Mike Becky

Additional Thoughts on Apple Watch

I wanted to make a few additional points about the Apple Watch, now having spent an extra week with the device since writing my initial thoughts. I’ve noticed some pain points that weren’t immediately apparent, but there’s also a few things that I’ve grown to truly appreciate about the device.

Complications are King

When I wrote my impressions of the Apple Watch, I noted that notifications and fashion were the two key features. But what I failed to realize was the importance of complications — they’re the real deal. I can look down at my wrist and tell you what my next calendar event is, when the sun sets this afternoon, the current temperature, and whatever else developers have managed to cram into one. With some tweaking, these little rectangles of information quickly turn the Apple Watch into a dashboard for your life. But it’s not just their glance-ability that make them useful, they’re also incredibly handy shortcuts for launching their corresponding app.

I can’t be the first person to say this, but the honeycomb app launcher is dreadful to use. Clustering all of my app icons into a big jumble makes finding the app you want extremely difficult, especially given that none of the icons are labeled with the app’s name. The ability to double click the Digital Crown to jump back to your most recent app helps, but my suggestion to developers is to build a glance and a complication for every app you build — don’t assume that users are willing to open it from the app launcher.

Over the past week I’ve had a little bit more time to curate my Apple Watch experience — configuring glances, complications, notifications, etc. — to the point where most of the apps I use can be launched from either a glance or a complication. There’s still a couple of exceptions to the rule — I open Clicker from the app launcher and Maps using Siri.

There isn’t much need for launching Maps by any other means, I only ever use it for navigation and Siri is more than capable of handling the task. Though, I would really encourage Craig Hockenberry and Iconfactory to consider adding a glance for Clicker. This is an app that I use several times a week and would love to have an easier way to launch it. The app already includes a complication, but it only displays the current count and doesn’t offer enough visual distinction from the weather complication that it would share a screen with. Iconfactory, either add a visual cue to the complication or add a glance — preferably both.

Which Watch Face

With my newfound love of complications, I’ve settled into using the Modular watch face. I started out with the Utility face — which I still think is the most attractive option, but it just doesn’t offer enough space for complications. Modular is the face with the largest number of complications — five — and I still find myself wishing I could split its large rectangular complication into two smaller ones. Or better yet, put the time in the center and allow for three square complications on the top and bottom of the display.

I’m not the first person to come to this conclusion about the Modular face and complications. John Moltz, wrote about this back in September:

I can read the date now because this face’s complications are larger and I get more information with this face than any other. It does kind of scream “SMARTWATCH!” which at first I was uncomfortable with, but I’m coming around to the fact that maybe that’s OK or even as it should be. I do actually own a smartwatch and it’s not like a round face is fooling anyone. Also, I want to be able to get all the utility out of it I can. This face allows for the time and five complications, which is the most allowed. A few other faces will do that many, too, such as Simple and Chronograph, but you can get more out of Modular.

In my opinion, Modular is the absolute best watch face available. It offers more information at a glance than any other face available. And isn’t that the whole point of a smartwatch?

Turn by Turn Directions

My fiancée and I took a trip this past weekend up to the Waterloo outlets for some holiday shopping. We know our way there for the most part — we usually take a trip or two each year — but I decided to try out the Apple Watch’s navigation features in the Maps app.

It was surprisingly helpful. I didn’t need to have my iPhone secured in a dashboard mount, I could leave it in the cup holder where it usually sits while still getting reminders of upcoming turns. I did find it difficult to discern between the “turn left” and “turn right” haptic feedback which Apple claims are distinct enough to notice, but I didn’t have any trouble getting where I needed to go.

Having my music quiet down for Siri to tell me where to turn next was obviously helpful, but I think I could have just gotten by with wrist taps and glances at my Watch’s display to see which direction I needed to head in — the Watch displays large, easy to read icons and text that indicate your next turn. I also found glancing at my wrist while driving to be much less distracting than having a smartphone strapped to my dashboard. The Apple Watch is likely going to become an important part of our navigation strategy in future road trips.

Odds and Ends

It goes without saying at this point, but the Apple Watch’s battery life is a non-issue. In the month that I’ve used the Watch, it’s never been below 30%. If you’re have trouble getting through a day on the Watch’s battery life, I have no idea what you’re doing.

I have found the haptic feedback to be a little weak at times. I’m not going to say I got a defective unit, but I’ll often miss notifications for hours when I’m busy at work. My best guess is that I’m moving my arms just enough that I simply don’t notice the taps. It’s unfortunate, but it’s far better than only having my iPhone in my pocket — I rarely noticed notifications on my iPhone when I had the ringer off.

I still haven’t dug too deep into the health and fitness features. I keep the Activity complication on my watch face and open the app from time to time, but I’m not making much of an effort to close all my rings each day. Maybe when things slow down after the holidays I’ll have the opportunity to be more conscious of it, for now I’m just collecting data.

The Apple Watch has a few flaws here and there, but the overall experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I continue to wear the Watch everyday and still think the platform has a bright future. I’ve spent the first twenty seven years of my life as someone who never wore watches, but I guess that’s no longer the case.