How I’m using watchOS 3.

The long-awaited watchOS 3 update dropped last week, and it is–as promised–a marked improvement. I’m sure it’s very impressive on a Series 2 Apple Watch, but even on my Series 0 1 it’s really great. I’ve been spending some time reading the comprehensive review of the update over at MacStories, and I’ve learned a ton. As such, my usage of the Watch has changed dramatically in the past week, and I’m really enjoying this device again.

I still have many, many issues with it, in about a million ways. But the changes are largely positive and between technical adjustments and updates to the user experience, are far and away great steps for the OS to take. I have a much more optimistic outlook for the device than I did a few months back. I’ve always liked it, but let’s be realistic, it was obnoxious for a while.

Anyway, here are the two core things I’ve adjusted that make the Watch better for me on a daily basis. It’s only been a week, so this may change, but it feels solid for now.

Multiple watch faces and ease of switching

This is the most important one, and it has a lot of layers.

I use a “home” and a “work” watch face. “Home” contained an analog face (Utility), the OmniFocus and Drafts complications for capture in the upper corners, and the weather on the bottom. “Work” is a different colored Utility face, with the time in London and the temperature in the corners, and my calendar events on the bottom. Switching between these was always irritating, because so much about the Apple Watch is irritating. Well, I’m happy to report that I am no longer irritated, because a simple swipe changes faces now and I’m whistling like an idiot through my day.

Since apps whose complications appear on your watch face have memory priority, they are quicker to launch. And since the faces are super easy to switch through, I’ve added an extra Modular face in the middle of the home and work faces, solely to use as an app launcher2. So my new layout is:

Home: Activity analog face with subdials (loving this); OmniFocus upper left, Music upper right (I love using the Watch to control audio), and weather on bottom.

[swipe]

Launcher: Modular face; Reminders, large weather in center, Just Press Record, Drafts, Timer

[swipe]

Work: Todoist (work tasks, upper left), time in London upper right, calendar on bottom.

In doing this, I no longer need to keep something like Just Press Record or Drafts on my main face at all times, because they would always get triggered if one of my kids bumped into my wrist, which happens way more than you might think. And although I have weather on my home face, I don’t have it on my work face anymore, which means the current conditions and high/low temp are one swipe away at work if I want them.

That center face–just holding complications as launchers–is freaking amazing. I only use about four third party apps on the Watch at all, but having things so accessible means I literally never need to use the godforsaken honeycomb again. Having the apps launch/refresh more quickly because they’re assigned complications is icing on the cake. And if you don’t mind an additional swipe, there’s no reason you couldn’t add a second launcher face alongside with different apps.

Now Playing and the dock

One thing that sucks is that since Control Center overtook the swipe up to reveal glances (the removal of which I could not be happier about), it means that one of the parts of the Watch I used the most is harder to get to. I would be in and out of Now Playing multiple times a day, whether with podcasts or music. I totally understand the continuity between wanting Control Center to be triggered the same way, but removing the ability to control audio (which of course you can do on the iPhone/iPad) makes this less appealing. I almost never open Control Center on the Watch. I suppose now you can check your battery really quickly, but that’s never been a concern of mine anyway.

Dock apps also get priority in memory, which is good. But… if the handful of apps I need lives in complications, that means I really don’t also need them in the dock too. So I have removed everything from the dock except Now Playing (and whatever was recently used, which I have no control over), which means that while not quite as accessible as before, Now Playing is one button click and a tap away, since it’s always in position (since it’s the only thing in the dock). Not a perfect solution, but working well in spite of the questionable demotion of its position.

These two things have drastically changed how I use my Watch on a daily basis. I’m extremely tempted to go check out the Series 2 at the store, but the change even on the original Watch is incredible. It’s actually far more useful now. Add in all the other little bits, like the changes to replies in notifications for Messages, and my most frequent activities have experienced a palpable reduction of friction. Which is exactly the reason this device exists in the first place. If Apple keeps this trend going in the right direction, the Watch will quickly graduate from a “yeah it’s cool, I guess” to a “I can’t imagine going through my day without this” kind of device.

I’m excited to see where this is headed.


