Thoughts on the Apple Watch

Having used the Watch for the past few weeks and being able to test our own Apple Watch applications has been a great opportunity to experience this new platform. There have been positive insights and some quirks, but overall I can see it shaping up to be a great platform for consumers.

Relying on its partnership and pairing with the iPhone, the Watch has several features that improve on the iPhone user experience. These features include sending and receiving text messages, quickly checking notifications, and getting up to date information on a variety interests. The Watch also boasts a number of bizarre user interface interactions that have a small learning curve … I’ll touch on these below.

Apple Watch User Interface

Apple Watch User Interface

Core User Flow

Navigating the Watch takes a bit to get used to and there is less standardization of user interactions than what iOS users are accustomed to. In various contexts throughout, specific user interactions appear to cause different results, which can be somewhat frustrating and a bit difficult to file in your reflex memory-bank.

Two of the primary interactions, double pressing the digital crown (the dial on the side of the watch) and scrolling the digital crown, can create very different responses based on the context of surrounding interface details when enacted:

Double Pressing the Digital Crown

  • If the Watch Face is off, this does nothing as the first press will not register and the second one turns the Watch Face on.
  • If the Watch Face is on, this will take the user to the last opened app.
  • If the user is on the Home Screen, double pressing will take them back to the previous app (or the Watch Face, which is an app itself).
  • If a user is in an app and double presses, this will take them back the previous app.

The point where standard user experience seems to break down is when the user double presses while the Watch is on the Home Screen in an attempt to navigate to the Watch Face and then back to the Home Screen. Double pressing again on the Watch Face does not return you to the Home Screen, the OS will instead bypass it and switch to the last used app. It works like the task switcher in iOS, which also bypasses the Home Screen, but without the ability to choose a specific app or the Home Screen.

apple watch user interface - double press the digital crown

 

  • Scrolling the Digital Crown
    • If the Watch is on the Home Screen, scrolling will zoom in/out through the application icon grid and into the desired app. If the user scrolls backward (zooming out) they will exit that app and find themselves back on the grid.
    • If the user waits a moment after entering their desired app, the scrolling behavior will affect the current view within the app instead of exiting the app. At this point the scroll does not affect the Watch Face which is fine, but it seems like there is an opportunity to do something more… like change the information presented on the Watch Face to reveal more detail.

Glances

“Glances are browseable collections of timely and contextually relevant moments from the wearer’s favorite apps. Viewed together, glances are a way for people to get a quick look at content.” – Apple Watch Developer – Human Interface Guidelines

Glances are single-screen windows that exist in a paginated carousel that is only accessible from swiping upward on the Watch Face.

apple watch first impressions - glances

While building the BusMe Apple Watch app, and before actually using the Watch, I came to the premature conclusion that the Glances feature would be the primary interface used to digest app information. My perception was that ‘swiping up’ from the Watch Face would be the most immediate and straightforward way to open the Watch’s applications versus navigating the custom grid of applications.

However, after using the Watch these past few weeks, I think this would have been the case if the ‘swiping up’ option was accessible from any interface versus only accessible within the Watch Face. Glances are a key feature of the Watch and some users may depend on that action over navigating into the actual applications themselves. However, the fact that Glances are not always a “swipe up” away from being activated, diminishes the feature’s immediacy and utility (marginally).

Notifications

Much has been written about the inconvenience of notifications on the Apple Watch, along with tips on how to mitigate them. Notifications are a big help in breaking down interruptions by pushing them into a single pocket. However, in order to be effective, the user needs to take some time to prune their notification list not only on the Watch, but also the iPhone. Disabling notifications on the Watch and leaving them to fire on the iPhone does not remove the interruption, it only adds to the complexity because the user is then left wondering what the vibration on their phone was before they have the chance to review it.

The takeaway here is this: if the alert is not important enough to be on the Watch, you probably don’t need the notification at all.

