Apple Watch Makes the Perfect Snowboarding Companion

The passion for my Watch was starting to run low.

It started when I had wanted something seemingly simple: a silent alarm to help form new habits. The Watch seemed like perfect candidate as I could set vibration-only alarms that wouldn't bother those around me. The stealth of the alarm was key because one of said habits I wanted was to get out of bed earlier (trying to retrain myself from being a night owl), and I didn't want to wake my wife in the process.

But I quickly realized I'd have to do the David Smith dance of charging multiple times a day for 15-20 minutes at a time to be able to wear the Watch 24/7. The idea of making time to charge the Watch multiple times a day was a deal-breaker, I just didn't want that mental burden. So instead I bought a Jawbone Up 2 which offers 9+ day battery life and the same alarm function. So far, I'm enjoying that little thing, even if my wrist is getting crowded.

Once I realized just how glaring the battery shortcoming of the Watch was I couldn't un-see it. I was starting to lose interest because I knew just how many features could never work on the Watch as it exists today (like running the Watch in workout mode as I snowboarded all day so I could get ring credit). It felt limiting.

Then I went snowboarding with a bunch of friends in Killington VT over a long weekend and the Watch, even as a v1 product, really shined.

When you're on the mountain with a group of friends, all with varying skill levels, you tend to split up a bit. Some want to break early for lunch or some don't feel up for that black diamond trail. But you always want to meet back up after a few runs and need to coordinate where/when.

Texting is the obvious choice for coordination, but that involves removing gloves and digging out your phone. Cry me a river, right? When you're doing this 15+ times a day you get quick at the dance, but it gets annoying when it's 10°f and windy. It's also limiting because taking out your phone requires stopping: either waiting to hop on a lift or taking a knee mid-trail. That's all assuming you even felt the notification vibration through all your layers of clothes.

Before the Watch the best way to solve this was with a $600 pair of Oakley Airwave ski goggles that could pair with your phone to relay incoming messages to a tiny little HUD in the corner of your eye.

After a season with the Watch I've really come to appreciate avoiding the first-world-problem of having to take out your phone to see notifications. It seems like such a silly thing to complain about, but it really does change my interaction model when the information is available at a glance without having to sacrifice precious hand-heat.

What really shined for me though, a bit unexpectedly, was Siri on the Watch. It turned my interactions through text messages into more of a push-to-talk style phone. I didn't need to wait to take out my phone to reply (which was even worse than checking the lock screen for messages, as thanks to Touch ID even my touch-screen-friendly glove liners had to come off).

Sure, Siri on the Watch is slow compared to Siri on the phone, but once I realized I could issue a command and drop my arm without waiting for it to resolve, and trust it would go through and just wait for the buzz confirmation, the arm-fatigue and impatience often associated with the Watch was gone.

I probably looked like an idiot a few times, talking into my wrist as I was snowboarding down the mountain, but you know what? My hands were warm.

Top all that off with being able to use Slopes throughout the day on my wrist to check out things like my top speed, or how many runs I went on so far, and my phone actually never left my pocket all day.

As I think back to the original iPhone, and I reflect on that weekend trip, I'm slightly more optimistic about the Watch. I remember being amazed that as I stood in line for an event at PAX that I could load a web page to look something up without a computer. Sure, it took 45 seconds on EDGE and drained 4% of my battery in the process, but it was still awesome.

Siri on the Watch will get faster. The battery situation will improve. The Watch as a whole will get faster. We're spoiled by iPhone speeds and sometimes forget just how long it took us to get there, and the crap we dealt with until then.

I think that we're learning that the Watch won't be like the iPhone, it won't have the universal appeal and utility that a smart phone has. Thats left some of us sour, but those were unrealistic expectations.

But I do think that we will continue to find situations in which the Watch really shines and improves our lives in tons little ways, even if it's just helping to keep our hands warm.