Why Apple's New Sleep Tracking Doesn't Score Your Sleep

How the Apple Watch tracks sleep -- and why - CNET

Unlike other wearables such as the Fitbit or Oura, which measure how much time you spend in the various sleep phases and even give calculated sleep quality scores, Apple's sleep tech is more simplified. It just tracks duration of sleep, movement disturbances and heart rate. The content of your sleep isn't analyzed much at all. Instead, Apple's placed a big focus on the time you go to bed and what you do while you wind down.

I think this is a good start for them, as I often look at my sleep data through tools like Autosleep or Sleep Cycle and don't know what to do with it other than go, "looks like I was a little restless at this time for no reason".

My biggest complaint with the new feature is that it doesn't seem to have a way to edit your sleep history. This would be a minor problem, but I've also noticed that it always counts you as getting out of bed at your alarm time, whether you get out of bed or not. I can snooze the alarm a few times and it still shows me getting out of bed at 6AM on the dot. This weekend I slept in all the way til almost 9AM, but the watch says I got up at 6AM. This doesn't feel like a beta bug or anything, but a decision for this release, and I'm not a fan. Submitted feedback saying as much, so fingers crossed this is added.

watchOS 7/iOS 14 Wish: Better Notification Behavior

Ok, so this is a kinda vague request, but it’s something that’s bothered me more since I’ve adjusted my watch notifications while going through this COVID-19 mess. Let me try to explain…

Default Notification Behavior

All notifications are mirrored to your watch. This means that everything that buzzes your phone will now tap your wrist. Effectively, you will never feel your phone vibrate because your watch is doing it all for you.

I like this because it makes it so that when I’m wearing my watch, I have one place to get notifications, and when I take it off to charge, my phone seamlessly takes over.

Getting Watch and Phone out of Sync

In order to stay a little more disconnected, I’ve turned off watch notifications for a bunch of apps. Twitter notifications, for example, are not important enough to tap my wrist, but I still want to get them, so I show them on my phone.

The problem here is that now my watch taps me for some things and my phone buzzes for other things. This is not what I personally want, as this introduces two devices that are trying to get my attention.

What I Want

What I would love is for any app that I do not have sending notifications to my watch to switch to “deliver quietly” while I’m wearing my watch. Still send them to my phone and let me see them on the lock screen, but don’t buzz for each one. Then when I take off my watch, start buzzing for all notifications again.

I could accomplish this by making all the notifications I don’t put on my watch deliver quietly, but that’s a decent amount of up front effort and ultimately isn’t what I want all the time, so I don’t think it’s quite right.


This is not a fully formed idea, and there are surely complexities around this, not to mention people who like the current behavior just fine, but for me this is something that annoys me and I wish I could improve more easily.

My Apple Watch is Making Social Distancing and Work-from-Home Easier

My Apple Watch is Making Social Distancing and Work-from-Home Easier

I’ve been home more in the past 2 weeks than any point in my adult life, and in that time, I’ve come to appreciate the Apple Watch more than ever.

I love the activity tracking for helping me make sure I maintain a healthy amount of activity throughout the day.

I love the stand notifications, yes the stand notifications, for letting me know how much less I get up from my desk chair while working from home. Office work is not very aerobic, but apparently it’s a workout compared to sitting in one’s office all day.

I appreciate the breath notifications because yeah, despite being pretty darn calm most of the time, there have been a a few times these weeks where a couple minutes to collect my thoughts was a welcome reminder.

I love having weather on my wrist and being able to see a t a glance that “hey, it’s pretty nice out now, I should take a walk to get some air and maybe fill those rings.”

I love being able to partially disconnect from Twitter and the news more easily by leaving my phone in the bedroom while I go about other things around the house. If an important notification comes through, I get it on my wrist and can reply either right away or go get the phone if it’s going to be more than a quick reply.

I love being able to have a productivity-based watch face that I can look at at any time and see my next task in Things available if I just need a reminder of what I can work on next.

I love that if I don’t want to have all that productivity stuff front and center then I’m a simple swipe away from my numerals duo watch face that just tells me the time in the most beautiful digital numbers I’ve ever seen on a watch.

Maybe this isn’t fair, but I love seeing notifications of messages from friends and family on my watch. I know, they’re also on my phone, but there’s something about seeing them on my wrist that makes them feel more personal somehow. I can’t logically explain this one, but it’s a thing.

And as an odd thing, I of course enjoy seeing the time on my Series 5 model without raising my wrist. You can lose track of the day when you’re outside your normal rhythm and while many devices in my life have clocks on them, none as as readily accessible as the one on my wrist.

The currently world is a mess, and we don’t know when things will get back to normal. There are also so many things more important than a watch going on right now, from doctors, nurses, other medical professionals, scientists, couriers, mailmen/women, delivery drivers, grocers, pharmacists, police, firefighters, retail workers, and more all making sure that the world keep functioning. These people are doing more than my watch will ever do for me, but my niche is the Apple Watch, and even with all this going on, my appreciation for it continues to grow.

watchOS 7: A BirchTree Concept

watchOS 7: A BirchTree Concept

It’s no secret that I think the Apple Watch is a great product and that I believe Apple has done a very good job of evolving it over the years to be the premier smart watch on the market. Frankly, if you are using an iPhone, I think there is no question on which smart watch you should get. And if you’re on Android and are debating which smart watch to get, I suggest converting to the iPhone and getting an Apple Watch instead of dealing with that mess entirely.

But this lead isn’t permanent, and it’s not something Apple can hold onto by standing still. We’re obviously going to get watchOS 7 this autumn and Apple will have an assortment of new features they’re pushing to all of our wrists. Below is basically what I would pitch to my boss if I worked on the watchOS team at Apple on what I thought we should be doing. Since I don’t work there, though, this is my public wish list for the platform and I hope you agree and pass this along so it’s more likely to get in front of someone on the actual team as inspiration.

Also worth noting here that this is the 5th year I'm doing a concept like this. Check out the past versions below!

Fitness Enhancements

As has been clear since the very beginning, the Apple Watch thrives as a fitness device. As most Apple Watch users what they like about their watch, and almost everyone will tell you something about filling their rings, losing weight, or learning how little they stand throughout the day. As they do every year, Apple should work on enhancing the fitness offerings of the watchOS platform.

As a quick note, there could be more they can do here by adding hardware to the Series 6 hardware that surely will come out this fall, but this article won’t hypothesize about those features.

Sleep Tracking

I’m going to keep asking for this until it happens, but I think Apple should add native sleep tracking into watchOS. Apps like Autosleep and Napbot already do this, but there is so much headroom to do more in the space. I think Apple did an amazing job of moving the conversation from steps, a fine, but often unhelpful measure of health, to that of activity tracking. Their red “move ring” isn’t perfect either, but it’s a whole hell of a lot better than steps.

