¶ Millennium Move Ring

I love my Apple Watch. Since its launch date in 2015 I have had an Apple Watch on my wrist every day. And one of my favorite features is all the fitness related stuff. Closing my Activity Rings is a huge motivator for me. I love collecting the digital Activity awards. It’s pure silliness, I know — they’re just pixels on a screen — but dang it, I earned them! Especially that National Parks one in 2017 where I had to walk at least 3.5 miles for it (I did 4.64, and my feet hurt for days afterwards).

One of the awards I am especially proud of is my Longest Move Streak. See, I last started my Longest Move Streak on Tuesday, April 5, 2016. And every day since then I have completed that Move ring no matter what. Even when I was sick! And honestly, that probably wasn’t a very healthy to do. I could write a whole other article about how Apple’s Activity app needs to factor in rest days without ruining a streak. Another time.

I’ve know my 1,000th day of this streak was coming for a while, and I’ve been super nervous something would happen that would foil my efforts to reach it. As I came within a few days of it, I realized my 1,000th day would land on New Year’s Eve. Seemingly poetic.

Just before 6:00 PM last night, I reached it.

And today — New Year’s Day 2019 — I’m going to rest. I am intentionally going to end my streak. 1,000 days is enough. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach it again. And that’s okay. I’m going to increase my goal, and make it truly challenging to close it. I need that. My goal wasn’t low by any means, but I have definitely been able to reach it handily for the past months. Some of that might be that the Series 4 I bought in September tracks more movement than the previous Series 2 did.

It feels good to end my streak on my terms. A good clean effort. Nearly three years of showing up every day. And one day of rest to celebrate the accomplishment.

Tomorrow is a new day, and a new challenge.

Apple Heart Study launches to identify irregular heart rhythms

The old saying goes, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

But how much better would it be if an Apple device alerted you that you need to see a doctor, and it ended up saving your life? That’s now a reality, thanks to Apple Watch and Apple Heart Study, a joint study with Stanford Medicine.

Apple today launched the Apple Heart Study app, a first-of-its-kind research study using Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor to collect data on irregular heart rhythms and notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation (AFib).

AFib, the leading cause of stroke, is responsible for approximately 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations in the US every year. Many people don’t experience symptoms, so AFib often goes undiagnosed.

Apple is partnering with Stanford Medicine to perform the research. As part of the study, if an irregular heart rhythm is identified, participants will receive a notification on their Apple Watch and iPhone, a free consultation with a study doctor and an electrocardiogram (ECG) patch for additional monitoring. The Apple Heart Study app is available in the US App Store to customers who are 22 years or older and have an Apple Watch Series 1 or later.

I think this is a fantastic initiative. My mom has experienced AFib, as well as a dear mentor of mine. The idea that wearing an Apple Watch could detect this condition and alert you of it goes to show how advanced the heart rate sensor is in the device.

Features like this are why I think wearable technology like the Apple Watch can have a positive life altering — and even life saving — effect.

If you have an Apple Watch, meet the eligibility requirements, and are interested in participating, go download the Apple Heart Study app.

Quick Tip: the Apple Watch Flashlight

One of my favorite new features of watchOS 4 is using the Flashlight feature. It’s surprisingly bright for short distances, and sometimes a bit more handy than fumbling with my iPhone.

From the watch face, swipe up from the bottom and tap the flashlight icon. The screen will become all white, but somewhat dim. You can swipe from right to left to get a blinking white light to use as a signal, and swipe once more to get a red light that won’t disrupt your night vision as much.

As you turn your wrist away from your face, the screen brightens all the way to maximize the flashlight effect. Rotate back to your face, and after a moment of blinding yourself, it will dim again.

Apple’s support article says:

To turn off the flashlight, press the Digital Crown or side button, or swipe down from the top of the watch face.

I’ve found an even more satisfying way. You can also simply cover the screen with your palm, and the flashlight is extinguished. The best part is it feels natural enough to do without needing to rotate your wrist back toward your face, saving your eyes from that momentary bright light.

Watch apps worth making

"Underscore" David Smith, developer of apps such as Pedometer++ and Sleep++, has been thinking about which kinds of apps make sense on the Apple Watch as it is today. He considers three major types:

  • Complications
  • Notifications
  • Sensors

I agree those three types make sense for apps on the Apple Watch as it is today. While I use Complications frequently, I haven't found myself using any from third-parties yet. So far I prefer the standard Weather, Timer, and Activity Complications.

