Why I’m selling my Apple Watch

Usability | May 2016

For sale | Apple Watch | One careful owner

System Concepts consultant Steve Wall explains his decision to sell his Apple Watch.

apple watch
“The Apple Watch does not solve any problems for me.” There, I’ve said it. Here’s my story of why I bought my Apple Watch, why I’ve decided to sell it after just a couple of months, and what we can learn from all this when designing digital products or services.

I’ll admit I’m not what you would call an ‘early adopter’ – It took me a few months to research the Apple Watch, and decide that I wanted one. I spoke to people who already owned one, and found out what I could from reviews and marketing materials.

Why I decided to invest in an Apple Watch:

  • I’d recently started paying more attention to my health related behaviour, such as my steps taken and calories consumed each day. I figured the Activity app could help me with that.
  • I was often feeling irritated by the need to constantly take out my phone on busy commuter trains to glance at notifications, skip forward a track on my music player, or check the time. I thought that being able to see and control all of that from my wrist would be easier.
  • I found it a pain to carry my phone while jogging, in order to start and stop my run tracking app, and skip tracks on the music player. With the watch, I reasoned, I could control all that from my wrist and tuck the phone away in my pocket.
  • Similarly, I was about to go on a skiing holiday, and thought that it would be safer to have my iPhone zipped securely away, yet be able to use my watch to see notifications quickly.

‘First world problems’ – and new annoyances

Admittedly, most of the above describes what we might jokingly refer to as ‘first world problems’. However, I found that the Apple Watch didn’t really help me with these issues, while introducing a few annoyances of its own.

  • When wearing a winter coat, jumper and gloves, I found it was often much easier to pull my phone out of my pocket, rather than check the watch for notifications, the time, and controlling my music player.
  • The same applied while skiing. While it was nice to have a record of my health and fitness data at the end of each day, it was just as much hassle to access the watch under my ski clothes and gloves as it was to unzip my pocket and get my phone out.
  • The Activity app didn’t communicate with any of the other third party apps that I was using for health and fitness tracking. So at the end of each day I would have several different measures for steps taken, calories consumed and so forth. I preferred the third party app, so started to ignore the Activity watch app data.
  • Initially it was nice to have reminders to stand up every hour, but after a few weeks the constant reminders were just an annoyance. I realised that between walking around the office at work and chasing after my son at weekends, it was a trivial daily goal anyway.
  • The music controller was a bit temperamental when using it to control 3rd party music apps. It didn’t offer the range of functionality that would’ve been useful to me, for example, switching between playlists, or skipping tracks.
  • While it was nice to pick up text message notifications on my wrist, I often found myself taking out the phone anyway to reply. The pre-selected responses worked in a small number of use cases, and being able to customise them helped. However, I felt that it was quicker and less error prone to type the response on the phone. More than once I sent the wrong response from the list on the watch and then had to send more messages to retract the reply!
  • I received a lot of mirrored notifications from other apps that I wasn’t bothered about. Some apps I find are guilty of spamming you with notifications (e.g. ‘a couple of people you follow on Twitter liked a photo’). Duplicating that on another device was annoying and distracting.
  • There was also this:

Now, I couldn’t begin to tell you how to take a screen grab with the watch, but I seemed to have no problem accidentally filling up my phone’s photo reel while trying to access Glances or wake up the watch face! Again, more work that the watch was making for me to tidy up my photo collection.

I confess that I did not use the device during a running workout (hey, it was the middle of winter, that’s my excuse!) Maybe that would’ve proved to be the ‘killer app’, but given the other issues I’d experienced, I’ll continue to carry my phone in my hand while I jog.

What can we learn from all this when designing digital products or services?

Users will not tolerate poor usability. In the past, struggling with poor usability of consumer products like microwaves and VCRs was so commonplace, it was considered the norm. Nowadays, thanks in part to companies like Apple leading the way in great design, we expect things to ‘just work’. The best way to ensure that your product is usable is to conduct iterative usability testing to identify and fix UX issues.

Secondly, a truly successful product should fill a need. It should solve a problem for the user, or at least do something better than they are used to. Many of the best products solve a need that we didn’t even know we had. In fact, this was many people’s experience of the iPad and tablets generally – a product that we knew we wanted, but weren’t quite sure why we needed it. Now, according to some reports, employees use tablets at least once a week for business purposes.

Conclusion: make time for user research

For me, my Apple Watch experience has highlighted the importance of user research. The best way to learn about what people really need is by conducting user research to help understand users, their goals and their environment. This needs to be done before we even start to think about designing solutions.