I’m simply going to resubmit my idea from last year since Apple did nothing since then and the requirements for human sleep have stayed, well, the same.

Customize Your Activity Rings

Since the very beginning, the Apple Watch has had 3 rings:

  1. Move: user-customizable number of “active calories” burned everyday
  2. Exercise: 30 minute goal of “active” minutes
  3. Stand: stand for at least 1 minute during 12 different hours

I think this year not only will Apple let you customize these rings more than before, but they’ll also add more rings. Want to add sleep or mindfulness: go right ahead.

The Apple Watch face is only so large, so I think they’ll have all 5 of these rings available, but you’ll have to choose which 3 show up in your rings. Maybe you want the traditional 3, or maybe you want to swap out the stand ring for sleep. Maybe you find 30 minutes to be too easy to hit each day, and setting your activity ring to 45 minutes might be more useful. Any combination would be possible in this new Activity app.

Manage Workouts from the iPhone

One of the things I run into on a semi-regular basis is forgetting to stop a workout after I’m done, and then getting a 60 minute workout on the books when I actually just walked for 20 minutes. Auto-stop should catch this, but it doesn’t always, and if you miss the notification that confirms you’re still working, then you can have an abnormally long workout.

Other times, I wish I could tell my watch I started walking or running a few minutes ago. There is a workout detection feature that was added a couple years ago, but it waits up to 10 minutes to ask you if you’re working out, so sometimes I’m 5 minutes into a walk, want to get credit for the walk, and have to decide, “do I start the workout now and lose the last 5 minutes, or do I wait and hope it asks me in a few minutes and potentially lose even more?”

I should be able to start a workout and tell the app that I started X minutes ago. it should use either my GPS data or extrapolate from my average speed/intensity to tell how much distance and calories to add. Along the same lines, after a workout I should be able to go into the Activity app on my phone and chop off the start or end of my workout to capture only the time I want.

Finally, and this is a small one, but I would love to be able to perform the basic mid-workout actions from a notification on my iPhone as well. I’d have this live as a persistent notification on my lock screen with some interaction, similar to the Now Playing controls. This is rarely an issue since the watch is already on my wrist, but sometimes it would be easier to use the phone.

A Web UI and Data Export

I don’t think Apple will do this, but it would be great to have a way to see my activity data from iCloud.com, and while I’m there, how about a way to export my activity data into a CSV? Again, probably not something Apple has any interest in doing, but it would be nice to not feel like my workout data is so tied to Workouts. If I want to download my data as a CSV and run my own analytics on it, I should be allowed! If I want to start using RunKeeper and transfer my run history over there, I should be able to do that too.

A Damn Day Off

This has been a request for a long time as well, but the Apple Watch should allow us the ability to be human and take a day off every once in a while. People get attached to their streaks, and breaking one because you’re either sick or in a situation where you can’t work out should be more okay. Activity++ addresses this by giving you a rest day every week so you can take a break on Sunday and get back to it on Monday and not lose any active streak. This would be completely fine by me, but any solution that makes it so streaks don’t terminate after a single bad day would be great.

Communication Optimizations

Tell me if this sounds familiar to you:

I feel a tap on my wrist, I look at my Apple Watch, and see a new iMessage has come in. I read the message and immediately drop my wrist to grab my phone so I can actually respond.

I feel like this is how 90% of my message interaction is on the Apple Watch and I think it’s a huge opportunity for improvement. In terms of interacting with a 2 inch screen, I get that there are limitations, and Apple has done a good job of expanding the number of ways you can input text into it, but I think it’s still too hard and they could make things better in both easy and exceptionally hard ways.

Better Response Suggestions

At the bottom of every iMessage thread, there are dozens of options to reply with a single tap. I love these sometimes, but they’re not always useful, nor do they match my style of speaking in messages. Here’s a great example: my wife just texted me “my head hurts” and the top reply options are:

  • Thank you
  • Thanks
  • Ok
  • Yes
  • No
  • Talk later?
  • Hold on a sec…
  • BRB

None of these are right, and some of them are going to result in a conversation with my wife later if I accidentally chose one of them.

First, watchOS should look at the last few messages in a thread and offer suggestions that are tailored to what is going on. I’d expect to see something like:

  • I’m sorry
  • Oh no!
  • I’m so sorry
  • How long has it hurt?
  • Feel better!
  • 😞

All of these would be more helpful than “Thanks!”

Second, watchOS should tailor the style of these messages to how I typically write messages. If I never capitalize my first letter or call my wife by a nickname, it should know that. Maybe that changes the responses to:

  • I’m sorry, boo!
  • oh no!
  • I’m sooooo sorry!
  • aw, boo, how long has it hurt?
  • hope u feel better!
  • 😢😭😤

This is obviously really hard to do right, and I might be asking too much, but I don’t think it’s wildly out of reach, and I think a lot of what Siri does with context detection must be useful in determining messages’ intents better than the totally generic stuff we have today.

Scribble with Autocomplete

One of the nice things about iOS’s keyboard is that it suggests words to you as you type. Want to type “suggestion”? Type out s-u-g and the keyboard will almost certainly have the word there so you can tap it to finish the work quicker. Scribble on the Apple Watch is the fastest way to type something into the Apple Watch, but it still isn’t quick enough.

Apple should start suggesting words on screen as you scribble out your letters. Once you see the word you want, tap it and start scribbling the next word.

Battery Life

You may be asking, “how can we improve battery life without new hardware?” I’d answer that the Apple Watch needs a “low power mode”.

The simple truth is that the Apple Watch does far more than most people ever use it for, so I think there is room to cut functionality without creating too detrimental an experience for many people. Additionally, while I’m generally fine with charging my watch everyday, there are some cases where it would be nice not to have to worry about charging for 2, 3, or even 5 days.

There are currently 2 power modes on the Apple Watch:

  1. Normal, which is what we all use
  2. Battery saver, which turns off everything and shows the time when you click a button

Normal mode promises 18 hours and typically gets a bit more than that for most people . Battery saver mode effectively makes the watch useless, even as a watch since it takes about 2-5 seconds for the time to even show up after you press a button, which feels like an eternity. There should be a new mode between these that makes the Apple Watch useful, but sucks up a lot less power.

Introducing Weekend Getaway

This middle mode would make the Apple Watch function with most capabilities disabled, but would allow a few things to happen so that it still felt like a smart watch.

First on the chopping block is of course the always-on screen. This only helps the Series 5, but I don’t see how a lower power mode exists without this getting cut.

Second, I think we disable the ability to launch apps from the watch. Complications can continue to work, but you can’t tap them to launch into their apps, nor can you go to the “app honeycomb” page to even see anything else installed.

