By Jule Ann Lieberman and Michael Zaken
Jule Ann: It took a great deal of convincing that I “needed” an Apple watch. After all I was just fine using my Braille watch and I frequently have my iPhone 6 at close reach, so why would I want an Apple Watch? I read all the blog posts on many of the technology websites frequented by persons with vision loss and became increasingly more intrigued about including an Apple watch in my tool kit for independence.
So what does an Apple Watch do? OK, the obvious first, Voice Over which makes all Apple products talk can be enabled. This makes it a talking watch. But it goes a great deal further too.
I will give you a typical day using my Apple watch. Each night I charge my watch on my nightstand. I typically turn off Voice Over as I sometimes get notifications and text messages that come during the night and do not want to disturb my husband’s sleep. I put the watch on as I prepare to leave for work. Voice Over is turned on with the accessibility shortcut called triple click home. For those who wonder what the home button is; it is located in a similar manner as a typical watch stem button. I check my time, and temperature and the notification center to find if any important messages or safety alerts have come across overnight. Then, off I go.
The Apple watch “communicates” with my iPhone 6 and I have found that they can be as far apart as several feet and still connect. This means that I need not open my purse or backpack to retrieve my phone to answer a call, reply to a text message etc. This comes in very handy while on the commuter train or rushing to and from the train station each day.
Yes, I have actually answered calls, placed calls and replied just using my watch. All I need is that yellow Fedora hat and I too can be Dick Tracey the comic strip detective of years back. When a call comes in it rings and vibrates on my wrist, and I have options (all spoken by Voice Over) to answer the call or let the caller know with a message that I am unavailable to answer the call. The watch has a built in microphone and speaker so I can do this on the fly. When replying to a text message, I can swipe through a list of quick responses such as OK, Call you later, thanks etc. or swipe to the dictate button and say my message. It gives me an option to send it as text or as audio message. Using blue tooth, I have connected a bone conduction headphone which allows me the same privacy as on my phone. Although I could listen to my emails read to me using Voice Over on the watch, I save this activity for my iPhone as I find that method easier.
My favorite uses however come from other activities that would have required multiple devices in the past. I never need a talking timer or stopwatch as the apps on my Apple watch are easy to use. I have enabled the activity tracker which can provide me prompts to stand up and move a little. Given that most of my day is spent sitting at a desk , this reminder prompt helps me take that one minute break to stand and stretch, I have already noticed less neck and back pain since I have used this tracker.
Now, here are the fun apps; workout app and health apps. I have been advised by my physician that I must lose weight and increase exercise. The workout app allows me to select the type of workout I will be performing: indoor walk/run, outdoor /run/walk, elliptical and many other options. The same simple gestures I use on my iPhone all can be used on my Apple watch so setting calories I hope to burn and reading elapsed time are easy. The workout app also tracks my average pace and heart rate. This is especially handy in measuring the amount of energy I am using during my workouts so that I can adjust as needed. I can get a weekly report that will average my workouts and heart rate so I can discuss with my physician for additional recommendations. There are diet tracker apps that can also assist in recording meals and snacks which can help with documenting progress on my weight loss journey.
I am just beginning to discover other helpful apps such as weather alerts, voice notes and travel aids such as Google Maps, Around Me and Transit Philly. After only two plus months I have become a believer in the apple watch and I have left my lovely Braille watch behind.
Michael: I bought my sport Apple Watch 38 mm to enhance my exercise program by keeping track of how much walking and running I due throughout the day, as well as, monitoring my heart rate while I am running.
The watch works as a complement to the iPhone rather than a replacement for the iPhone. I specify what apps on my iPhone I want to use on my watch, and in what order they will appear and how my clock face is set up.
The Sport is light weight and fits my wrist rather well. The screen being small is not a limitation but an advantage because you just need to swipe right or left and the information is right there. You don’t need to look for it all over the screen.
I use my transit app to know when my bus will arrive, the weather app, SIRI for voice commands, or lift my arm or tap the watch face to get the time.
I like to use the Just Press Record app to make short recordings and the TimeBuzz app for getting silent buzzes for the time. The notifications on news, weather alerts, and twitter are also handy.
There are two noticeable limitations to the watch. The watch can be slow in responding to requests, and the battery life is limited to about 16 hours.
If you wanted a longer lasting watch, the 42mm lasts for about 25 hours. The next generation of the watch will be released in June and will have a number of improvements.