Apple Watch apps don’t really matter

This new list of the most useful Apple Watch apps seems familiar somehow. And so does this one. And indeed so does any other list of the ‘best’ Apple Watch apps.

The fact is that there are very few Apple Watch apps that are genuinely useful and which work in a way that makes them not feel clunky. Just look at the apps listings in the Watch app, it never changes. The iOS App Store changes daily, but on the watch side it stays the same.

Strangely, it doesn’t matter because the fact is that watch apps are not needed and for most people there are already enough built in to the Apple Watch, and this gives a lie to the notion that smartwatches will one day replace phones.

I can now understand what the Apple Watch offers and have been impressed by its ability to cover fitness, keep me notified and to obviously tell the time. I have, however, found a small group of third-party apps that work well for me including Streaks, SleepWatch and Better Day. I don’t need any more and probably won’t in the future unless a developer comes out with something special.

So. the lack of apps is on the surface a huge disadvantage for the Apple Watch, but is to those who own one completely inconsequential. 

BentoStack Charge

BentoStack is back, and this time it’s bringing wireless charging to your workspace. Inspired by the modern Japanese lunchbox, the BentoStack Charge is a delightful storage case designed specifically to hold Apple accessories and keep them energized when you’re out and about. With a Qi-certified wireless charger and 5,000 mAh battery built into the Top Cover, you can keep your iPhone, Apple Watch, and the like powered up without hunting for an outlet. Bring the whole box when you’re traveling around or just take the Top Cover for a quick jolt on the go… More here.

Sometimes it is the design that makes a product.

14 days…

According to Wisebuy, the Watch GT was developed under the codename Fortuna, and features a circular 1.4-inch AMOLED screen with 454 by 454 resolution, plus a 420mAh battery. A marketing document leaked to Slashleaks claims that the watch will offer 14 days of continuous use at maximum, 7 days of use when its screen is in Always On mode, and 20 hours if its built-in GPS chip is active… More here.

Are you listening Apple? 14 days of power from a smartwatch with sleep tracking and a heart rate monitor.

A missed opportunity?

Based on the rumours I was ready to write an article entitled ‘Apple just released its most important product this decade’ tonight.

As it happens I cannot do that because the Apple Watch series 4 didn’t tick the boxes I expected and instead looked at impressive new features that are notable, but not what (in my opinion) a wrist-based device needs.

I wanted 3-4 days of battery performance.

I wanted an always on display, even a cut down face just showing the time.

I wanted a choice of layout in the fitness software which gave the user more opportunity to choose what is important to them. Seriously, three rings of which one involves simply standing up every hour? The hardware is there and Apple has the potential to destroy Fitbit and some others overnight if it so chose to do so.

It is hard to knock the new heart tracking features, but I am wary of the term ECG when it does not include sensors on the ankles and various parts of the torso etc. It is an ECG, but my wife (who is a medical professional) was immediately extremely skeptical of such a claim.

It could be that the Apple Watch is selling extremely well, I believe it is, and that there is no rush. It could be that Apple has more patience than me, I believe it does. Worryingly, it could be that the Apple Watch could switch me from real watches and if I can be switched, anyone can.

The Apple Watch could dominate fitness, it could kill the everyday watch market and it could actually feel like a watch. Maybe this will come as the company continues to improve the hardware, but there is the potential that the race to slimness and minimal form may get in the way, just as it has for some in the iPhone.

On the subject of the iPhone, nice interactions and impressive all round. Can’t see many iPhone X owners feeling the need to jump onboard though.

This is not an Apple Watch

I have owned a few Apple Watch models since release, mainly to facilitate freelance work, and to date I have been less than impressed by almost everything the device offers.

From the form factor (too square, too thick, too fiddly) to the limited customisation options to the unambitious fitness implementation, it ticks none of the wrist-based boxes for me and falls into a place that just doesn’t fit my tastes or my needs.

Throw in a battery that requires a daily charge, even if it is a short one, and I struggle to understand why it is so popular. Indeed, it is the only Apple product that doesn’t appeal to me in any way. Apart from the HomePod, AirPods and iPad, but that’s another story. For me, Apple is the iPhone and the Mac and that’s about it, but boy do I enjoy using both of those products every day.

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Because of the above the time had come to try something new and so I was given the opportunity to test the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier watch, which is perfect timing considering that the new Galaxy Watch is imminent?

The testing ended up being cut short sadly due to battery performance that was beyond poor. It moved from 100% at 10pm to 0% at 4am and as such failed to track my sleep. I re-charged it and it was gone again by midday.

The watch was reset and I followed all of the online tips to resolve this issue, but it simply would not improve and the end result was half-day battery life which is of course unmanageable.

Aside from this I genuinely really enjoyed the Frontier when it worked. The faces on offer are visually quite impressive, some of the apps actually make sense on the wrist and there is a sense that this is a ‘watch’ rather than a small computer.