Third, all activity tracking is disabled. This one is going to be a hard hit, but I think disabling the pedometer, GPS, and heart rate monitor is a big win in terms of making the overall watch last much longer.

Fourth, kill all other watch faces, so you can’t swipe between them anymore. Maybe there is even a watch face you are required to use when in this mode.

Fifth, disable all iPhone connections and notifications, with the exception of messages (iMessage, SMS, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc.) and phone calls.

With these things removed, that basically leaves your watch face and essential notifications. You will be able to raise your wrist and see the time, basic complication data, and messaging notifications are they come in. It’s pretty basic, but for many people I bet it wouldn’t be too big of a change from how they use their watch most of the time. The biggest hit would come from activity tracking disappearing, but if you’re going to be out of town for a few days (and you’re not obsessed with your streak), that might be worth sacrificing.

The use cases for a mode like this are plentiful. I was out of town for 4 days recently, and it would have been nice to be able to leave my watch charger at home. If I’m going out of town overnight, it would let me keep the watch alive without bringing a charger. Camping for a couple days would be really nice to leave the charging puck and external battery pack at home. Or maybe I’m just at home, but forget to charge my watch daily and would like a little more room for error.

Maybe the ideas above don’t move the needle too much when it comes to conserving power, but I think there is a lot of potential here to make the watch more than a 1-day product.

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I think Apple could do everything above and have a killer release in watchOS 7 this year. But there is more that I’d like them to do, so here are a few other ideas for making watchOS better across the board.

Always-On Improvements

The only real new feature in the 2019 Apple Watch was the always-on screen. As I wrote in my review, I think Apple has the best implementation in the game already, but there is definitely room for improvement.

First off, I’d like to drastically cut down on how often I see the generic always-on screen; aka the “a random app is on screen so I’m going to blur it out and put a white clock in the top right” view. Currently, you get a nice always-on mode when:

  1. On the watch face
  2. In the middle of a workout (in Workouts only, not Strava, for example)

That’s it, and that seems like a major missed opportunity. I get the argument for privacy and that you don’t want a notification showing to the world when you lower your wrist, but at the same time I feel like I see it far too often. My fix would be to add always-on support for a few more apps, and I think that would go a long way.

First, let’s add it to the timer and stopwatch apps. If you’re timing something, then you probably want to be able to see it at all times. Next, I’d add it to navigation in the Maps app so that I can see my next move on the always-on screen and not have to flip my wrist to see the next direction. Now Playing and all other media apps should get it so I can see what’s playing, as well as how far along in my book/podcast/song I am.

Along a similar line, I often get a notification, raise my wrist to read it, and then lower my wrist. When I do this, the weird “white clock on blurred background” mode stays active for about a minute, so when I go to look at my wrist again it looks janky. I’d like it to change so that if I raise my wrist to see a notification and then lower it, dismiss the notification in 5 seconds and return to the watch face.

And the other change I’d like to see is a bedtime mode for the watch. I use the always-on screen all day and love it, but I kind of hate it in bed. It’s quite dim, but in the pitch black of the night, it’s way too bright and it’s woken my wife up on a few occasions. I’d love it if it could get even darker, but in lieu of that, I’d be content with just being able to toggle a bedtime mode (link it with the downtime feature on iOS, even) that turns off the screen and only lets certain apps deliver notifications.

Third Party Watch Faces

How many times do we need to ask?! You know the reasons this would be good, so I won’t bore you with those, but if Apple wanted to breath some life into watchOS development, letting developers make watch faces (aka the main thing most people use) they could make opportunities for tons of people to express themselves in fun and interesting ways. This is their “most personal device ever” after all.

As an alternative, Apple could also ship some sort of “build your own watch face” tool on the Watch app for iPhone. While you can kind of do that already with the existing watch faces, maybe Apple could make a tool for dragging whatever complications and other elements around the screen to your heart's content. I don't know how useful this would be, but it could help people get closer to their perfect watch face.

At the very least, let's make it easier to share our watch faces. If I make a watch face with a certain color combo and complication set and let me share that on Twitter so anyone else can get that instantly.

Quicker Interactions

This one is pretty vague, but Apple should make a run through of the things you do on the watch and try to remove one tap from the process. This “one tap less” initiative would look at analytics for what people do on their watches most and would simply try to remove one tap from the process. We’re not rewriting the whole OS yet, but optimizing flows so people are more likely to do them on the watch than pull out their phone would help a lot.

Oh, and whatever is going on with Siri needs to be fixed. Most of the time Siri is great on my Series 5, but even now I get some occasions where I get the dreaded “I’ll tap you when I’m ready” messages. I’m not sure what the technical limitations are here, but they need to be sorted out so that Siri can be as fast as it should be.

Better Wireless Speeds

This is another technical issue that has plagued the Apple Watch forever, but for whatever reason, the Apple Watch takes forever to transfer data. Updates take forever and syncing podcasts and music is an exercise in frustration. Even the cellular watches that just talk to the cloud directly take much longer than my iPhone to download everything. This update may require hardware, but if there are any optimizations they can make on the software side, I’d love to see them.

Shortcuts

Currently, I’m not able to do anything really with my Apple Watch from Shortcuts. I’d like to be able to have actions like:

  • Toggle theater mode
  • Silence notifications
  • Open a specific app
  • Start a specific workout
  • Turn off the always-on screen

iPad and Android Sync

The Apple Watch has had a good run with the iPhone, but much like the iPhone and iPad broke free of the Mac, I think the Apple Watch should get some more freedom from the iPhone. I don’t know if it’s ready to run entirely on its own, but it would be great to be able to pair it with different devices.

First, and more likely, is the iPad. There is no reason I couldn’t see my watch data on my iPad, especially if I have a cellular Apple Watch that doesn’t need an iPhone around at all times to handle the cellular connection.

The more pie-in-the-sky option would be to have Apple release an Apple Watch app for Android that let you set up and manage your watch from the Android device of your choice. Samsung’s devices show how deep into Android you can hook into, and while this will never be as good an experience as it would be when paired with an iPhone, it would instantly be the best option for Android users the world over. If Apple is interested in giving Apple Watch sales a shot in the arm, then this is how they could do it.

Oh, and making the Apple Watch work with Android sure feels a lot like Apple making the iPod work with Windows. It’s a “halo device” that gets people in the door with an Apple Watch purchase this year, and maybe an iPhone the next…

Conclusion

There’s a lot here, and if you made it this far, thank you! Please share this as far and wide as you can so that Apple sees some of these ideas and takes them into account as they continue to work on this platform that so many of us love. Apple is full of smart people and they do great work, but I can’t help but put my thoughts out there. Mocking up these concepts helps me think critically about the Apple Watch as a platform, and I hope it gave you some of your own ideas for what the future of this product can be.

