There’s a reason I’m titling this “First Impression” and not “First Impressions.” Because I haven’t really played around with it enough to have formed more than an initial impression, and there’s really only one thing that stands out to me.
Newly-released watchOS 3 is significantly faster than its predecessors, largely because the previous software versions didn’t take full advantage of the Apple Watch hardware. Apps in your Dock or with complications on your Watch face are now stored in memory to activate immediately. Most of the system apps have been redesigned completely to more quickly execute their intended functions. All in all, it’s snappy software that makes you feel like you have all-new hardware.
However, that does not mean all of the changes are positive. For instance: Now Playing is now almost utterly useless.
To be fair, the Dock (which is very similar to the App Switcher on iOS) is a quick and convenient way of launching full apps. It’s a positive change, and a much more effective use of the Side Button that previously showed your favorite contacts and allowed for Digital Touch actions. It also serves as a replacement for Glances, the interface function brought up by swiping up from the bottom of the Watchface screen. However, Apple defaults the Now Playing to being in the Dock.
Why is this a problem? Well, for me, the Now Playing Glance was my default. When I swiped up, it was usually the first Glance I saw because it was the one I needed most often. Swipe, tap. Music/Podcast paused. Swipe, tap. Music/Podcast resumed. I frequently use a Bluetooth earpiece to listen to audio content, which does not have a built-in pause function. And, as is usually the case with anyone minding their own business and listening to audio content, I would constantly have people trying to talk to me. The Now Playing Glance allowed me to quickly pause my audio so I could pay attention to whoever was demanding my attention.
The new Dock changes that, and not in a good way. Now, rather than simply swiping the screen to get to Now Playing, I have to click the Side Button to bring up the Dock, swipe to Now Playing, tap on it, and only then do I have the option to play, pause, or skip. It’s slower, less convenient, requires more and different motions, and more obvious to the person I’m talking to. And, frankly, I hate it: I use my Watch to control my audio frequently throughout the day, and this makes the process a hassle rather than a joy.
Want to see how Apple could have handled this? Look no further than Control Center in iOS 10. While I certainly think the multi-panel Control Center is a little awkward, having the playback controls as part of Control Center, but requiring a swipe to access the correct pane, works. And since Apple Watch’s Glances have been replaced by a Control Center pane, it makes no sense not to replicate the iOS 10 functionality on the Watch. It’s a massive oversight on Apple’s part that shows an incongruity between the designs of iOS and watchOS.
Furthermore, there are numerous places throughout watchOS where the usage of what used to be called Force Touch has been changed, and not for the better. The Weather app, for instance, requires Force Touch to switch between Temperature, Condition, and % Rain displays. Previously, a simple tap on the weather dial would switch between the three (although I believe the Force Touch menu also existed). Previously, watchOS provided alternatives to Force Touch throughout the system; watchOS 3 has removed most of those Force Touch menus to solely rely on those alternatives, but Weather is a notable exception.
On the other end of the spectrum, Workouts has completely stripped away the previous Force Touch menu, providing you with two options for pausing or ending a workout: swiping the screen, which has always been unnatural, and pressing the Digital Crown and Side Button simultaneously. I did not know about the latter option until I read an article mentioning it, because it makes no sense in connection with the rest of the system interactions. Why would a reasonable user even think to do that, when Apple Watch already had a mechanism built in to solve that problem?
There are places where Force Touch didn’t work well, to be sure. And there are places where it makes sense. With watchOS 3’s remade Weather and Workout apps in particular, Apple has clearly swapped the effective and ineffective options.
Based on just these first couple days of trying to use my Apple Watch as I normally would, I’ll be honest: I’m highly disappointed. After reading glowing reviews of how watchOS 3 is “how Apple Watch was meant to be,” I expected everything to be either on par or better with what came before. But for two functions that I utilize on a daily basis (Now Playing and Workouts) and one I use semi-frequently (Weather), I feel Apple has taken a massive step backwards. And it shows a simple lack of consideration of common-sense usage and sticking to design principles Apple itself has ostensibly been trying to stick to and improve.
We’ll see how well I adapt in the weeks to come. But based just on this first impression, I’m disappointed and annoyed. And I expect to find a lot more issues as I continue using watchOS 3, and I’m honestly not sure how well the advances in the OS will make up for the downsides when they create friction in how I use my Watch every day.