I've been testing a brilliant new watch, one that has changed my life.
Instead, it's a fitness watch called the Basis Peak. It doesn't let you play checkers and there isn't a way to listen to the new Radiohead album.
The Peak is designed to help you form new habits--like, say, biking. This summer, I decided to embrace the sport and bike every day, often to my local coffee-shop across town. (By "across town" I mean it's a good 8 miles away, or 16 miles round-trip.)
Basis is now owned by Intel, but they had all of this intelligence right from the beginning: The Peak knows when I'm biking and automatically switches to a mode that tracks my exertion. The habit-forming part comes into play when you set a goal to burn a certain number of calories. The Peak tracks everything you do, not just your steps, and adds up all of the data for you. In the app, I can see when I've hit my daily milestone. It also tracks sleep, although (unlike the latest patch for the FitBit) it won't remind you when you need to go to bed or when you should rise from your slumber.
(As an update--the Basis Peak has an overheating issue. It doesn't change the fact that the watch worked so well for me, it just means I have to stop using it for now.)
So, what does this all have to do with the Apple Watch? Here's my surprise. Because I'm so into biking, and because the Basis Peak is actually helping me stay consistent, I'm now wearing a smartwatch. And, I'm planning to retest the Apple Watch. Apple is redesigning the Watch interface to make it much easier to use. Maybe they will also address battery life issues, lower the price, and stop trying to make a fashion statement, which is not what we want from a company known for smart UI.
I haven't tested the next version of watchOS because it comes out this fall, but my perception of the smartwatch market in general has changed. I've also seen some hopeful signs of good things coming for the Watch even though it may not be the best option even this fall. I'm expecting Basis and FitBit, maybe Misfit or Pebble, or even Samsung to keep making progress, and I'm excited to see what they do.
My original problem with the Apple Watch is that it used these microscopic icons, like ants rolling around a tree stump. It was almost unusable. Worse, the apps were not that impressive and there's still a serious lack of ingenuity. I do like that you can summon your BMW, and I tested that once at a tradeshow, although it's not something I would ever do (since I drive a Toyota). The ultimate reason my perception has changed is due to how much other smartwatches have helped me stay in shape and get into some serious adventure sports this summer.
With the watchOS update, I'm expecting more companies besides BMW to make compelling apps. There always was great potential for a company that has sold nearly a billion iPhones. There's still an issue with battery life--the Peak lasts for several days, and even longer if you disable the heart-rate monitor. The FitBit Blaze also lasts several days. But we're talking about an Apple product, and it's highly unusual for the biggest company in tech to go back to the drawing board. In the new interface, you can swipe through apps like you do on your iPhone. I'm looking forward to testing it, and I'm sure many developers are, too. When I've chatted with them over the years, they are always the first to know when an interface doesn't really work, because they have to figure out how to make their app work. I know they sometimes so a deep dive and discover the app doesn't match what they want to do.
Maybe they won't balk this time. Maybe the Watch will become a hit. Until then, I'll wait patiently for Apple (or Samsung, or FitBit, or Basis) to win me over again.