tech, simplified.

The best apps to build a form, for free

You need to gather data, then do something with it. Here’s how.

You may find yourself needing an easy way to gather data. A quick way to build a form, let people add their info and perhaps attach a picture or file, and then use that data somewhere productive.

You need a form app.

If you already have a go-to app to build forms—Wufoo or Typeform or JotForm or one of the dozens of other form builders—odds are it’ll be fine. Just open it, make a form, and go on with your day.

But perhaps you don’t need to make forms all the time and so don’t keep a form subscription active, now that most start at around $20/month thanks to software inflation. You just occasionally need to gather data, and need something quick and free—and the typical 5 forms and 10-100 submissions and 100MB of file uploads for free aren’t enough.

I needed something a bit more specific: A form builder that lets you upload files, POST entries from your website’s existing HTML forms, then view the form data together in a nice interface.

Turns out, the best options for that are a spreadsheet or a database app:

Google Forms

The best way to build a form for free and analyze data in a spreadsheet

Building a Google Form

It’s hard not to recommend Google Forms. It’s free, and saves your form entries to a Google Sheets spreadsheet. You could literally have a million people fill out a 4-question form, for free, in Google Forms. And that data’s in a spreadsheet, where you can sort and filter it however you want.

Odds are, you’ll export your form data as a .csv file, clean it up first, then import it into another app. With Google Sheets, the first two steps are included out-of-the-box.

Google Form supports file uploads now, too—and stores them in Google Drive, for 15GB of files, give or take depending on how much you’ve already stored in Drive.

Though that’s where Google Forms starts to fall apart a bit. Google Forms already look a bit stiff; they’re fine, but not going to win any design awards, and might not fit in if you embed them in your site. Embeds also only work if you don’t have a file upload field.

There is a Google Forms API, and you can even build Google Forms programmatically if you want—and Google Forms/Google Sheets integrations are so common, odds are there’s an easy way to connect your form results with other apps you use (at least using Zapier). There’s just no default way to POST new form results from your hand-coded form, without a workaround.

Google Forms is still what I reach for first when I need a quick form, especially if the end goal is to put the data in a spreadsheet.

Airtable

The best way to to build a form, including file uploads, and turn the data into something usable

Building a form in Airtable

But what if you need a bit more? Airtable—a database app, essentially a modern take on Microsoft Access—might be your best option.

Airtable’s not promoted as a form app. Yet it includes a form tool as a way to get data into your database. And it supports file uploads, and has a robust API, and gives you more ways to visualize your data than you’ll likely need.

Basically, open Airtable, make a new database, then click the Create … Form option in the lower left corner. There, rename the existing fields to fit what your form needs, or tap Add a field to this table to add new form fields (remember, technically you’re building out a database, not just a form). There’s a bit of everything here: You can personalize the form, have fields validate data to make sure, say, the email field actually gets emails, and can even lookup data from other tables in your database (say, to build out an order form where people can pick products from a list, if you wanted).

You can then embed the form anywhere, or use Airtable’s API to create new records (you’ll need to store files people upload on your site first, and push the file’s URL to Airtable instead of directly uploading). Airtable even makes a customized API page specifically for your database, to make integrating even easier.

Once the data comes in, Airtable will show it in a spreadsheet-style table by default, but also includes kanban-style card and gallery views that will automatically show attached images as an easy way to preview your data, a calendar to visualize results by date, and timelines and more on pro plans.

Airtable’s free for 1.2k records per database (so folks can fill out your form 1,200 times for free, if you’re using it as a form app) with 2GB of file storage, then paid plans start at $12/mo. Odds are you end up using Airtable for far more than forms—but it’s a great form app, too.

Other great options:

It’s not like free options are everything, either—great software is always worth paying for, especially if it fits a need in your work. Here are a few other form apps I regularly recommend that are each great options if you need a bit more:

Or: You might not need a form app.

The goal of a form isn’t just gather all the data, unless you’ve built a Pokémon form, in which case, carry on. Typically you need to gather data, and do something with it.

If you need to get people to sign up for your email newsletter, or send your team a support email, or buy your product, you likely don’t need a form builder.

Most email newsletter tools—including MailChimp, Substack, Campaign Monitor, Buttondown, and more—include a simple form builder to people signup to your email newsletter. A Webflow site or Ghost blog comes with built-in signup forms, too. Customer support tools like Help Scout, Front, Zendesk, and more similarly include contact form embeds, that turn form entries into new support tickets automatically. And if you want to sell stuff with a simple checkout form, your best bet is likely a Gumroad or Shopify embed for a checkout form and a way to manage orders together.

