I've been fascinated by the idea of a wearable computer for years. Most followers of technology knew it was coming but we didn't know how it would arrive and what impacts it would have, at least initially. Google's Android Wear has been around for nearly a year now but  it's struggled to gain any real traction, selling fewer than a million units in that time frame. Everyone has been waiting to see what Apple was going to do in this space and if their current product hit streak would continue. So after spending a little over a week with Apple's latest product here are my initial thoughts. 

Design

It's very hard to please everyone, but Apple has done a really great job of making the Apple Watch's casing inconspicuous yet still look like an Apple product. The bands do a lot of the talking. Which is what makes the Watch's overall design so great in my opinion, it's like a chameleon, shifting its appearance depending on the band that's attached. For example, I wouldn't wear the Sport band on a nice dinner date with my wife, I would probably wear the Milanese Loop or Link Bracelet instead. Similarly, I wouldn't want to wear a metal band when I go hiking or during a workout. One of the most exciting things will be what the 3rd party band options are going to offer in the coming months and years.

I was very skeptical of the Digital Crown when it was first unveiled last September. It seemed like Apple was trying a little hard to come up with some defining input method for the Watch (as they have in the past multiple times) in order to make everything before it seem primitive. But when you actually use the Watch you see how elegant of an idea it was. Not only for the reasons Apple stated in the keynote, but I think, aesthetically it looks cooler than tapping or touching at the little screen. Plus the feel of the Digital Crown when you spin and twirl it is pretty awesome. There's no clicking and little resistance, it feels like the stem of the crown if floating in ooze. 

 

Notifications

Notifications are fine. I like them, they're very convenient and are the most obvious function of a smartwatch at this point. The fact that I can answer messages, phone calls, even tweets, from the Watch has caused me to care a lot less where my phone actually is while i'm at home or work. Usually my iPhone never leaves out of my sight for long and once I realize it's not in sight i'm frantically searching for it like a lost child in a shopping mall. Since the Apple Watch works over bluetooth and extends over wifi, I can be anywhere in my home or office and still get notified if something that needs my immediate attention comes up. After a few days I found myself not caring where my phone was most of the time, because I was wearing the Watch. But old habits die hard, occasionally I still get a rush of anxiety when I realize my phone is nowhere in sight, then I remember I have my Watch.

 

Fitness

The fitness aspects are by far my second most used function of the Watch after notifications. The heart rate monitor seems accurate most of the time, and have held up really well to known accurate devices in independent test. I wore a Nike Fuelband for about a year and I loved it. I try to work out often but like most people, life and lack of motivation can get in the way. So gamifying fitness really helps to motivate me to keep going and push through the difficult times. While the "Fuel points" on the Nike Fuelband were a great motivation, I found the calorie and step counting to be hit or miss and easy to game. With the Apple Watch it seems to do a good job of knowing when I'm actually active and when I'm not but maybe just flailing my arms. I believe it does this by comparing how fast your heart is beating relative to how much you're actually moving. Which is how it seems they're able to separate your "Move" ring from your "Exercise" ring in the Activity app. 

In my first week of use I had already worked out more than I have in months and had few achievements to prove it. The built in Workout app on the Watch give you a few different workouts to choose from, I assume to better calculate calories burned. The best thing about gathering all of the fitness and health data is that Apple's Health app acts as a warehouse of all of this data. Using HealthKit 3rd party apps can then tap into your "warehouse" of data if you allow, and use it inside their apps. So things like heart rate, steps, calories burned and workouts can be logged into apps like MyfitnessPal or Lark. This makes nutrition tracking apps far more useful as you not only can track how many calories your taking in, but how many you're burning as well. As a bonus, you can also connect other 3rd party fitness devices to the Watch or iPhone via bluetooth during your workouts. 

I was very skeptical of the Digital Crown when it was first unveiled last September. It seemed like Apple was trying a little hard to come up with some defining input method for the Watch (as they have in the past multiple times) in order to make everything before it seem primitive. But when you actually use the Watch you see how elegant of an idea it was. Not only for the reasons Apple stated in the keynote, but I think, aesthetically it looks cooler than tapping or touching at the little screen. Plus the feel of the Digital Crown when you spin and twirl it is pretty awesome. There's no clicking and little resistance, it feels like the stem of the crown if floating in ooze. 

 

Apps

The app situation is probably the Apple Watches achilles heel at this point. Even though on launch day Apple announced there was over 2000 Apple Watch apps, most of them were made without the developers ever actually using an Apple Watch. The first-party apps are of course the most polished and most useful. Apps like Messages, Maps, Workout, Activity, Music, and Calendar form the core foundation of Apple Watch. Other apps like Mail let you read, delete and archive email but you can't respond, which is probably for the best. A few glaring omissions like Notes and Reminders seem like obvious Watch apps that for whatever reason didn't make the cut. 

The 3rd party apps are a different story. Since developers can't yet create native apps on the Watch, they have to make what are essentially iPhone app extensions that run on the Apple Watch. This is a bit of a pain since the app has to be launched in the background on the iPhone then retrieve whatever data you've asked for. If the app isn't already running on your phone, it takes an incredibly long time (by 2015 standards) for a lot of apps to launch. Some apps are quicker at this than others. I'm sure in a couple of months a lot of these kinks will be worked out, and hopefully by the fall developers will be able to build apps that run directly on the Watch. 

 

Conclusion

Overall I believe the Apple Watch is a great first-generation device. Probably the most polished first iteration of a new product category Apple has ever released. With that said I still find it hard to recommend it to the average person without asking a few questions first. If either of the core features get you excited (notifications & fitness) then you should at least consider it. If both features sound interesting to you and you own an iPhone, then I think you should absolutely go in for a try-on at an Apple Store. The 3rd party apps aren't that interesting at this point due to the current lack of functionality and access to Apple Watches sensors and other hardware. So most of your time is going to be spent dealing with those two key features. There are a few standout 3rd party apps that will interest users on a individual basis. Overcast for podcast. Dark Sky for weather. Clear for to-do list. Philips Hue for controlling your lights. Beyond that I think the killer feature for Apple Watch that isn't software will be how it interacts with the real world. Apple Pay, movie tickets, airline boarding passes, hotel rooms, home automation are just some of the things you can use it for now and I'd bet Apple is already in talks to make it useful in even more places.

The other intangible that seems to go over a lot of technology reviewers heads is fashion. 

It's just a cool looking watch/gadget. If all it did was tell time, Apple could probably still sale a ton of them at $200-300. There are millions of people that pay $99-$600 for watches that serve merely as fashion statements. Despite what tech pundits say, spending $350-500 for a watch that does little more than look good and deliver important notifications to the wrist is good enough for a lot people. While some will approach buying an Apple Watch in a very pragmatic, "what does it do" fashion. I think even more will purchase just because it's cool and will discover useful functionality over time. This is an advantage only Apple has in the tech sector, due to their long history of intertwining design into their technology products and consistently providing their customers great experiences through their products. Apple is cashing in on years of of built up trust in order to get this product category off the ground. To do a lot of what has been promised of wearables, it's going to take a decent size user base to get all of those real world interactions we've been promised in so many sci-fi stories to work. The best explanation I've heard for why anyone would want a wearable when they own a smartphone is to think about it like this:

Computers/Laptops = Hours of work

Smartphones = Minutes of work

Wearables = Seconds of work

If you're expecting to use your Apple Watch like an iPhone you're going to be disappointed. For most of the time, I'm NOT using the Apple Watch. It's those many small moments like quickly responding to a notification while on the go, getting a call while your phone isn't handy, or using Apple Pay that adds up to a very convienent device that you may find indispensable over time.