I never wanted an Apple Watch in the first place.
I hadn't worn a watch in years, when Dave from Starkey showed me how it could operate my new hearables. So I bought it, the original model, and it grew on me. I liked running with it, tracking my movements and closing the rings, but mostly it was a glorified remote control for my phone. When Apple announced that the latest upgrade of the software wouldn't work for the original watch, I decided to upgrade. I was intrigued by some of the new features they had added in both hardware and software that applied to aging boomers like me.
I've now been using the new Apple Watch 4 for a week and have to say it's hard to call it an upgrade; it feels like an entirely different device. It's close enough to the original that the fancy expensive Milanese Loop watchband that my wife bought me for Christmas a few years ago fits the new watch (thank you for that, Apple!)
The upgradey things are good; I never actually used the original watch to adjust my hearables, it was so slow connecting that it was easier to pull out my phone and do it there. That's not the case anymore; it's super fast and the apps open instantly and work flawlessly.
The screen upgrade is also wonderful. I don't have a big wrist and wondered if I should go from the 42mm watch I had previously to the 44, but I'm glad I did — the screen real estate is huge and the watch is only marginally bigger (and it's thinner!) It's easy to read, easier to hit buttons, just better all-round.
There's a lot to love in the software upgrade, including new timers where in two touches you're monitoring your noodles. Finally, there's decent podcast management on the watch, too.
Between the hardware and the software, there are lots of new health features for the boomer crowd. It monitors your heartbeat far more quickly and accurately than the original, and warns you if it gets too low or too high; I reset it from a high of 120 to 140 because when I row or run, it gets higher. (But I didn't find this feature to be very effective; after a run up to 155, it had still not beeped.)
Then there is the "I fell down and I can’t get up!" feature that turns on if you're over 65. The Wall Street Journal hired a stuntman to throw himself at the ground to set it off; I can advise that if you just go chop some kindling, it will go off every time your axe meets wood, as it did for me this weekend. I have turned it off.
Others had better luck. Geoffrey Fowler of the Washington Post checked out a group of older adults who were enthusiastic about all the wellness features, including the upcoming electrocardiogram and heart rhythm features.
Margery Widroe, 80, who’s been using a Series 3 Apple Watch for a few months, recounted to our group a recent incident when she was at the grocery store and her Watch alerted her to a high heart rate. She took it as a valuable cue to go home and take her medication. "It could be a major help in your life," she says.
Tracking fitness is much better. It learns what you're doing and figures out that you've started running or biking. I wish it would figure out that I have a standing desk and would credit me the time instead of telling me to stand up. On the other hand, it does tell me to MOVE! which you need to do, even if you're standing all day.
The Apple Watch really has evolved beyond being a fitness device into being a wellness device, nudging you out of your chair, encouraging you to move. This is so important for aging boomers; it's the exercise that keeps your heart young and your muscles fit, and keeps all those heart sensors and fall detectors from pinging.
But the feature I wanted more than anything was to be able to use the Apple Watch when I go running without having to bring my phone. It’s my fault for getting a big 7+, but even when I had my first iPhone, the 4S, it was always a pain, falling out of my pocket, wires getting tangled. Can this do the job?
Yes and no. My fancy hearables won't pair to the watch; it doesn’t have the Made for iPhone hearing aid connectivity, so they need the phone. (A LOT of people in the hearing-impaired community are complaining about this.) So I used the slightly less fancy Nuheara Iqbuds Boost and they pair perfectly over Bluetooth. However there's no app for the watch, so controls are limited.
I got a phone call while I was out; it was a tax scam, but at least I know I won't miss something important. I got a message from my daughter and not having a keyboard, I used voice, and it transcribed quickly and accurately. In fact, it's uncanny, how good this feature is.
In fact, in many ways the Apple Watch is pretty much a phone on your wrist. In some ways I could see it being better than a phone; you have the emergency connections by text or talk, notifications of important news, podcasts, music and more, with less distraction. It does more than the Blackberry I used before my iPhone 4S. Perhaps the only thing I really miss is a camera. It's an independent communication device that can do most of what you need; I've been looking at my phone a whole lot less and my watch a whole lot more.
If your watch has cellular or is connected to WiFi, then most apps installed on your watch will work, whether you have your phone with you or not.
But a lot of companies offering phone apps don't make watch apps. I really believe that every business that has an app for a phone should be working like mad to turn it into a native app that runs on the watch; I think MNN and TreeHugger should be developing Apple Watch versions of our sites right now. Nobody is going to read "War and Peace" on their watch, but on the new big screen, these snippets from the New York Times watch app are readable and informative. In five years, we may all be chuckling when we think of those crazy old days when we carried a big slab of glass around in our pockets — for many people the watch may well replace them.
The Apple Watch 4 is more than a fitness tracker, it's a wellness device. And it is even more than that; ultimately, I believe that Apple has once again created a new platform for reinventing communication. I could go on and on, but I have to stop here. My watch tells me that It's Time to Stand!