How the Apple Watch made me its slave

Apple’s tiny wrist-based computer sneakily swayed sceptic Craig Grannell into doing its bidding

Wristy business

When my wife started referring to my Apple Watch as Pavlov’s Watch, I realised it had clearly impacted on my life. The thing would ding and I would dutifully respond, checking out whatever notification was being brought to my attention. At ten minutes to the hour, I’d stand up and amble about as my wrist-based master commanded me to stop being a lazy git, sitting on my backside all day.

I wasn’t expecting this. Despite being a long-time user of — and writer covering — Apple kit, I’ve historically been a sceptic when it comes to new Apple products. When the iPod arrived, I dismissed it as an expensive and unnecessary MP3 player, in a world already blessed with plenty of not-so-expensive MP3 players.

When the iPhone gained the App Store, I sniffily slammed its game credentials, arguing it would never compete against the might of the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Vita. When the iPad loomed into view, I mostly only bought one because someone commissioned me to write a book about the thing. So don’t ask me for lottery tips, clearly.

In each case, though, I quickly became a convert. The iPod’s ease of use was a clear differentiator, as was the innovation evident in iPhone gaming from the likes of multitouch marvel Eliss. On the iPad, there was rapid evolution of ambitious apps, to the point I now compose most of my music in Korg Gadget on an iPad Air.

But with Apple Watch, I had a nagging doubt it wouldn’t be remotely transformative; I imagined I’d merely be converted from someone who didn’t have a smartwatch to someone who regretted buying one.

The problem with Apple’s wearable was me being, if anything, a double sceptic. Not only was I unconvinced about the need for the device itself — at least within the parameters of my own existence rather than in terms of the wider world — but also I hadn’t worn a watch in nearly a decade. Apple had to convince me to put this thing on my wrist and to keep it there.

Despite receiving an order confirmation three minutes after the Apple Watch went on sale, it took over a week for mine to arrive. I’d gone for a black/space grey ‘Sport’ unit, as had, apparently, about a million other people. I watched Twitter and pangs of envy followed as friends and colleagues who’d gone for different colours and blingy straps received their packages weeks early; eventually, though, my box of potential joy arrived.

The device was simple enough to get started with and fairly comfy. It was quite responsive on a wrist-lift, although I soon fashioned a comically exaggerated HERE, LOOK, I HAVE A WATCH ON arm gesture to ensure the screen lit up every time I wanted it to.

What was trickier was convincing the thing to install any apps. It had offered to do so automatically, based on what was on my iPhone, but then steadfastly refused to display anything that had supposedly been installed. Each app had to be toggled off and on again in the Apple Watch iPhone app, like a scene from The IT Crowd combined with Groundhog Day.

An inauspicious start, then, and it soon dawned on me that I didn’t know what Apple Watch was for; more to the point, the device didn’t seem terribly keen on helping me figure that out. The display winked off whenever possible, to extend its relatively meagre battery life, which made using apps a pain. And most of them didn’t seem that great anyway.

I initially made a beeline for games, but they turned out to be almost uniformly terrible. Lifeline... was a gem adrift in a sea of dreck, the sole game I managed to find that truly recognised what the Apple Watch was and how it worked, therefore providing suitable interaction and content for a wearable game experience. There was something truly futuristic about communicating with a stranded astronaut from my wrist, even if deep down I was well aware Lifeline… was essentially just a well-written Choose Your Own Adventure book shoehorned into a tiny smartwatch app.

About a week in, I was struggling. A trip to London gave me a good excuse to fully test Maps, which nearly resulted in missing an embassy appointment; that wasn’t particularly the Apple Watch’s fault, though — it was more down to random chunks of Apple’s mapping system seemingly being drawn up by a hyperactive Spaniel armed with a huge sheet of paper and a packet of half-chewed crayons.

Still, I was finding many apps took so long to show any information that it often proved quicker to get my iPhone out of my pocket and use that instead. My Apple Watch was rapidly turning into just a watch, albeit one that cost US$400 and required me to flick my wrist in a manner that made me look mildly unhinged, just to see what the time was.

I redoubled efforts, trying to figure out what notifications would be really useful to me — not terribly easy, since spammy apps and games had transformed my default stance on iPhone and iPad to TURN OFF ALL THE NOTIFICATIONS.

I figured the odd bit of news could be handy, along with pings from Twitter when someone sent a message my way. Despite using them rarely on the iPhone, Twitterrific, BBC News, and NY Times regularly started to appear on my wrist in notification form.

I installed a football app, which merrily dinged whenever a team I was following was involved in some goal action. And I added lots of weather apps, because I’m British and am therefore legally obliged to talk about the weather at least once every seven minutes.

Everything began to click. I got notifications about Twitter DMs and calendar appointments. My wrist got a nudge when it was time for lunch. I could quickly discover whether walking the dog during the next hour was going to be a smart move or likely to involve having to swim home.

Nuggets of news filtered through, as did iMessages and eBay alerts. My iPhone wasn’t abandoned, but it was used a little less often. I thought I was becoming more focussed as a result, but, as already noted, my wife thought otherwise and was gradually being driven mad by my Apple Watch’s surprisingly demanding nature.

I resolved to have the steely determination to not look at my wrist when in company, even if my little Apple overlord was desperate for me to do so. Sometimes, this actually worked.

During this past week, though, two things happened that summed up my still confused feelings for the Apple Watch, two months in. One day, I simply forgot to put it on — and I realised a little sadly that I didn’t really miss it.

There was mild annoyance I’d ruined my ‘stand streak’, until something in my brain beat that thought into submission for being so utterly stupid. (This same part of my brain was also responsible for me at one point genuinely attempting to spite my Apple Watch by specifically not standing up at 50 minutes past the hour. The device had been playing up, not installing an app I wanted to review. “This’ll teach it,” thought the obviously not-entirely-rational part of my noggin. It didn’t.)

The second was my one-year-old essentially figuring out the interface to the Apple Watch and being thrilled at doing so. She’d become increasingly fascinated by the device over the weeks, learning how to pull up my sleeve and get at the Apple goodness lurking beneath.

Now, she was gleefully swiping about and playing with the Digital Crown. (App scrolls up! App scrolls down! App scrolls up! App scrolls down! Click. Click. CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK!) Even the iPhone and her own toys just don’t compare.

So I’ll keep going. Clearly, my daughter instinctively knows more about this tech lark than I do and sees Apple Watch as something special. In the meantime, I’ll just hope watchOS2 will usher in the Apple Watch’s Eliss or Korg Gadget, while obediently standing up once every hour and trying quite hard to not accidentally punch anyone in the face when attempting to activate the screen and find out the time.