I’ve been wearing the Apple Watch for over a month now. It’s been a mixed bag. At times, it’s magical, while others are can be an exercise in frustration. Welcome to a 1.0 product. When you look at the sheer number of features offered, it’s actually quite astounding for a first generation product. From a development perspective, this was quite the undertaking from both a hardware and software perspective. As you can see from the Apple Store shipping times, they are still struggling to meet current demand and these aren’t even available in the store. If you were lucky enough to be among those who ordered and received your watch, I’m sure you’ve gazed longingly at the beauty of the hardware. It is simply stunning. On the software side of things, things have been a bit bumpy. From laggy apps to a user interface that still feels a bit rough around the edges, you can expect a steady stream of updates over the next few months, the first of which has already been released and includes a fair amount of improvements and bug fixes. Beyond updates to increase the stability and performance, there are a number of ways that the Apple Watch could be improved. Here’s my list of the 10 changes to Watch OS that would seriously improve the Apple Watch.
1. Explore gestures
Raise your hand if you’ve raised your wrist and used your other hand to swipe left or right on your Apple Watch. Right now, it does absolutely nothing, which is a crime against usability. In many ways, Watch OS borrows much of the interaction we’ve learned through iOS. It would seem natural and in keeping with iOS, that swiping from right to left would bring up your app layout. Given how that’s a fluid layout, swiping back wouldn’t work, but we’ll tackle that later.
Since we’re on the topic of adding new gestures, the reverse of that gesture could be configured to open a specific app. I’ll even go as far as to limit those to stock apps. As someone who makes heavy use of Messages, that would be an ideal location for it.
2. Remove default apps in App Layout
When you first setup an Apple Watch, the default prompt is to install all compatible watch apps. This is a terrible idea for a number of reasons, most of which I noted in how to avoid the Apple Watch App Glut. I’ve learned pretty quickly which apps deserve a spot on the Apple Watch. Unfortunately, a number of apps that I’d like to remove are stock apps. In some ways, I get why Apple refuses to allow stock apps to be deleted from the iPhone. That could result in people accidentally deleting a critical app.
While the Apple Watch is relatively easy to use, it does have a learning curve. Anyone who has invested time into learning how to use the watch, is probably going to understand how to install and remove apps using the companion app on the iPhone. Since the watch is an ancillary device, removing these apps wouldn’t impact their iPhone. The app layout doesn’t need to be filled with a sea of apps I don’t use, nor intend to use. For the love of Pete, please let us delete apps from the watch.
3. Easier way to get back to main watch face
I’ve likened the Digital Crown to the home button on the iPhone, but I’m starting to think that’s an unfair comparison. The home button on the iPhone acts a ‘safe place’ for users. No matter where you are in the interface, a single press brings you back to your home screen. There’s value there and you can’t currently execute that on the Apple Watch. Instead the Digital Crown acts as some sort of perverted back button. Using the apps layout as an example. A single click brings you one step back to your group of apps. Another single click will align the clock for opening. A third single click opens the clock. In contrast, a quick double-click opens the last used app.
You cannot use a software button, since it won’t help when you are in-app. The default action of the double-click should be to return to the watch face. It still lacks the simplicity of the iPhone, but until Siri becomes more reliable, a long press of the Digital Crown must remain to access Apple’s voice assistant.
4. Reply to emails using stock replies and voice dictation
This one should be easy. In my review, I called Messaging the killer app on the Apple Watch. Voice dictation was surprisingly good and the use of stock replies advanced my messaging capabilities. It would stand to reason that Mail would benefit from this same subset of features.
5. Hardware button to select a contact
To access a friend, I need to use the trifecta of the side button, the Digital Crown to scroll and finally, tap on the display. Already confounded by the many uses of the Digital Crown, I’m about to add one more. I’m sure the usability geeks will take issue with this request, but damn me for wanting to press the Digital Crown to select a contact. I’ve done it about a thousand times. If they can’t change this, how about some sort of electro-shock therapy to prevent me from continuously pressing it in hopes I’ll be selecting a friend.
I should note that I’ve tried using my finger to select a contact, figuring that would scale down my adventure to a single button and the display. The tap targets are just too small and frankly, require the Digital Crown for any sort of accuracy.
6. Sync Dismissed Notifications To iPhone
There is a setting in the companion app to mirror alerts and notifications. If you aren’t using your iPhone, alerts that you’d typically receive on your iPhone, will also come in on your Apple Watch. Brilliant, but wait. If you dismiss a notification on Apple Watch, that promise of mirroring alerts is lost. When you turn on your iPhone, those same notifications are all there, all needing to be dismissed. Worse yet, we have to wait for iOS 9 and the iPhone 6S for Force Touch and the excellent ‘clear all’ option.
Mirror should mean mirror. If I dismiss a notification on Apple Watch, it should be dismissed on the iPhone.
7. Remove apps from Apple Watch using Watch
I’ve been largely disappointed by third party apps, but I continue to try new apps in hopes they are faster to load and offer a great experience on the watch. That being said, I’ve taken steps to avoid the Apple Watch app glut and that often includes removing apps. Apple could make this process easier by allowing us to delete apps from the watch.
This would be a great application of force touch. Enter the app window, using a hard press to engage Force Touch and be presented with an option to delete an app from Apple Watch.
8. Photo wallpapers as watch face backgrounds
Photo wallpapers or backgrounds were shown when the Apple Watch was first introduced. My guess is they were dropped in an effort to squeeze every bit of battery life from the watch. Those black backgrounds go a long way to preserving battery life. If you’ve read any of the reviews, battery life on the Apple Watch is stellar. In fact, I often go more than a day without charging. I’d love to use some of my favorite photos as wallpapers on the Apple Watch. Not all would look great and they might affect readability, but that level of personalization might just be worth it.
9. Global turn-off of Health and Fitness apps
Stop telling me to stand. No, I don’t want to go for a run, jog or even a brisk walk. Unless this watch offers some sort of magical tracking (and reward) of my being a couch potato, then I’d just assume turn off all of the health and fitness apps. One toggle to rule them all. If at some point I decide to get healthy, I’ll know the apps are nagging reminders will still be there for me.
10. Notify me of new apps supporting Apple Watch
There’s no smart way to inform me of when one of my iPhone apps has introduced support for the Apple Watch. I suspect we’ll start to see a steady stream of compatibility, but it’s not going to happen overnight. I still see plenty of apps that aren’t optimized for the larger displays of the iPhone 6 and 6+. When an app update is released that introduces Apple Watch support, I’d like to get an alert on my Apple Watch. While it might get annoying at some point (and should have an option to disable), I would no longer have to stalk my app updates and reading their respective change logs. There should be an intelligent way to let me know these Apple Watch apps exist and what’s a few extra notifications in the pursuit of new apps?
Using the Apple Watch for the past month has at times been both magical and maddening. It’s a first generation product and now that it’s been released, you can expect that Apple will get a better understanding of how people are using it and more importantly, how it can be improved.
What would you change to improve Watch OS and the Apple Watch?