  1. I will not refer to my launch day Apple Watch as a Series 1, because it contains the old, busted chipset, and not the new bumped one. No, I’m not bitter. Why do you ask? (I will probably continue to be a giant infant and get a new Watch eventually, but I’ve held off for the time being.) 
  2. A bunch of people were super excited about this idea and were thanking me for being such an innovative person, but in all honesty, this idea came directly from the MacStories review. I read it and was like YES and then immediately implemented it. I let everyone know on Twitter but figured it was worth an additional footnote. So go thank Alex, because I stole it from him. 

Things I like this week, volume 5.

Twitterrific 5
Since giving the 6 Plus another look recently after using the Apple Watch, I’ve rediscovered how lovely Twitterrific is on the larger screen, especially in landscape mode. My love for both this app and Tweetbot is like loving two children: you just can’t play favorites. And like children, they’re both good at certain things. So I use both, at different times and for different purposes.

Twitterrific is an app with a long and storied history and the latest version has a lot of nice little touches that I really appreciate. The appearance customizations are plentiful, and tiny details like sliding your finger to move the cursor as you’re composing a tweet are surprisingly helpful. (I really wish this was an OS-level function. Once you start doing it, you wish you could do it everywhere.)

One big win is the “Delete and Edit Tweet” option, which allows you to quickly wipe a tweet out and re-post it, which is great for fixing typos. It has an Apple Watch companion app too, which is decidedly stripped down, presenting a summary feed of your interaction activity (mentions, favorites, etc.), and has a glance to roll those up for you in a nice way as well.

Twitterrific 5

Activity App (Apple Watch)
When the fitness aspects of the Apple Watch were presented to the public, I expected them but wasn’t that excited about them. I used a Fitbit for a year before realizing that I wasn’t getting great data because I’d already established healthy habits. So I figured I’d use the Activity app, but wasn’t so pumped about it.

Something about those three rings really hooked me, though. Maybe it’s that the Watch gets great data. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the presentation of that data. Maybe it’s the aspects of it being a little game with myself. Whatever it is, I find myself checking in, setting goals, and paying attention to it far more than I did with the Fitbit. I’m not as concerned with collecting data over the long term, but I sure like looking every day and seeing where I am in comparison to yesterday and the day before.

The Apple Watch does a ton of stuff, and will certainly grow to do even more. Getting me to think about health stuff again was not among the things I thought I’d be doing. And that’s good for me–and everyone else in my life.

Quick tips on using apps with Apple Watch.

In using the Apple Watch for a few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out the best patterns and methods of usage for my life, and how it fits in. I definitely enjoy the device and while I’ve seen people decry it as a superfluous bauble, I’m convinced of the variety of ways in which it can provide simple support on a day-to-day basis. I think it’s extremely important to think about the device in this way–as a support system for small tasks, not a replacement for your primary input, which for most of us is our iPhone.

There’s no shortage of writing on the Watch, and I’ve been thinking about what I want to say about it. I’ve decided (for now) to keep it as pragmatic as possible, since the market on breathless analysis is pretty much tied up. Not that I had much anyway. I’m exhausted with the state of technology coverage on the web right now, and I’m avoiding much of it in favor of exploring some other interests I’ve been neglecting. But I’ll share some things I’ve figured out because I think they’re useful. Maybe you’ll find them useful too.

Get to apps more quickly
Given that the Watch’s navigation is so different from iOS proper, I wanted to find ways to maximize efficiency in moving around the UI. A lot of people seem to feel that glances are the way to go, so you can peek into an app and then tap to jump directly to it, but I’ve found that glances take time to load and I don’t like the horizontal structure they employ once you start using more than four or five. So I’ve limited my glances to only three: Now Playing, Workflow, and the non-removable Settings. Instead, I’ve clustered my most-used apps around one another so that they are all easily tappable without scrolling the magnetic ball-pit that is the Watch’s Springboard equivalent. I found that even when the icons are in a partially-shrunken state, they are still tappable, which makes that first view when you press the Digital Crown so important.

Crown press, one tap, into an app. About as difficult as opening a folder to launch an app on your phone. I know where things are, and I don’t have to wait for a potentially finicky glance view to load first. Glances remain for quick access to infrequent actions.

Create an arrangement that snaps quickly
Although you can arrange the apps on your Watch in a variety of ways, I’ve found that quickly zipping up or down with a swipe is a very easy gesture to pull off. I’ve put a few apps that are less-used but require quick access at the very top and bottom of the arrangement. So when I swipe quickly up or down, the arrangement zips to that point and sticks. I have Workflow at the top and the Apple Remote app at the bottom.

