The in-store Apple Watch experience


Checking out the Apple Watch (for work, obviously) ⌚️

A photo posted by Adam Oram (@adamoram) on


I just tried on the 42mm Apple Watch Sport in Space Gray at my local Apple Store.

Going to a technology store to try on a piece of jewellery is unusual. I've never bought a watch, so I've never had the hands-on experience in a jeweler's, but seeing anything closely resembling what I'd expect from that experience in a store normally full of consumer electronics is slightly jarring. 

My local Apple Store is small. There are only two tables and one side-bar area are reserved for Apple Watch. One table features a glass top and displays all the Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition models. Next to it was the side-bar with a few interactive Apple Watch demo models attached to wedge-shaped display units with in-built iPads — you can't try these Watches on, but you can interact with the screen, apps and buttons and the accompanying iPad explains each app you enter, guiding you through the process. Trying these Watches gives you a good idea of the UI and I have to say that in my limited experience, I agree with the reviews that describe a confusing user experience. I often found myself pressing the site button instead of the Digital Crown to go to the home screen and it also wasn't clear that Glances are only accessible from the watch face. The other table was reserved for try-on appointments. There was a small line of people waiting, but it was quick enough to be seen on a walk-in (despite only being able to book an appointment later in the day).

It's this table that feels so alien in an Apple Store. On top of the table, it features leather pads for resting the Watch units and each staffer is equipped with cleaning cloths for wiping down the Watches post after each customer. There's 6 or so try-on stations at a table, and it gets crowded quickly with 6 or more staff plus 6 people trying on the device and their accompanying friends. Having so many people around one table also causes somewhat of a blockage in an already tight Apple Store here. In larger stores, I imagine a dedicated Apple Watch area will alleviate this problem. In draws beneath the table reside multiple Apple Watch units waiting to be tried on.

After being guided to this table, I was introduced to Jim who would show me up to two Watches of my choosing. I opted just to try on the Space Gray Sport in 42mm size as I am pretty sure this is the one I want, and just wanted to test it out in person to make sure. This configuration was a popular choice, as I might have guessed from this morning's pre-orders, and I had to wait for someone else to finish with it before I could take a look. Once available, Jim briefly showed me the Watch but was eager to get me to try it on. He placed it around my wrist and explained to me the "pin and tuck" mechanism on the Sport strap before setting the tightness for me. He was noticeably careful not to touch my skin, turning my wrist using only the Watch. Perhaps this was just Jim, perhaps this is in the training. It was then explained to me how to begin the demo loop — double tap the button below the Digital Crown — and Jim talked me through some features as the loop ran.

The Watch looked and felt great in its materiality. The screen blends almost imperceptibly into the bezel, the sleek, matte black aluminium looks smart and rugged, and the strap was comfortable and easy to adjust. Seeing the hardware and all the features in person, feeling the Taptic Engine kick in (yes, it feels like a tap on the wrist rather than a vibration), and playing with the Digital Crown in situ allowed me to get a good idea of how it would feel to wear an Apple Watch full time. Size too was important for me to see on my own wrist. The 42mm was surprisingly compact — the press images seem to show a much larger watch and I was pleasantly surprised with how small and light it felt in place on my arm. 

However, I am not a watch wearer so wearing one, even for a few minutes, was extremely strange to me. The feeling of having a band tight around my wrist was uncomfortable not because the fluoroelastemer band was unpleasant — on the contrary it was decidedly lovely — but I felt a little trapped; something I did not anticipate. I guess if I'm going to be wearing an Apple Watch in the future, I'll have to get over this. 

The demo loop was also rather long. My arm ached toward the end which made me think about what the Watch is really good for — convenient notifications, brief interactions and constant tracking (heart rate, movement) that does not require my input. I do not want to be stood holding my arm up like this again and I hope third-party apps ensure all interactions are seconds-long. 

For fun in these situations, I like to play dumb just to see how the staff explain stuff to "normal" people. It was interesting to hear an Apple employee talk about Digital Touch, the Activity app and notifications. Jim also talked me through arranging apps on the home screen, using the Digital Crown to scroll and how to pair the Watch to my iPhone (which he checked was compatible). I asked about the interchangeability of straps, and he was quick to point to the stainless steel Apple Watch as the best option if changing the straps is important to me — nice upselling, dude! — but he did confirm that all the straps work with any model but might look a little funky when mixing metals. It was interesting to see what features Jim chose to describe. Notably absent was any talk of customisable watch faces — perhaps as I expressed that I was not normally a watch wearer — or Force Touch technology, something I think needs explaining. There was no mention of Music, Weather, Calendars, Photos, Maps, Glances, third-party app support, or any of the other plethora of features. Perhaps Jim was just selecting the capabilities he best felt suited my needs. 

I recommend trying on an Apple Watch in person. Aside from being a cool piece of tech, it's important to assess how it looks and feels on your arm. I was surprised with how different it is in person to what you see in images and videos and I'm happy to have strapped one on, albeit briefly. If you can get to an Apple Store, do.