However, Notifications and Sensors are both huge for me and why I love my Apple Watch so much.

Deliveries notifies me when that thing I ordered has reached my doorstep.

MacID let's me lock and unlock my Mac over Bluetooth with ease.

David's own Pedometer++ has been vital for improving my personal health since it ties into the Watch's accelerometer to help me see a better picture of my daily activity.

All of my favorite Apple Watch apps use either Notifications or Sensors, or some combination of both, in an extremely practical way.

Other apps are on the Watch just to be on the Watch, without having a sensible purpose. These are what causes the Watch to be perceived as having unclear purpose.

Some neat Apple Watch tricks

Jonny Evans at Computerworld has some neat tips and tricks for the Apple Watch. I knew most of these already, but this one was completely new to me:

A call comes in and you check your Watch. You know you want to talk to this person but want to use your iPhone to make it. Suddenly anxious you grapple through all your pockets to find your phone and the call drops. It needn’t be this way – just use the Answer on iPhone button at the bottom of the incoming call screen (turn the Digital Crown a little and you’ll see it). The person calling will hear a repeated sound while you search for your phone. Stay cool.

This is amazingly useful and I've already used it a couple times for incoming calls.

Dave Mark at The Loop adds:

This is designed perfectly. The moment you tap the “Answer on iPhone” button, the call is answered and Siri’s voice says, “Please hold on a moment”. Then, a series of repeating tones plays, that makes it sound like you are on hold. My instinctive response was to stay on the phone. This is great.

I have no doubt I will get a lot of mileage out of this unsung hero of a feature.

Pedometer++ 2.3

Today Underscore David Smith released an update to Pedometer++ that I've been waiting a while for. Thankfully, I've been beta testing it for a while.

Version 2.3 is entirely focused around building a rich and robust integration between the Apple Watch and iPhone. Letting you track your steps and reach your step goal in a much more complete way. The update focuses around 3 main features: data sync, complications and a workout mode.

David has created a clever system that intelligently merges step count data between the Apple Watch and iPhone based on which device is giving the best data in a given moment. This is in contrast to how Apple does it, where the Health app goes by device priority, falling back to the second device in a list only if the first is unavailable.

In my testing, David's approach seems to paint a terrifically accurate picture of overall step data in a day.

The watch face complications can be nice, but I find I prefer other complications and still don't mind swiping up the app's Glance to get a peek at my progress.

Finally, Pedometer++ adds a workout mode as an alternative to the Watch's included Workout app. It works well, and the only thing I'd like to see added is a mileage goal, as I use that in the Workout app to receive a tap at the halfway point, so I know when I should turn around and head home.

Pedometer++ is free on the App Store and is ad-supported, but David includes a tip jar with varying price points in the settings to remove the ads. Any tip amount will remove the ads. I suggest going for the Amazing tip, because the app is just that good.

¶ Traveling with Apple Watch

I'm not one who particularly enjoys traveling. Let me clarify, I enjoy my destination, but I am not fond of the process of travel. This sense of blah increases by an order of magnitude when it comes to air travel.

This past week I traveled to Toronto for work. Also my first trip to Canada. I was prepared to have to use paper boarding passes as it is an international flight. Passbook has only worked for me on domestic flights in the past. But to my surprise and delight, United's app allowed me to check-in in advance, and take a photo of my passport for verification. And then I saw those three glorious words: Add to Passbook.

What's even better is that the boarding passes were also available on my Apple Watch. For departure, I entered the airport, skipped United's desk, and walked straight to the security checkpoint. The agents scanned the barcode off my Apple Watch for my boarding pass, examined my passport, gave me the customary greeting of a patdown, and I was on my way.

Upon arrival in Toronto, I took a quick train to the station nearest my hotel. I was within walking distance, so I opened Maps on my watch, spoke the name of the hotel, tapped walking directions, and felt like I wasn't a complete foreigner as I turned when he watch subtly tapped my wrist in its left/right sequences. It worked perfectly, and I never had to take my phone out of my pocket.

Finally, Canada has been a bit more civilized in regard to payments for some time now. NFC is present just about everywhere. Using my Apple Watch to pay with Apple Pay just worked. Also, it was kind of fun to see the slight jealousy of Canadians when they realized I used Apple Pay, as it is not yet available in the Great White North.

