My wrist is buzzing again.
It’s my watch — again — telling me — again — that I’ve been too glued to my desk for the last hour and haven’t stood up and walked around in a while. It’s the third time today that my watch has informed my wrist, and thus my brain, that it’s time to take a breather — wait, no, not breathe, that’s a different app — and stand up for a minute to get the circulation flowing again. After 60 seconds of standing, another buzz: “You did it!”
Another victory, just for me.
Okay, so this fitness-first, app-based functionality isn’t new to the latest iteration of the Apple Watch, but it’s new to me, as someone who has not had an Apple Watch before and is therefore not very accustomed to speaking to my wrist, or taking orders from it. (To my knowledge, I am neither James Bond nor a member of a top-secret security detail.) But now I have one, at least temporarily, for the express reason of trying out the Apple Watch Series 3, since it is the first version to have functionality with Apple Music and its 40 million-song on-demand catalog and suite of Beats 1 radio stations, as well as cellular capabilities that allow the user to text and make phone calls even without Wi-Fi or a phone nearby.
It’s that last point — that of not having a phone nearby — that is the main experience on which the Apple Watch Series 3 is centered; the main idea being that you can simply leave your phone behind and still be fully connected to every aspect of your life.
In pursuing that goal, the Watch makers focused in on making the Siri experience as useful and accurate as possible, given the relative lack of browsing or manual searching options that exist due to the small interface. And it seems to work well; whether asking Siri to “play Gucci Mane” or just to “play the latest Gucci Mane album,” even without the specific title, there’s a pretty accurate and relatively quick functionality that delivers what you’re asking. Cell service means that Wi-Fi is unnecessary, meaning you can ask Siri to “play the new Lil Pump album” even when you’re walking down the street — though you still have to say it out loud into your wrist, morbidly embarrassing the 14-year-old walking nearby who has been a Lil Pump die hard for at least the last six months and can’t believe someone as old as you would dare listen to his latest fave. (I swear, I’m only 28.) Don’t want to say it out loud? Well, if you haven’t previously loaded the album onto your Watch, you’re out of luck; browsing isn’t available for Apple Music’s catalog.
The radio stations are also easy to use, with a suite of both live (Beats 1 Radio, ESPN News, NPR) and pre-programmed genre- and activity-based stations that are effectively streaming playlists. All this connects straight to your AirPods via bluetooth, which pause automatically when you take one bud out of your ear and automatically begin playing again when you put the bud back in. (Whether this is a new function or not, it is extremely cool and useful for bodega or convenience store transactions). Streaming music will also, according to a rep, pre-load a small amount of the music you’re listening to, meaning that if you walk onto the subway and lose cell service you’ll have a period of time where you can continue listening to music without it abruptly cutting off. Due to my own anxiety about bringing expensive objects onto the subway — particularly ones that obstruct my ability to hear what’s going on around me — I did not get a chance to test out this functionality, however.
The only problem, at least for me, is that it’s all a little bit redundant; there are very few times when I do not already have my phone on me, at which times talking to Siri automatically syncs through the phone rather than the watch (as does the AirPod bluetooth connect). That means that the streaming music functionality, along with many of the additional upgrades to the Apple Watch Series 3, is most effective for one specific type of activity: working out, and more specifically, running. There’s a reason that so much of the rollout in September focused on the improvements to the Watch’s fitness and activity apps and functions, and introduced cellular and Apple Music integrations within that framework.
This is not a bad thing, or particularly limiting for the Watch’s target audience; it’s extremely convenient for the fitness and running crowd to have everything you need both for working out and for everyday life attached to your wrist, including music, email and texts. But for someone like me, who is rarely running, the idea of leaving my iPhone at home or at my desk is more about escaping all those things, rather than having access to them on a smaller screen attached to my wrist that also runs the risk of me feeling like a crazy person talking to myself on the street.
Still, Apple Watch is relatively new, and it’s certainly catching on now; Apple CEO Tim Cook said last month that Apple was now selling more watches than Rolex, and its sales projections are only going up. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt a little silly — and my friends haven’t given me looks — when I audibly ask my watch to do something that I could just do on my phone or laptop, depending on where I am. But for having a full range of music available while running and working out, it certainly beats the h**l out of the iPod Shuffle or carrying around the mammoth iPhone 8.