You could get similar results by exporting any form’s results as a .csv spreadsheet then importing them into your newsletter, help desk, or eCommerce software. Or you could automate it by linking any other form to your app via Zapier.

But using the built-in embed is your easiest option to gather data and put it to work. When that’s the goal, a form built into the tool where you’ll put the data to work is best.

Now, back to work.

In the end, it shouldn’t really matter which form app you use. What matters most is gathering the data you need, and getting what you need out of the data once it’s gathered. I've tested dozens of form builders at Zapier, and most get the job done. But when you need something specific, and especially when the budget matters, the options get a bit more scarce.

I'm struck by the parallels to Steve Jobs calling Dropbox a feature, not a product, now that the form builders I'd recommend most are essentially features in a larger product—and the best standalone form builders like Typeform or developer-focused tools like Formium went in entirely different directions to standard form apps to make a higher-end niche of their own. It's not enough to be just a plain form app anymore.

Google Forms + Sheets and Airtable are pretty great tools to do all that in one place. And don't forget to check the app where you'll be using the data—there's a chance it'll have a form builder, and if so that's almost always the best option since it saves you a step. Then, the other form builders are great if you need something more specific from your forms (which, if you can’t find one with exactly what you need, let me know on Twitter).

Happy data gathering!


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Making a Racket, in 9 minutes or less

And then, there was another.

I joined Austin Petersmith and Mohammad Forouzani in mid-2019 to build a software community, somewhere where everyone could get their business software questions answered much like how developers get their code questions answered on StackOverflow. It grew, fast at times, slower at others, into a just-over-$1m acquisition by Vendr in early 2021.

Audio was the next thing. We'd considered building an online conference for Capiche in mid-2020, and those ideas morphed into launching Capiche FM as a pivot into live audio, first recorded over phone calls, later through a web app. It, too, had a core group of fans but hadn't quite caught fire, so over early 2021 we took some of the best ideas from Capiche FM and turned them into Racket. In its first version, Racket was aimed at shorter audio—9 minutes of audio recorded solo or with guests, then published as an almost audio take on Twitter or TikTok.

And it turned out shorter podcasts were what I'd wished podcasts had been all along. I've always struggled to find time to listen to hour+ long podcasts, but 9 minutes gave enough time for a meaningful conversation that anyone could find time to listen to. And it led to some great conversations I'll always be glad I had, from chats with authors including Elnathan John, Adam Davidson, Joshua Levy, Jason Crawford, and more, to talks with tech founders from Convertkit's Nathan Berry to Gumroad's Sahil Lavingia. I chatted with hundreds of creators in Racket DMs, and learned so much from community leaders including Rosie Sherry and others from the software testing community that embraced Racket early on. Perhaps the most fun was when Andrew Warner interviewed me on Racket about Racket.

After 3 apps in 3 years—a software community, then live audio shows, then short-form audio—it was finally time to give my own app idea a shot, something I'd wanted to do after gaining experience from being on the ground-zero of building Capiche. And today the rest of the Racket team is pushing ahead with an even shorter take on audio with Racket mobile and a 99 second time limit.

But some of those 9 minute chats were worth keeping around—and so, along with my Capiche FM recordings, here are some of my favorite Rackets from 2021:

The next big thing.

And then, there's the new startup I'm working on now—something that goes back to my roots in writing for the web. Sign up below to be among the first to know when the beta's live!

The best time to start

was yesterday.

The day before that, even. Scratch that: If you’d started last week, a few months back, a year ago when the idea first hit your head, you’d already have some traction. You’d be on second base, at least.

But that was then, and this is now. You didn’t do it then—and that’s fine. Odds are you did some pretty great stuff instead.

And now it’s today, and it’s the best time to start.

There will never be a better time, in fact. You take a step today, and tomorrow you’ll be ready to take the next step. You write something today, it’ll be there for someone to read tomorrow, fall in love with, and follow you for the next great thing you’ll publish. Google will get a head-start indexing it today, so it’ll be ready when someone searches for it next month.

Your brain will say no, you should have done this before, and now it’s pointless, and look at everyone else who has already done the things and is so far ahead.