As time goes on, I am finding the greatest thing about aw is the convenience it brings to my life. It is still by far not a necessity, as my iPhone can do just about everything the Watch can, but having the essentials of what I need available to me quickly and easily is terrific.

¶ The Companion

A watch can tell you a lot about a person. Do they care more about utility or fashion? Are their tastes modest or lavish? Even how adorned the watch face is can tell you a lot about a person. A more complete & complicated face can tell you whether the person cares greatly about punctuality to the second, whereas a blank face, such as a Movado or Guess, can tell you that the person is only interested in the general estimate of the time.

I doubt many people take notice of such things. In my observations, most people don't even register another person's watch. I've taken notice of this more than usual the past six weeks when I took off my Seiko 5 and put on my 42 mm Space Gray Apple Watch Sport.

I honestly expected strangers to notice and ask me questions about it. My friends, of course, knew I was getting it and naturally asked about it. But it took a solid three weeks before a stranger noticed, and it was when I pulled up Passbook for the local theater's rewards program. The clerk immediately noticed then, but, really, how could he not? It was obvious. Likewise, the only other times anyone has noticed have been for times I have used the Watch for Apple Pay or Passbook.

Outside of those obvious contexts, the Apple Watch is just another watch to almost everyone out there.

And it really is a fantastic timepiece. But it is also more than that.

It's a companion.

Timekeeping

Let's start with the basics. The Apple Watch is an excellent watch, and it is priced comparatively to other great watches. Being digital, it is intensely accurate — ± 50 milliseconds of the global time standard.

It's also a handsome and fashionable timepiece. I'm really glad I went with the Space Gray model, as I love the darker toned metal, and the black band it came with. It honestly works with any style of wardrobe I choose. And when you are not using the Watch, the cover glass is pitch black. It draws no attention to itself. It is humble and unassuming.

One feature of the Apple Watch that traditional watches cannot replicate is that it truly can fit for any occasion. It comes with a myriad of choices of watch faces, and a number of them offer a great level of granular customization. You can adorn the face with as little or as much complication as you want, and even change the colors of some elements to match what you are wearing. My favorite is the Utility face, and I generally have the accent color for the date & second hand set to orange, my personal favorite color.

The Utility face is greatly customizable. It can be set to show numbers for all twelve hour positions, or just the four cardinals, or none at all. Another favorite is the Color face, set to either a bright blue or orange, which reminds me a bit of Tron.

No matter the occasion, the Watch is a companion to your style.

Complications

A great deal of the watch faces have little bits of data you can add called Complications. They are like little widgets. You can set things such as activity level (more on that later), the weather, timer, calendar, sunrise/sunset, moon phase, and the time of various cities via the World Clock.

The standards I keep on my beloved Utility face are Activity, Timer, and Weather. Tapping one of them will switch you over into the corresponding app. I love this in the morning as I am getting ready. I'll glance at my Watch to see the current weather, and with a tap on that Complication, I can check the hourly forecast for the day. Sometimes I take a peek at the 10-day forecast to build a mental picture of how the week looks. It seems Monday will be an opportune time to mow the lawn.

Fitness

It turns out mowing the lawn is quite the workout. I have the data to prove it thanks to the Watch. Of course, I'm the one using an old school, Chris-powered reel mower, so it better be a workout.

Fitness is one aspect where the Watch has been shining as a companion. The three activity rings — pink for active movement, green for exercise at a brisk walk or above, and blue for 1 minute of standing movement per hour — are genius and provide a great deal of motivation for me to move more.

The pink Move ring, as Apple calls it, measures your active caloric burn throughout the day. By default, it starts you off with a rather attainable daily goal. When you meet that every day for the week, the start of the next week will prompt you to increase your goal and suggest a new goal. You can adjust that up or down. I've become a bit obsessive about completing my Move ring each day. I had a 34 day streak going until I missed it by 15 calories when my wife & I were watching something. Don't worry, I'll get it back.

The green Exercise ring is the bane of my existence right now. For the past two months I have gone on a daily walk during my lunch break from work. At first I could log only about a half mile in 20 minutes. Now I can do about 1 to 1.25 miles in that time. Yet at my new normal walk pace it isn't enough to budge that dang green ring. I don't know what speed Apple considers a brisk walk, but I have to be near jogging to get the ring moving. I hope this gets adjusted in a software update, because it feels a bit off.

