When Niantic CEO John Hanke announced that Pokémon Go was getting a companion app for the Apple Watch, the app was still within arm’s reach of its global phenomenon status. Fast-forward three months to December, and Pokémon Go’s popularity has dipped significantly thanks to waning interest from casual players, frustration from technical issues, and cold weather making it more difficult to play. Regardless, the devoted Pokémon seekers have been patiently waiting for the release of the Apple Watch app Niantic promised before the end of 2016.
With just over a week remaining in 2016, Niantic surprise-launched the Apple Watch app, marketing it as a better way to play in cold temperatures. Over the first few days of its availability, I put the Apple Watch app to the test and immediately noticed several positives and negatives about it. Check out my biggest takeaways from my time with the app below, and if you’ve been using the new app, leave your thoughts in the comments.
Pro: You Don’t Need To Have Your Phone Out
The big selling point for the Apple Watch app is that you no longer need to have your phone out to passively play Pokémon Go. I can’t tell you how many walks I’ve gone where I’ve opened up the Pokémon Go app and then slipped my phone into my pocket so that I could rack up kilometers to hatch my eggs and earn candy for my buddy Pokémon. With the Apple Watch app, I no longer need to waste my phone’s battery or go through the hassle of putting my unlocked phone into my pocket where anything can happen. Now, I can just fire up Pokémon Go on my Apple Watch and watch the kilometers pour in when I’m on the go. This also helps when the weather dips below freezing and your phone can be painful to operate.
Con: You Can’t Do Much From The Watch App Itself
While this isn’t much of a problem if I’m just trying to accrue distance for eggs and candy, the Apple Watch app is only good for playing passively. Included in the list of things you can’t do within the Apple Watch app are catching Pokémon and managing your collection (transferring, evolving, marking as favorite, etc.). We knew that this was the case before launch, but being able to catch nearby creatures (even in a limited capacity as is seen in the Pokémon Go Plus accessory) would be a big plus for the app’s overall experience.
Pro: It Notifies You Of Nearby Monsters And Stops
It pays to have the Pokémon Go app open as often as possible. In addition to accumulating distance, having the app open ensures you don’t miss a nearby Pokémon that you need to bolster your collection. With the Apple Watch app, you can set it to notify you about each nearby Pokémon. This means that if you’re walking down the street and a Snorlax spawns nearby, you’ll feel a little tap on your wrist and a bell sound to let you know. You still need to get your phone out to catch it, but at least you don’t miss the opportunity as you would have before this app’s release.
Con: There’s Little Notification Customization
With the current settings, however, you’re either notified about everything or nothing. So if you want your watch to tell you about the elusive Dragonite that you need to complete your Pokédex, you’re going to have to tolerate several hundred Pidgey and Rattata notifications. Third-party apps with a similar notification system have a filtering system that lets you select which Pokémon you wish to be notified about. If Niantic could implement a system where I can say that I only want to be told about a particular list of monsters, it will come that much closer to a necessary app for any aspiring Pokémon Master.
Pro: You Can Hatch Eggs And Earn Candy From Stationary Workouts
My first time using the Pokémon Go Apple Watch app, I ran five kilometers, earning candy, hatching an egg, and grabbing an Abra along the way. The next day, the weather was pretty rough, so I kept my workout indoors. Just to see what it did, I started a workout within the Pokémon Go Apple Watch app and much to my surprise, it actually tracked distance. To test it out again, I did another full hour on a cardio machine inside of my house and tracked several kilometers without setting foot outside or even moving from the spot that I started. I’m not sure how it estimates your distance, but I successfully tracked multiple kilometers during my indoor workouts.
Con: You Have To Babysit It
Over the course of my tests, I ran into the problem of the app resetting in the middle of my workout. During my outdoor run, the app kicked me back to the “Start” screen, approximately every six minutes. This became a big hassle and a huge distraction to my run as I had to keep looking at my wrist to ensure it was still tracking. I tried different things like turning off the notifications for nearby Pokémon, but the problem persisted. I thought maybe it was because I was going too fast, but when I went for a leisurely walk later that day, the app reset in the same manner before I even got off my block. When I did my stationary workouts, the first day resulted in similar problems, but the second time I was able to make it the full hour without any kind of reset or lost progress. I was hopeful that it was a sign that the app is improving in stability, but the very next workout I tried to do with it, it wouldn’t last for more than 60 seconds without crashing.
A Mixed Bag
The Pokémon Go Apple Watch App is a step in the right direction for making Pokémon Go as easy to play as possible. The convenience of being able to hatch eggs and earn buddy Pokémon candy without needing to have your phone out is great selling point, but I couldn’t help but feel that my first few days with the app show that it’s not quite where it needs to be to be a viable alternative to walking around, with your face buried in your phone like so many of us did throughout the summer and fall.
Luckily, many of the big issues with the Apple Watch app could be remedied through post-release updates. Whether or not Niantic decides to do that is another thing entirely. If Niantic does patch out the technical issues and makes the app more useful, it could become a more convenient way to monitor what’s happening around you.