Apple Watch In-Store Experience

Walking In

I was away for a bit — somewhere without an Apple Store — and decided to take a trip to one of the local Apple Stores in order to check out the new Apple Watches.  Watches?  Watch Collections? Whatever.

I think this was the first day that you could call spring, so a lot of people were motivated to be outside rather than in a mall or an Apple Store. That means, I got a bit lucky when I walked into the Apple Store and there wasn't much of a crowd. Obviously, the few people that were there on a Sunday were crowded around the new device. That used to be the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus - nobody cares about those anymore. They were the flavour of the month last week.

Reading a few sites about Apple news, I knew that I would have to get an appointment to try on a Watch. That didn't bother me so much, I knew there would be a table with a glass top showing off the new Watches and probably a demo unit somewhere cycling through a video.

I started over to the table and noticed the  Watch Edition in the table cabinet. Luckily an Apple Specialist asked if I had any questions and of course I wanted to try it on. He set up an appointment for me in 5 minutes, so I waited for a few minutes before I was brought over to another table.

Trying On

It's a typical Apple Store Table that looks like it came out of IKEA (or somewhere similar) with six Specialists standing behind six leather pads around the table. The young man asked if I had considered which collection and/or band I would be interested in. I said, "Let's start at the Sport and then try Steel."

He pulled out his special iPod Touch in it's special Apple employee case and taped the back of the case on a special area of the side of the table allowing him to open up a hidden drawer. Now, I get why the six Specialists are standing around the table in those strategic spots — those are the spots for the drawers. The drawers can hold up to 18 different watches. That's not enough to have every combination possible but close to half. You can get a good mix of the different size faces and try the different styles of bands. Also, in each hole there was a piece protruding up that looks like a dock for the Watch, but I'm pretty sure that it's just a magnet to keep things in place instead of sliding around while the drawers are being opened and closed.

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The first demo unit I tried was the Space Grey  Watch Sport with the fluoroelastomer band. My new helper friend would rest the watch demo on the leather pad, ensure the drawer was closed, rub the watch with a special cloth, unbuckle and then ask for my wrist. It was very methodical. Okay, it's a lot smoother and softer than I was anticipating. My experience with rubber watch bands has been limited to watches from manufactures such as Timex and Casio. Nothing wrong with those bands and brands, I was assuming that the band was going to be a little "harsher" than it actually was.

Something I noticed right away was that the Watch face didn't turn on when taped or the pressing the buttons. Not sure the reasoning behind it. Maybe a security aspect to prevent anybody from running out with it — not really sure.

Going on from there, I tried the  Watch (nothing) with the various bands that they had available in their secret drawers. The leather loop, the Milanese loop, the buckle, what ever the others were. I've forgotten the rest. My helper was sure to tell me that the different leathers were procured from different countries — France, Italy and Netherlands (I think). I didn't matter much to me, so I didn't retain it. Sorry guy. Each time I asked to try a different band, the same methodical process of tapping the special iPod Touch case, bringing out the watch, rubbing it down was repeated and reversed each time. Not sure if the employee was taking pride in the process or that's the "prescribed" manner.

My favourite was the Milanese Loop on the Steel model (they should really call it the Steel model, but maybe Pebble got there first?) It was worth noting that the finish on the bands.

A good portion of the multitude of bands that are available will only look good on the  Watch (nothing). Apple is putting more attention to that collection than the others. The anodized finish of the Sport collection does not match with a good portion of the bands. The clip mechanism to connect the Milanese band as same finish as the  Watch (nothing), so it may look a little silly if you try to put it on a Sport.

The "try on" appointments are 15 minutes long, so I was running out of time on my allotment and thanked the guy for his time and he suggested that I take a look at the demo models that were available on a bench to the side.

Demo Units

Moving over to the side benches, you're greeted by a plastic white wedge that houses an iPad mini on the left and an  Watch (Steel) on the right.

I had read online that the Watches were demos and running a demo loop. But that must have been at that writer's particular store, because these were working units at my Apple Store. That being said, there were some aspects of the software that were disabled such as Bluetooth syncing and the Remote Camera app but the rest was working.

Naturally, I started at the home screen on the watch without paying attention to the iPad mini. These iPads are all over the place in the store showing you the details of the product. The first app that I launched was the watch(?) app. Maybe "time piece" app? What ever it's called, it' brought up a watch face. I saw the iPad slip to the next slide in it's demo reel but didn't pay much attention to it.

To customize the watch, you force press into the screen. So, let's try that. A similar taptic engine that I tried in the new MacBook Pros is present but my mind wasn't as tricked about pushing "into" the display as it was on the trackpad on the MBPs. Whatever, it did the job. A new menu was brought up for customizing the watch. There are a handful (maybe 7) of watch faces that are available to switch to, but I notice a "Customize" button.