The debate surrounding what shape a smartwatch should be continues with some saying that square is the way forward because it makes more logical sense to build it this way. You get more real estate to cram small app interfaces into and it just makes things easier all round. However, for some of us a watch should be round if possible to break up the notion that it is in fact a computer.

This simple change of shape actually means a lot to the experience and in my case I found that I much preferred the Frontier to the Apple Watch on the wrist.

Fitness is catered for well with sleep tracking, steps etc and a heartrate sensor, and with Samsung Health you have the ability to track trends and aim for improvements. The main problem I see though is that it is very standalone with no way to import data from other fitness software. So, if you move from a competing product to this you will effectively be starting over, and the solution is not good enough (in my opinion) to allow that.

As I said, my time with the Frontier was cut short, but I do see something here which reinforces my view that the wrist will become smart and that the age of traditional watches, at least those below £500, is time limited. The Apple Watch may well be selling the most, but in my view there is much better out there, if some of the irritations are fixed.

Skagen Hybrid Smartwatch (SKT1113) review – master of none

Hybrid watches are by many accounts dominating the sales figures for brands such as Fossil, and by some stats in a way which means that they are seriously scaling back on traditional watches due to a lack of sales.

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This kind of makes sense because people who are used to purchasing a watch every few years, one at the lower end of the market, could be more tempted by a hybrid that looks and feels familiar, but which offers ‘safe’ new features that do not feel too technical in a proactive or reactive sense.

Hybrids potentially appeal to those who are not in the market for a full fitness tracker, who definitely would not wear a smartwatch and who are dipping their toe in the watery idea that the wrist is a space for more than just the time. In effect, this is the majority of people which would explain the popularity. In the world of tech, a small percentage of the largest market is worth more than dominating a niche because it’s all about the future. The future is everyone. It is not geeks who want a screen on their wrist, but I am not convinced that the watch world will not be dominated by screens in a few years.

Just like PDAs and the earliest smartphones were used by a niche, the iPhone breakthrough brought the idea to everyone and at some point the same could happen with the smartwatch. Until that time we have hybrids which represent a temporary middle ground that has a small chance of becoming permanent, a very small chance in my mind.

The reason for this is that hybrids currently do one this well, which is to tell the time in a stylish well, and one thing quite poorly, which is fitness tracking. When you download the app and check out what it can do it kind of feels like stepping back in time; step tracking and sleep. That’s it really, no heart rate monitoring, no exercise tracking, no food input, no real stats over time and a light touch that is squarely designed for beginners in the area of activity tracking.

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There is nothing wrong with this and it makes perfect sense which may explain the popularity, but in comparison to a smartwatch or a dedicated fitness tracker the difference is stark. The advantages to this, however, come in the manner of a six month battery life before you need a new one, simplicity of use and the ability to completely ignore the watch if you want to.

Notifications are present, to a point, but are somewhat lacklustre because you can only choose six contacts to receive notifications from. You choose a contact and assign a number at which point the hand will move to that number when a message or call is received. It’s simple, quite elegant actually and worthy of inclusion, but it would be nice to see notifications default to a different number from those outside of your favourite six people.

The three buttons on the side of the watch are configurable and in my case, for example, I have the middle one for the date (push and the hands move to a date on the outer ring), the top one for a second time zone (push and the hands move to it) and the bottom one to start and pause music on my iPhone X. They have all worked perfectly well and the connection to the phone has been rock solid so far, but I do have concerns about Skagen as a company.

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Without making this a true statement, there is a theory that this is a Chinese company making cheap watches to the level of a Daniel Wellington and that it offers practically zero support. This theory is sadly backed up by numerous customer reports so my review here will not cover the fact that it could fail at some point and leave the user stranded.

What I can say though is that the design is quite superb. From the case to the mesh bracelet to the dial, the consistency and elegant construction are really very good for a watch at this price point (shop around and you can pick it up for slightly north of £100). Build quality is harder to judge because only long term use can show that, but I do get the sense that it is built to a price point and that it will not survive many knocks. This is to be expected for what is essentially a dress watch, but overall I have enjoyed wearing it and do appreciate the design behind the watch.

Surprisingly the lume lasts through the night which is quite unusual. I would expect this from a Seiko or a Citizen at any price point and most certainly from Oris, but many watches I have tried fail dismally in this area. Longines is a culprit, no matter the price, and I find it unforgivable for any watch brand to include lume that does not last for more than an hour, and even more so for the likes of Longines who are happy to charge upwards of £2,000 for a watch with poor lume. This Skagen does lume very well and despite a dimming from, for example, 3AM you can still see the time if you happen to wake up at night.

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Back to the design, the only thing I would change would be the hands which could be slightly wider to make the watch 100% glanceable. It is decent enough for quickly catching the time, but there is a sense that the design overcomes the practical elements around the edges and at those moments when you want your watch to do something rather than to be a statement on your wrist.