And, yeah, good point brain. But if you don’t do it now, you’ll just be stuck in the same old loop tomorrow, next week, next year. And your brain will still be saying too late, should have done it back then, but now...

Bygones are bygones.

And here’s a secret: You’re not too late.

Coke’s 129 years old. Nintendo’s 132. Apple’s 45. Twitter’s 15. TikTok’s 5.

Oceans rise, empires fall, and companies rarely last long enough to see even part of the cycle. Today’s most venerated brands were, not all that long ago, not even a thing.

Then someone said, you know what, I’m just going to start making watches or sewing handbags or mixing sparkling sugar water or writing code, and it was so. It wasn’t overnight, but with that slow compounding of time, one bit of great work on top of another, the dream became a thing.

That slow, steady process is perhaps most clear online, where Google search rankings are there for anyone who will put in the work to claim them. The questions people google every day aren’t going to answer themselves; if you’ll show up and write what people are looking for, publish it consistently, over time your stuff will do well, will get traffic, will get discovered by the folks who need it most. It’ll take time; it took well over a year to get Capiche ranking first for its name, for instance. But it also didn’t take any tricks, didn’t take hiding links and doing shady SEO tricks. It was just publishing, showing up every day and putting more stuff on Capiche that we bet could rank well. And eventually Google said, you know what, Capiche is a thing. A thousand little commits, cashed in at once.

That’s what you’re kickstarting when you start today. It’ll still take time. Nothing’s built overnight.

But at least you started. The first brick’s laid down. The foundation’s there.

Tomorrow you can tell your brain, no really I actually did the thing yesterday, and today I can do it again.

And then it’ll be the best time to take the next step.


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Capiche FM, SaaS Radio, and an experiment in live streaming audio

Capiche FM screenshot

It started as an experiment, as the best things do. Or rather, as a handful of questions:

Why is it so much easier to share photos and even video than audio?

Why do podcasts always go to YouTube when they want to go live?

What makes podcasting so difficult, and how could we simplify that?

One thing led to another, and over the summer of 2020 the Racket née Capiche team dev team built Capiche FM, first as a way to start a live broadcast literally over phone calls, before morphing into online live broadcasts.

And in the process, I hosted over three dozen live episodes that were listened to live for over 318 hours, interviewing tech founders and leaders about the ideas behind their products and what's next. From a chat with iA Writer founder Oliver Reichenstein about what inspired their eponymous writing app, to talking to Kirby founder Bastian Allgeier about the CMS that powers this site, to having Notion's head of platform Cristina Cordova come on to talk about their then-upcoming API (which was instantly the most popular talk on the show), Capiche FM led to fun conversations I wouldn't have otherwise had and bridged the Capiche software community over to our new livestreaming platform.

Then we kept tweaking, built Racket as an even simpler take on recording and publishing audio, and shut Capiche FM down this June. That leaves Capiche FM as a handful of memories of incredible live conversations over the fall and winter of 2020, and this collection of recordings from the SaaS Radio talks.

Here they are:

Staat chat with Amanda Sabreah

Matt and Staat founder Amanda Sabreah chat about what makes JIRA so complex and confusing, setting up developer teams for success, why Staat focuses on Jira and GitHub issues instead of building new issue tracking from scratch, and more.

Intelivideo chat with Adam Zeitsiff

Matt and Intelivideo CEO Adam Zeitsiff chat about the digital transformation that gyms and other local businesses have gone through over the past year, and what it takes to build a platform that brings local business online and help them compete with larger platforms.

Salesforce chat with James Cull

Matt and Salesforce Enterprise Architect James Cull to chat about one of the original SaaS web apps—and how customization, flexibility, and a suite of acquired apps has kept Salesforce one of the top CRMs for decades.

Rows chat with Torben Schulz

Matt and Rows founder Torben Schulz to chat about the future of spreadsheets, where spreadsheets are still better than databases, Rows’ upcoming button, and more.

Fig chat with Brendan Falk and Matt Schrage

What if Terminal had a command palette?

Matt and Fig cofounders Brendan Falk and Matt Schrage chat about building a faster terminal with autocomplete, apps, and more.

Automation chat with Luhhu's Andrew Davison

Matt and Andrew to chat about Zapier, Integromat, n8n, and Parabola, how automation platforms have changed, and what’d be the most exciting to see added to Zapier now that loops are supported.

No More Boring Apps chat with Andy Allen

Matt and Andy for a chat about how to make apps not boring—with a game engine-powered weather app, calculator, and timer. Plus, what happens when you make software for the people who want it most—the double-IPA of software?

