Archive for the ‘watchOS’ Category

Things I love about Apple Watch

I bought my Apple Watch to track. As I have learned over the last few months, the watch kind of stinks as a tracker and a fitness tool. It loses track of my workouts or fails to pick them up entirely. My movement in real life and my watch’s rings often fail to align. I may be wiping sweat from my brow as my watch thinks I’m taking a nap or something. And if tracking were the only thing my Watch offered, I’d write it off as an expensive failure.

Much to my surprise, though, I have fallen in love with my watch. The reasons surprise me, and had nothing to motivate my purchase. In looking back over the past months, I am constantly astonished by the watch’s convenience  and comfort (at least once I was able to get a band I could live with, because my first few attempts with the band didn’t go very well…)

Let me step back and speak of my watch’s best points.

For one thing, it lets me answer calls on my wrist. This is not a feature I would ever have wanted or searched for or asked for or desired. And yet, it’s one of the greatest things my watch does.

I bought the basic watch. It’s the one without built-in cellular so I receive calls only when my watch is near enough to my phone. I find the reach is good enough that I can answer my phone from my wrist anywhere within my house. I no longer  have to run to grab the phone from its charger. That’s amazingly convenient.

Sure it’s just weird speaking into my wrist. I’m not Dick Tracy and the ergonomics aren’t the best. And yet, I can handle a quick convo and get on with my life and I don’t have to start digging through my backpack to find the phone, which always manages to slip between things or slide into a notebook or otherwise hide itself away.

It’s a feature I didn’t know I wanted and it’s one I use daily. That alone is close to justifying the purchase price.

And, if I need to find the phone to open an app or do something that demands more real estate, I don’t worry about it slipping away in my backpack anymore. Now, I just pull up the watch’s quick utility panel and tap the phone pager. My phone pings and I instantly find wherever it has slipped. Brilliant!

But wait, there’s more.

This may sound absolutely ridiculous, but I no longer have to dig out that same self-hiding phone to look at the time. I can now glance at my wrist and the time is right there. Yes, I am the only person alive who is surprised and astonished that a watch tells you what time it is or that might be a reason for its purchase. This probably explains a lot about me.

When I put the Mickey face on the watch, I can even touch the watch without looking and hear the time. I wish that feature was available on other faces and without the creepy pedo-vibe that Mickey gives. I’ve sort of given up on Mickey because 1. pedo and 2. not enough complications (the add-ons that let you stick mini-app widgets onto the main display, kind of the “Apple Watch Dock” metaphorically) and switched to the Infographic display instead. But I love the “tap to hear the time” feature, even if I don’t use it very much.

Not only do I now know the time just by looking but my watch also tells me what date it is: perfect for writing checks, filling out forms, what have you. I don’t have to check my computer’s menu bar or drag out that phone. Again, this is about as deep into Captain Obvious territory as you get. It’s also a simple pleasure I did not consider when buying this hunk of expensive tech strapped to my arm.

And if that’s not enough, I also know what appointments are coming up next because my calendar events appear in the center of my main screen. These events travel with me no matter where I am and I can review, analyze, and plan even on the go. I didn’t realize how much I checked my schedule until I stopped looking at my calendar on my computer all the time. My watch freed me from that.

My most-used complication (again, that’s a “docked” app widget) is my timer. And I use it constantly throughout my day,  whether I’m cooking or working or doing physical therapy. I never knew how much I needed a $400+ timer on my wrist. You can pick from the presets (1 minute, 3, 5, 10, etc) or customize exactly the timing you need. I wish I could run more than a single timer at once, as there are often several things I’m doing at once. (Making waffles? 2 minutes, one after another. Stew? 90 minutes. etc)

I love how I can download audible books and music to my wrist and listen to them completely without a phone as I work out. Yes, I wish I could use the built-in speaker but even with Bluetooth-only audio, it freeing to step away from my big old 6+ and fashion-forward (yeah right) fanny pack. At some point I’m going to buy all kinds of tinkly yoga music but for right now I’m doing my PT stretches at the gym to the strains of “Funny in Farsi“.

I’m really pleased that Siri is along for the ride. I get a lot of the same utility from wristSiri as phoneSiri in terms of quick math calculations, sending a text, making a call, and so forth. I love Siri!

I’m also a big fan of both the breathe and stand app, items that have…mixed…reception and utility in the wider watch world. I use the breathe app not just to work on breathing but to exercise my back muscles and sitting strength. The stand app gives me the opportunity to stretch and move and challenge myself. I’d like to push these even further and have been shopping for a good coaching app that instills physical, mental, and personal habits via the watch. If you have any recs, let me know!