History suggests I’m going to be let down on getting the exact things in this concept. Apple has their own plans and I hope that the actual watchOS 7 has a handful of features and enhancements that surprise and delight me.

In my review of watchOS 6 last year, I said:

The Apple Watch is at its best when it’s helping you do things quicker than you expect, so I’d love to see a whole UI redesign that focuses on this concept. The current app-centric model has served them well, but I think the platform is ready to do more.

I guess what I’m saying is that Apple is moving the Apple Watch forward, but it feels like it’s advancing at a comfortable pace right now, and maybe that’s just a cost of being a successful, 4 year old platform with very little real competition.

I still think there is a chance for Apple to make a bigger change to the Apple Watch’s fundamental interface than what I proposed here. My concept is an evolution, not a revolution in smartwatch design. If Apple decides to make a more dramatic change this year, I’ll be on the edge of my seat, just like you.

How Does the Apple Watch Avoid Screen Burn In?

How Does the Apple Watch Avoid Screen Burn In?

I was looking at my Pixel 4 (like you do) and I noticed something I don’t often think about with the always-on screen: it moves.

This isn’t new, as basically all smartphones with this feature do this, and have for years. It’s done to avoid burn in, and usually manifests in the phone moving the always-on content a few pixels left, right, up, and down every minute. But what got me thinking is that the Apple Watch, another product that is always on, doesn’t do this at all.

Assuming there are not going to be massive burn in problems with Series 5 Apple Watches in a few months, I wonder why they’re able to do this while others are not.

The Apple Watch is also giving this mode more work than most phones. Most phones use the proximity sensor to turn off the always-on screen when it’s in a pocket or laying face down on your desk. The Pixel 4 even uses a radar system to sense when no one is around it so that it turns off then as well. Meanwhile the Apple Watch has its screen on 100% of the time it’s on your wrist, only turning off when it’s off your wrist.

Anyway, this post is really just me asking what the deal is.

The “First” to Move Past the App Paradigm

Above Avalon: AirPods Are Becoming a Platform

The Apple Watch was the first device to genuinely begin questioning the current app paradigm. The Siri watch face on Apple Watch is all about providing the wearer glanceable amounts of information, data, and context in the form of cards chosen by a digital assistant. These cards are personalized to the wearer based on the time of day and schedule. In essence, we are moving away from pulling data from various apps to receiving a curated feed of data that is dynamic - always changing and tailored to our needs.

Far be it from me to push back on Apple Watch enthusiasm, but this paragraph rubbed me the wrong way. Android Wear (now Wear OS) did something very much like what the Siri watch face does today, but it did it first. Was it great? No. Was it adopted by millions of people? No. But this isn’t about being best or most popular, it’s about who was “first” and I think it’s misleading to frame the Siri watch face to be the first platform, even the first wrist-based platform, to do this.

Go ahead and ask the few Android Wear lovers why they preferred it to the Apple Watch for years.

Product Management and the Apple Watch

In 2015 smart watches were not a new thing, and some commentators at the time even said that if Apple didn’t release a smart watch within a year that the whole company would go under. Even in April 2015 there were smart watches with always-on displays. Yet, the Apple Watch shipped without it.

Between April 2015 and now, the Apple Watch differentiated itself from other smart watches on the market and has come to truly dominate the space. Not only in unit sales either, but in quality. There is no serious reviewer out there today who is going to tell you that Wear OS from Google is better than watchOS. You might get some Samsung Stans tell you the Galaxy watches are better, but I’ve used those too and oof, it’s not even close.

So in 2019 when Apple released the Apple Watch Series 5 with an always-on display and some reviewers roll their eyes when they say “Apple should have had this from the start, I mean Android watches have had this forever,” because what this shows is not how out of touch Apple is, but how well their product managers prioritized the right things in the right order.

We celebrate designers and developers all the time, and rightfully so, but so much credit for product success should go to the product managers guiding these teams to do the right things.

Apple Watch Series 5 Review: One Major Feature and One Major Question Mark

The newest Apple Watch is an odd duck when it comes to updates for Apple’s “more personal device ever.” Depending on your measurement, it’s either the most or least significant update to the hardware Apple has ever put out, and that just makes it a funky product to review. For some history, these are what I’d consider the highlights of previous Apple Watch updates.

So what does the Series 5 bring to the table?

  • Series 5 adds an always-on screen

Yeah, that’s basically it, but let’s jump into what exactly that means for this product.

What Stayed the Same

Before we hit the always on screen, let’s talk about what stayed the same from the Series 4. The Series 5 has effectively the same processor1 as the 4, right down to clock speeds, so there is no upgrade in performance this year. This is fine for me, as I’ve never thought the Apple Watch is slow for a couple years now, and this is really a compliment to the silicon team at Apple for being so far ahead of anyone else out there.

The screen (outside of the always on trick) is exactly the same as well, sporting a 448x368 LTPO OLED display in the 44mm model2. It still has the same screen-to-body ratio as last year and looks great on the wrist.

The haptics remain unchanged as well, and they still feel very good across the board.

The aluminum models look the same, have the same color options, and and indistinguishable from last year’s models. There are new finishes in the Edition line, with titanium and ceramic options, but I didn’t spring for those this year and can’t speak to them. All I will say is the ceramic one looks hot and I wish I could justify the cost for it.

Always On Everything

But like I said, the one significant new feature in the Series 5 is the new always on display. I have two things to say about this before we get into more detail:

  1. For some people this will be reason enough to upgrade from any Apple Watch, even the Series 4. For many others, it will finally convince them to jump on the Apple Watch train for the first time.
  2. Apple is doing the feature way better that what other smartwatches are doing with always on screens.

Why This is a Big Deal

I’ve never had a very hard time seeing the time on my Apple Watch. From the very beginning I’ve been mostly accepting of the “raise to wake” gesture since it was mostly easy to do, and in the 3.5 years I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch, I’ve gotten used to it to the point I rarely thought about it as a limitation. That said, those rare times it didn’t work, like when I was in bed or when I was in a meeting and tried to subtly look at the time, it was indeed a bit frustrating.

Now that the Series 5 always shows the time, my success rate at seeing the time on my watch has gone from 98% to 100%, and that last 2% is very satisfying.

Another reason this is a big deal is that it makes watch face choices mean a hell of a lot more than they used to. Previously, your watch face was really just for you. The rest of the world only saw the black slab of the Apple Watch’s off screen, but when you raised it to your face you personally got to see the face. Now that the screen is always on, your watch face is visible to the outside world at all times, and it made me think more about the watch as a fashion item. Not only does my watch face need to give me the time, information, and look good to me, I want one that gives off the right feeling to the rest of the world. Maybe that’s silly, but fashion matters to everyone, even if you don’t really want to admit it.