When you receive a large number of notifications, they queue up in the notification center on the Apple Watch. “Swiping down” and then “force pressing” on the notification center will provide a way to clear all notifications in the queue — something sorely needed on the iPhone. To dismiss individual notifications from within the Notification Center, the user just needs to give the screen a quick “swipe left” and “tap” on a revealed dismiss button — this pattern is straightforward.

However, when a new notification is received (i.e., not in the queue), you have to scroll down and “tap” the dismiss button.. This discrepancy can be bothersome when you are checking a newly received notification; depending on timing it’ll either be a “swipe down” or “swipe left” to dismiss.

first impressions of apple watch - notifications
Image shows the three different actions/scenarios to clear a notification.

Siri

Siri on the Apple Watch is awesome … when it works. When it doesn’t, it really becomes a real drag on the whole Watch experience. Using the Watch in the past few weeks, I was finding far too often that a long press on the Digital Crown presented me with the following Siri screen:

apple watch first impressions - siri
Image shows Siri not reacting or recognizing a voice activated command.

There are no sound waves below which means it wasn’t listening to what I was saying and the app wouldn’t relent until I exited. It feels like the Watch cannot initiate the Siri process on the iPhone but it should expect this to happen and handle it by quickly providing feedback that something went wrong.

apple watch first impressions - siri
Image shows Siri working on a voice activated command.

Siri (used on the Watch) is great for logging reminders and due to the immediate accessibility, provides an effortless way to relieve the mind of trying to remember to jot something down later.

Because asking Siri to record a task is the easiest way to interact with the Watch, there is a big opportunity for Apple to expand the Watch’s utility by providing app developers with a proper API to integrate directly with Siri (WWDC15 maybe?).

IFTTT (If This, Then That), and similar workflow tools, may be able to help bridge the gap on iOS with some cleverness for now.

first impressions apple watch - voice activated commands

Communication

The Watch is used best as a communication tool. Texting with friends and family while I am out and about is instantly more casual and easier to accomplish. I can quickly read and respond without breaking away from whatever it is I’m doing in that moment.

The Watch provides a list of canned text message responses you can easily choose from, or you have the ability to dictate and audio message or a transcription of your audio message to someone in conjunction with the animated Emojis. The canned responses could use some work as they don’t really line up with the way I talk or seem to fit the situation well. Ideally, I would like the canned responses offered to be smarter about the context of the message and also have the ability to “learn” the user’s overall linguistic tone (e.g., I prefer to say ‘ok’ with a positive confirmation appended – ‘ok sounds good’ – instead of just ‘ok’. I’d like the Watch to pick up on this personal habit). I tend to fall back on the animated Emojis more than usual due to the lack of animated responses that fit my specific communication patterns.

apple watch first impressions - emojis

Eventually, I expect application developers to be given the opportunity to provide their own animated Emojis. The set provided by Apple is overly expressive and sometimes weird, however, there is a lot of room for more creative/custom animations (similar to keyboard-sticker apps) to be available on the Watch. I also hope that there is further bridging between Watch and iPhone Messaging so that I can send the ephemeral drawings to iPhone users.

Other Apps

Here are a few of the apps I’ve found that seem to work really well with the Apple Watch.

Dark Sky

apple watch apps - dark sky

I’ve used Dark Sky on the iPhone and enjoy their notifications about incoming rain and other weather changes, but I was really impressed by the rich interface of their Watch notifications feature. You can read more about the app in an article on how Dark Sky works with the Apple Watch.

Activity

apple watch apps - activity

When we built the MoveYourApp fitness app in 2014, we spent hours fine-tuning the algorithm and feature mechanisms for how the app would notify you when you’ve been sedentary for too long. Because of our experience with this app, it’s easy to appreciate the work that was put into making Activity such an effective personal fitness assistant.

Overall the app has been great so far; it has provided both positive reinforcement for my daily routine and due the inclination to ‘complete’ the circles I have taken a proactive approach to improving my daily activity levels. The notifications are smart enough to not be annoying while still helping me to achieve goal sets. The weekly analysis and bar adjustments are also an awesome way to continue moving upward in activity level.

