It’s been two years since the release of the Apple Watch. It’s seen many challenges and changes in a very short time, but looking at the smart watch market, it’s pretty hard to deny it has been a success. Initially, it was met with some struggles both for app developers and users alike. Most third party apps were severely limited by design, causing much frustration, given the expectations people had. Part of this problem was that apps essentially ran on the phone instead of the watch, giving slow performance and unpredictable behavior.
Apple was pretty quick to announce watchOS2 that summer at WWDC, with some much needed improvements. Apps were easier to make, could offer more to the user and best of all could run natively on the watch instead of the phone. This was where things started to really grow, as apps could show off their true potential.
Some notable things we’ve seen come and go as we are now on watchOS3 include the addition of third party complications and the dock. The removal of the friends button and glances were met with both cheers and boos. There were good reasons for these changes I’m sure, but I often miss glances particularly for the Now Playing glance. They moved this into a dedicated “app” of sorts in the dock, but without adding a complication to make it easier to access. Being one of the apps I use the most, this can be a bit frustrating at times, but finding a workflow around it can help.
One interesting change that was made was the ability to swipe left or right to quickly change watch faces. Previously you had to “force touch” (push harder) on the screen and it would zoom out and let you swipe. This is still an option and is how you add or remove faces, but you can quickly change existing ones just by swiping now. At first this didn’t really make sense to me, as I rarely found myself changing faces. Over the coming months since they added this functionality, I’ve taken to trying to integrate it into my workflow and suddenly it makes sense. When you make multiple watch faces, each with unique complications in whatever relation you see fit, you open a new realm of productivity.
A quick overview of my faces: my default is in the middle, with things I use most like the date, calendar app (Fantastical), weather (Carrot weather), activity rings and timer. To the right I have a face colored red (color coding helps tell which face you’re using) with a transit app (Citymapper), the stock Music app, Remote app, podcasts app (Overcast) and the Home app. These are fairly related, as I use most of these when I travel on public transit for example.
To the right of this face is a yellow theme, with the phone app, ride sharing (Lyft), finance (Mint), Workflow app and sunrise/set complication. I use these apps less frequently but want them in reach, so two swipes isn’t bad.
To the left of center I have the stock maps app, stock weather, stock mail, find my friends and messages, all themed blue. This face represents contacting and locating people mostly, but is largely also filled with apps I want one-swipe access to.
Left of that is the activities face, which shows the rings very large and centered. This contains complications for workout related things like the meditation app, heart rate app and workouts app. Ideally I only use this in one session to do all of those activities, and I chose the rings face because I can quit any of these apps and quickly see where I am with my goals.
I’ve been practicing with this new flow, and while I’m sure it will change in time, it has been very useful. Combined with AirPods, I can more efficiently summon audio apps like music or podcasts and quickly get up and running. With a wipe and a tap I can have maps ready to pick a destination, or locate friends and message them. The real nice thing with all of this is, the stock apps typically have no load times (must be cached?) which makes things easy. Apps in the dock or on the active watch face are also loaded already, so typically you get the effect of having fast loading apps all around. Most of the time my apps that are a swipe away also still load fast, so this seems to be their intention with this usage.
All around, looking back on two years with the watch, it took some time to figure out just how to make it more useful than just an activity tracker or receiving wrist notifications, but it’s never been a bad device for sure. I use it constantly in my daily routine, primarily around the apps that are within a swipe left or right, and at this point would feel almost naked without it.
It’s easy to see how watches will end up being a fairly integral part of augmented reality and the likes. Just having the watch and AirPods makes it seem like that future is already here. While we may be a bit away from good visual augmented reality, audio over AirPods combined with wrist controls have a ton of potential to really take things to the next level.