Competition

There is much competition in the hybrid watch area, much of it from the same parent company, and the likes of Fossil, Michael Kors (shudder!) and Timex are pushing hard in this arena. Hybrids have grown from fashion watch brands looking to protect their businesses against smartwatches, but the fitness gang have started to join in. Garmin makes the vívomove® HR which comes in at £169 and for that you get a heart rate monitor, V02 max, fitness age, calories, intensity minutes, stress tracking, smart notifications, music controls and so on. It’s all backed up with a very good (maybe slightly complex?) app which easily rivals Fitbit in terms of being able to give you all of the activity and fitness stats you need. In my experience the Garmin trackers are more accurate than Fitbit and better built which makes the vivomove a candidate for the best hybrid watch on the market today. The premium version (£249) takes things further with stainless steel and a classier strap, and takes the idea of a traditional decent quality watch with some advanced features to the level we would expect in 2018.

vivomoveHR-family

You can go much higher in price through the likes of Kronaby (£445), Alpina (£575) and Mondaine (£650) up to Frédérique Constant (£2,980!). The problem with all of these brands though is that no matter how refined and well made the watch is, they still default back to very simple and light touch software to undertake the smart features. I am not saying that everyone wants sophisticated fitness tracking and super smart features, which are impossible on a traditional watch design anyway, but it seems to me that the most complete hybrid watch today comes from Garmin for well under £200 which is saying a lot. To complete properly, I believe that a decent watch manufacturer needs to get into bed with the likes of Garmin or Fitbit because otherwise we are looking at a fad and little more.

Conclusion

I like the Skagen a lot more than I expected to. The design is sweet, the fitness functions work to a point (pushing 10% more steps than reality for me) and the notifications are somewhat useful. The main problem is that it is not ambitious enough, like 99% of hybrids, and I would like to see more effort put into making this kind of watch more functional. For the price, however, I believe it to be excellent value and for most people it will serve them well over time, providing the worries about Skagen reliability and support do not come to fruition.

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Fitbit Versa after a few weeks: multiple problems remain

I posted the below on the Fitbit community yesterday in this thread

OK, I wore my Versa on my left wrist (synced to my iPhone as non-dominant wrist) and a Charge 2 on my right wrist (synced to my wife’s iPhone as dominant wrist)

22 floors on Versa / 8 on Charge 2
12.356 steps on Versa / 11,866 on Charge 2

I then swapped wrists the next day-

16 floors on Versa / 5 on Charge 2
9,328 steps on Versa / 9,112 on Charge 2

I then used my wife’s Versa instead of mine to see what would happen-

14 floors on Versa / 5 on Charge 2

So, my wife’s Versa is broken and needs returning and presumably so is mine?

Or maybe my Charge 2 is faulty. Although when I wake up and drive to work it will show 0 floors whereas the Versa can show quite a few at times when I have been driving or walked on flat surfaces.

I believe that the Versa is ‘broken’ at floor tracking and with steps at times as well. When I have the time I will post all of the results with screenshots to prove what is happening, but some of the excuses being made don’t make for a tracker that is accurate.

The obvious answer is that Fitbit needs to fix the Versa, and possibly the Ionic as well because that also over-counted floors for me.

Too many people are seeing inaccurate floor counting with the Versa and it seems to be over counting steps as well.

Add to this the quite dreadful setup for moving music to the device and the archaic way it handles watch faces (only one face stored on the watch at a time and various problems keeping registration intact) you start to believe that the company rushed the release of the product.

For all of the positive parts which include a great design, decent battery life and an overall good feeling there are areas where the company cannot compete with Apple.

It leaves me stuck using a product that does most of what I need in terms of fitness and of course it works perfectly with the Fitbit app, but having used an Apple Watch I feel that it could be improved somewhat.

Then again, that would be like expecting Microsoft, Samsung and the rest to match Apple in terms of hardware and software integration. It just won’t happen.

And sadly it looks as though Apple taking fitness seriously on the Apple Watch won’t happen either.

Why would Apple make a round Apple Watch?

There are rumours, lots of them, that suggest Apple is in the process of making a round Apple Watch, but I just can’t buy the idea.

It used to be that I believed all watches should be round because that is the obvious shape to tell the time on, but I now realise that smart watches do not work that way and that square is likely the only way to go.

Think about it. Would you use a round monitor with the PC? A round sat nav? A round TV? No, the only reason to build such a thing would be for outward aesthetics in priority over the user experience. Look at Android Wear- it isn’t great anyway, but throw in the round screen and it doesn’t feel as if it fits the product it is housed within. Usage is limited in a variety of ways, both visually and physically, and it doesn’t take a scientist to realise that watches designed to offer fitness stats, multiple faces and (maybe) apps need a square screen.

If Apple was to build an Apple Watch with a round screen I would view that as a leap too far in trying to make it a fashion product. The gold and ceramic versions have proved that this kind of thinking just doesn’t sell in a smart watch world.

It is what it is and should not pretend to be a traditional watch.