We’re convergence journalism students at the University of Missouri and we’ve been working closely with RJI Fellow Victor Hernandez to research news consumption and application for the Apple Watch. Each of us was given access to a watch courtesy of the School of Journalism, and we’ve had them now for more than a month of testing. Although the devices are fresh and innovative, there are still many aspects that need improvement. We thought it would be useful to make a wearable report card of sorts in order to rank what we believe are the Apple Watch’s best and worst features.

(Views shared are prior to the recent release of watchOS 2 from Apple. We plan to publish an updated post soon.)

Lauren Slome’s initial reactions

If I were to weigh the assets of the Apple Watch on a scale, I wouldn’t divide the categories into pros versus cons, but rather what’s there versus what isn’t. To put it simply: excessive features versus development.

Customization and overall wow factor: A-

On one hand, I don’t think users could possible ask for more possibilities from Apple and its watch. The options for customization are extensive. I can add the majority of the apps I use most to the Glance feature and get updates from them regularly. The watch has a variety of fitness tracking capabilities and does its part by zapping me when I need a little prod to stand up or get moving. I can open and read texts simply by lifting my wrist, and can keep up with social media with a downward glance. Its ability for customization would earn a solid A minus.

Physical function: C-

On the other hand, what the watch makes up for in possibilities, it lacks in function. It seems Apple opted to provide excessive choice over deep development. Take, for example, the watch’s design flaws. First and foremost, the Apple Watch lacks wireless capabilities. If I stray too far from my iPhone 6, my watch loses connection to my phone and, in turn, my phone’s Wi-Fi connection. When that happens, my watch loses the majority of its functions. Similarly, the watch lacks a headphone port, which becomes an issue when I try to make calls or listen to podcasts. And battery capacity is just not up to par. Between class, various jobs, and involvement on campus, I’m on the go for 16 or so hours a day. Some days my battery lasts that long, others it dies on me. The battery-saving mode helps prevent my watch from dying, but doing so limits the watch’s capabilities. Sure, the watch works despite these setbacks, but they also limit its value. These core functional issues are like showing up to class each day but sleeping through it. This is C-minus work there.

Application function: C+

The function of applications on the watch is another area of concern for me. While certain applications operate successfully on the watch, others are too limited to be effective. Instagram only displays seven pictures, and certain news apps only allow you to read so much information before suggesting you go to their website or phone app for the full story. Perhaps the most irritating flaw is that the watch sends you notifications for some applications, like Snapchat and Facebook, that can’t be opened on the watch at all. The combined effect of the design and application issues makes the watch more of a novelty than a necessity.

Future potential: A+

Looking ahead to future watch systems, I think Apple needs to reconsider its approach to the watch. Right now the strategy seems to be to throw as much content at users as possible to increase the wow factor and that feeling of need. But our smartphones are already full of applications, and they do it all better than the watch. How does Apple create a need for the watch when it already offers a product that offers the same services but better? If Apple wants to take the Apple Watch from being a novel gadget to a necessity, I think it needs to dive deep into development. Physical aspects need to be improved, applications need to function on an expanded level, and the watch needs the ability to operate without connecting to our iPhones. It seems that watchOS 2 has started to solve some of these issues, but as the watch operates now, it remains a novelty. Without a headphone port, audio and voice functions aren’t practical. Without wireless connection, the apps are worth little. And without a battery that can maintain the juice it takes to get through a full day, the Apple Watch is even less effective than a regular old Timex. These are the issues Apple needs to address, and yet the focus seems to be recreating an iPhone that comes on a wristband. So my hope for future watch systems is that it’s not just more elaborate features being thrown at us. Once the watch is developed to the level of my iPhone, then by all means Apple, pile on those features. But until then, do less, and do it well.

Samantha Healey’s initial reactions

I really like the Apple Watch, but it’s not something I need in my everyday life for several reasons. The grades I have assigned correlate to the current status of the watch. I am eager to see the updates made in watchOS 2 and hope to see these grades increase.

Display: A

I think this is the best quality of the watch. For such a small screen, Apple does a good job of showing high-quality images that are fairly easy to view. The user has the ability to change the text on the screen to tailor it to their liking, just like the iPhone. Apple also did a good job organizing the apps on the home screen. The layout is interesting and easy to use unless you have larger fingers.

