A friend and I are discussing his recent purchase of a new workout machine and the fact that he’s using his Apple Watch to track his fitness. He complains that the Watch doesn’t count calories the same way his workout machine does, telling him he burns significantly less calories each time he works out. I ask if he’s using the Watch’s Workouts app each time because it ensures that the heart rate sensor is constantly monitoring activity during exercise. He responds, “The Watch has a Workouts app? I didn’t even know that.”
My classmate comes to school one day showing off her brand new rose gold Apple Watch, and I can’t help but feel a tinge of jealousy at how pretty it is. She gushes about its features and how much she enjoys using it. The class is enamored with her new accessory. However, the appreciation for the Apple Watch quickly wears off as it continually dings throughout class, interrupting discussion and breaking students’ concentration. After class, I approach the new Apple Watch owner and say, “I hope this doesn’t come off the wrong way, but do you know how to silence your Watch?” In near desperation, she says, “No, I have no idea. Can you show me?”
I publish a blog post about a sort of hack I’ve discovered where I arrange all of my Apple Watch apps in reverse order on the dock to make the ones I use most often more easily accessible. This comes after months of fumbling through my app list each morning while trying to pay for coffee. I share the post on Facebook hoping that it will be helpful to other Watch users facing similar issues. One comment I receive says, “Thank you for sharing this! I didn’t even know my Watch had an app dock.”
A friend is having trouble waking up on time because his phone alarm isn’t going off, and he asks if I can help. Following my suggestions, he has checked the ringer volume, made sure the alarm is set to the correct time, and confirmed that his software is up-to-date. Once I run out of potential fixes for his phone alarm, I tell him about my personal solution: I use my Apple Watch as an alarm instead of my phone and have found it to be more reliable. Maybe my approach will work for him as well. His response: “The Watch can do that?”
I’m complaining to my brother about how hard it is to take a picture using the iPhone camera’s timer. I don’t like having to start the timer, race in front of the camera, and then wait for it to finish counting down. Plus I can never get the framing quite right. He points to my wrist and says, “Yeah, but you could just use your Watch to look through the camera.” I tell him I can’t. He insists that I can and then tells me to open the app on my Watch. I’m immediately proven wrong. I can actually see a live feed of my camera’s viewfinder right on my wrist. I’m blown away not only by the Watch’s capability but by the fact that I’ve been missing out on this feature for over a year.
Stories like this are far too common. Ask an Apple Watch owner, “What do you use your Watch for?” and they’ll probably list off two or three main uses. (Notifications, fitness, and payments are the most common.) But these represent only a fraction of what the Watch can actually do. It’s a really powerful device that is being underutilized by the majority of people who own it, including techies like myself.
The thing about smartwatches is that they aren’t as intuitive as smartphones and tablets. Because of their size, you can’t just pick them up and start tapping around to use them. Developers have had to come up with multiple ways to interact with the watches (including digital crowns, buttons, and force-sensitive screens) that aren’t as straightforward as simply tapping the screen. This poses a problem for the Apple Watch because it dissuades users from exploring the device and learning about all of the helpful things that it can do.
Since debuting the Watch, Apple has progressively improved upon its software in order to make it more capable and more straightforward to use, and they’ve come a long way. However, there is still more work to be done. Apple has to come up with a solution that empowers it users to take advantage of all of the features of the Watch if they want the product to gain a broader appeal.
I’m not sure what form this solution should take, whether it be a more robust Starter Guide in the box itself, an interactive tutorial during Watch setup, or a series of videos that are easily accessible to new Watch owners. Maybe it should be some combination of these, or a completely new approach. But it seems to clear to me that Apple has to do something. Otherwise, the Apple Watch will remain a niche product instead of becoming the hit that the company clearly wants it to be.