Speaking of your arrangement, make it fit the display effectively
Since the Watch is a vertical screen, and since you can actively tap icons that are in a partially shrunken state, keep the width of your app arrangement tight to the width of the display. You can see here, how the overall number of apps I’m displaying varies between three and four, but doesn’t exceed that, so I only have to move in two directions to see everything (up and down). Once you get used to limiting the dimensions in which you need to move to see things on the tiny screen, actions and choices get smoother and easier.

BONUS ROUND: Flip the body, save the world
The second I put the Watch on, I knew that the Digital Crown would not be comfortable for me in its top right position. I immediately detached the band, flipped the body, and reoriented the UI with the DC on the bottom, and the side button on top. Pressing these with your thumb (if you wear your Watch on the left hand) and anchoring with your index finger is way better. YMMV.

First impressions on Apple Watch.

I’ve been very busy lately, so I’ve been detached from a lot of the discussion surrounding the Apple Watch. This has actually been an interesting scenario for me, since I’m usually soaking in information by the time a new Apple product reaches me, but it’s left me with a feeling of being a bit of a blank slate this time around. I’ve been able to approach the Watch with fresh eyes for the most part, experiencing it in as close to a normal fashion as possible.

As such, I didn’t read everything I could find in advance. I didn’t watch walkthroughs, I didn’t read a single review. I got my Watch late yesterday evening, and finally sat down with it after the day’s events had wrapped up. Slowly, methodically, and for the first time with almost no background knowledge on the device save for what I saw in the keynotes, I opened the box and began exploring.

It goes without saying that this is an entirely new interaction design that will almost certainly confuse people out of the gate. I say this as someone deeply entrenched in the thinking behind software interfaces–it’s not terribly intuitive when you first lay eyes on it. Which is not to say it’s bad/wrong/doomed/etc., merely that it’s different enough from the iOS conventions so many people are familiar with, that there’s a definite learning curve. I think in-person sessions may go a long way to alleviate those adjustments, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of those happening at Apple Stores over the coming months.

Say what you want, it’s extremely polished for a 1.0 product. Coming from a Pebble Steel, this feels like a quantum leap forward. The ability to interact bidirectionally is fantastic, and changes the utility of having a small computer mounted to your arm at all times. I’ve already delighted in dropping quick reminders or text replies, and then immediately returning to the task at hand.

I’m still uncertain as to the overall connections between apps, glances, and notifications. I understand what each is for, but moving between them doesn’t feel clear to me yet. I’m beginning to see why some apps only need to be a glance, whereas other apps have no reason to use a glance and just need to be on there somewhere. I’m fairly certain that these will become more useful and refined now that developers have hardware in hand. As with the original iPad, you do the best you can in the vacuum of the simulator and hope for the best to hit launch day. Cheers to anyone who pulled it off, because there are some great implementations already, and they’ll only get better.

I’m a righty; I wear my watch on my left hand. The first thing I did was flip the body and reorient the Digital Crown. It feels far more comfortable on the lower left, as you don’t need to contort your right hand to manipulate it when you need to access it. Scrolling it is a little tougher in this position, but that’s an action I haven’t seen a need for (yet) apart from gazing at the UI as it shrinks and grows. It’s a nice trick, and I’m sure someone will manage to find some utility for it, but it seems superfluous to me for now. Tapping and swiping feels much better.

That said, tapping and swiping isn’t super easy. Touch targets are sometimes extremely small, and the slight delays involved in transmitting controls back and forth to the phone–as brief as they are–sometimes leads to a disjointed feeling within parts of the UI. It’s a 1.0 thing, sure to be alleviated as the OS matures and developers’ comfort with it grows, but it’s noticeable now. There will undoubtedly be many things that still feel faster to accomplish by picking up your phone, and that’s fine.

Which brings me to my final point: this device is so not a replacement for your phone. It’s a satellite, a small, intelligent drone dispatched to move with you when your phone is pocketed, on a table somewhere else, or otherwise out of reach. As a user, set your expectations accordingly, and as a developer, understand that you absolutely don’t need to build a multi-level navigational stack to accomplish what you think you need to. Isolate a core set of tasks, refine them, and present them in the simplest way possible. Make what you send to this device as concise as possible. Your users will appreciate the value in the tightened experience, and you’ll save yourself some headaches in this early incarnation of the Watch OS. As capable as it is, it’s glaringly evident that it’s only a stepping stone to something more right now; adjust your targets accordingly.

