What we’d like to see from watchOS 4
The Apple Watch is already the king of the smartwatch mountain, but a few software tweaks would make it even better, argues Susie Ochs
With reports that Google Maps, Amazon and eBay had quietly pulled Apple Watch versions of their iOS apps, the news made us think, “Wait, Google Maps had an Apple Watch app?” (Don’t worry, it’s coming back.) The truth is, we don’t really use Apple Watch apps. Looking at the list right now, this writer has exactly 50 third--party Apple Watch apps available, but just four installed. That’s 8 percent.
Looking at this list, we’re sure some of the apps we don’t have installed are well-made and do cool things. We just don’t want to use them, because they’re on my wrist. Holding up our wrist to use an app just isn’t a good experience a lot of the time, although glancing at our wrist is just right.
It only takes a glance to see if a Slack notification needs our attention or not. Same to check the temperature
outside, which is a complication on the watch face. In both of these examples, we don’t even have to touch the screen. Raise arm, look, lower arm.
So in the next iteration of watchOS, we hope Apple empowers app developers to make their experiences so fluid that we won’t be able to help loading a few more apps, and using them a lot more faithfully. Here are some things we think might help.
Soup up Siri
The Apple Watch could be the ultimate Siri device. In theory, it can do everything we’d like the Siri Speaker to do. (Okay, it can’t play music, but it can stream music to other speakers.) But in practice, we’d rather use my iPhone for Siri because it’s way faster and just has more skills.
But if Siri could get a performance boost in the next version watchOS, it would go a long way. Right now it’s one of the slowest ways we have of interacting with my HomeKit lights, so let’s start with a boost of speed.
Siri should also support everything from the wrist as it does on all your other devices. We can ask our Siri Remote to search Netflix or play a movie from our library. But we can’t ask Siri on our Apple Watch to do those things. The new Apple TV app doesn’t even have an Apple Watch counterpart. And we can ask Siri on our Mac or our iPhone to do a web search, but if we ask our Apple Watch, it says to go get our iPhone (where we have to run the same search again).
Siri on the Apple Watch should be the smartest, best Siri of all, able to switch what device it’s controlling. (Siri, it’s movie night, so pull up on the TV, dim the lights, and notify the kids playing Minecraft on their iPad.) We
might not get there in watchOS 4, but any step toward that goal would be a step in the right direction.
Better home control
Speaking of ubiquitous control, apps that control HomeKit device are a natural for the wrist. We keep the Home app’s complication on my watch face, so all our HomeKit lights, scenes, and sensors are never more than two taps away. And smart home apps for iOS have been great about supporting the Apple Watch.
Apple should work with those developers to improve their tools as well. More integrations between, say, Home and Health could be interesting. Your HomeKit ceiling fan could turn on when it knows you’re coming home from a run, for example, while sticking to temperature-based triggers when you’re not.
One glimpse we got at something Apple could be planning came from an unlikely source – an incident report about injuries suffered by Apple employees, obtained by Gizmodo. Besides tantalizing teases about Apple’s much-rumoured augmented reality glasses, the report described possible new tracking features for skiing and snowboarding. A mode that collects data on your top speed, runs taken, vertical feet skied, and so on could be really fun.
But we’d also like more automatic tracking of the exercise we do throughout the day. Fitbit’s latest bands can automatically detect when you’re running, walking, biking, and so on. Those bands also last a lot longer between charges, making them more natural for sleep tracking. But the Apple Watch is a decent sleep tracker too, so we’d like
it if watchOS 4 had a setting that could prompt me an hour or so before bed (or just whenever we’re sitting idle in at our desk for a decent stretch) to top off the Apple Watch’s charge. In my experience, a short charging session or two during the day is enough to keep the watch going around the clock, since it charges so quickly – and we have the first Apple Watch with a two-year-old battery.
Help not losing things
If you swipe up from the Apple Watch’s watch face in watchOS 3, you get a little Control Center-like screen that shows your remaining battery life and has buttons to enter Airplane mode, Theatre mode, Do Not Disturb, and so on. One button looks like an iPhone with sound coming out of it. Tap it and your paired iPhone will make a sound –
we do this almost daily when we’ve set our iPhone down somewhere in at home and then forgot where we put it.
But we want more. We want the Apple Watch to be able to ping our Siri Remote, iPad, Pencil, AirPods, even our MacBook. We’d love a Travel mode that could actually notify me if my Apple Watch loses Bluetooth contact with any of my other Apple gear, so we know right away if we left our MacBook in the hotel desk drawer, or we’re about to wander off and leave our iPhone behind. We might even leave this mode on all the time, if we could set up geofenced safe zones like our home and office.
The little things
How about complications that subtly animate or change colour when the app has new data? Support for playing podcasts offline would be very welcome as well. And of course, anything to eke out a little extra battery life.
Apple will likely preview watchOS 4 at WWDC in June, and then roll it out in September. Since watchOS 3 did so much to make the Apple Watch feel new again, our expectations are high.