Pushing that brings up a whole slew of options to tweak a watch face to a way that you like. You can decide if you want the current temperature in the corner, the moon phase, sunrise/sunset time in each corner, the colour of the second hand, the detail in the face ticks around the dial and much more. I quickly tried these for the the analogue faces and then the digital faces, but there weren't as much options in the digital category. That being said, there was an option to add more faces in the future.

Next I tried the weather app and the iPad went no the next slide of it's reel -- wait a minute. The iPad knows which app I am launching on the phone and then brining up some details on the iPad. That's so cool! Wait, wait. What if I go to the Messages app? Does it change then? OMG the iPad changed to show Messages. That's so cool.

On a side note: That wedge it powered solely by a battery. I assumed that it was fastened to the table some how but it was just the weight of the wedge and friction. I was able to slide it over a bit and then realized there was no whole or connection underneath. So I can pick this up? Sure enough, you can pick it up. You can walk around with it. The iPad display is on the whole time. There is one Lighting port on the back, which has to be for charging and updating. There must be a charging station in the back because there were eight of these units on the benches.

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The Messages app has that thing where you can send a heartbeat, but that wasn't working because the heart rate monitor was partially covered in the demo unit. But I did notice that there was a green light emitting from the back of the Watch. I'm guessing that has to do with reading a heart beat. Okay, I'm not really guessing I know that's why it's there but there it's not next a wrist for measuring so nothing came up.

The Watch reacts well to touches but I noticed that it is a little laggy when opening up stock apps. These are pretty simple apps, heavier third party apps are going to be a bit laggier when launching.

Rummaging around in the Settings app/pane I noticed that Watch had some songs preloaded, the WiFi MAC address, the Bluetooth MAC address, the version number and all that. Ten songs already on the watch ay? Well let's go find those.

Launched the iTunes/Music app to find that there were some songs in there, but I couldn't hear them. They could have been static for all I know but I could change the volume and track. If you do that force push thing (which I was on every new pane) you have the option pick the source of your music library and AirPlay. You can AirPlay from the watch to an Apple TV? Interesting. I'm sure that you will be able to select "Phone" as source and then AirPlay that music without having to pull out an iPhone. That's kinda cool.

There isn't much else to say about the apps but the crown and the button. The crown felt nice to run up and down. It didn't take a long time to figure that out if you want to zoom in and out or scroll up and down.

The buttons — that will take more practice. I never read the manual, so I never knew which button was which. The crown is a button as well don't forget. The first time I came to pressing one of them was in the Messages app. I was doing that fun thing where you draw something and it sends it to somebody else. Yeah it's cute, but I pushed the crown to go back a pane. To be honest, I can't remember if it did what I want. But sometimes, I would push the regular button when I thought that was the intuitive thing to do in that situation, but it brought up the quick contacts menu. Not what I wanted. Not sure if that's going to have to be more practice on my part or something Apple didn't think through properly. To be honest, not sure how much I would use that quick contacts menu. I would want to allocate that button to something else. To what? Not sure.

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Take Away

I wish I could remember what was in this section of the Apple Store two weeks ago. Now, Apple is devoted two full tables and two side benches to the  Watch in one my local stores. That's pretty much the minimum that is necessary in order to show off the Watch collections.

I have a feeling that some of the Specialists that helped me today were not locals. I suspect that some were trained in the States (maybe Cupertino) as part of a secret class and then loaned to individual Apple Stores until such time that the local Specialists have time to be trained. I'm pretty sure I overheard a conversation about a hiring/training exercise later that night. There isn't anything else new for employees to be trained on other than the  Watch collections.

They were pushing to buy the  Watch (nothing) saying that it was "better kit" than the Sport collection. Another customer was attracted by the crowd in the story and starting looking at the Watches in table cases. When asked if he wanted help, he replied "What's this good for if I have my phone right here?" The Specialist came up with some scripted answers on why an average consumer would want one of these: "Hands free experience" and "it has a heart rate monitor." That's all he had to offer? The other patron was not convinced.

I have to admit, I felt that I didn't need one walking into the Apple Store this afternoon but the experience was polished enough that I just want one. It's a well made piece of tech. It feels good and fun on the wrist. Earlier I said that I would like the Milanese loop on the  Watch (Steel) but I suspect that I would never wear the  Watch to a formal function that would warrant a Steel Watch. I would rather wear a nicer Steel watch that I have already. I'm not ready for that.

On a regular day, I wouldn't mind wearing an  Watch Sport. Right now, I like it. It feels nice. If I preorder right now, I won't get the Watch until June. That's a deterrent but gives me more time to think about it. It will be almost $600 for Canadians. I can think of better things to spend that kind of change on.