First thoughts on the Apple Watch

The last time I bought a new watch was probably 2008 or 2009. It was a self-winding mechanical watch with exposed gears that was absolutely beautiful; unfortunately it stopped keeping time in 2010. I received another watch that Christmas, which I wore for a few months, but after that I stopped; after all, why wear a watch when we’re constantly surrounded by clocks? So I’ve been watchless for five years.

One thing I’ve considered for a few years now is a smartwatch, but they haven’t seemed to have enough capability to be worth the money. After reading John Sonmez’s review of the Apple Watch, however, it seemed like it might be worth the investment (particularly when it’s on sale) and my wife picked one up for my birthday present this year. I’ve now been wearing it for about five days, and thought I’d put down my first impressions.

Apple watch - stock image
The Apple Watch – Sport in Space Gray

First things first: I chose the black (Apple calls it Space Gray) 42mm sport watch. This is the second least expensive one (the 38mm sport watch is $50 cheaper); Apple just cut the price to $349 from $399 (along with introducing a number of new bands), but it goes on sale for $299 fairly regularly. The watches all have the same functionality, but depending on which case and band you want, you can spend up to $17,000.

The watch band is a bit odd, but I got used to it pretty quickly. It’s not easy to describe, but it seems to work. Charging is simple – just put the watch on the magnetic inductive charging station and you’re good to go – and pretty quick – I’ve mostly been charging the watch for about an hour a day.

Why get a smartwatch?

Ok, enough of the basics – why am I willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy watch that needs to be charged regularly?

There are, so far as I’ve seen, no “gee-whiz”, astounding apps that make the watch a must have. What it does have is a lot of little conveniences that make your life that much easier. For me, most of them break down into two categories: work and travel.


Like probably most of the people reading this blog, I use a smartphone (obviously, an iPhone) and I get a lot of notifications. At work I’d started leaving my phone on my desk to that I can see why it’s vibrating rather than pulling it out of my pocket; if someone’s calling me, I try to Google the number quickly on the off-chance that it’s someone I’d want to talk to (it almost never is – most of these searches show it’s a scammer calling). Now I leave my phone in my pocket and take a quick look at my watch to see if it’s anything I need to deal with. When I’m out of my office, meeting details come up on my watch so that, again, I don’t have to pull out my phone to see where I’m supposed to be next. It’s not a big deal – is taking your phone out of your pocket really all that difficult? – but it removes a minor irritation.


A year ago, I took up listening to audiobooks on my commute; unfortunately, sometimes I miss something, and even if I’m stopped at a light I can’t really pull my phone out and rewind. Now I have the Audible app, so I can just hit the rewind button without taking my eyes off the road. That’s useful.


Ok, how about non-commuting travel, to new cities? This was actually my justification for getting the watch, as I travel within the US for business and will be visiting London and Paris next month. This past weekend, I tried out the watch features on a trip to Chicago.

When I’m driving someplace unfamiliar, I always use my phone for directions, but I don’t always hear the street name (actually, I usually don’t). Now I can just glance at my watch to see what the next street is and how long until I need to turn; it also vibrates when I reach the turn. This isn’t perfect – the watch is sometimes a bit slow to update after a turn and this seems to drain the battery – but it’s pretty helpful.

The same functionality also works with walking; you can be walking around the city and get your directions without having to take your phone out (and become a target for pickpockets). I used this when walking a few places in Chicago, and I’m looking forward to using it again when riding the tube in London.

I mentioned battery life – aside from the drive to Chicago, I don’t seem to go through battery that quickly. The last few days I’ve slept with my watch on and used the alarm to wake up, then charged the watch for an hour before leaving for work. So far, so good. Since I’m completely deaf when I’m not wearing the processor for my cochlear implant I normally have to carry a vibrating alarm clock when I travel; as you might imagine, this both takes up space and slows down getting through airport security. If the watch keeps waking me up successfully, I’ll no longer need to carry a clock when I travel; I’ll just have to make sure the watch is sufficiently charged before I go to bed!


One thing I should mention that’s pretty cool: in order to save battery, the display is only on when you’re “looking” at it – by which I mean, you have your arm rotated such that the watch face is where you can see it. This isn’t perfect – I have to occasionally wake it up – but it works pretty well and it’s a cool feature.

Something I haven’t tried yet is Apple Pay on the watch – I’ve barely used it on my phone, even – but not having to take my wallet out seems like a good thing. We’ll see how that works out.

Overall impressions

I don’t love everything about the watch; for example, I still haven’t managed to get Siri to work (it activates, but then doesn’t seem to process that I’m talking). Even with the price cut, it’s still pretty expensive. I was used to winding my mechanical watch each day in case it didn’t self-wind enough, so the need to charge the watch isn’t a big deal to me, but it’s still something else to remember.