But it’s not just fashion, it’s a great step in adding some diversity to the Apple Watches you see in the wild. We all know what an Apple Watch looks like, and people have tons of band options to personalize their watch to their liking, but the watch itself always looks the same. Now everyone will be able to have their own look from the screen to the band, and I think that’s pretty great.

This Ain’t Your Father’s Always On Screen

Always on screens are nothing new to smartwatches, as most Wear OS and Samsung watches support this feature. These watches usually blank out the display and then flash up a new watch face that’s a minimized version of whatever watch face you’re using. From what I’ve used, this means just the time remains, and all on-screen complications disappear.

Instead, the Apple Watch Series 5 smoothly dims the screen from normal to always-on mode, and then brings up the brightness smoothly when you tap the screen or raise your wrist. It gets it to the point where I often can’t even tell if the screen is in its normal mode or always on mode. When you see them one after the other you can definitely tell, but when you just glance at your wrist, I never really know what version I’m looking at, and that’s probably the point.

Inconsistent Behavior

My biggest problem with the always on screen is how watchOS handles it in software. Here’s what’s good:

  1. If you’re on the watch face, the screen fades out to the always on watch face and looks great.
  2. If you’re in an app and smack your palm on the screen to turn it off, you go straight back to the watch face (because you’re gesturing you want to close the app).
  3. If you are in a workout, your data stays on screen and updates once per second.

But there are other times when the always on screen doesn’t work that well.

  1. When using navigation, the directions should always be displayed. Instead the watch goes into a “semi-on” mode that blurs the navigation until you raise your wrist. This should be like workouts and show you the next move at all times.
  2. The Now Playing app (or the app for whatever app is playing audio) makes the watch face go away and you get the blurred version of the media controls. This is not useful and means for hours each day I get the blurred clock screen, not my actual watch face.
  3. Notifications come in, I glance at them, and lower my wrist, and the notification stays on the always on screen (in the blurred view) for a minute or two.

Basically, I don’t like the “blur the running app and show the time in the upper right” view and every time I see it I feel like the watch isn’t doing the right thing. Maybe for the first issue above Apple would say you shouldn’t be looking at your watch while driving, but why do they have navigation there in the first place if that was their feeling? Similarly, why not do that if I have walking or transit directions and am not driving a vehicle?

Here are my solutions to the 3 issues I have:

  1. Treat Maps like Workouts. If I’m currently navigating, show me the current directions on the always on screen. Updating every second is completely fine for navigation just like workouts.
  2. Either make the Now Playing app show on the always on display or preferably, just show my watch face on the always on screen and if I raise my wrist show me the media controls.
  3. Notifications if I lower my wrist while a notification is displayed, wait like 5 seconds and then go back to the watch face. If I’ve looked at it and didn’t do anything, the vast majority of times I’m done with it and don’t need to see it again in 30 seconds when I go to check the time.

This isn’t a disaster by any means and I still enjoy having the always on screen, but this first implementation has some behavior quirks I don’t agree with.

Battery Life

If I was writing this review in a vacuum this is where I would say that the battery life on the Apple Watch Series 5 is excellent and is right in line with what I have been getting from my Series 4 over the past year. I usually charge up my watch before I go to bed and wear it while I sleep (using Autosleep to track my sleep). I then wear it all day and night and put it on the charger for 30-60 minutes before I go to sleep. I even wore both watches for most of a day to see if they were any different and the results were…almost exactly the same with the Series 5 doing slightly better.

In my time with the Series 5 this behavior has been the same, and the watch has always been in the 30-40% battery range after 23 hours off the charger. Extrapolating out to 0%, I’ve always been on pace to get 36-48 hours out of this watch.

But I’m not writing this in a bubble, and the experience above is not universal. I wrote an explainer about what’s going on, but the short version is that some people are experiencing terrible battery life, often like 12 hours total. The problem seems to be almost exclusively with people who have the cellular model.

There is an update to watchOS coming soon that apparently solves this problem, but it is not out yet and it’s unclear how much it will help everyone with this issue.

This part of the review remains up in the air for now. I can tell you that I am very happy with the battery life and it has not changed my usage of the watch at all, but that’s not a universal experience right now. I’ll update this part of the review once watchOS 6.1 is out and we have better data on if it solves the battery issues others are having.

The Compass

The Apple Watch now has a compass built in. This was actually news to me as I kind of assumed it always had one, but apparently not. Anyway, some apps you’ll probably never use can take advantage of this, as will Maps, but you’d like the compass in your iPhone was already mostly handling this.

Anyway, this is a very minor change and the only reason it gets a shout out in this review is because it’s one of two changes to the product.

Buying Recommendations

If I’ve done my job as a reviewer you should already know whether this is a buy for you or not. But in case you skipped to the bottom or I just didn’t communicate as effectively as I’d like, here are my recommendations.

If you have never owned an Apple Watch before, this is a great time to jump on board. The always on screen makes this feel like a traditional watch more than ever and I think it makes the product fundamentally more useful. That said, if you are still unsure if a smartwatch is right for you, the Series 3 currently goes for $199, and will likely be closer to $129-149 over the holidays, and that’s still a damn good Apple Watch, so it’s a lower risk entry point into the ecosystem.

If you own a Series 4 then there is no reason to get this except the always on screen. If you have been waiting for this feature since the Series 0 and lost your mind when you saw Apple announce this feature on stage, then maybe this is worth it for you. As of writing, you can sell your Series 4 for about $300 on Swappa, which might make the upgrade not horribly painful. But seriously, that is the only difference, so you have to ask how important that difference is to you3.

If you own a Series 3 then I think this is a solid, if not essential update. The Series 3 is still quite fast and gets good battery life, so you’re really upgrading for the always on screen as well as all of the physical upgrades the Series 4 got last year. This is more a software thing, but you also get access to a ton more watch faces, as Apple seems to really only be adding watch faces to the Series 4/5 at this point.

If you own a Series 1 or 2 then this is a no-brainer update in my book. The performance updates are enormous and they will change how you use your watch, and the new physical design will make you go “whoa, this is nice.” You’re also likely not getting any more software updates after watchOS 6, so if you want to keep up with new functionality and improvements this is the time to jump onto a newer model.

And finally, if you have an original Apple Watch then I’m impressed you made it this long and this is going to be a huge update for you. Not only will it have nicer hardware, a battery battery, and tons more watch faces, it’s also going to jump you up from watchOS 4, which was the last update the original watch got.


  1. Only differences from the S4 to the S5 chip is stuff to handle the variable refresh display and the compass. 
  2. And slightly smaller, but just as sharp, in the 40mm model. 
  3. And again, there is no performance upgrade over the Series 4. The S5 chip is exactly as fast as the S4 and all the changes are around managing the variable refresh rate screen and compass functionality. 

