Date: Friday, February 12th, 2016, 05:16
Category: Android, Android Wear, Apple Watch, iOS, Opinion
I’ve been a Mac user since 1984 and iOS user since 2007. In 2016 I’m switching from iPhone and Apple Watch to Android and Android Wear as an experiment. This blog post is one in a series from a lifelong Apple/iOS user switching to Android.
Like many of you I ordered an Apple Watch at midnight on April 10, 2015 and received it on April 24, 2015. To say that anticipation was high might be the understatement of the year.
Before the arrival of the smart watch, I wore a Breitling watch daily (and a Tag Heuer before that). I don’t consider myself a horologist or even a watch snob, I just have thing for nice watches. A watch is one of the few accessories that men can wear and I have a fondness for fine Swiss movements.
I dutifully wore my Apple Watch from April 24 until December 25, 2015 when I received an Android Wear watch as a gift – more on that later. As a daily Apple Watch wearer for eight months, switching to Android was disruptive and sometimes unsettling but, pardon the pun, the time had come.
I’m quite happy with Android Wear in my first six weeks of wearing it full time. There are four killer features in Wear that trump watchOS…
- Low-power ambient mode which always shows the time.
- A round display, not immediately recognizable as a smart watch.
- Third-party watch faces.
- Apps that are usable.
Rather than focus about what I like better about Wear, I want to explore some of Apple Watch’s shortcomings.
watchOS 1 was a mess. It supported “half-apps” that looked like first-class apps but instead simply scraped screens from the host iPhone and displayed them on the small screen using Bluetooth. Slowly.
This effectively crippled apps because they often took 10-30 seconds to load. Hold your arm up to your face for 30, or even 10 seconds. How does it feel? Not great.watchOS 2 promised to support “native” apps that run locally on the watch, instead of being a surrogate screen for data coming from the host iPhone. In reality, developer support for native watchOS seems to be limited or not working. I’ve yet to find a watchOS app that loads in less than three seconds, which is my arm’s attention span. (Note: some of my Twitter followers swear by Runkeeper on watchOS 2, but I haven’t used it).
Flash poll: What’s a third-party Apple Watch app that you use regularly?
— Jason O’Grady (@JasonOGrady) January 14, 2016
After a while I found myself only looking at my Apple Watch for the time and at an occasional notification. I rarely used any of its “apps” and never used the novel drawing of heartbeat features. I knew that it was time to switch off the Apple Watch when it switched into low power mode (showing only the time) and I didn’t even notice. Apple Watch became just another digital watch for me.
The promise of watchOS 2’s native apps never materialized, I can’t name a single third-party app that I used regularly, and most Apple Watch wearers I know can’t either. Apps are so slow on Apple Watch that my arm gets tired while staring at the spinning flower and waiting for an app to load. It’s much faster to whip out my phone and find what I was looking for. In fact, I can usually check my iPhone for a score, tweet or news and put it away before an Apple Watch app will load.
While the industrial design of the Apple Watch was certainly better than early Android Wear devices, Wear hardware has lapped the Apple Watch, with new devices from Tag Heuer, Fossil, Huawei, Motorola, ASUS, LG and Sony breaking new ground.
I like a smart watch that doesn’t look like a smart watch from a distance, and a square watch just screams “geek” from miles away. A round watch display looks more like a traditional watch and seamlessly blends into your outfit, rather than sticking out, or worse, becoming a “conversation starter.”
It might seem trivial but Apple Watch ships with a set number of faces, and while you can customize them, you can’t download third-party watch faces. After wearing an analog watch for more than thirty years, I find that inexcusable. A huge advantage of wearing an LCD on your wrist is the ability to customize it on a whim (or daily or hourly.)
Android Wear has thousands of watch faces, not just the handful that Apple offers (none with digital seconds!). I love the ability to download (and even create my own) watch faces on Android Wear. WatchOS seems backwards in this respect, although Apple is hiring a software engineer on its “Clock Face Team.”
I’m not saying that Android Wear is a panacea, far from it. But Wear has lapped watchOS in almost every respect and offers more choices (in both hardware and software) than the Apple offering. While Google has released an Android Wear app for iOS I’m using Wear with a Nexus 5x and it’s pretty fantastic.
Maybe Apple Watch 2 (rumored to be coming in March) will change things, but until then, you’ll find an Android Wear device on my wrist.
What’s your opinion of Apple Watch? Still wearing yours? What third-party apps do you use most?