Ghost Chat with John O'Nolan

Matt and Ghost founder John O'Nolan to chat about the Ghost CMS, publishing with subscriptions, the internet's attention span, and more.

Coda chat with Lane Shackleton

“Maybe files are already dead.”

Matt and Coda head of product and design Lane Shackleton chat about Coda's unique take on documents + spreadsheets/databases, why buttons are the most powerful thing in Coda, what’s coming next for Coda (hint: You’ll soon be able to connect any API with Coda and build your own Packs), and if files are dead.

Pitch chat with Tomaz Stolfa

Matt and Pitch Head of Presentation Experience Tomaz Stolfa chat about Pitch’s new approach to presentations, rethinking how presentations should be centered around storytelling, Pitch’s upcoming follow feature and mobile apps, and more.

Kirby chat with Bastian Allgeier

Matt and Kirby CMS founder Bastian Allgeier chat about flat-file content management systems, what's tough about building bookmarking tools, building a hosted version of Kirby, balancing open source and a business model, Markdown vs WYSIWYG, and more.

Roam Research chat with Bardia Pourvakil

Matt and Roam Research's Bardia Pourvakil to chat about wiki linking, using daily notes to memorize things, the upcoming Roam API, note taking strategies, and more.

Makerpad chat with Ben Tossell

Matt and Makerpad founder Ben Tossell chat about no-code, automation, apps like Zapier and Airtable, building a community, why “no-code” is too limiting of a term, and more.

Airtable chat with Shani Taylor

Matt and Airtable Customer Success manager Shani Taylor chat about Airtable, building custom database powered apps, syncing data between databases with an upcoming feature, the new Airtable apps and marketplace, and more.

Notion marketing chat with Ben Lang

Matt and Ben Lang from the Notion marketing team chat about using Notion even if you're not taking notes, replacing everything from Wunderlist to Dropbox with Notion, why teams need a Notion Librarian, and more.

The Capiche Notion Roundtable

Matt, productivity trainer Maria Aldrey, Notion evangelist Ben Smith, and RadReads founder Khe Hy kick off the new year on SaaS Radio Hour with a roundtable chat about Notion. Hear their organization tips (hint: Use databases to organize everything), what Notion needs to improve (unanimous vote on speed), building a GTD workflow and Zettelkasten in Notion, and much more.

Cord chat with Nimrod Priell

Matt, Cord CEO Nimrod Priell, and Cord product marketer Abby Barsky chat about Cord's unique take on chat, working between multiple apps, switching costs, how chat has evolved over time, and more.

Pixelmator chat with Andrius Gailiunas

Matt and Andrius chat about Pixelmator, building indie apps for Apple’s platforms, one-time purchased software versus subscriptions, naming versions, and more.

⭐️ Notion API chat with Cristina Cordova

Matt and Notion's head of Platform Cristina Cordova chat about Notion's upcoming API, what to expect from the first integrations, and much more in one of SaaS Radio's most popular broadcasts.

Linear chat with Karri Saarinen

Matt and Linear CEO Karri chat about Linear's unique take on issue tracking, building fast web apps, how the command palette helps overcome limitations with both mouse-driven and keyboard shortcut interfaces, Linear’s tools to see project momentum, and how Karri breaks down issues and ideas into smaller, more accomplishable tasks.

QotoQot chat with Ivan Mir

Matt and QotoQot founder Ivan Mir talk about indie app development, time tracking, privacy, building for Apple platforms, subscriptions versus one-time purchases versus pay for a year at a time apps, and more.

Vanta Chat, with Christina Cacioppo

Matt and Vanta CEO Christina Cacioppo chat about privacy, SOC 2 compliance, building a secure organization, why you should use 2 factor authentication and a password manager, deleting unused data, and more.

Calendly Chat with Tope Awotona

Matt and Calendly founder Tope chat about Calendly's scheduling tools, why calendar apps haven’t evolved as much as email apps, why to keep your camera turned off during calls and turn them into walking meetings, and more.

Microsoft Teams bet on files. Slack + Salesforce bet on data.

A chat on the ideas behind the Capiche essay on how Microsoft Teams bet on files, while Slack + Salesforce bet on data, and how in many ways Slack built a new take on the terminal for SaaS, a text way to interact with software, while Microsoft Teams rebuilt Finder and Windows for web apps.