Are smartwatches, at this point, still overpriced toys? Yes, they are. Do you need to run out and buy one? No, not at all. But if you have a smartphone that supports it (iPhone 5 or later), it’s a pretty nifty gadget that removes a few of the little annoyances of day-to-day life.

I’d buy it again.

Test-driving a Tesla

The inside of the Model S
Testing the Tesla on the streets of Chicago

This past week, I had the opportunity to test-drive a Tesla.

Tesla has been on my radar for a few years now. I’m not much of a car person, but their cars are just really cool and I’ve been considering preordering the model 3, so I took advantage of a trip to Chicago to check out the S.

Overall, there were a few things that I didn’t like about the car. It’s pretty low and isn’t as easy to get into and out of as it could be (and it doesn’t feel as roomy as my Camry). There are no grab bars, but that can be fixed with aftermarket add-ons. The windows are narrower than I like, which cuts down on visibility – but the large screen showing what’s happening around you more or less makes up for that. Overall, the car feels comfortable enough, though not like anything particularly special.

The driving, though, is something else. The handling on this car is pretty solid, and I liked how quiet it is. Chicago traffic meant I never got it up above 35, but I’d love to see how it handles curves at freeway speeds. What little acceleration I was able to do was pretty smooth. I liked the regenerative braking, and I can definitely see why some people make a game out of never using the brakes.

The most interesting thing was probably the autopilot. I engaged it while sitting on the freeway on-ramp and the car immediately accelerated at the car in front of me, only to stop again seconds later – that was a little disconcerting! When that car tried to change lanes a few minutes later, without us having gotten up enough speed for the S to navigate off the lines instead, I had to retake control to keep us from changing lanes as well. The warning beep made it very clear that my attention was needed.

As I said, I’ve never been a car person, and I’ve definitely never considered spending good money on a luxury car. The point of the test drive was to see what Tesla’s work felt like so I could decide whether I’d like the model 3, which comes in at a much more reasonable $35k (before the $7500 tax credit).

But the more expensive versions sure seem awfully appealing…

Delegation, flexibility, and software development

Something that occurred to me yesterday is how much less structured my work week is than it used to be.

When I was a new developer, my TL (team lead) liked to have everyone maintain a spreadsheet showing everything that we were currently working on, with an estimate of how many hours we were planning to put into each item for the coming week. I was never convinced of the ability of the average developer (or, more specifically, of myself) to accurately estimate how long things would take, but it at least showed how much time would be taken up by meetings, vacation, etc, and how much work everyone had on their plate.

Over time, I stopped doing the spreadsheet, and my workplan meetings largely became me saying “I’m currently working on this, this, and this” and my TL saying “ok, sounds good” or “I need you to prioritize this other thing.” This worked for me – I still had a good idea of what I was going to be working on, but I wasn’t spending time typing up estimates of how long each change would take.

These days, that’s still how my workplan meetings go, but two things have changed. One is that I now bring written notes, because even though I don’t feel the need to do the formal plans we used to use, I have too many things going on to remember everything I want to talk about without them. The other is that my plans for the week are much more open-ended: rather than having six fixes I plan to do, I’ll have two or three things at the top of my priority list and other stuff hanging around for “when I get to it.”

Largely, this is because I’ve taken on more responsibility: a lot of my time goes to either dealing with important issues that come in and get routed to me that I wouldn’t know about in advance, or helping newer members of the team. As a result, it’s not unusual that only a minority of my time is actually devoted to what I’d planned to spend the week working on. The other reason is just that I tend to work on larger projects now, which take several weeks or longer to complete, with smaller development thrown in when I need a break; this means it’s rare that I have a half-dozen fixes on my “will absolutely do this week” list.

At the same time, while I’m not directly responsible for any other people on the team, I am in charge of a project that several people are working on, which means I’m setting priorities and making decisions for multiple developers. My impulse so far has pretty much been to pretty much say “here are the team standards and the company standards; I expect you to follow these. Otherwise, work how you like and let me know when you need more.” If I can agree on a design with one of my developers and then not hear from him again until he’s finished coding three weeks later, I’m fine with that; I have no interest in knowing how many hours he’s spending on a given part of his activity each week.

My own feeling is that if you give someone work to do and let them figure out how to get it done (assuming that person is reasonably competent and professional), with the occasional check-in, work will get done more effectively and people will be happier than if you try to micro-manage what’s being done when. At least, that’s always been my experience – if I have multiple things I need to get done, I’ll be more productive if I can just choose to work on whichever item I happen to most feel like working on at the time, not what the schedule says I should be doing. The nice thing about being a software developer is that this is quite possible; as long as I’m hitting my deadlines, how I’m managing my time doesn’t need to concern anyone else.

But it’s still a good thing the computer keeps track of everything I need to do without my having to do anything. My memory isn’t that good…