Why I've learned to hate my Apple Watch

In a perfect world, the Apple Watch Series 4 could be great. With a few easy settings, a glance at the watch would deliver time, temperature, the dial-in details for your next appointment or many other things that would be helpful. But we don't live in a perfect world.

apple watch series 4
Apple

In a perfect world, the Apple Watch Series 4 could be great. With a few easy settings, a glance at the watch would deliver time, temperature, the dial-in details for your next appointment or many other things that would be helpful. This would be in an ideal world. I don't live in an ideal world. I live in Jersey. (No wisecracks; that's my job.) As such, I have quickly learned to hate my Apple Watch.

Much of my fury is caused by missed opportunities. With a few small tweaks, the Apple Watch experience could be one of happiness and efficiency. Fortunately for Apple, I am now going to share those tweaks. Until then, though, I will continue to curse at this buzzy, won't-show-me-what-I-want-except-when-I-don't-want-it, overpriced annoyance.

Let the grievances commence:

Independent calling

I have long begged my college-age daughter to take her phone when she runs, so that she'll have a way to make an emergency call if she has to. She claims it's too bulky to run with. Truth be told, I thought it would be nice to not have to carry my phone on my walks, but that's partially because I am too bulky. So I saw the Apple Watch Series 4 as the answer.

With that connectivity in mind, I shelled out extra (and continue to do so each month) for the GPS and cellular option. Once the watch arrived and everything was set up, I gleefully left the house without my phone, walked a block or two and then tried calling my office. The screen displayed, "Call failed." Tried again, with the same result.

I spoke with Apple tech support and was told that this is no glitch. (Sad to say, it seems Apple is drawing that age-old distinction between a great feature that doesn't work and a horrible implementation that is working as designed.)

Here's what happened. During the setup procedure, I was asked whether I wanted to give my watch the same phone number as my iPhone. It offered no context or explanations, but more on that momentarily. Thinking it would be convenient and would allow my watch to relay texts and phone calls, I said yes. Why not, right? Why give people two numbers to reach me when one is better?

What Apple didn't tell me during that setup question — hence, my earlier complaint about the lack of context during setup — is that the watch won't make phone calls if the iPhone isn't nearby and off airplane mode. So I could take a walk without my phone, but only if I didn't want to make any calls.

Suggestion: During the setup process, how about some explanation of the implications of choosing a separate number or the same number?

Infinitely better suggestion: How about allowing the watch to make independent calls, given that ... well, it absolutely can? How about letting it share the same number as the iPhone (so it could share texts and calls) but letting both units make calls on their own?

Multimedia controls

Somebody at Apple thought it would be a great idea to have the watch instantly — and unpreventably — turn into a multimedia controller, pretty much whenever the watch wants.

Shortly after I bought the watch, I was using the phone to listen to some music while making a pot of coffee. Realizing I was running late, I glanced at my watch to see my next appointment. Instead, I saw a pause and play button and the name of the jazz tune that made the coffee bean grinding process less of a grind. (Sorry about that.)

Why in the world would I want that? It won't work unless the phone is near and it has the same controls.

Hours later, the watch did something similar, but this time it merely pointed out that no music was playing. So why are you telling me this? (Note: It pulls the same stunt if I try watching a video on my phone.) I called Apple support again and wanted to know where in settings I could make sure that the watch doesn’t become a multimedia controller at whim. I was told there's no way to turn it off. Just grand.

This is a recurring theme in my complaints about the watch: Far too often, when I glance at the watch for its coveted in-context-info-display, it won't display it. The multimedia controller is just one excuse.

Driving directions

One thing I was eager to do with my Apple Watch was to get driving directions. I have used Apple Carplay, which is a wonderful piece of software, but the screen can become unreadable in direct sunlight. Fear not, though. Now I have my Apple Watch 4 to give me directions. Understandably enough, it will only work when the directions are coming from Apple Maps. No problem: Apple Maps it is.

