Tag Archive for ‘Smartwatch’

Round or Rectangular ➝

Matt Birchler, writing about Wear OS at Google I/O:

All of their examples were on round watch faces and I couldn’t stop thinking about how much wasted space all of these round watches have. The watch face can take advantage of the shape, but all apps look worse or have more blank space because of this shape.

I have no idea why Wear OS manufacturers haven’t figured out how impractical round faces are on smartwatches. They make sense on mechanical watches where the sweep of the minute and hour hands influences the form factor. But on a device that often displays text and lists, a rectangular face is much more sensible.

Apple Needs a Watch Jailbreak

There was a lot of discussion in my Twitter timeline yesterday — mostly from Zac Cichy — about the importance of the Apple Watch, or lack there of. It centered around the idea that the Apple Watch is coasting, it’s a good product, but there hasn’t been any killer apps or radical new features introduced since the original model shipped in 2015. And while I agree that there hasn’t been much in the way of substantial improvements in the Watch, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

The neat thing about the Apple Watch is that the initial version shipped nearly feature complete. It had third-party apps, complications, a number of watch faces, activity tracking, and more. The device has seen two major iterations that smoothed out the rough edges, but all of the essential features were there on day one. Perhaps that’s the biggest problem.

Maybe Apple should have shipped watchOS 1 without the piss-poor third-party app implementation and spent their time focusing on robust notifications instead. That would have given users something to look forward to and would have allowed Apple to come out of the gate with a rock-solid product. Apple would have been better off if they kept a blow-away feature up their sleeve until watchOS 2 or 3.

Although Apple may have stumbled their way through the early days of the Apple Watch with less-than-stellar implementations of essential features, the Watch is in a really good place right now. watchOS 3 has been an incredible improvement over previous versions of the OS with features like the Dock, fast app launching, activity sharing, and the Breathe app. I don’t feel like there’s anything missing from the Watch.

In a typical day, this is what I use my Apple Watch for:

  • Checking the time
  • Tracking my activity
  • Setting timers
  • Checking the weather
  • Tracking my time performing deep breathing
  • making quick calculations with Siri
  • Quickly replying to messages
  • Controlling media playback on my iPhone

This may not sound like a lot, and none of these features are killer apps on their own, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I wouldn’t continue wearing a device just for a few of these features — which is why the Fitbit never appealed to me — but altogether, they make for a tremendous product.

There was one thought in particular from this discussion that had me wondering if there was some validity to the contrarian view:

I wish the Apple Watch got jailbroken. Remember the amount of ideas Apple was able steal from the jailbreak community with the first iPhone?

The jailbreak community was a treasure trove of ideas for Apple in the early days of the iPhone. Without this vibrant community building unsanctioned apps, the App Store may never have been developed at all. The jailbreak community was the first to develop Wi-Fi syncing, multitasking, custom wallpapers, home screen folders, and even copy and paste.

This leaves me wondering what a jailbreak community could do for the Watch. What new features could they develop — that I might never think of — that would feel absolutely essential the second I see them? One could assume that competing smartwatch manufacturers would be pushing the needle and encouraging Apple to develop new and interesting features, but Android Wear is just as stale and at least one major player is abandoning the platform. Without any competition, Apple needs something else to help them innovate, something that will force them to develop features that they never would have pursued otherwise. Apple needs the Watch to be jailbroken.

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.

Apple Watch

Three weeks ago, I purchased an Apple Watch Sport with white band. Target was having a 10% off sale on all of their electronics and I just couldn’t resist. My fiancée and I had been looking over our wedding budget a few days prior and found some extra money for attire and accessories. We decided to spring for an Apple Watch for me in order to more evenly match the wedding band, necklace, and earrings we were buying for her. The Watch was ordered for in-store pickup and it arrived on November 30.

I’ve now spent just over two weeks with the device and I’ve been very happy with it. But honestly, it was a little rough going at first. I’ve never worn watches and the device felt uncomfortable being strapped to my wrist all the time. Luckily, the feeling subsided after about eight days and now I barely give the Watch a thought unless I’m actually using it.

After two weeks, I’ve learned that Notifications are by far the most compelling feature. They might not have the pizzazz of third-party apps or digital touch, but they are the primary reason I continue to wear my Apple Watch everyday. Especially considering that most notifications are actionable — being able to like, retweet, or reply to mentions on Twitter right from my Watch is absolutely incredible.

And a lot of the people I’ve talked to since purchasing the Watch have questioned why notifications are so much better on your wrist than on your iPhone — it’s simple, subtlety. You don’t have to pull out your phone to see what your being notified of, just lift your wrist and within a fraction of a second you’ll know whether it’s something you have to deal with immediately or not. Being aware of what or who is trying to notify you without the need to completely disrupt what you’re working on — that is incredibly powerful.

Beyond notifications, I think the other killer feature is in being a piece of fashion. Now I’m not one to be too interested in wearing the latest trends or anything — my typical outfit includes an American Apparel t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of converse. But the Apple Watch is quite attractive and I plan on buying many bands in the future to match a variety outfits. I’ve already purchased a Leather Loop in midnight blue that I plan on wearing at the wedding. Unfortunately, I accidentally ordered the wrong size and wasn’t able to exchange it for a replacement. My local Target didn’t have any in stock, so I settled on a return and will be purchasing one at some point in the next few months.

