Etiquette in the days of wearable tech – 72 hours with the Apple Watch

About a year or two ago, I was in a meeting with a colleague and a potential client. My colleague was sporting a Pebble watch and at that moment I decided that I wanted one. By the end of the meeting, I had changed my mind. You see throughout the meeting the Pebble was on silent mode, yet it vibrated throughout. Each time, I wondered if my colleague was more curious as to what the notification was or the conversation at hand.

When Apple launched the Apple Watch, they announced their Taptic Engine. Most people haven’t really understood the social significance of this. When the watch was released, certain journalists were given the watch by Apple to review for two weeks. One journalist made a point which was very interesting. He said that he received multiple notifications throughout a meeting and felt that it was rude to keep looking at his watch, since looking at one’s watch signals to the other party that you have somewhere better to be.

IMG_0228But hang on here. Didn’t that journalist completely miss the point? I mean he might as well have put his phone on the table in front and see the notifications as they came in. What was the point of the notifications being on his wrist? Surely the point is that nobody knows that you have a notification. Sit in the meeting, whether it’s a business meeting or dinner with your spouse, and when that event takes a break or ends, then and only then check your phone. Give a person the attention they deserve.

I think that we are so distracted by technology that we feel that we absolutely have to respond to that Facebook post in the middle of conversation with a person standing right in front of you. The same is true of WhatsApp groups etc. And you know what, if you are talking to somebody and your phone dings or vibrates, well you might as well deal with it there and then because the other person knows that you have something way more important to deal with than them. The damage was done the moment the phone dinged.

And this is what interested me about the Apple Watch. I can receive a notification and nobody around me needs to know. The watch doesn’t light up. Only I know that there is something that I might want to deal with later, and whether that later means in 3 minutes when I have finished talking to a colleague, or in an hour after a meeting, either way, the other person knows that I’m talking to them. The same way that they don’t know that I have an important meeting at 2 o’clock and am in a bit of a rush, they also don’t know that somebody posted pictures from my daughter’s kindergarten on whatsapp.

The “Taptic Engine” as Apple calls it, works in one of two ways: It either gives you a “Prominant Haptic” which feels like a vibration (which again only you feel – you can’t hear it) or a simple tap on your wrist. Unlike sound or vibrating alerts, I haven’t yet missed a tap. This is, in my opinion, the killer feature on the Apple Watch. Of course, if you can’t control yourself to wait before looking at your watch, then the feature is useless.

Rather than write yet another review, I thought I would share some some initial unexpected findings after having owned my new Apple toy for nearly three days.

I had expected not to wear the watch whilst working. I usually take my watch off when I start to work since I found it uncomfortable to wear whilst using a keyboard and mouse. However, the Apple Watch is extremely comfortable (I have the 42mm Sport with the plastic band) and I haven’t taken it off during the day.

I also expected that I wouldn’t deal with notifications on my watch whilst working. However, I find that notifications usually fall into three categories: 1) read and ignore; 2) read and short reply and 3) read and reply. Since most fall into the first two categories for me, I actually find it less of a distraction to deal with them on my wrist rather than reaching for my phone to respond on iMessage, messenger or WhatsApp.

Obviously when cleaning the house or being with the kids, not having to take out my phone for each alert has decreased the chances of me dropping it. When I receive a phone call, I can see who it is on my wrist as I put on my bluetooth headset and answer the phone.

nokia-e71-01Another nicety was something that I have found extremely frustrating for many years. I loved the fact that my Nokia E71 would display my appointments when looking at my phone. However even in the latest iteration of iOS, you have to slide down to see your appointments. Now each time I look at my watch to see what time it is, I can see the next appointment or two (depending on the watch face) and I hope that when the new version of the software comes out in September more options will be available with more complications. Of course with a tap you can see all your appointments and calendars but for me to see the next appointment without touching the watch is really nice.

I have never found reminders to be terribly good on iPhone. They work but I often miss them. Therefore I found that setting an alarm more effective since they keep making a noise until you dismiss them (after all if I don’t turn off the oven in ten minutes the food will be burnt!) Reminders work really well on the watch. I don’t miss any of them since I’m notified with a tap.

