The Apple Watch has been on the market for a grand total of three days, and already reports of Apple Watch problems are rolling in.
On the hardware side, probably the most visible Apple Watch problem thus far comes from noted YouTuber UnboxTherapy (of #bendgate fame), who took a variety of abrasive materials to two purported samples of the Apple Watch cover glass and found that the Ion-X material scratches more easily than expected. Granted, you’re not going to be taking sandpaper to your smartwatch
every day ever, but this does raise the question of just how well the Watch will fare against occasional bumps against doorjambs. Just today, SlashGear reported on a Consumer Reports study indicating the Apple Watch Sport glass scratches more easily than the sapphire material on the Apple Watch. While that’s not exactly surprising given what we know about sapphire, it’s a shame Apple didn’t include the stronger stuff on the still-costly Sport.
Then there’s the endurance. Most wearables these days get pretty poor battery life, so we expected the Apple Watch itself to follow suit – and it does. But some users are reporting significant battery drain on their phones when paired to the Watch, with iOS 8’s battery tracking functionality showing the Apple Watch companion app as the culprit. (9to5mac reports that Apple is already working on a fix for affected customers.)
Software responsiveness issues were a big pain point in many of the first-wave reviews that came out immediately before the Apple Watch launch, supposedly owing to the fact that the Watch relies so much on the phone and there’s some sort of bottleneck at the Bluetooth connection. We’ve only had our unit a short while, so addressing the lag question will have to wait for our full review – but an early indicator of possible trouble is the Watch’s boot time, which on our device currently sits at over a minute (1 minute and 6 seconds, to be precise).
Even if you don’t consider the issues above “problems” per se, no one could blame you for wondering why a product being hailed as the most important wearable of 2015, one that costs anywhere from $350 to $17,000, exhibits such issues. But here’s the thing: under all the glitz and glamor, the Apple Watch is just another first-generation product. And first-generation technology products are almost always … rough.
Apple’s own history testifies to such teething troubles. Back in 2007, when the only Apple product to my name was an iPod, I asked a college professor whether or not he was buying the then-new iPhone, and his response has stuck with me ever since: “No; I’ll never buy a first-generation Apple product again.” In retrospect, he might have saved himself some headaches: in addition to the first iPhone’s intentional design shortcomings like the lack of GPS and 3G data, it suffered from occasional build quality issues, a disappearing-photos bug, and various other quibbles, some of which took quite a while to resolve. Even years later, Apple still hadn’t fixed all of the production issues with its groundbreaking smartphone: in 2008 my own iPhone 3G suffered from a widely-reported bubble problem in its plastic casing, and few can forget the signal attenuation “death grip” issue that plagued the iPhone 4 in 2010.
It’s not just smartphones, either. Apple’s first-generation iPod Nano had some sticky sleep/wake buttons and suffered a recall five years after its release due to runaway heating problems with its battery. The company’s first MacBook Air offered an incredible aesthetic leap forward with its slim, sleek design … but that came at the cost of everything from thermal problems to a dramatic reduction in the number of ports (a move the company recently repeated with its new 2015 MacBook). The ATI graphics system in the radically redesigned 2014 Mac Pro continues to cause problems for video-centric users even a year after its release. The list goes on.
Lest you think I’m focusing unduly on Apple, this is hardly a problem exclusive to the folks in Cupertino. In 2005, Motorola’s iconic RAZR flip phone suffered from all kinds of issues despite its then-astronomical price tag. A year later, the same company kicked out one of the worst phones in history with the ill-fated MOTOROKR. The first Palm Pre was a disaster in terms of its hardware. And let’s not forget the “smartphone” that predated Microsoft’s reboot of its handheld Windows platform, the Kin. Oh, the Kin.
I could keep going, but I’m pretty sure you’re tired of link salad by now.
The point is: first-generation products have issues because of course they do. When you try new things, you’re going to run into trouble. And while the Apple Watch isn’t the first smartwatch to hit the market –not by a long shot– it definitely is trying something new. Apple didn’t decide to go as minimal with its feature set as Google did with Android Wear; indeed, there’s nearly as much functionality packed into the Apple Watch as there is in Samsung’s Gear S. With that many features controlled by an all-new interface on all-new hardware, you’re bound to hit a few bumps along the way. And if you’ve been exposed to any kind of technology at all, you should know that. “Don’t buy a first-model-year car” is practically a law in the auto-advice space.
So while I’m in no way apologizing for Apple –again, this is a mighty expensive product that the company has hyped up a lot– I’m also saying the Apple Watch problems currently making headlines shouldn’t surprise you. This is a brand-new product in a totally new form factor in a very young product category; if you buy one, you should expect to run into some issues. It’s not going to be perfect, no matter what the marketing copy says. And you should take that into account before spending your $350. Or your $17,000.