The Apple Watch Series 5 Battery: The Situation and My Experience

The last week has been weird for the Apple Watch. The new hardware is out and outside of people loving the always on screen, the only thing I see in my timeline are people complaining about battery life in the Series 5 Apple Watch.

My question is what the hell is going on? If I wasn’t on Twitter, I’d assume this watch was right in line with the best battery on any Apple Watch to date. Last Saturday I wore both watches for most of a day and got similar results to the Series 4. A week went by and I didn’t have any issues, and this Saturday I tracked my battery life over the 24 hours I wore it (11PM Friday through 11PM Saturday). Based on my testing, I could probably get 36 hours out of my watch.

And this has been with the always on screen…on (including overnight when it’s technically serving no value at all), bluetooth is on, ambient noise detection is on, and I did over 2 hours of GPS workouts. I’m doing literally nothing to try and get more juice out of this thing.

Oh, and I’m running watchOS 6.0, the same firmware the watch shipped with; there’s no beta magic happening here.

But there are plenty of people who are having issues, not only popular tech folks like Marques Brownlee and Casey Liss, but also a number of regular folks as well. They’re reporting truly miserable battery, and I don’t blame them for expressing severe disappointment; this battery life is atrocious.

Here’s the deal: The vast majority of reports of shitty battery life has been from people with the cellular Apple Watch. I’ve heard one person mention issues with the GPS-only model, but most people (like me) seem to be saying that one is fine. I’ve also seen people say that the watchOS 6.1 beta fixes their issues. Finally, it seems people who have turned off the always on display on the cellular model have kept having battery issues.

I hope this is indeed entirely a software issue on the cellular Series 5 lineup and it’s resolved in 6.1. If that’s the case we’ll all be happy in a few days/weeks, but this is a really bad look for the Apple Watch and I feel bad for all those who feel like they’re getting a serious downgrade from their last Apple Watch.

watchOS 6: The BirchTree Review

watchOS 6: The BirchTree Review

The Apple Watch has grown up quite a bit in the past 4 years, evolving from a piece of hardware that was woefully underpowered and software that was barely ready, to a very capable smart watch with very solid hardware and software. Even from its humble beginnings, watchOS has been the best smart watch platform by a mile, and with watchOS 6 Apple extends that lead over the competition.

watchOS 6 is not a massive update to the platform, and you will likely use your watch in largely the same way you always have, but there are some new apps, nice usability updates, no real regressions, and frameworks that will allow third party apps to get better in the future. Basically, it won’t all change your life, but there is probably at least one or two things that you’ll really enjoy in this new update.

Let’s take a look at the highlights of watchOS 6.

Health

As always, Apple has put an emphasis on health-related features this year. For my money there are four really notable changes:

  1. Apple Research
  2. Activity trends
  3. Cycle tracking
  4. Noise tracking

Apple Research

Apple partnered with Stanford a few years ago on the Apple Heart Study, which took heart data from over 400,000 participants and looked into atrial fibrillation. From Stanford’s summary of the report:

“The results of the Apple Heart Study highlight the potential role that innovative digital technology can play in creating more predictive and preventive health care,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. “Atrial fibrillation is just the beginning, as this study opens the door to further research into wearable technologies and how they might be used to prevent disease before it strikes — a key goal of precision health.”

This year we see Apple take this to the next level with an upcoming Apple Research app which they will be able to use as a platform for future studies. And given the Apple Watch’s massive, and engaged user base, these will hopefully see even more enrollment. There will be 3 studies:

  • Apple Hearing Study being lead by the University of Michigan
  • Apple Women’s Health Study lead by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Apple Heart & Movement Study lead by the American Heart Association and Brigham Health’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital

These are coming later this year and I plan on enrolling in the two of them that I’m eligible for.

Activity Trends

The Apple Watch and Activity app have done a great job of giving you a look at your activity over the course of a single day, but it never did much in the way of showing you how you were doing over time. They had streaks which were nice, but didn’t mean a ton, especially if you took a day off regularly (like I do), and they also let you look at a calendar view and go “wow, look at all those rings,” but that was really it.

The Activity app, paired with watchOS 6 allows you to more easily see how you’re doing not just today, not just this month, but for the past year. If you go to the new Trends tab in the Activity app, you’ll see up to 8 metrics on how you’re doing over the past 30 days and how that compares to your previous behavior. These metrics are:

  • Calories burned
  • Minutes active
  • Stand hours
  • Stand minutes
  • Distance travelled
  • Walking pace
  • Running pace
  • Cardio fitness

The app will tell you if you’re doing better, worse, or about the same as you have over the past year. It’s worth noting that you won’t have trends for stand minutes and cardio fitness, as both of those are new in watchOS 6 and therefore don’t have any historical data to look at. You need at least 6 months of data for each stat for it to show up as a trend.

You can tap into any of these stats to see a chart for how you have done over the past year, which helps you see longer term trends. I dig this, and it let me see things like how much more active I am in the summer, as well as how much more I’ve walked since getting a dog at the end of 2018. This is all cool stuff and it’s not useful everyday, but I’ve incorporated it into a monthly review I do for myself and it’s been very rewarding to have what feels like actionable information when I check this out.

Workouts

As of watchOS 6 there are 77 total workout types, which is the same as last year1, but none of the ones I’ve been asking for years for! I am still waiting for things like snow shoveling, lawn mowing, leaf raking, and dog walking to be added The full list of workouts is below.

  1. American Football
  2. Archery
  3. Australian Football
  4. Badminton
  5. Barre
  6. Baseball
  7. Basketball
  8. Bowling
  9. Boxing
  10. Climbing
  11. Core Training
  12. Cricket
  13. Cross Country Skiing
  14. Cross Training
  15. Curling
  16. Dance
  17. Disc Sports
  18. Downhill Skiing
  19. Elliptical
  20. Equestrian Sports
  21. Fencing
  22. Fishing
  23. Fitness Gaming
  24. Flexibility
  25. Functional Training
  26. Golf
  27. Gymnastics
  28. Hand Cycling
  29. Handball
  30. High Intensity Interval Training
  31. Hiking
  32. Hockey
  33. Hunting
  34. Indoor Cycle
  35. Indoor Run
  36. Indoor Walk
  37. Jump Rope
  38. Kickboxing
  39. Lacrosse
  40. Martial Arts
  41. Mind & Body
  42. Mixed Cardio
  43. Open Water Swim
  44. Other
  45. Outdoor Cycle
  46. Outdoor Run
  47. Outdoor Walk
  48. Paddline
  49. Pilates
  50. Play
  51. Pool Swim
  52. Raquetball
  53. Rolling
  54. Rower
  55. Rugby
  56. Sailing
  57. Skating
  58. Snow Sports
  59. Snowboarding
  60. Soccer
  61. Softball
  62. Squash
  63. Stair Stepper
  64. Stairs
  65. Step Training
  66. Strength Training
  67. Surfing
  68. Table Tennis
  69. Tai Chi
  70. Tennis
  71. Track & Field
  72. Volleyball
  73. Water Fitness
  74. Water Polo
  75. Water Sports
  76. Wrestling
  77. Yoga

Cycle Tracking

Now obviously I’m not the target market for this feature, so I deferred to my wife who gave this feature a quick once-over. Her review basically boils down to: this looks fine, but I’ve been using other apps for years and I don’t see a good reason to switch over.

