In part one, I took a look at one promising new feature of the Apple Watch in the new Siri Watch Face. I also talked about one not so good area in the current app situation for the platform. As I continue to play with the watchOS 4 beta, and the rumors of a coming hardware refresh continue to swirl, now is a good time to jump back in and look at more good and bad of the Apple Watch.
The Good- Scribble
This is an interesting little feature that allows users to manually enter individual characters in Messages that came to us last year in watchOS 3. While intuitive and easy to use, Scribble may seem kind of foreign to anyone 30 and younger. However, those of us who have been around mobile devices since the 90s will notice that everything old is new again. Scribble bears a striking resemblance to the old Palm OS Graffiti single-stroke handwriting recognition system of long ago.
You aren’t going to use Scribble to write the Great American Novel, but it fills its niche very nicely. In watchOS 1 and 2, we were limited to sending either direct voice or transcribed voice responses, or using a list of common pre-defined text responses. While this covered most situations, there are times when things like the names of people or places didn’t really fit those options.
Scribble gives users the option to manually spell out responses letter by letter using a finger. It is both simple and accurate in its recognition, and works fast on the newer hardware (I haven’t tried it on a Series 0, so I’m not sure about lag there), I also really like that Apple included Space and Backspace keys at the bottom of the screen for editing and adding spaces, rather than forcing users to rely on any special gestures for those actions.
More Good- The New New Dock
One of the many changes that Apple brought us in watchOS 3 was the new App Dock. This was an interesting hybrid of the old system of Glances, which gave a quick look at live app data, and full-fledged apps. The Dock allows users to choose up to 10 apps to live in a fast access menu tied to the large hardware button on the right side of the Watch. Rather than the single screen and no interaction limitations of Glances, full apps live in the Dock, and if their developers have updated them to be fully compatible with watchOS 3 and above, they will update in the background so you can see data and use them as soon as you open them.
The current incarnation of the Dock has been turned on its ear. Literally.
The original was laid out horizontally, and required swiping between apps. The latest version of the Dock is set up vertically, which naturally brings the option of using the Digital Crown into play, along with the capability to swipe with your finger.
Another new feature of the re-designed Dock is the ability to choose what apps you want to show up there. While the only option in watchOS 3 was to use it as a listing of up to 10 favorite apps, the new Dock can be set to hold the last 10 Recent apps instead. If the apps that you access tend to change often, then this could be a better fit. I still like the Favorites setup, personally, but Recents is actually the default behavior of the new Dock.
The watchOS 4 Dock also includes an “All Apps” button at the end of your list of apps. This is a handy little addition, in that you would normally have to press the Digital Crown twice to get out of the Dock, and then get into the full App Selector.
Unrealized Potential- Audio Messages
When the Apple Watch was originally released, I remembered seeing a demonstration of sending direct audio messages, rather than relying on text transcription. I never thought too much about this feature when it was added to iMessage on the iPhone, but seeing it on the Watch with its more limited interface and input options made a lot of sense. I saw this as having the potential to quickly send more detailed message responses without any transcription mistakes.
Unfortunately, while the feature was a default Messages option in watchOS 1 and 2, the interface was slow and required too many clicks. Then in watchOS 3, Audio Messages got turned off by default in favor of automatically transcribing messages.
While you could go into the Watch app on your iPhone to change the default behavior of Messages to allow you the choice between Audio and Text Messages, you would either be stuck with the clunky, old interface that adds an extra click in the process. You also have the option to take Audio Messages alone, but then you lose Text transcription capability.
While Audio Messages are functional, I can’t help but think that this system could work better with a little design alteration.
What I would propose is the addition of a second slightly different mic or similar icon on the screen above. Decreasing the size of the Scribble icon should free up plenty of space without overcrowding the interface. This would allow users to choose between Transcribed Messages and Audio Messages right from the Message options, eliminating an unnecessary screen and extra tap, or limiting yourself to one option ALL the time.
That’s all for this time out. I’ll be back with more Apple Watch features and drawbacks next week, as well as any new information on upcoming new hardware that may become available.
Are you a Watch owner? What do you think of Scribble? How do you use the Dock? Do you ever use Audio Messages, or do you prefer Text responses? Let me know in the Comments section below, on Flipboard, on our Facebook page, and Twitter @iPadInsightBlog