Streak Chat, with Aleem Mawani

Matt and Streak founder Aleem Mawani talked about the story behind Streak’s CRM, building a business inside Gmail, keeping your product running even when the platform it’s built on changes, Google’s standardization of both the browser rendering experience and the email experience, where Kanban breaks down and isn’t as useful as a table, and more.

Yac Chat, with Justin Mitchell

Matt and Yac founder Justin chat about voice messaging, remote async communications, building Zapier integrations, and more—with stories about how the Yac team now has zero live Zoom calls, doing everything from standups to hiring interviews over asynchronous Yac voice chats.

iA Writer Chat, with Oliver Reichenstein

Matt and iA Writer founder Oliver Reichenstein's chat about Markdown, the story behind iA Writer and how it originally almost was a physical device, why iA Writer didn't switch to subscriptions yet, and more.

Austin + Matt's SaaS news recap: November 18

Matt and Austin chat about the big news in SaaS from the past few weeks, from Excel's new database-powered linked data types (joined by Al Chen to discuss how those will be used in businesses) to Hey for Work and the challenges of convincing businesses to switch email providers. Plus: Fast and simplifying eCommerce checkout, Social commerce and selling products via live video as almost the QVC of the web, Twitter's Fleeps and why that was the focus instead of other Twitter features, Google Photos ending unlimited free storage, and Apple and Spotify's different approaches to podcasts.

Ulysses chat with with co-founder Max Seelemann

Matt and Ulysses co-founder Max Seelemann chat about their Markdown writing app, how its design has evolved over the years, the limits of touch interface design, why subscriptions make sense for Ulysses even without being a web app, Max' prediction on the future of Apple's platforms, and hints at what may come in the future for Ulysses.

The Notion Chat

Listen to Matt and Tem from Optemization chat about Notion and what's made it such a flexible tool for everything from notes to project management to publishing web pages, how it compares to ClickUp, OneNote, Coda, and more, and how Notion's carved out a new category as a flexible page where you can create anything you want.

Capiche AMA with Slite CEO Christophe Pasquier

What makes a markdown-powered notes app for teams different from a wiki like Roam Research? In the first part of this call, Matt interviews Slite CEO Christophe Pasquire about the notes app he founded and what makes it different from other tools.

→ Listen to the first half of this episode.

Then, in the second part of this call, hear how the Slite team approaches organizing team notes, what makes it different from Slab, and how notes and knowledge bases differ.

→ Listen to the second half of this episode.

October 28: Streaming software, Uber in a Box, Dropbox and the challenges of file storage

Nearly every tech giant now has game streaming, with Microsoft, Google, and Amazon all competing for streaming console games, and now Facebook announcing they'll be streaming mobile games. It's something that's been tried before with business software—but it never took off. Could it eventually come back, and let you stream, say, AutoCAD or Premiere to your computer, relying on a server to do the heavy rendering?

Also:

How software made us love being locked-in

For years, the thing to complain about in software was lock-in, how you had to keep using the latest Microsoft Word to open files from colleagues. That’s gone away, as SaaS put everything in a database, let us share software for free with collaborators.

Now we’re locked-in with unique software that has features that would be hard to replicate elsewhere, things like Notion that put notes and kanban boards and tables and more in one app. You could never replicate everything in your Notion in another app. Yet we’re happy.

That’s thanks to the IKEA effect in software, where today’s lock-in doesn’t feel nearly as restrictive as feature, file format, database, and subscription lock-in alone did.

October 22: Zoom apps, Pitch, Video calls as a Platform, and Google's missteps in trying to build a social network.

Four years ago, Microsoft built Skype calls into their web apps, so you could edit a Microsoft Word doc in the Word Web App, then start a Skype call to collaborate live or present it to other people from the app.

That's the new SaaS battleground. Late last week, Zoom announced Zaaps, web apps that open inside your Zoom Calls. Google recently, on the other hand, announced Google Meet video calls inside Google Docs and more, and one of the newly released Pitch presentation app's core features is in-app video chat while you're collaborating.

In this episode, Matt and Austin, along with a guest appearance from Al Chen, chat about how video is the new work operating system, how Google missed the boat with social, whether Google is a monopoly, and more.

The story behind Markdown

Step back to 2002 as we talk about the history behind Markdown, the plain text formatting syntax that changed how we write on the web for good.