The only thing I’ll add here is that there may be people out there who prefer to keep this information with Apple vs some of the other companies who make apps for this.

Noise

I didn’t think I’d have much use for this app, but it turns out I’m fascinated by how noisy certain things are. I went to a concert and confirmed that while it was indeed louder than is ideal, I wasn’t going to ruin my hearing immediately2. I also realized just how much ambient noise there is all the time. I could sit in what felt like a very quiet room and still see 35-40db going on. This was a little distressing until I remembered that decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale and that actually what we consider “quiet” still usually has quite a bit of ambience.

I didn’t use the app that much, but instead opted to use the complication that works on most watch faces. Seeing a live noise meter whenever I raised my wrist was oddly addicting and I still have it on a few of my watch faces for fun.

New Watch Faces

Apple still didn’t give us third party watch faces this year, but they did their best to fill the gap by adding more new watch faces than they have any year since watchOS 1.0. Depending on your Apple Watch model, you’ll have more or less new watch faces. If you have a Series 1, 2, or 3 then you’ll get:

  • Numerals Mono
  • Numerals Duo

These are nice watch faces, and I use the Numerals Duo face on weekends, but these aren’t that exciting. The real excitement is for Series 4 and 5 owners. They also get:

  • California
  • Modular Compact
  • Solar Dial
  • Gradient
  • Meridian

You can use the screenshots to decide for yourself which ones you like best, but what I think makes these really nice is how much they can be customized. For example, here are just some of the variants of the California watch face. There are 6 colors, 6 numeral, and 2 shape choices, adding up to 72 combos before you even start looking at complications. Similarly, the gradient has 6 variants, Numerals Mono has 8, and Numerals Duo has 9 (plus all the color options watchOS offers). Modular Compact has fewer options and Solar Dial has basically nothing to customize, but overall this set of watch faces is the most flexible Apple has created yet.

And what have I landed on, you might ask? I’ve become partial to California with the circular watch face and 5 total complications. I also like Modular Compact, but I still prefer the Infograph Modular since it has 2 extra complication spots. For weekends, I’ve been using the California in full screen mode, as well as the Numerals Duo which I think has a fun, sporty style.

Series 5 owners will have the added benefit of getting all of these watch faces, as well as all the existing watch faces in always-on varieties. I’m writing this before I have hands on with a Series 5 watch, but what I have seen encourages me that Apple is doing this well and the watch faces will be very “complete” in even when they are in the power-saving mode, showing even the complications on your watch face.

Of odd note, the Siri watch face, one of my favorites, appears to have gotten more confusing since last year. You used to be able to go to the watch face configuration page in the Watch app on your iPhone to customize what apps can appear on the face. This is gone in watchOS 6/iOS 13, and had me fooled for a bit (thanks to David Brown for showing me the light). Now you need to go to your iPhone's Watch app and go to "Clock" and scroll to the bottom. There you'll see "Siri Face Data Sources" which you can edit like before. I wonder if this is something Apple saw basically no one used and therefore wanted to tuck it away, because this is not discoverable at all.

New Apps

Apple shipped a few brand new apps with watchOS 6 and each is a pretty good in its own right, although which ones people actually find useful will surely vary from person to person.

Voice Memos

This one has proven surprisingly useful for me. I don’t often use Voice Memos on my iPhone, and I’ve actually recorded more memos this summer on my Apple Watch than I may have ever on my iPhone.

The app doesn’t have much to it, you just open it, tap record, and then stop it whenever you want. The recordings are synced back to your iPhone and appear in the Voice Memos app on all you Apple devices. That’s it, there are no settings and things just kinda work as you’d expect.

What makes this app work for me is how damn easy it is to use. I always feel weird recording with my iPhone because I have to make a show of getting it out and starting a recording. Then I have to leave my phone alone for the whole recording to avoid weird audio dips and noises as I tap out messages that the microphone picks up. With the watch doing the recording, I can just tap my wrist and then do whatever I want when the recording is going on. As long as I don’t bang my wrist on a wall or something, I get a very clean recording that sounds really good.

For example, this was useful while I was in the emergency room with my wife (everything’s fine, don’t worry). The doctor was telling us what we needed to do at home and I was able to record the instructions on my watch and take written notes on my iPhone. The recording was on my iPhone by the time we got home3 and we were able to listen back to the conversation and remind ourselves what was said.

Calculator

Listen, this is a basic calculator and works…fine. It really only does addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, but really how often will you do this on your watch? There’s also a tip function that doubles as a bill-splitting function, but again, I would expect most people would use their phone for this. Then again, the watch is better for having this as an option if you ever need it, but I suspect this will not be used by most people.

Books

Books?! On a watch?!?!?!?

Relax, these are not ebooks, but audiobooks, which makes total sense on the Apple Watch and I’m happy to report the app works well. It’s very basic, and is basically just a list of your audiobooks and a now playing screen, but what this really allows is the ability to sync books directly to your watch. So if you want to go for a run without your phone, you can load a book onto your watch and listen to it while you’re far from your phone.

One downside is that you can’t stream books over cellular, so for example if you forget to load your book before a run, then you simply can’t listen to it.

The other downside is really the elephant in the room: Audible. I personally own 3 audiobooks in Apple Books and my most recent one is from like 10 years ago. I, and basically everyone I know, uses either Audible or library-affiliated apps like Libby. If you like to get your audiobooks from Apple Books, good on you, and this update will make you happy, but I suspect this is a pretty small subset of iPhone owners.

Reminders

Reminders isn’t a new app, per say, but it has gotten a pretty substantial update this year to match the changes made in the iOS 13 version of the app. This isn’t a huge change, but the main screen uses the big, colorful icons and everything from iOS and lets you add tasks and mark them done from the watch. It’s easy, simple, and works well for your basic reminders tasks. You’re not going to want to do serious work in the app, but for quick interactions it’s pretty nice.

I still think Things is the best GTD app for the Apple Watch, but Reminders works for a ton of people and they will all find this update to make their workflows a little nicer.