I haven’t installed many 3rd party apps on this, but I’m particularly pleased with the Just Press Record app, which does exactly what the name suggests for noting down quick thoughts when there’s no pen or paper around. On a similar note, I like that you can draw messages in the built-in texting app. It’s not ideal but it’s saved me a few times when I needed to respond to family quickly, even if the response sometimes looks like “Yes you CaN buy IT but nto mre than $10“.

I’d love to hear what 3rd party apps you’ve found that work well for you. I used the Sleep++ tracker (paid with IAP) for a while but it’s not great and I like not having to wear a wristband to bed. I also own the irritatingly meticulous Rules game, which I occasionally play when I’m desperate for something to occupy me. I feel as if I’m missing out on some great apps but I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Speaking of apps, every now and then I need a quick app that I can grab and take with me and the watch is perfect for that. To be honest, writing for watchOS is annoying (and testing is horrible) but for simple things, I can write and throw an app onto my watch for immediate use as I need it and then unload it when I don’t need it anymore. I’ve done this to scrape schedules for quick reference, to store a few important pictures to show and share, and a few other apps of various utility.

Again, this is an unexpected pleasure that doesn’t involve having to drag the phone along with me when I use them and despite the development process not being ideal, it’s a fully customizable thing that gives me the tools I need when I need them in a form that is the most portable I could imagine.

Let me finish by talking about my wristband, which I mentioned earlier in this post. When buying the watch, I first went with the sports loop, after trying all the bands on at the store. Once at home, I found it uncomfortable when worn for multiple hours at a time. So from there I bought a very cheap milanese loop knockoff for about $10 at Amazon. It’s very pretty, but had the same no-flex/no-give issues as the sports band.

In the end, I purchased a third party woven elastic band from Tefeca for just under $30 with tax shipped. I still don’t love having something physical on my wrists but this seems to be the best compromise I’ve found.

So what do you love about your watch and what advice do you have for me as a new watch owner? Please let me know.

Return to Sender: My first dive into watchOS

Just wrote my first two watchOS apps. The first, intended to provide voice coaching for physical therapy exercises, was a failure. Timing just wasn’t reliable and the errors built up more and more over a session of repeated counts, holds, and “almost there”/”two more”/”last one” prompts.

The second was a simple D&D dice set and much more successful. (Barring, of course, my miserable sense of interface design.)

It consists of an iOS app paired with a watchOS extension, which runs as its own watchOS app, allowing anyone with an arm and a need for d20 to roll at will.

The WatchOS APIs were disappointing at first glance. For one thing watch buttons use target-action but provide no sense of sender. A single iOS call must be split into 7 calls on the watch:

// iOS. I used tags. Sue me.
@IBAction func roll(_ button: UIButton) {
    let value = Int.random(in: 1 ... button.tag)
    let percent = button.tag == 100 ? "%" : ""
    label.text = "\(value)\(percent)"
}

// watchOS
@IBAction func d4()  { label.setText("\(Int.random(in: 1...4))")  }
@IBAction func d6()  { label.setText("\(Int.random(in: 1...6))")  }
@IBAction func d8()  { label.setText("\(Int.random(in: 1...8))")  }
@IBAction func d10() { label.setText("\(Int.random(in: 1...10))") }
@IBAction func d12() { label.setText("\(Int.random(in: 1...12))") }
@IBAction func d20() { label.setText("\(Int.random(in: 1...20))") }
@IBAction func dPercent() { label.setText("\(Int.random(in: 1...100))%") }

There’s no auto-layout so far as I can tell, so you either “fill” things or you give them fixed sizes. I couldn’t figure out a way to split my buttons into thirds of the available screen space.

Setting a label’s text is a matter of a function call not a property assignment. That was surprising to me. I’m not sure what advantage was gained here beyond violating the principle of least astonishment.

I had to design my app’s interface in the WatchKitApp target but implement it in the extension target. This may be perfectly normal and in-line with other extensions on iOS but I haven’t spent much time there so it raised my eyebrows a bit. You add your app assets in the app, your complications (which I did not build) in the extension.

Right now on my priority list, I’d like to build something similar to the “breathe” app. I don’t entirely know where to start. I need to use a notification system to launch the app at set intervals, n times a day, preferably during the work day, and then use some kind of coached interaction with haptic feedback. My immediate goal is one that has me regularly exercise my sitting back muscles to build up strength.

I’m a bit sad about the timing issues I encountered with my first jab at the coaching app. I may approach that again with a new design as having my wrist count and prompt would be a lot better than having to do all the work myself (I always lose my place) or having to keep my phone nearby.

My need for reps, holds, and rest periods are simple. And while I don’t particularly like the scrolling wheel that seems to take the place of segmented controls, I can live with them.

If you’d like to see my first project (either to be inspired or to offer critiques), I’ve left a copy at github.