Apple used the word ‘courage’ recently to describe its decision to remove the headphone socket from the iPhone 7, and much fun was poked at the company by those who missed the reference. But what I personally found far more courageous was Apple effectively admitting that it got the original Apple Watch user-interface badly wrong, and completely revamping it in watchOS 3.
Glances never worked. They were supposed to be a fast way to see information from your favorite apps, and to go on to quickly open those apps when required. In reality, neither objective was achieved: data was slow to load, and so were the apps.
And the side-button for immediate access to contacts was simply the waste of a button. Using the Watch Dick Tracy-style for phone calls was never more than a novelty, and sending scribbles and the like to contacts was even more of a gimmick.
So Apple had the courage to abandon both. Glances are gone, replaced by the app Dock, and the side button has been repurposed to access it. These two changes have transformed my use of my Watch …
I said recently that I literally couldn’t remember the last time I actually opened an app on the Watch as it was so tediously slow to do so. Instead, I used my Watch for just four things:
- Glancing at Complications on the Modular watch face
- Replying to text messages
- Apple Pay
Those four things were enough for the Watch to earn its keep, but I could see no benefit to me in upgrading to Apple’s shiny new hardware. What I do love, though, is Apple’s even shinier new software.
By keeping the most-used apps in memory, and providing instant access to them via the newly-repurposed side button, using apps has gone from a frustrating act of last resort to a quick and easy way to get stuff done. The result? I’m now frequently using eight different apps. Effectively, a free upgrade to my Watch has added eight ‘new’ features – features that were always there in theory but were previously too slow to use in practice.
I listen to a lot of podcasts (This American Life, Freakonomics Radio and a whole bunch of Radio 4 shows, in the main), so keep Now Playing in my dock. The Watch now makes it really easy to skip back 15 seconds if I missed something or my mind was wandering, and while pause/play is very easy on the B&W P5 wireless headphones I was assimilated into using, sometimes it’s even more convenient to pause on the Watch. That would never have been true before.
The Music app itself now comes into its own. It’s a more convenient way to start a playlist while out and about, and I frequently use the Quick Play button as an instant way to start some music.
Still on the music front, I love the convenience of being able to quickly Shazam a music track in a bar or coffee shop. I previously used to use Siri on my iPhone, but this is much easier. Siri is unfortunately useless for identifying music on the Watch.
I also love that Shazam can display lyrics on the Watch. I’m not usually a fan of using small screens to display more than a glance’s worth of info, but it’s nice when Shazamming a song to also be able to quickly skim the lyrics.
I’m not much of a selfie guy, but it’s always better to prop the iPhone up to avoid motion-blur when taking photos in low light, and using the Watch as a remote-control is much more convenient than using the self-timer.
I love the convenience of navigating by wrist-taps. It’s much more pleasant than walking along staring at your phone screen, and a lot safer in sketchy areas. You can look like you know exactly where you’re going while keeping your attention on your surroundings.
I know London well, so most places I can get to within a few streets without navigational assistance, then just use Apple Maps for the last few blocks. I tend to set the destination on my iPhone, as it’s easier on the larger screen, and to do that in advance. When I get close enough to need the help, I then set it going on my Watch.
Dark Sky is my preferred short-range weather app. I generally use it to decide whether or not I’ll need a cycling jacket, and to see whether I might be better off leaving a little earlier than planned to avoid a rain shower. Here the benefit of having the info on my wrist rather than my phone is more marginal, but interestingly it’s been one of the things that has most sold friends on an Apple Watch when they see it in action.
I have a lot of friends in other countries, and Skype is my default way of keeping in touch with them. Mostly I just keep the app in the dock to ensure it’s open so I’ll receive call alerts on my Watch. I find that otherwise it can fall out of RAM.
Finally – and this is a big one for me – I now use my Watch as a remote control when listening to music on the hifi. My MacBook Pro is my music repository, AirPlaying music to a variety of speakers in different rooms. In the living-room, I control music directly from the Mac (where it lives in the evening), but in other rooms it’s great to have the Watch as a remote control.
Around 90% of my listening is from Apple Music’s For You playlists, which has two implications. First, I won’t always know the name of the artist or track, and the Watch will show it to me. Second, if I don’t like a track, I can use the Watch to skip to the next one.
The only thing missing for me is Love and Dislike buttons for Apple Music. I do try to religiously like/dislike tracks, as that’s why Apple’s For You recommendations are so good for me, but I can’t do it from the Watch.
One small criticism: I never change watch faces, so for me the ‘swipe left/right’ UI is completely wasted. A friend (thanks, Greg!) observed that, even if you do, it’s unlikely to be something you do so often that a ‘top level’ gesture is justified. I’d prefer to see the swipe gesture used for something more useful – perhaps swipe right to access your most-used app and left for the one you used most recently?
Oh, and a kind of combined compliment and complaint, I guess: now I’m actively using the Watch so much more, I’m finding that I burn through a lot more battery power. International travel excepted, the Watch always used to comfortably make it through a day for me, but I’ve twice run out of power since watchOS 3.
But that aside, I’m blown away by how much difference watchOS 3 has made. I really feel like Apple just gave me a free upgrade to a whole new model.
You can read earlier pieces in my Apple Watch Diary series here.