That said, it logs perfectly when I go for a run or a bike ride, or when I mow the lawn of all things. I have a feeling a great deal of the Exercise ring is due to heart rate, and I must not be getting my heart rate up enough when walking to count. But mowing the lawn does the trick quite well. Oh, did I mention that the back of the Watch is a heart rate monitor? Well, it is.

Finally, the blue Stand ring is changing my health for the better, and I love it. It's not only helping my physical health, but also my mental health. I'm the type of person who will get tunnel visioned on my work and I will sit at my desk for four hours straight before standing. And when that happens it hurts to stand up. And my eyes hurt from being so focused on a screen.

Now, if I have been sitting from the top of the hour to fifty minutes past, the Watch will give me a tap on the wrist. It's hard to ignore. I glance at the screen and it says it is time to stand up and move around for at least one minute. I obey, rise from my chair, and walk about the house. I say hi to my wife, give her a kiss, and ask her how she's been the past hour. We connect for a moment, and I get myself something to drink. Another tap, the minute is up.

It's now a new routine. I get a mental break from my work. A brief moment to unplug and step away. My eyes thank me for the change of scenery. My legs appreciate the movement.

Now, if I have not been sedentary for those 50 minutes into an hour, the Watch logs that and credits the hour to my Stand ring, and forgoes the nudge on the wrist. I also appreciate that, too. I rarely feel a tap to stand up & move on a weekend.

The Watch has become my fitness companion.

Assistant

The single greatest thing about the Watch has been that I am looking at my iPhone less.

It used to be that my phone would vibrate and make a sound, and I would instinctively pull my phone out from my pocket, and swipe on the notification to deal with it. But I wouldn't stop there. The next thing I knew I was checking another app, then maybe another. And ten minutes have passed. I never really noticed this as a problem, but in retrospect it wore on me.

Some of the first things I did when setting up my Apple Watch was to silence it, and limit which things I'd allow the phone to send over as notifications. Now, my phone doesn't explicitly notify me for most things, and my watch gives me gentle taps on the wrist instead.

The beautiful part is that I've gained more restraint in whether or not to act on a notification. My wrist is tapped, I glance to see a short preview of the notification, and often I just turn my wrist away to queue the notification to be acted upon later. Most things don't require my immediate attention, and now I can tell that in seconds with little effort.

It's almost like having a well-known assistant who can give you non-verbal cues as to whether your attention is really needed or not.

I'd be remiss to make a comparison about the Watch being like an assistant with mentioning Apple digital assistant Siri. I'll admit I was pretty bearish on Siri for the Watch as Siri has never been all that stellar on iOS. But somehow, Siri is really good on the Watch. This is important, because Siri is the main way you interact with the Watch. Dictation is almost always spot on with the Watch, more so than it ever has been (or still is) with the iPhone. I've even found Siri to be responsive to a near whisper if I hold the Watch a little closer.

She also doesn't talk to you, at least, not out loud like she does on iPhone. Instead, Siri on Apple Watch communicates solely via text. And I kind of like that. It almost feels more personal since it is unlikely for someone else to be looking on, whereas the verbal aspect of Siri on iPhone can be heard by anyone around you.

Between the subtle approach to notifications and a faster, more accurate, and — dare I say — more intimate Siri, the Watch makes an impressive companion as an assistant.

The Little Things

Apple Watch wouldn't be an Apple product if it didn't make us appreciate the little things. And there are many of them to be appreciated.

In no particular order:

  • The ability for the Watch to easily change bands is amazing. With the simple press of a button on the underside the strap slides off the case, and a new one can slide right in. It's amazing other watches have never done this.
  • The Sport band is extremely comfortable. I didn't expect it to be. I expected it to feel plasticy or rubbery, but it feels like neither. It is soft & feels fantastic. I can see why Apple insists on using the mouthful of a word fluoroelastomer instead of simply rubber, as it is a totally different grade of material warranting a higher expectation.
  • I love using the Digital Crown. The crown on traditional watches is something you use maybe twice a year to set the time for daylight savings. On Apple Watch, the crown is used constantly. It's how you scroll a text view or longer notification or zoom in and out of maps (and it is so smooth when scrolling. It glides like it is greased with butter). Pressing it is akin to the iPhone's Home button. Double pressing it switches you between the last two apps used. Pressing & holding manually activates Siri.
  • I was impressed by how compact the Watch is, even the larger 42 mm. The pictures on Apple's site don't do it justice here. The pictures make it look rather thick & cumbersome, and it is anything but. In fact, it is the same thickness as my Seiko 5, and has about the same height x width footprint. It really does feel like a watch, not a miniature wearable computer.
  • This is the first Apple device to be water resistant, and it is really water resistant. It appears to surpass Apple's very cautious recommendations. I've seen videos of folks swimming with it, or leaving it at the bottom of a pool for an hour without problem. I've personally ran with it in the rain, done the dishes numerous times, and even wore it in the shower once, all without issue. It's a very rugged little watch.
  • Sending my heartbeat to a friend is fun because it weirds them out. Receiving a heartbeat from a friend, well, weirds me out. I do think it'd be a great feature if my wife ever decides she wants an Apple Watch, especially on the rare times one of us is traveling without the other. I can see having an appreciation for sending & receiving heartbeats with her, much like I appreciate FaceTime in that regard.
  • Don't worry about battery life. I have rarely had it dip below 30% charge, even with higher usage on a family trip to Chicago, where I was getting directions. It truly is all-day battery. And, since I am looking at my iPhone less frequently, my battery life has been better day-to-day on that, as well.

The fact that the Apple Watch is a watch first and foremost — and an excellent watch at that — makes it an excellent companion with regard to style and daily utility. Add to that an amazing fitness tracker that measures many aspects of my health, and improving on aspects I didn't expect it to, makes it a companion on the journey to a better me. Finally it is my companion as a well-timed assistant, keeping me focused on the things that carry greater importance, and leaving the chaff to be dealt with at a later time.

I was skeptical about how the Apple Watch would fit into my life. I questioned whether I really needed yet another device. But Apple Watch is not just any other device. It is my new watch for any occasion, in pretty much any environment, helping me be healthier, and helping form a new habit to be intentional in my interactions with my devices and with other people.

Exclusive Apple Watch Sport band colors

When it comes to the Sport band for Apple Watch, there's only a few color to choose from. The standard white and black, and then very bright pink, blue, and green. That's it. None are ugly, but the three bright colors are very sporty.

My wife is a navy blue kind of girl, and she frowned when she saw there wasn't a navy blue sport band. And then Jony Ive goes and shows off some exclusive Sport band colors in Milan, and there it is…navy blue.

I showed the photo to my wife and she said, "I hope that's available for version 2."

Your move, Apple.

¶ Last Minute Watch Thoughts

I've posted very little — if anything — about the Apple Watch. I'm pretty excited for it as I can see some areas it would be useful for me. Admittedly, I hadn't really considered the Watch much until two things happened in the past few months.

  1. My parents bought me a Seiko 5 Automatic watch for Christmas (thanks Mom & Dad!).
  2. I lost my Fitbit One.

I hadn't really worn a watch since around 2004 when I started using a laptop as my main computer. At the time, the watch strap on the watch I wore dug into my wrist as my wrist rested on the laptop while typing. I was in college at the time, and was typing pretty much most of the day every day.

The strap on the Seiko 5 is fabric, and I don't have this problem. It's a simple watch, and I've loved wearing it. I could go on more, but I'll save that for a future article.

Losing my Fitbit has been the biggest impact. Yes, I could go buy another Fitbit. But for kicks and giggles I started using the M8 motion coprocessor in my iPhone 6 to track steps. All this gets recorded into Apple's Health app, which fascinates me. However I am mainly using Pedometer++ to visualize the data. I also still have the Fitbit app tying into the M8 with its MobileTrack function, and I also tied in the Nike+ Fuel app to it to complement my Nike+ Running app.

The experiment with the iPhone 6 for step tracking has been great. And adding the Apple Watch to that as an additional set of sensors for that ecosystem is very enticing.

But I also had a couple thoughts this morning of What If… that would make the Watch even more compelling.

Security

What if the Apple Watch could be used a token of sorts to unlock your Mac when you are near it and lock it when you walk away. I like to think this would work much like how the Watch will work with Apple Pay.

For Apple Pay, you must have the Watch in contact with your skin, and authenticate it with your iPhone. Break the skin contact, and a re-auth will be required.

What if you also had your Watch paired to your Mac, and have to log in with your password once on the Mac to authenticate, and then the Watch serves as a proximity token as long as skin contact is maintained.

It's just a little thought, but I can see that being yet another compelling selling point for the Apple Watch.