I pull out of my driveway into heavy traffic and about 15 seconds later, the watch (hereafter known as Satan's Torture Device) starts buzzing insanely. I feel as if it were repeatedly zapping my forearm with tiny jolts of electricity. This is merely the watch's subtle way of giving me a heads up about the next turn. Why should I let the fact that it caused to me to nearly sideswipe a Honda color my feelings about Satan's Torture Device?

After a couple of blocks of this, it occurred to me that I was going to get zapped at every turn, so I ripped the watch off my arm and threw it onto the passenger seat, preferring to fight the glare on the screen instead. Again I called Apple tech support, this time being told that the torture device couldn't be turned off. My only choice: Never use Apple Maps. That's how Apple Watch did me a solid and forced me to use Waze. It's an excellent app.

Falls that aren't falls

A potentially useful capability of the Apple Watch is its fall alert. In theory, if the watch thinks that you have taken a hard fall, it asks if you’re OK, and if you don’t respond, it tries to send for help. (Note: This raises the question of whether it can call for help if the iPhone isn’t nearby or is in airplane mode. I didn’t have a chance to test whether the fall detector has a way around that.)

I figured the watch must look for rapid descent and an impact. That presumption would appear to be wrong, though, since I have gotten the alerts while standing up. I have no idea why it triggered the alert, but it’s a concern.

This typically happens while I am working out. Given that this watch is constantly zapping my wrist (a text came in, some news alert has been sent, a ring has been completed (please, do not get me started on how annoying I find the ring alerts), an appointment is coming, someone in Europe yawned, etc.), it’s tempting to ignore while in the middle of a difficult movement. And yet, this alert may choose to interpret my ignoring it as a need for emergency services. That means that I must respond to every buzz. *sigh*

Note: Apple support provides this relatively uncomforting thought: “If your Apple Watch detects that you're moving, it waits for you to respond to the alert and won't automatically call emergency services. If your watch detects that you have been immobile for about a minute, it will make the call automatically.” That’s fine, in theory. But it has alerted me in the middle of planks, which is a position where you have to remain relatively motionless for an extended period. If I don’t stop, will it call the police? How long does it give me? And I am going to dare to find out? Nope. So I have to repeatedly stop to cater to every zap.

Display delay

When in a hurry, I will quickly glance at my watch, expecting to see the time or perhaps some number it's tracking. But there is a significant delay before it will display anything. I've been in New York racing down a crowded sidewalk to catch a train, and  a quick glance at my watch to get the time gets me nothing. You can't keep staring at a blank watchface waiting for it to show you the time on a New York street without bumping into someone.

Working out

I mentioned my own lamentable bulk earlier, but I do work out, and the gym was another place where I expected the Apple Watch 4 to be extremely helpful. Sadly, it's during workouts that I tend to curse at the watch the most.

First, it seems that the designers of the watch never anticipated workout gloves. That is, I think the cuff of the glove brushes against the button on the watch. So the watch does things like activating Siri, which then tries to interpret utterances like, "This &^^$$*#SHGY! weight is too heavy," as a command. Things could be done to avoid this. (Apple, are you reading?) Maybe it just needs an option to deactivate Siri when in workout mode is. (Yes, I tried moving the watch way up my arm, to give it more distance, but that didn't work.)

The topic of workouts leads me to another complaint: The watch could use a bit more intelligence. I work out at the exact same time every day. After a month of daily repetition, one would think that the phone might pipe up and say, "You have workout on your calendar in one minute. Shall I launch the workout app?" Instead, I have to click to see all apps and then scroll through them all to find workout (yes, they are listed alphabetically, so searching for "workout" every day gets old). And then I have to click on a little green running icon to get it to start. Not a big deal, but if it's a smartwatch, couldn't it show a little more intelligence?

Apparently not. But it does show that I'm not playing any music right now. Thanks, watch!

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