There was Aaron Swartz’ ATX, Dean Allen’s Textile, then John Gruber’s Markdown, in short order, one after the other. Competition for the plain text editing crown, or so it seemed.

Here’s how, in the pursuit of capturing the magic of typewriting and early plain-text emails, the way we edit text changed.

Catch the story in this episode, then dig into the complete Markdown history on the Capiche blog.

October 15: Segment + Twilio, Google Workspaces, Zoom, and more

Twilio is building an ecosystem of developer tools—from Sendgrid to Authy to now Segment. Matt and Austin discussed what that means for the future of Segment and Twilio, with a guest appearance from Aaron Gotwalt.

Plus:

One of the few perks I took advantage of as a student were software discounts. Adobe's Creative Suite at the time was a $700+ purchase—or as a student, it was a bit over a hundred dollars, something far easier to budget.

Adobe and Microsoft's famous student discounts are hardly the only ones available today. After checking over 200 popular business software products, here are over 88 of the best student discounts today—including Slack, Notion, Basecamp, GitHub, and more for free.

Superhuman, the latest attempt to reinvent the email app, really does make email faster. You can clear out emails without reading them, split your inbox into categories automatically, snooze emails for later, and do everything in your inbox with only keyboard shortcuts.

And somehow, it teaches you to go through emails faster and not worry so much about each message.

Here's a deep dive into Superhuman's best features—and how you can get some of the same in Gmail, Outlook, and Mail.app.

How do you compete against free software?

Give less. Charge more. Let users know what you're against and what you're for. (with apologies to Aaron Burr).

It’s how many of today’s most popular apps—from Slack to Superhuman—built a market of devoted users who were willing to pay more for a better product.

It’s the paradox of paying: We value stuff more when we pay for it, than when we get it for free.

Software started out as a rare commodity, something you’d buy in a shrink-wrapped box for hundreds of dollars. Competition, the internet, App Store, free open source software, and subscription models democratized software to a degree, making even professional software approachable priced—at least in the short term.

But that’s changing. After years of software getting cheaper, over the past decade software has gotten more expensive, fast. Three times faster than the average inflation rate, in fact.

Learn more from our study of 100 popular business tools’ pricing over the past decade in Capiche’s first blog post.

Ever gone to sign up for a price only to see a "Starts at $X" or "Call for pricing" tagline and wondered what the app actually costs? Or tried out an app and gone to pick a plan, then puzzled over which plan your team actually needs?

Software pricing is surprisingly confusing. Either it's hidden entirely with more enterprise focused tools, or it's obscured between a range of similar plans or metered pricing for something you can't quite tell how quickly you'll use up.

So as a first part of building a new software community, my new team at Capiche is helping make software pricing transparent. If everyone shared what they really pay for software, it'd set baselines, help us all know what to expect to pay and how to negotiate to get the best pricing. It'll help us all pick software better—just as flight searches help you navigate pricing options and pick the airlines that makes the most sense for your trip.

“This startup wants to turn the cloud software business on its head.” ~Business Insider

We'd love to have you join and share your software pricing stories!

Apple Watch: Watch Everything

A review of the Apple Watch Series 4, after eight months of use

You’re running late, or so you fear. You instinctively raise your wrist and see the minute hand hovering near 10. You’re good. You’ve still got a few minutes left.

You might not notice the date or even the hour. They’re there, but the date doesn’t matter right now, and you can visually confirm the hour without thinking much about it. It’s the minutes that matter.

That’s how watches have worked for decades. And that’s essentially the Apple Watch experience, too, only with more bits of data—more complications, in horology-speak.

Feel like it’s surprisingly hot? Glance down and, oh, it’s 37°C, no wonder it’s so hot. Need the time in another city, your next flight’s gate, the current air quality index, or the next task or appointment on your agenda? Those and more are also just a glance away, depending on how you set up your watch. The same way you quickly see the time on a traditional watch without paying attention to the date or other complications, on Apple Watch you can get the weather or any of dozens of other bits of info in a quick glance without noticing the other stuff. Seems crazy, but over time it seems your eyes and brain know where to glance to get the info you need, and when you glance down wondering what the weather is, that’s the main thing you’ll notice. You might check the temp and not notice the time. And when someone mentions it being hot, you'll look at your wrist instinctively like watch wearers already do for the time, and feel like something’s missing if your watch isn't on your arm.

It doesn’t pull you in quite like a phone screen with all of its apps and longform content luring you to keep tapping. The Watch only shows bits of actionable data so you can go on with your real life.