App quality/content: B+

Since the Apple Watch is in its younger stages, it’s lacking some of the major apps. That’s completely normal. Why would app developers waste their time on something that could end up being a dud? Considering this, the watch has some really interesting and unique app capabilities. Users have the ability to view photos and read important snippets of information. I didn't give this section an A because some of the apps, such as Slack, have bugs that need to be addressed if users intend to utilize them on the watch. While the fitness portion of the watch is extremely helpful and interesting, you must be within a certain radius of your phone in order to access it. In other words, if you intend to go on a run, your phone must tag along. Luckily, this is something that Apple is looking to address in their new update.

Style: B-

The physical style of the watch is interesting but I’m not sure if it’s cool. Although it has a sleek appearance and fairly good screen size, it doesn't really fit the current watch style. That’s pretty important, especially when you’re trying to market to women and younger people. Some other watches have the traditional watch face and save the app capability for the band. I think this would definitely be more in keeping with current fashion trends.

Texting and calling capability: B-

The fact that you can text and talk on the watch is pretty cool. It makes me feel like I’m in a scene from Star Trek. I’m not sure that yelling into your arm is completely practical or socially acceptable. The watch is available to connect to Bluetooth, but do a lot of people still want to walk around with something stuck in their ear? Previously created replies and Siri power the texting portion of the watch. Siri actually seems to work better on the watch than it does on my phone. I haven’t had any issues of her misunderstanding what I said. Over all, the texting and calling portion is really just a push notification so you can go back and check it on your phone. 

Battery life: D+

The battery life of the current watch is severely lacking. It seems like I can’t go a full day without the watch screaming at me to plug it in. In order to become a necessity, the battery life must increase to encompass a full day of work.

Camera: F

The watch’s camera has absolutely no practical value to me. When you click the camera icon on your watch, it automatically opens the camera on your phone. The watch’s screen acts as a viewfinder; the phone does all the actual work. This means that wherever you point the phone’s camera lens, you will be viewing the picture on your watchface like you do when you’re taking a picture on your phone. The only pro I can see is the potential to take a timed photo or a photo from far away. That way, you could still make it in the photo and have the ability to adjust where you’re positioned in the photo. I guess you wouldn't have the need for a selfie stick then, right?

Overall, I think the watch is pretty cool. It needs to address major areas such as camera function, battery life and app usability in order to become a staple in users’ lives.

Chris Mathews’ initial reactions

I've played with my new smartwatch for more than a month now and I've enjoyed it - most of the time. It's not perfect, by any means, but the Apple Watch has definitely showed some promise. Here are a few aspects I like and dislike about the watch:

Using photos on the watch: A

I really enjoy looking at photos on the Apple Watch. Even if they're displayed on a tiny screen, pictures just seem to work. Instagram's watch app layout is sleek, and the image quality is incredibly sharp on the retina screen. Not all news organizations utilize pictures, however, which really sets those that do apart from the rest of the crowd. I think The New York Times' use of photos in their watch setting really enhances the media consumption experience as compared to other news apps.

Hardware Design: C

The Apple Watch is definitely cool looking, and it certainly has a wow factor surrounding it. But the design of the gadget could be improved significantly. As I mentioned above, the retina display is very pleasing to the eye, so I don’t think that needs improvement. I’m disappointed that there is no headphone port available. It makes listening to content like podcasts really difficult to do on the go, since I’m relying on the watch’s internal speaker. There are other wearable devices on the market that put some of the functions on the actual band of the watch as opposed to the screen. Apple should certainly think about doing this, to free up the cluttered home screen of the Apple Watch. 

Reading News: D

Maybe it's just because I'm a journalism student, but I'm not impressed with reading news stories on the watch. Headlines and small snippets of the story are available, but you're constantly redirected to the app on the iPhone to read the rest of the story. And it seems that nearly every news app does the same thing when it comes to the brief news alerts, or at least the apps I've checked out. If we're researching news consumption capabilities on the Apple Watch, the amount of news able to be consumed needs to be increased.  

With the recent release of watchOS 2, we get to see a whole new side of the Apple Watch. Apps being saved natively on the watch has certainly improved loading times. Less communication with the iPhone is great, but I’d love to see the two act independently eventually. Wi-Fi capabilities for the watch are something I really hope to see in future updates or models.

Samantha Healey  
Guest blogger

Chris Mathews  
Guest blogger

Lauren Slome  
Guest blogger


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