One thing that surprised me about the Apple Watch was that I really enjoy having a timepiece on my wrist. I never understood why so many people continued wearing watches when they had smartphones in their pocket, but knowing what time it is with a lift of your wrist is shockingly convenient — especially when your watch face also displays information like the outside temperature, date, the time of your next calendar event, and so on. It’s quickly become second nature for me to look to my watch for this information rather than pull out my iPhone.

I haven’t found glances to be nearly as impressive as complications, though. There’s a few that I use almost daily — Dark Sky for precipitation information, Clear as a shortcut to their fantastic Watch app, and Now Playing to control audio playback — but most of the glances I’ve tried just don’t display the information I’m looking for. For example, the Weather glance displays the current temperature alongside today’s forecast conditions, high, and low temperatures. But I would much rather the glance display conditions, high, and low temperatures for the following three days. I’ve even tried third-party weather apps and none of the ones I’ve tested display this information in their glance. That was a bit of a disappointment.

I also haven’t been as enamored by activity tracking like I thought I would be. Maybe it takes a few more weeks for the device to offer more fine-tuned suggestions for goals, but I’ve easily demolished my daily move and stand goals for most of the last two weeks. I’m sure my busy schedule during the holiday season isn’t helping things. I’m probably better ofrom reserving judgement on this particular feature until I spend at least a few more weeks with it.

As for third-party applications, I’m regularly using Fantastical, Dark Sky, Clear, Tweetbot, and Clicker on my Watch. But there’s still plenty of other apps that I’m dying to try, I just haven’t had enough free time to sit down with them. Sleep++, Instapaper, and PCalc immediately come to mind as applications I expect to be using regularly within a few months.

I have slowly came to the realization over the past several months that the Apple Watch was never going to be Apple’s next revolutionary product. And now that I’ve spent the past two weeks with the device, I can confirm that this is the case. But that’s fine. It’s an iPhone peripheral that also happens to be a software platform. Maybe that will change in the future as cellular networking chips become more energy efficient, but for now the Watch occupies a comfortable place in Apple’s product lineup. It’s the kind of device whose owners absolutely love it and I expect will continue to get plenty of support from Apple, third-party developers, and users. The Apple Watch isn’t something that everyone needs, but personally, I don’t plan on going a day without it anytime soon.

Best Buy Selling Apple Watch at Lowest Prices Ever ➝

I’ve had my Apple Watch for just over a week and I’ve been very happy with it so far. If you’re in the market for the device, there’s never been a better time to pick one up. Best Buy is selling Apple Watch and Apple Watch Sport models for $100 off. It’s a steal.

Cardio > Everything Else ➝

Joe Darnell, regarding the Apple Watch’s fitness tracking:

For example, isometric exercises like push-ups and spider crawls aren’t accurately tracked because they burn calories at a different rate from standard cardio exercises like running and cycling. If I walk on an elliptical machine for thirty minutes, the Watch will accurately detail the calories burned and the minutes performed. If I’m bench pressing, then it will not accurately calculate the calories I’ve burned. My trainer who’s tried the Watch for himself says that it’s off by a long shot.

This is where trackers often lack. It’s not that the Apple Watch is inferior to other devices, it’s that tracking exercises from a person’s heart rate on the wrist isn’t accurately gathering data for a variety of muscle groups. The good news is that runners and swimmers have accurate tracking with devices like Apple Watch because their physical activity is primarily cardio in nature.

I’d love to see Apple address these issues, but I’m afraid it would involving having to input the type of exercise, number of reps, etc. into an application. That’s not ideal and requires a much more hands on approach to fitness tracking than cardio workouts do. But who knows, maybe Apple will come up with a clever way of determining most of that information without you needing to tap around on your wrist in between each set.

Joe does mention that he still starts a new workout on his Apple Watch every time he goes to the gym. Although it doesn’t accurately count calories burned, it does help him keep tabs on how much time he spends working out. Which actually might be a more important metric for many Apple Watch owners.

The Watch Face Wars ➝

John Moltz, on the fetishization of circular watches:

The reason most analog watches were round is not because round watches are better or because square watches can’t be stylish. It’s simply because the motion of the hands describes a circle. That’s all the space that was ever needed for the device to fulfill its most basic function. Because that shape is so tightly suited to that particular function, it’s decidedly at odds with adding functionality to it. Thus we have the date being blocked by the hands once every hour. A tricked-out watch like a chronograph watches suffer from almost all of those added features being blocked by the hands.

He’s decided to switch from analog faces to the Modular face in order to make better use of the Apple Watch’s screen. I’ll have to keep this in mind when I eventually purchase an Apple Watch.

Android Wear Smartwatches Come to the iPhone ➝

Now for the bad news:

Apple also doesn’t allow competing app stores on the iPhone, nor is it likely that third-party app makers will be able to easily bake in more advanced support for Android Wear. That means that Google doesn’t (at least for now) offer third-party watch apps for iPhone users. It also means that the selection of third-party watch faces you can get are “curated” by Google and probably won’t offer the same advanced features you can get when you use Android Wear with an Android phone.

You can use an Android Wear watch with the iPhone, but you aren’t going to get the same experience as you would pairing it with an Android phone. Even though support exists, I still think iPhone owners should stick to the Apple Watch and Android users should stick with Android Wear.