I remember when I first heard about Samsung's “smart scroll” technology. At the time, I was following Android news so religiously that I considered Smart Scroll the prime example of a gimmick. There was not a single moment when I thought that Smart Scroll would help anyone. I thought its inclusion was more of a statement: Samsung was saying “look at us! we're innovating!”
That's how I feel about a lot of the Apple Watch features right now.
I upgraded from the Series 1 to the Series 4 for a few reasons. Series 1 doesn't have water lock, but I take a bath with my watch a lot. Series 4 does. Series 1 is slow, but Series 4 is fast. The Series 1 display is a tiny rectangle, but Series 4 has a bigger, rounder rectangle.
I already thought that the health features were pretty worthwhile, but could the watch do more? Maybe. Right now, though, I have more frustration than I do anything else.
Raise to talk to Siri is, so far as I can tell, a joke on the level of Smart Scroll. It's barely functional. It seems to be based on a combination of a random amalgam of factors.
- The angle at which I raise my wrist to talk to Siri. If the watch is at a 90 degree angle versus a 45 degree angle, Siri may or may not activate. It feels like they tried to tune this to rule out “false positive raises,” but in the process made it require robotic movement to work.
- No matter how raised the watch is, the screen has to be on. This is distinct from angle facing my mouth. If the watch is too low relative to my body, it won't listen.
- The distance my mouth is to the watch really matters. Maybe it's volume based? If it's several inches away, it seems to never hear me. If it's super close, it seems to hear me more. This is seemingly in addition to the angle and altitude measurements.
- If I start with an obvious “question word,” it may work. If it's not a question word, it certainly won't. Obviously well ML-trained questions like “what's the weather in Kyoto?” work fine. In contrast, “In Things, remind me to xxxx” never works. It's as if Apple prioritized the watch not responding to invalid input much higher than responding to valid input.
I can't trust it in the slightest. I would rather say “Hey Siri” before everything, despite the fact that it's not nearly as fluid as just telling a device what to do. There's so much potential here that I can't believe how poorly this feature works.
Unlocking other devices
I honestly thought that the ability to unlock other devices with the Apple Watch would work better with the Series 4. I had a terrible track record with it on the Series 1, and I thought upgrading would help. I was wrong. Both watches, old and new, and both of my Macs, old and new, cannot unlock reliably with the watch. It most commonly fails when trying to log in when the Mac is waking up from a “deep sleep.” If the display is off and it's been in sleep mode for a while, the first unlock will never work. It'll say “Unlocking with Apple Watch” and spin, but eventually switch to a password field and give up. If it was on recently, though, it'll work fine.
It's not magical or consistent. It's frustrating. My password is long enough that I do get tired of typing it. It's kind of nice to have a break once in a while, but I think this feature could work, it just doesn't right now.
There's a super big obsession with analog watch faces. I hate analog. It is a giant waste of space. I know a lot of people love the idea of an analog watch, but I have a smart watch for a reason. I want at least some level of information density. Modular and its Infograph cousin are probably the best for me, but they're also perplexingly limited. The time only goes in one spot and that's it. Nothing else.
Let's focus a tiny bit on Infograph. These new faces were created specifically to highlight information density. The analog Infograph face actually crams a lot of complications (that don't work with other watch faces) on screen, but Infograph Modular actually permits less than the classic variant. The font sizes also seem slightly bigger. It's as if Apple wanted to take advantage of the new display by making everything larger and that's the only advantage they saw.
The Siri face is super promising, but lackluster. Its primary defining characteristic is that it's a timeline, but a poorly executed one.
I use Things but the card for Things always appears in the past, even if an item is in “Today.” Carrot has two customization options: more cards and less cards. More cards means that Carrot will always be the most prominently displayed item, and less cards means it only shows sunrise and sunset. It would be helpful if Carrot only showed up when I intended to go outside, but that doesn't happen. AutoSleep randomly tells me about sleep when I'm not going to sleep. Just Press Record always assumes I want to make a new recording, far off into the future.
I could go on forever, but let me leave it at this: data sources are half baked and I don't know who to blame. Somehow people claim they only need the Siri face and I wonder if they are either super lucky or just attempting to deal with it.
The watch face problem is depressing. It's the centerpiece of the watch experience and it's totally broken. I'm not the first to write this by any stretch, but it boggles my mind that the newest watch costs so much and delivers so little here.
I would kill for Japanese-inspired watch faces. Instead I have the insulting “x-large” digital face to insult me whenever I look for something that isn't analog.
Now that I have a new watch, I keep trying to find apps to use on it. The app store in the watch app is handicapped compared to the normal app store. I can't browse by category. I have the normal discovery sections, but that's all. No top lists. No popular or best sellers. No stories about cool watch workflows with new apps. Nothing. I would think Apple would at least segregate by features (complications and Siri face support), but they don't.
My watch doesn't even install apps properly. I have to reboot both my phone and my watch to install any new apps. I know this is just a bug, but what isn't a bug in this list?
One of the selling points for Series 4 to me was the water lock system. I didn't want the watch to randomly try to call someone while I was taking a bath.
On paper, water lock works by disabling the touch screen. Normal taps don't register and I have to spin the digital crown to turn it back on. I can still raise my wrist to see the watch face, and that's great! It's everything I wanted.
But this contract is violated at random.
If I get a notification when the watch is under water, it vibrates twice. This is the indication that the “cover to silence” gesture has been activated. Thus, the screen isn't actually off all the way. It's partially off.
Though the screen is disabled, Siri isn't. That's actually a really nice level of detail, because the microphone can usually still understand me if I get out of the water. Unfortunately, Siri is dumb. If I ask her to turn on or off do not disturb, for example, she dutifully opens control center for me like I'm an idiot, and expects me to just turn it off from there. Well, I can't. Water lock turned the touch sensor off. Maybe Siri isn't supposed to work with water lock? Did Apple forget to turn off the microphone?
On phones, we've pretty much settled on an on-screen variant of QWERTY for text input. On the watch, Apple currently relies on voice dictation for everything. That's great when it works, but it almost never does its job perfectly. I'd say it's about on parity with touch screen typing accuracy.
But there's no vehicle to correct anything I've said. If the voice dictation system hears the wrong “to” and I meant “two,” I can't correct just that word. By extension, if a whole sentence was interpreted incorrectly, the only option I'm left with is to obliterate the whole block of dictated text and try again. This leaves me with the annoying task of repeating exactly what I said, but with a slightly more exasperated tone. And sometimes even that doesn't work.
It seems like Apple could just implement a “tap to fix” option here. This is watchOS 5, and there have been four previous versions. I'm surprised it hasn't already been done.
After listing out everything I find wrong with the watch, I kind of get exhausted. It just feels like this version of watchOS didn't get any love. But it's an Apple product. It deserves the same level of quality as other Apple products get. Right now, it just feels like a rushed platform with a lot of squandered potential.
The health features on the watch are brilliant and Apple should feel accomplished. I wear the watch primarily for the health features. I just wish that everything was as good as the ring-closing activity system.