Thursday, July 09, 2015

I Just Ran 100 Miles in My Apple Watch
         and Here's What Happened

CMO at HireVue
World's Best Teams 
Jul 8, 2015

I just got my Apple watch and figured what better way to get acquainted than busting a hundy in it. The Keys 100 ultramarathon is an individual footrace from mile marker one hundred on Highway A1A in Key Largo down to the Southernmost point of the continental United States in Key West. The route dividing the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico is an epic journey in and of itself. In addition to the milage and salt air from crossing more than 30 bridges, temperatures reach upwards of 100 degrees, providing the ideal testing ground for the latest toy from Cupertino. Plus, what better way to get familiar with the new wearable than spending a consecutive 22 hours and 52 minutes with it?

Here’s what I learned:

It’s a smart-fit-watch. In a nutshell, this is exactly what it is - a mashup of a smartphone, watch and fitness band - all in one. Ok, you still need your iPhone connected for a number of things. I get it. But from making calls and texts to checking meetings and social BACN - all while getting your miles in - it’s like having the information and capabilities of all three devices available at the flick of the wrist. That’s what it is.

Shake n’ bake - it’s durable. 22 hours of movement and 100 miles of sun, sweat, salt and sunscreen were no problem for the watch. I thought the heat from the tropical sun - Key West is just 90 miles north of Cuba - might overheat the watch like it does my iPhone. I live in Florida and 3 minutes of direct sun is typically enough to temporarily brick the phone. The watch didn’t overheat and surprisingly never got warm on my wrist, despite 12 hours of direct sunlight and temperatures in the 90’s. And battery life was fine - 23 hours with no warning.

Feels good, nice fitting. Most of the wearables I’ve tried have been clunky. I have about a dozen watches and have run through six Garmins over the years. We all know Apple can put out good tech, but a wearable? I was reluctant that Apple could nail the design and produce a watch the feels like a… well, watch. The Apple Watch is surprisingly comfortable. It actually fits and feels better than most of my real watches. And it's definitely more lightweight and comfortable than any Garmin I’ve owned. I barely noticed the feel of it during the run - a good thing.

It’s safer, and liberating. Social BACN, text messages, phone calls, calendar reminders - even HireVue new digital interview notifications - are all syndicated from your phone, making it much easier and safer to keep a pulse on what's going on "at a flick.” Consider before: Buzzzzz. Pull out phone. Unlock phone. Butterfingers? Try again. Troll through your phone: “you’ve been retweeted.” Doh! Put it away. Repeat entire process in 5 minutes. This is a distraction in a board meeting, yet alone while running, trying to make sure you don’t trip and fall all over the pavement (yes, that’s happened).  And now after: the simple watch vibration makes it easy to just flick the wrist and see that retweet, calendar notice or new Facebook invite you’ve been waiting on. One second and and 0 clicks, instead of about ten.

Quick messaging is easy. I got a number of texts during the run, including important ones from my crew like “what do you want to eat in 5 miles” or “you’re dehydrated and need water or you’ll die!” Apple created intuitive, contextually relevant quick responses like “yes” and “no" that I used about one third of the time; and the rest of the time I use Siri to respond. I hated Siri when she first launched for iPhone but she’s made some noticeable improvements and worked 90% of the time.

Trekkie phone calls are surprisingly good. Beam me up, Scotty. About 30 miles into the run, my iPhone headphones died. Probably from sweating like a gallon of water on them. So I used the Apple Watch to answer a couple incoming calls and it worked surprisingly well. The speaker and mic work fine (except when a loud truck is about to knock you off the road). Perhaps is me, it just feels a bit bizarro talking to your wrist.

Activity app is pretty cool, health apps are ok. It’s nice having activity tracking - time standing, moving, calories burned, et al without having to worry about a band flopping around in addition to a sports watch. I think the heart rate tracking needs some work for accuracy but it’s great having the steps, calories and moving time integrated into the smartwatch. At least on a normal day, when daily activity targets aren’t exceed by 7:44 am. :)

Health apps are the future and true value. While the basic activity tracking is cool, it really just gets to parity with the FitBits and JawBones of the world. What will get interesting are future applications from HealthKit and ResearchKit. For example, if it can simultaneously monitor my vitals, nutrition and deeper activity information to alert me - in real-time - of dehydration risk (I almost had to tap out between miles 25-50 from dehydration), hyponatremia or abnormal heart activity. All by analyzing big data and patterns with other athlete's behaviors overtime.

Mix n' match watch faces are fun. There's a lot of watch face options to choose from and you can customize them to your personal liking. It’s surprisingly pretty cool to geek out on the faces. I created my own "sports watch face" with temperature and basic activity info; a more sophisticated "workday watch face" with upcoming meetings, time zones and date info; and, a “weekend watch face” with nothing but a time display.

It doesn't replace the fitness watch… yet.  It doesn't have the level of activity tracking and sophistication that serious sport watches possess. Missing are things like pace alerts, auto pause, elevation, race routes, and advanced split capabilities like auto-lapping - in an intuitive and simple utility format. I'm sure in time these things will be added. In the meantime, I’d stick with a Garmin or similar watch if you need more advanced capabilities. At least… for now.

So that’s it in a nutshell. Overall, it’s fun. Before, a watch was... a watch.  Basically relegated to an irrelevant piece of jewelry (a few weeks later, I still find myself checking the time on my phone, WTF). Now my watch is more useful. And what I like most? Feeling less obsessed with my phone while on the go. Running or relaxing, I think that's something I think we could all use a little break from.

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