Recently I started working on porting an old Android widget called MorbidMeter to the Apple Watch. I did this the cheapest way possible, namely via testing using the Apple Watch simulator that comes with Xcode, the Apple programming environment. When I submitted the app to the Apple Store for testing, the Apple Overlords immediately detected my stinginess and requested that I submit a video showing the app running on a “real Apple Watch.” I quickly realized that they were right (but how did they know I didn’t have a real Apple Watch?) and that if I was going to launch this app out into the wild, I had better make sure it worked on the target hardware.
So I took an Apple gift card I had been saving, added some cash from my bank account, and purchased a real Apple Watch. Having decided to take the plunge, I went all out, getting a top of the line 44 mm Apple Watch Series 6, with a cheap but serviceable band. The only thing I didn’t opt for was separate cellular service for the watch, figuring I always have my phone with me. I couldn’t envision being out and about with just the watch on without carrying my phone. And if I was somewhere without my phone, it would probably be under circumstances where I wouldn’t want to be taking phone calls.
But other than that, this is the watch that has a built-in ECG, rhythm monitoring, O2 saturation monitoring, an always on (kind of) watch face, and other bells and whistles that I haven’t discovered yet. Having read about all the controversies regarding the ECG monitoring aspect of the watch, I was curious to see how it worked.
I set up the watch, installed my app, made the video which passed Apple muster, and tested the app on my real watch. I found some glitches with the app, and I am still trying to figure out if they are due to the app or WatchOS — most likely the former, but tempting to blame the latter.
The watch has a curious symbiosis with the iPhone. Some watch apps are independent of the phone, but most are just extensions of the apps on the iPhone. For example, the Health iPhone app uses sensors on the watch to gather data on activity levels, heart rate, oxygen saturation, even such esoterica as heart rate variability. I haven’t even looked at all the health information that the watch and phone in tandem gather, but it’s apparent that this dynamic duo knows more about my health status than I do.
So I wore the watch, did a few ECGs for fun, and then just let it do its thing. It took a few days before it started making me feel uncomfortable.
At first all was rosy. I got notifications on the watch. I could read my SMS messages and easily make some automatic replies, like “Yeah!” and “OK”, right on the watch. I could talk on the phone, Dick Tracy style, though that’s not something I would feel comfortable doing in public. All well and good, but there were also some features of the watch I didn’t like. For example, every once in a while it would notify me that it was time to breathe. I was under the impression that I was breathing already, but for a minute it had me stop and breathe deeply in time to the watch. OK. But then at other times it would tell me I had to stand up and move around a little bit. So, like any good watch owner I complied. But the watch wasn’t satisfied.
The standing recommendation was coming from the Fitness app. It displays three colored concentric circles. The outer one is red and measures “moving” which I guess means walking. The next most inner circle is green and measures exercise, which seems to mean “moving quickly” since weight lifting doesn’t seem to trigger it, though maybe the weights I lift are too light. The innermost ring is blue and it’s the one that makes sure you stand at least once every hour for 12 hours. So when I first started wearing the watch, I was disappointed by how poorly I was doing with closing those rings, and I was motivated to try to be more active in an attempt to meet these goals. I was disappointed in myself, but I wasn’t prepared for the watch to be disappointed in me too.
At first the watch was encouraging. If I completed a ring it notified me with a brilliant animation and words of congratulation. This definitely worked, for I only tried harder to close the rings and make the watch happy. I even started earning badges, reflecting new Move records, or longest Moving streaks.
But after a while my progress leveled off, and I sensed an undercurrent of frustration in the watch. I began getting messages towards the end of the day like “You can still close your exercise ring, David. Just do a brisk walk or run for 30 minutes.” Or, “David you didn’t close your Move ring yesterday. No worries, today’s another day.” I began to feel, oh my goodness, what happens if I don’t close my Move ring two days in a row? What will the watch think of me?
Although the level of AI necessary to generate messages like this is not much more advanced than the AI that was present in the old computer game Zork, nevertheless, this escalating nagging was beginning to get the better of me. Suddenly defiant, one morning I left the watch hooked up to the charger where it had been resting overnight (you pretty much have to charge it daily), and I went about my business, sans watch. It was liberating.
The next day I felt guilty. I put the watch back on. At first it didn’t say anything to me. The old silent treatment. Finally I got a notification, dripping with passive-aggressiveness.
“You can still make your October challenge, by completing all 3 rings 7 more times.”
With a deep sigh of resignation, I went down to the basement to get on the treadmill.