The overly-quantified self.


No, you don’t need an Apple Watch. I have one, and I like it, but you don’t need one. In fact you might not even want one. In its current incarnation, it is best used with as few apps on it as possible. If you pare it back to its most useful mode, it is not a computer in the way that we currently think about them.

It’s a notification engine.

Its main purpose is to be an outboard display for apps that (mostly) run on your iPhone. It does that reasonably well, but a lot of the time you find yourself simply moving across to the phone for any interactions of even moderate complexity. Most of those apps suck (frankly) and commit the sin of giving you too many notifications.

I’m a very highly-strung person, and I sometimes experience periods of extreme anxiety. I don’t want more notifications; I want fewer. Interestingly, the Apple Watch has helped me with that. I’ve turned off almost all noises and notifications on the phone except for those I deem highly important. The five people in my VIP email list, mentions in our work Slack channel, and text messages (only friends or very trusted colleagues are ‘allowed’ to text me so I don’t get a barrage of texts) are pretty much all that get through.

And when they do get through, it’s a simple ‘tap-tap’ on my wrist to let me know I can look at a message and — importantly — dismiss it. It’s brilliant. I’ve used call and text notification on the Fitbit Surge, and this is a million years ahead. You can be aware of something and dismiss it without doing anything other than glancing at your wrist.

In fact, I’ve found that as a result of this, I’m spending a great deal less time on my phone dicking around. You know when you get a message on your phone, and then an hour later you’re responding to some Twitter dm’s and you don’t remember how you got there? Well, if you’re not picking up your phone, you don’t go down that rabbit hole. It’s nice. I get to the end of the day with about 50% watch battery (often more) and my phone battery seems to be lasting longer as well — because neither device is actually ‘on’ all that much.

What I do miss very much is sleep tracking. I’ve been using various Fitbit devices to track my sleep for some time now. I often wake up in the middle of the night and then panic about not having slept. I know that sounds stupid, but my perceived sleep patterns very much affect my mood. With the Fitbit, I know how much I actually did sleep, rather than just thinking “I didn’t sleep a wink last night”. The Apple Watch needs to charge overnight, so it doesn’t have sleep tracking.

So now I am in the absurd position of wearing an Apple Watch on my left wrist and a Fitbit Charge HR on my right to track sleep and heart rate. The Apple Watch measures your heart rate, but not as well or as often as the Fitbit devices do, and of course, not overnight.

I’m in the fortunate position of working in a business that is investigating the use of wearable devices like the Fitbit for workplace safety, and that has also been asked to help other companies build apps (yes, I know) for the Apple Watch. On that basis, I can justify owning and wearing both of these devices. The fact that each of them is the result of a series of compromises is evidenced by the fact that to do the things I want, I wear them both.

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