Hands On With The Apple Watch

Apple’s wearable strategy is out there, and the way they’re looking to distance themselves from the crowd is by introducing a smooth, highly usable interface with unique control mechanisms, and creating a device that embraces apps and features beyond notifications, but in a way that makes sense for a small-screened device. The Apple Watch also cozies up to mobile payments, with NFC and Apple’s new ‘Secure Element’ for storing payment information embedded within.

That means the Apple Watch can enable Apple Pay on any device it works with, which includes the iPhone 5 and later. But with this pre-release version, we were only able to check out basic features, including a demo reel while we wore the watch on our own wrists, and functioning devices operated by Apple employees to show us more advanced functionality.

Features will require more time to assess – the notifications and quick replies seem very interesting and worthwhile, but the new paired communication mode that Apple demoed, which allows one user to connect directly to another for real-time sharing of hand-drawn messages, customized animated smileys, heartbeats and more, initially strikes as a bit of a strange concept. Apple’s messaging is all about the novelty of the feature, however, which means that whether it catches on or not, it’ll take some acclimation.

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The “Taptic” feedback that accompanies those messages, as well as other kinds of notifications, is definitely pleasant though. It really does make it feel like another person is lightly tapping your wrist, which contrasts tremendously to the jarring notification vibration of Android Wear smartwatches. It’s still impossible not to notice, but it’s less harsh. In my brief experience, it also felt like the 38mm Apple Watch variant produced a better Taptic notification experience than the 42mm version, if only slightly.

Overall, though, I preferred the 38mm. As a watch fan myself, the smaller case felt more like the classic designs I prefer in standard time pieces, and it still wore well on my relatively large wrist. This isn’t a women-specific design by any means; it’s just another option, and I suspect it’ll be a popular one despite the slightly smaller screen.

Apple’s leather bands are well-made and comfortable, and the sport band definitely feels like it should offer comfort during active use. The link bracelet’s offering of easily removable sizing links is just a great innovation regardless of the fact that it’s applied to a smartwatch in this case. As for the buttons, they also seem to have been paid very close attention, and the smooth rotating action on the digital crown should make it an interface control element people enjoy using.

I still have questions about how much time people will actually spend navigating on-watch interfaces, vs. using it more as a passive monitoring and notification device, but Apple has done a lot of work providing genuine innovation for how users might think about exploring wearables that others to date haven’t seemed to have put much thought into.