Apple Watch's Annoyingly Aggressive Screen Sleep Behaviour

20 May 2015

Zac Hall:

I do wish there was a method (or even setting) that would allow the watch face to stay active for longer periods of time. Even the stop watch goes to sleep after 20 or so seconds without being engaged. Sometimes it’s handy if not necessary to be able to stare at your watch and see the time pass. To do this with Apple Watch, you need to tap the display or rotate the crown every 10 seconds or so.

iOS apps are allowed to disable ‘idle timers’ contextually, so that the screen does not Auto Lock at an inconvenient time. Video apps do this, for example, so you don’t have to to keep tapping the screen to stop the iPhone from dimming whilst watching a movie.

Apple Watch apps need to have a similar concept. Obviously third-party apps are gimped in ways far beyond the screen turning off too early but this request applies to Apple’s apps too. Timer is the prime example.

Start a ten minute timer. Check the timer. Wait a couple of minutes. Glance back at the timer. The Watch is back on the Home Screen. Get angry.

The Timer app should be able to tell the system that a critical activity is happening so the Watch knows not to sleep. On wrist raise, I should still be in the Timer app — not kicked back to the clock face. It’s a huge inconvenience for any important activity that lasts more than 17 seconds, which is how long the Apple Watch will wait for user interaction events before sleeping. Naturally, if a timer isn’t currently running then the Timer app doesn’t need to assert such privileges.

The Remote, Maps and Workout apps already work like this. They have elevated system privileges that take precedence over the clock face whilst in use. Maps and Workout are particularly good citizens, only overriding the clock face when navigation or a workout is in progress. Apple needs to make this behaviour universal across the OS, where contextually appropriate of course.