Compass

This app is exclusive to the Series 5 watch and therefore I have not been able to use it yet. Apple showed it on stage and basically it will enable you to see what direction you're facing at all times, which will be doubly useful when using the watch for something like navigation.

You can also plop the compass on your watch face as a complication and see your heading at any point. You probably won't use this often, but I could definitely see this being useful if you were camping or hiking for a day or two and wanted to just have easy access to this at all times.

App Store and Independent Apps

This is something that I think made more than a few people raise an eyebrow during its reveal this summer: the App Store on the Apple Watch. Oh yes, you can indeed search for an app from your wrist, and the App Store even has a Today view like iOS and macOS where there are featured apps Apple really likes. You can of course also search for specific apps with your voice or scribbling out whatever you’re looking for.

The App Store is surprisingly full featured, including every watchOS app out there, as well as reviews, descriptions, release notes, version history, privacy policies, and more. Are you going to use this often? Probably not, but it’s nice to have in a pinch, and is an essential brick in the road to a fully independent Apple Watch.

Speaking of independence, the App Store also allows for something I found difficult to test in this pre-release period: independent watch apps. These are apps that are installed on your watch, from your watch, and may not even have a corresponding iPhone app.

For example, think about the Workouts app as it has existed for the entirety of watchOS’s life: it’s a watch-only app that has no interface at all on the iPhone. Apps like RunKeeper and Strava could do this as well, and even apps like task managers, podcast players, or meditation apps could update their apps to not require anything on the iPhone.

Sign in with Apple

One of the big obstacles for watch-only apps in the past has been authentication. Without an iPhone, how do I sign into my RunKeeper account? Apple has you covered with their new Sign in with Apple feature, which works much like the other single sign on buttons you are likely familiar with from Google and Facebook. This new authentication method will be enabled with iOS 13 and watchOS 6 and will let you sign into whatever apps support it with a single tap.

Time will tell how much traction this authentication method gets, but Apple has said that any app that offers Google or Facebook sign in buttons must add Apple’s option, so I have expectations that this will show up in tons of your favorite apps.

All the Small Things

And then there are all the little things that you’ll notice here and there when using watchOS 6.

Updates can now install directly on the watch. Previously, you always had to initiate and check for updates to the watch from your iPhone, but watchOS 6 lets all this happen directly on the watch. Just go to Settings, General, and then Software Updates to see any available updates and install them from there. You still need to be over 50% battery, must have the watch on a charger, and they still take longer than makes any sense, but this is a move in the right direction.

Siri has more power than before. There are now fewer questions that will kick you over to the iPhone to see the results, and you can ask Siri to show you a specific website. Maybe you’ll notice these changes or maybe not…I’m guessing not.

There is a new animation when you put the watch on a charger.

Your face and name appear in the Settings app, but they don’t do anything. Why? Who knows, but there you have it.

The list app view looks better than before. It’s a subtle change, but I prefer this new look over the previous list view.

The Now Playing app makes it easier to control devices besides your iPhone. For example, I can easily start controlling my HomePod from my watch with 2 taps while this used to take a very specific, yet mysterious set of moves on your iPhone and watch to get this to work before.

The incoming call screen has a new look. This lets you auto-reply with some canned messages, which is much more discoverable than before (where you had to scroll the page to see replies), but it also makes the decline button smaller and makes me paranoid about hitting the wrong button when I just want to ignore a call. I haven’t yet, so either I’m more nimble than I expect, or they’re doing some “touch targets aren’t exactly as big as the visible buttons” magic. Either way, it’s fine by me.

Maps has an optional visual mode. By default, you still just get basic visual and audio cues on what your next move is, but you can tap “back” after starting navigation to see your real time location on a map on the watch. Rotate the crown to cycle between the upcoming moves, or just watch the first “card” to see yourself move around. I would not recommend this for driving, but it’s actually quite useful when walking. I used this when walking to Summerfest in Milwaukee this summer and it was nicer than trying to guess “how far away in 1000 feet?”

This is a teeny tiny one, but the lock icon is now a lighter, greener blue than before. I know, I know, I saved the best for last!

Conclusion

watchOS continues to grow up, and each year it gets objectively better than the year previous. The team behind this product have done a fantastic job of maintaining its simplicity all while adding on genuinely useful features that don’t always feel like much at the time, but have added up to an improved platform in almost every way.

That said, the techie in me feels like the Apple Watch is kind of in need of a complete rethink. watchOS 1 was the result of a company who didn’t know exactly what that product was and they threw everything against the wall to see what stuck. A few things like activity and workout tracking, watch faces, complications, and communication ended up being the biggest hits, and they’ve evolved those from their initial incarnations very well. But I feel more than ever like we’re getting to the point of diminishing returns and each update is proving less and less impactful on the product as a whole.

While I have written close to 4,000 words about the changes in watchOS 6, and there are still things I didn’t touch on at all, after 3 months of using this update everyday, I can’t say I feel much different about my Apple Watch than I did a year ago. I still use it fundamentally the same and if Apple simply cancelled watchOS 6 and we had watchOS 5 for another year I’m not sure my general satisfaction with my Apple Watch would drop much at all.

Additionally, Apple’s own apps continue to be much better in almost every way than third party apps. This is not due to a lack of trying from other devs, but the fact that Apple doesn’t offer them sufficient tools to make apps that are as good as Apple’s.

I think we’re ready for a big change on the Apple Watch. Apple keeps selling more and more of these things every quarter, and I’m very happy with its success, but I’m slightly worried that the platform is going to stagnate and die off like the iPod if they can’t figure out how to make it a more transformative experience.

I think the Siri watch face back in watchOS 4 was a great step in the right direction, as they dipped their toes into a watch face that dynamically changed based on your current situation, and I’d like to see them continue pulling on that thread. The Apple Watch is at its best when it’s helping you do things quicker than you expect, so I’d love to see a whole UI redesign that focuses on this concept. The current app-centric model has served them well, but I think the platform is ready to do more.

On the other hand, things like the new Apple Research app and studies it will allow, as well as the work Apple continues to put into things like watch bands and new watch face designs makes me think they are putting their efforts into different things. There is even a patent floating around out there about a watch band with sensors in it that will enable god knows what.

I guess what I’m saying is that Apple is moving the Apple Watch forward, but it feels like it’s advancing at a comfortable pace right now, and maybe that’s just a cost of being a successful, 4 year old platform with very little real competition.


  1. I’ve heard some people with watchOS 5 have all of these, and some who don’t have them all, so honestly I’m a little confused by this one. My wife, for example, doesn’t have fitness gaming, not did I on watchOS 5, but some people on Twitter say they see it, so who knows. 
  2. It was outdoors, which surely helped. 
  3. It was probably there sooner, but I wasn’t exactly in full on “watchOS reviewer mode” in that situation.