Apple Watch context switches based on what you’re doing, which is where apps feel the most immersive. If you go for a run or swim, for instance, you can track it with the built-in Workout app (which will notice if your exercising and offer to log the workout even if you forgot to start the app first) or a 3rd party app like Nike Run Club or Strava. Then you’ll run as normal, forgetting the watch until you are wondering your pace or how much further you need to go. Glance down, and there’s the info you need, the distance in one corner, your average speed in another, and so on. The time is ever-present in the top right of the Watch, too, if you need.

Walking somewhere? Use Apple Maps to find the best route, then glance down to see how much further you have to go, or rely on vibrations to know when it’s time to turn (with slightly different vibrations for left and right turns). Listening to music or a podcast, even one you started from your phone? Glance down to see the track details, playing time, and large pause and skip buttons, perfect to see the artist’s name or jump to a next track. When you’re doing something immersive, an app turns your Watch into a different gadget built around the data you need right then, for what feels like the closest thing to augmented reality for your real life.

Of which, notifications are another part, the third core part of the Watch experience. Any app that can send you notifications on your iPhone can pass them to the watch, where they tap your wrist, let you see the full notification and reply to it if possible (such as with chat apps) or take other actions (such as deleting an email message from the notification). See the notification, quickly reply with dictation, and go on with your life without opening the full app. If the notification came from an app that supports the Watch, you can tap the notification to see it in the app (especially helpful to get the full context on a conversation in chat). But even without a Watch app, you can still reply to many notifications directly from the Watch, as I often do with those from Slack.

Notifications are annoying enough on the phone. On your Watch, they'll drive you mad if they're not notifications you want. I've restricted mine to the ones I find most valuable: Chat and important emails, finance for payment notifications, calendar to get reminded of upcoming events, and transit apps to know when a Grab or Uber has arrived. Each of those are helpful enough to want something poking you on the wrist when they come in.

Apps are a core part of the Watch experience, ever present in complications, notifications, and as full-screen apps when needed. You can also run apps on their own from the home screen, helpful say to check your bank account balance or to dictate a new note. They’re good for scratching an itch, when something comes to mind and you want a quick bit of data. They're not like iPhone apps, where you would waste time scrolling through feeds, or like iPad and Mac apps where you would sit down to work. They're instead good at bits of data, telling you something small or logging data for you to expand on later.

A great example is the V for Wiki app. On an iPhone, it's a nicer way to read Wikipedia. On a Watch, it's a quick way to see what's nearby. Walking around a city and wondering what important things are in the area? Tap V for Wiki on your Watch, tap the Nearby button, and discover things around you. It scratches that itch of wondering what's around, in seconds, without pulling you away from your surroundings.

Or take Drafts. On iPhone it's a detailed writing app with tools to automate your text and use it to start workflows. On Watch, it lets you read recent notes, or dictate a new one to save for later. Less features, but exactly what you need to remind yourself of something you wrote down recently or to log something new so don't forget it. To-do lists are another perfect fit for the Watch, of which Things lists things that need done, and Streaks lists the routines I need to do daily (read a book, work out, and more)

The Watch includes two other helpful features, both of which only make sense if you live in an Apple ecosystem. You can have the Watch auto-unlock your Mac, to keep it secure without typing in your password every time. And you can use Apple Pay to pay for stuff from your wrist. Both nice extras, but not critical.

The critical thing is the watch face, with the time and other complications (including one on many of the more decorative watch faces, and up to 8 on the Infograph face on newer Watches). You can customize watch faces to the style you want, then swipe between them to quickly go from the productive Infograph face to the fun Mickey Mouse face to the more dressed up Numerals or Chronograph faces, depending on the occasion. Fit them to your mood or outfit, or to the bits of data you need from complications that fit particular timeframes.

The same goes for Watch straps: I use the platinum Nike sport band that came with my watch for workouts and more active days, and a “midnight blue” standard sport band otherwise. Apple’s sport bands feel quite nice, and even though I’ve always preferred leather bands in traditional watches, the sport bands fit the spot for me for now. But if you want something nicer, there are plenty of options available, all easy to swap in seconds, making the Apple Watch easier to match to outfits than almost any other watch (aside from a large square screen not perhaps fitting into any formal attire, regardless the strap).

It’s a watch—a thing to watch all the little bits of data in your life, not just the time. And that’s pretty handy.