Overall, after only a few hours with it, I can safely say I really like it. I have some serious reservations about specific design choices within the OS (creepy Mummenschanz emoji being a big one), and I’m not sold on some of the purported interaction choices yet. But I grew to like the Pebble, having been a longtime fan of traditional watches and a serious smartwatch skeptic prior to that. This is a fantastic extension of iOS with incredible potential for the future. It’s not the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a really cool first step and that’s how the most interesting things always start.

The case for a chunky Apple Watch.

I’m officially looking forward to the release of the Apple Watch. I’ve been dabbling with a Pebble Steel since late last year, and now, the experiment having proved valuable, I’m totally ready to take the practice of wearing a smart device to the next level.

One of the hallmarks of Apple device updates is the relentless march to unyielding thinness. We’ve all seen it, and it’s unavoidable. The current crop of iOS devices are almost impossibly thin, and I’m sure the following refresh cycle after the next “S” update will melt our brains even further. This week on ATP the notion of the Apple Watch getting thinner as it progresses was brought up as part of the conversation surrounding upgrades and future iterations of the hardware. And in that moment, something truly horrifying spread across my mind.

I absolutely do not want a thinner Apple Watch. In fact, depending on how I feel about this initial hardware offering, there’s a chance I may even want a bigger one.

I am a chunky watch fan. I like big metal watches, and I have a nice little collection of Casio G-Shocks and other sport watches. I’m a surfer, and I like my stuff to be fairly rugged, with the exception of the one or two watches I’d call my “fancy lad” varieties. (Even still, we’re talking about a nice Fossil or something, not a Submariner.) Like everyone else, I eyeballed the sizing of the two models once they appeared on the store, and there was no doubt in my mind that 42mm was the size for me. I heard Myke mention on Connected that he’d heard the 42mm was about the same size as the Pebble Steel that he and I both currently sport, and I looked at my wrist and smiled. I’d be fine if it was even a little bigger, as the watch I bought most recently prior to the Steel was an enormous blue-grey G-Shock that was borderline silly for my modest avian wrists, but I still love it.

I have never liked thin, flat watches. They felt lacking to me. No matter how nice or cool looking they might be, I detest their presence on my arm. They have no place in my world, and I shun them. Shun. Chunk is life. Long live chunk.

But here’s the thing: Apple doesn’t like big and chunky. It stands to reason that the only rationale behind the current case size of the watch is that they needed that much room for components. Based on the company’s track record, a safe bet would be to assume that each successive model will get thinner and more svelte. Which is, admittedly, right up someone’s alley. Probably a lot of someones, if I’m being honest. But I also know I’m not alone in my love of big watches. There’s a big, wonderful world full of people who want small assault vehicles on their wrists.

So the question becomes: is this a typical Apple device that follows the same slimming pattern, or does the mere fact that it is an entirely new class of hardware based strongly in personal fashion set it apart? Will Apple cater to the aesthetic desires of both types of people? Will thinnies get their metal potato chip eventually while I am able to buy a tiny internet-connected Hummer if I so desire? I’m emboldened by the variety of options available at this initial launch, which makes me think that Apple has already considered something like this. I also know that if they haven’t, and the device follows the typical pattern, my first-gen watch will eventually (sooner than later, I’m sure) become woefully behind the times technologically as well as in terms of basic watch performance (battery).

As such, I am all in for right now. This watch is the right size for me, right now, and I expect to like it a hell of a lot. I mean, I like the Pebble enough, and it’s essentially a digital Post-It note right now. I’m sure the Apple Watch will be terrific. But will it remain my awesome chunky friend, or turn into a skinny friend who can’t stop talking about all the weight he/she lost even though you know all about it, and the truth of the matter is they were more fun when he/she didn’t care about weight so much?

I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

03-15-2015, 2:15 PM Rene makes a good point (he usually does) in saying Apple will want “lighter” and thinner is a factor of that. My feeling is that if this is positioned not as a device we carry, but one we wear, in watches, “heavier” often indicates a higher standard of quality. Lightweight watches that aren’t specifically purpose-based (i.e. lighter for a reason, or sport models) often can feel “cheap” to someone used to something with more heft. Again, the question is: what kind of device does Apple believe it is producing–a consumer electronic, or a fashion appliance?