Siri -> Reminders -> IFTTT -> Todoist

Todoist is a web and mobile task manager application that I rely on to track my to do’s and activities. I am able to record “to dos” with Siri and then have the IFTTT app pull them out of Apple Reminders and log them into my Todoist inbox.

Apple Music & Apple Remote

apple watch first impressions - apple music and apple remote

Both Apple Music and Apple Remote — allowing you to control the music that plays on your iPhone and control the Apple TV respectively — were the two features I was the most excited about when the Apple Watch was first announced. Apple Remote on the iPhone is just okay, but never easily accessible nor as convenient as a real remote. Having the app on the wrist however, makes it much more useful. Controlling music that plays on your iPhone from your wrist is nice because of the ability to easily switch to an AirPlay speaker.

BusMe

apple watch apps - busme king county metro

BusMe, a King County Metro bus app that we built for the Apple Watch, uses Seattle’s OneBusAway API and takes a mental load off users who are getting ready to head to work in the morning or taking off for the day. With a quick “glance”, the app tells you how much time you have until your bus arrives and how much time it will take you to get there (it calculates walking time).

What Makes an Apple Watch App Successful

Successful Apple Watch apps have light interactions, clever yet simple interfaces, large typography and require little user input. An app that smoothly presents options and guides the user through limited decisions (a la Messages’ good intentioned, but poorly executed canned responses) will provide them with great utility while requiring little interruption from their day … which is what the Apple Watch is all about.

apple watch first impressions - successful apple watch apps

Application Testing

The ability to test our apps on the Watch has been a great experience. While there are always differences between testing with the iOS Simulator and the actual device, it has been a much more pronounced difference with the Apple Watch since only the app’s screen was visible. The iPhone Simulator has always offered an experience that contains the OS whereas the Watch Simulator does not provide this container UI. Instead, you are jumpstarted into your app without the experience of how a user might enter or exit the app.

Additionally, context is paramount on the Apple Watch, and interacting with a Watch app running on an iMac is a quite the departure from what it is like to interact with an app on your wrist. Things like network performance, UI performance, and the size of UI elements are all very artificial in the Simulator. For example, testing complex image and video editing functions, as we do with our photo collaging app Diptic, are always secondary in a Simulator because of the difference in environments. However, there is greater concern here when it comes to the Apple Watch due to the fact that its screen acts as a sort of external display for the iPhone — the user interactions with 3rd party developed applications are making a round-trip from Watch to iPhone.

Odds & Ends

Charging

The Watch battery is fine for normal usage. Prior to launch, expectations were set that it would last a day without charging and then go into power reserve mode beyond that. So far it has been true to word and I’ve been able to go a day and a half without charging or going into power reserve mode with normal usage.

Charging it is a bit more of a pain than charging an iPhone primarily due to the pervasiveness of lightning cables and available outlets.

Visual Impression of Checking the Watch Around People

Checking a watch has certain connotations (Am I late? How long have I been here? I’ve got to go, etc.) that are invoked when using the Apple Watch around others. If I receive a notification and glance at my watch to respond or dismiss, it can appear as if I’m checking the time and am concerned about where I need to be next. This will dissipate over time, when use becomes more popular, but was also an unexpected side effect of having non-time related information placed in a timepiece.

Screenshots

Pressing the Digital Crown and the side button together in unison will cause the Watch to take a screenshot. I may have my Watch on too loose, but I’ve found that when I have my wrist extended backwards, it inadvertently takes a screenshot. In return, my iCloud Photo Library has become overloaded with inadvertent shots:

apple watch first impressions

apple watch first impressions

Conclusion

Overall, I have been pleased with the Apple Watch. Using it for the past month has suppressed any thoughts that it wouldn’t live up to Apple’s caliber or expectations that it might not work well in daily usage. I am optimistic for the path this product will take and the opportunities it creates for developers.