Apple’s timer feature on iOS and watchOS is convenient for single uses especially when set using Siri. There are a few basic limitations, however, that could be addressed to make timers much more useful. Support for setting multiple timers, adding labels to identify timers, Continuity between devices, and support for the Mac are all low hanging fruit for timers.
I use timers the most when preparing a meal in the kitchen. Setting a timer with my voice by saying ‘Hey Siri, set a 60 minute timer’ to my Apple Watch or iPhone is really convenient and hands-free. My microwave and stove both have timers, too, but I prefer having the timer go off on my wrist if I step out of the kitchen and not having to fiddle with the fiddly appliances interface.
It’s common to need to set multiple timers for different foods when preparing a meal, however, and this is where Apple’s timers hit a limit. One timer per device.
I usually have my iPhone and Apple Watch in the kitchen so that’s two timers plus the two timers on the appliances makes four, but ideally each timer could be running on the same device. The stove and microwave are basic appliances and more limited than a dedicated computer, but managing multiple timers seems like the sort of thing that an iPhone or Apple Watch could handle.
The best way to manage multiple timers is probably with a text label. For example, you could have your 60 minute lasagna timer then add a 15 minute mixed vegetables timer along with a 5 minute bread timer.
Glance at the timer to visually identify progress on each session at the same time, or say ‘Hey Siri, check lasagna timer’ to use voice to check specific progress hands-free.
Timer labels could even be useful for individual sessions. If you’ve ever had a timer go off and forget exactly what you were timing, labels could provide more context.
If you do use multiple devices like iPhone and iPad, timers could ideally alert you on nearby devices using the same iCloud account as a Continuity feature. If you set a timer on your iPhone, it could go off on your iPad as well. Proximity could prevent the iPad from alerting if it’s not nearby and instead back at the office too.
Timers set on iPhone already enjoy this benefit on Apple Watch since the Apple Watch requires the iPhone to work. This means you can set a timer on your iPhone and a timer on your Apple Watch and be alerted to both on your Apple Watch for now. In the future, however, Apple Watch will ideally be more independent from iPhone at which point the Continuity feature would be necessary.
Finally, the Mac needs timer support. This is a glaring omission now that macOS includes Siri. Ask Siri to set a 5 minute timer and it will openly acknowledge that it can’t and recommend creating a reminder for 5 minutes from now instead.
Reminders are cross-device and support labels and multiple sessions, but you can’t check time remaining from Reminders and they’re more cumbersome than straightforward timers.
I suppose Apple could intentionally keep timers off the Mac and only on iOS and watchOS as a solution for mobile contexts, but I can imagine scenarios that don’t involve preparing a meal where I might want a countdown timer on my Mac. At the very least, it would make Siri on the Mac a little more useful.
Perhaps we could see some or all of these changes next week at WWDC as part of iOS 11, watchOS 4, and macOS 10.13. Enhancing timers with more features would certainly be a useful trick for the rumored ‘Siri Speaker’ Amazon Echo competitor.
Top image via Cookie Monster iPhone 6s ad
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