The Apple Watch, two months in
A follow-up to my initial review - is this device just an indulgence in the Middle East?
A couple of months ago, I got my hands on the Apple Watch, which still isn't available in the UAE through official channels. This doesn't really matter, because grey-market prices have cooled off to the point where you can get one here cheaper than you can from a proper Apple Store in the UK. After a week of use, I wrote my review up, and I was fairly positive about the new gadget.
But now I'm two months into Apple Watch ownership, and my views have shifted slightly. I'm happy enough with the device, but I'm more convinced of the fact that, in this region, the Apple Watch is something of a technological indulgence.
First, let me explain why I've taken the time to write a follow-up review for the Watch when I don't usually pay other products the same courtesy. For one thing, it's the Apple Watch, Cupertino's first foray into another product category in over five years. But unlike the iPhone, or even the iPad, it's a confusing product, and people are still trying to work out what exactly it's for. Maybe you don't need it for anything - maybe you just like the look of it. Either way, it's going to be a while before we fully understand the product, but analysing it through the ownership cycle helps us get a little closer to that goal.
That brings me onto the second point - I actually bought the Apple Watch with my own money. I own it. Normally, when a vendor releases a new product (Apple included), you get sent a test unit that you keep for two weeks. You spend that time putting the device through its paces, and at the end, you give it back and write up your review. Obviously, under that arrangement, you're never going to understand the long-term implications of buying the device. Having your own device changes that.
So here I am, a two-month Apple Watch user. What do I think? Well, I'll say from the off that I stand by my initial review's comments on style and comfort. The device still looks great on my wrist, no matter what I'm wearing. And it's still easy to wear for long stretches of time. The battery life is better than I'd have ever thought - one night, I forgot to put it on charge, and I still had 10% left by the end of the next day. And I'm still convinced that the Apple Watch is the best fitness tracker that the world has ever seen. It's also just a great watch - the screen is sharp, the dials clear, and I've got flicking the display on by raising my arm down to a tee. Overall, there's no denying that the Watch is a fabulous piece of design realised through very clever engineering - anyone who says otherwise is either mistaken or has a hidden agenda.
But how much value do you get out of the Watch as a user? Even though it's more expensive, I'd say that the value in an iPhone is plain to see - the smartphone is likely the most important device in your life, so it makes sense to seek out a smartphone that delivers the best user experience. Stats-wise, the iPhone might not be as strong as some of its competitors, but as the little things add up, moment-after-moment, day-after-day, the iPhone's ease-of-use becomes a big advantage.
With the Apple Watch, though, the value in the device appears to decline, rather than increase, over time - at least in this region. Take for example, one of the main benefits of the Watch - being able to contact friends and loved ones through taps and drawings. In theory, this the perfect way to non-verbally tell someone that you're thinking about them. But in this region, where there's low adoption, I have just one friend with an Apple Watch, and we only send each other taps and drawings when we're showing other people how the function works.
Now, it's not Apple's fault that I bought the device on the grey market (perhaps adoption will soar when the Watch is officially launched here). But it's still true that I'm not getting that value at the moment.
Another example comes with Apple Pay, which is currently available in the US and the UK. With Apple Pay, you can simply wave your Watch over a payment terminal in a shop, and your purchase is complete. That's a killer use case if ever I saw one. But it's not available here. Again, I can't entirely blame Apple - I can't imagine how much effort has to go on behind the scenes when rolling a service like Apple Pay out (think negotiating with banks, getting regulatory approval, and all that). But the fact is, Apple Pay would be a real draw for would-be Watch buyers, but it's not something we can benefit from in the Middle East.
The same goes for turn-by-turn directions, which are best used when walking. A stunning feature in a city like London or New York. But in Dubai, where no-one walks anywhere? That's a little more difficult to put forward as a value proposition. Even when driving, I'm afraid that Google Maps is better as a real-time GPS in this region, and that's something that you can't run through your Watch at the moment.
Finally, it's become clear that, even on the notifications front, you're not getting that much value. Indeed, I've resorted to turning most of mine off. E-mails were the first to go. Sure, you can read entire e-mails on the Watch screen, but when you're getting 100 e-mails a day, the incessant tapping on your wrist becomes a drag. Next was Whatsapp, which only alerts you to the fact that you've got a message from someone, but doesn't even give you a preview. App after app followed after it became clear that it wasn't possible to do anything about the notifications you're getting on your wrist.
Again, a lot of this isn't Apple's fault - the Whatsapp situation, for example, is down to the fact that Whatsapp hasn't developed an app for the Watch. But as an end user not getting the value you want out of the device, it's easy to forget that.
So what are we left with after all of that? Well, you've got a very pretty digital watch that offers great fitness tracking. That's honestly all I can recommend the Apple Watch for to users in the Middle East. Would I stop using mine? Not at all - I'm very pleased with the buy. But what I'm trying to get across is the fact that, in this region, we don't have access to the Apple Watch's really great use cases. And unless that changes, a cost-versus-benefit analysis of the device might not look so rosy. In the face of that analysis, in fact, I'd say that buying it at this stage would be extremely indulgent.
Then again - as with a good-looking coat or pair or shoes - if you're willing to indulge, you might be surprised at how much you mind spending.