I think the Apple Watch is different for each person. For some, the ability to look at your watch and see how late the bus is going to be is very useful, for others it’s going to be the convenience of Apple Pay. For me it’s the fantastic and subtle notifications and the ability to act on them in a natural way.

Wearable tech: my new watch

When my father passed away recently I inherited his gold watch. Like most watches, it tells the time. The design is timeless and despite the fact that my father received this for his wedding the watch looks great on my wrist.

Looking at the watch I was admiring how thin the watch was and it occurred to me that there was no battery inside. A wind-up watch. Remember those? I was thinking what features watches have that we take for granted and I realised that the biggest innovation was the battery. Yes watches today might have the date (well even then they had those) or a stopwatch but I think that we look at watches differently; we don’t think of what features a watch has, but rather as being individual pieces of jewelry, perhaps in the case of men, the last bit of jewelry that we are “allowed” to wear (with the possible exception of cuff links.)

siemens-s551Those of you who know me, know that I love technology. I remember bringing a Siemens S55 phone from the UK because not only was it colour, but it had Bluetooth (it also had a clip-on camera with flash!). Bluetooth headsets were expensive and were, well, pretty rubbish. I have had a quite a few Bluetooth headsets over the years and I always gave up pretty quickly for two reasons 1) the sound quality was awful and 2) it was always cumbersome to switch the call from the phone to the headset and vice versa.

voyager-legend_bRecently I decided to try again and this time it was in the form of the Plantronics Voyager Legend. It’s not the scope of this blog post to give it a review but let’s suffice to say that if you are looking for a Bluetooth headset that just works then this is the one to buy. The sound quality is superb and it has built-in intelligence that it knows when it’s on your head or when it’s sitting on your desk making picking up the call very easy. If it is on my desk and somebody calls I have two choices: pickup my mobile phone and not use the headset, or if I want I can simply put the headset over my ear and it answers automatically. Want to switch in the middle of the call? Simply put the headset on. Want to pass the phone to somebody to use without your headset? Simply remove the headset from your head and give them the phone. The call transfers automatically to the phone. You are already wearing the headset and somebody calls? It whispers the name of the person (even if you have an iPhone), and say “answer” or “ignore” – very useful if you have your hands full and you can’t raise your hand to press the button on your headset. Go and buy one!

My business partner has a pebble watch. It made me think. I know how my headset has been so incredibly useful. Would a pebble watch be useful? I’m in a meeting and my watch vibrates to let me know something. Hmm. Is that more subtle than my phone vibrating? Can I look at that notification more discreetly than looking at my phone? Another use-case scenario is sports. I run.
Garmin Forerunner 910XT

Well you know what? I have a Garmin Forerunner 910XT. It has a built-in GPS, doesn’t need to connect to my phone. It also tells me absolutely everything I need to know about my run and even counts how many laps I’ve swam in the pool. Yes, I have to change watch before I go for a run, but I don’t know about you, but I also change my clothes before running too!

I guess my only case-use for a pebble watch is when I’m cleaning the house and rather than taking out my phone every time a notification comes in, I could simply look at my wrist to see the notification, but since I try to avoid cleaning the house…

Truth be told, for a person that is out and about all day, be it a realtor or a doctor doing rounds at a hospital, a pebble watch is probably very useful, but for me, I spend most of my work day in front of a computer so will my next gadget be a smart watch? Not unless you are buying me one 🙂

I suppose the ultimate wearable tech is google glass. I’m not so interested in glass per se, but rather the technology that is coming out of the project.

One such technology is a smart contact lens. No, we are not talking about google glass tech on a contact lens à la Continuum, but rather a way for diabetics to track their glucose without having to take a blood sample. This kind of wearable tech is very exciting.

In the meantime, I will enjoy my father’s gold watch when I wear it on special occasions and admire it’s timeless beauty and sentimentality. For the rest of the time I will continue to wear the watch that I received from my wife and in-laws when I got married which has it’s own individuality and special meaning.