly made the Watch stand apart is the Taptic Engine, the mechanism that provides physical feedback for various functions. The Watch doesn't just vibrate; with some notifications, it literally feels as if it is tapping you on the wrist. It taps when you've been working too long and haven't stood up to walk around; it taps to give turn-by-turn directions (with different tap patterns for turning right or left); and it taps to let you know the timer is done, or for an alarm.

There have been times I've slept through my iPhone blaring music or sirens in attempt to wake me, but I've never been able to ignore the Watch tapping my wrist to pull me from slumber. Even better, the tapping alerts only you -- unlike an audible alarm that can awaken others.

The Digital Crown and Taptic Engine revolve around how the Watch interacts with you. As for how you interact with it, Force Touch has made using the small-screen device a unique experience. By displaying different functions based on how hard a finger is pressed on the screen, Force Touch allows the Watch's interface to remain uncluttered while still allowing access to various hidden functions.


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