watchOS 3

15 June 2016

Leading up to the event, the general opinion regarding watchOS was a wish for Apple to rethink the structure of the mental model. I think it was clear to everyone that complications, glances and apps was too much. Three related-but-separate views into the same application was overkill and exacerbated further by the Watch’s sluggishness, which made switching in and out of the different states frustrating.

The community consensus was asking Apple to ditch apps and focus on status update interactions, notifications and glances for quick actions. What Apple did was cut out glances and make complications a primary entry point into apps. Apps that are represented by complications are prioritised by the system and kept in memory as much as possible, enabling them to be launched instantly.

Apple has also stated that is redesigning apps to make their opening screens display usable summaries of information and place primary actions upfront. This has two benefits. In combination with the Dock — the new favourite apps view that appears anytime you press the side button — watchOS 3 retains much of the utility of Glances (quick information) even if they don’t exist anymore.

Activity was my most popular Glance by far on watchOS 2. With watchOS 3, I’ve put the Activity app into my Dock. As the screenshots in the Dock regularly refresh with latest content, I simply press the side button to ‘glance’ at my rings. Tapping on the preview jumps me into the app immediately thanks to instant launch. They’ve managed to successfully remove Glances entirely, reducing complexity, but retain most of the utility they offered. (Heart Rate is now present in the system as a standalone application.)

The changes also helps the OS feel more familiar for iOS users, as the Dock is similar to the iPhone multitasking interface. Just like complications, putting an app in the Dock tells the system to save it in RAM enabling instant launch most of the time. I only use four or five apps on the Watch regularly so I’ve put them in my Dock. With watchOS 3, my most frequently used apps are readily available and also launch in under a second. It’s great. Apps that haven’t been frozen in memory still launch as slow as ever obviously.

Again mirroring iPhone, swiping up from the bottom of the clock face reveals a new Control Center panel. It’s cool that they are carrying over the metaphor but the current design of watchOS Control Center is mediocre: it’s just a mess of buttons. I would like to see that cleaned up in future betas.

The Dock replaces the Friends circle as the action that happens when you single press the side button on the watch hardware. In fact, Friends has been removed entirely from watchOS. Messaging your favourite contacts is now handled, logically, by the Messages app. You can still double-click the side button to activate Apple Pay as before.

watchOS 3 also introduces a few new watch faces and I love them. I’m addicted to ‘Numerals’ and ‘Activity Digital’. Thanks to a new edge-to-edge swipe gesture, it’s also really easy to swap between them. I change to the Activity face when I’m consciously thinking about closing my rings for the day. When I’ve hit my daily activity goals, I simply swipe back to the minimalist Numerals face as the fitness information is no longer important to me. It’s so cool how the number moves with the hour hand around the day.