Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is just around the corner, and you know what that means: Apple is likely to announce and demo watchOS 4, the next phase of its smartwatch operating system.
For the past three iterations of watchOS, Apple has slowly figured out what people like about the Apple Watch (Fitness! Notifications!) and what people don’t like (weird communication things!), overhauling the operating system where needed.
The Apple Watch with watchOS 3 is almost completely different from what the Apple Watch with watchOS 1 was, and that refinement is likely to continue with watchOS 4. So what should Apple add? Follow us down the rabbit hole, won’t you.
Add a watch face store
When the Apple Watch first came out, Apple hailed apps as the way forward. But the thing about the Apple Watch’s app situation is that, well, it’s not very good. Apps are still slow to load, and then loading up an app on your wrist just doesn’t fit what a watch is, which is a way to quickly look and get information. Plus, big developers like Amazon and Google have been pulling their Apple Watch apps to rethink them.
You know what’s really useful? Watch faces. Apple’s Modular watch face, which lets you arrange and add a whole mess of complications, is immensely handy, and easily one of the most popular faces available. With a quick glance, you can get the latest sports scores, news blips, weather information and commute delays. Apple has already allowed some third parties to make their own watch faces, like Nike and Hermes, but it’s time to open the floodgates and unleash the true potential of Apple Watch.
The problem with a watch face store is that Apple is extremely controlling, and ceding the main user interface feature of your device to a third party would be difficult for it. And for good reason: nobody want to have to sift through a bunch of garbage watch faces. Apple could do two things to get around this: embrace many more partners in a short time span, or open a watch face store with thorough guidelines and an approval process. Apple keeps control, and we get more watch faces.
Make complications better
Complications are great, but there are some things holding them back. Firstly, developers can’t have two tiny complications do different things. Apple can, but others can’t. That’s a problem for some apps, like weather apps, where you can get multiple pieces of information. For example, having two weather complications from the same weather app, one for regular forecast and one for wind readings, would be neat.
Complications can also take a little while to refresh. And when you’re relying on your watch face to quickly get new information, it’d be nice if complications were quicker to refresh. Maybe we could even get live complications, which update in real-time. It’d be real nice to get live sports scores as they happen, for instance.
Sleep tracking, please
Apple has gradually improved the battery life for the Apple Watch. When it first came out, it would generally get you through a day. You’d have to charge it every night while you slept, making any kind of sleep tracking practically impossible.
But now? Now the Apple Watch’s battery can get you through about a day and a half, even longer if you charge it for a half an hour during the day. That means that Apple could finally add sleep tracking. Or, it could wait until Apple Watch Series 3 and, potentially, a bigger battery. The Cupertino company has already been laying the tracks for sleep tracking though, adding the Bedtime feature with sleep analysis in the clock app on iOS. It’s also just acquired sleep tracking company Beddit, though it’s unclear how Apple plans to integrate it. Will it keep it separate or absorb it like it did with Siri?
Apple tends to find ways to implement features around battery life issues, and that would be the same here. Apple could debut a sleep tracking mode that utilizes a low-power bedtime mode to shut off notifications and the display, only focusing on gyroscope and heart rate data. Apple could use this sleep data to actually improve your smart phone experience.
Now imagine what Apple could do by pairing that Apple Watch sleep tracking data with your MacBook or iPhone. Apple has argued for a while now that blue hues from your devices affect your sleep quality, so what if the sleep tracking data from Apple Watch was used by your iPhone, or even Mac, to automatically and gradually dial down those blue hues as you approached your bedtime, as determined by watching your trends.
Going to the gym with the Apple Watch is currently a little frustrating. You have to open up the Workout app and choose your workout. Day after day, week after week, month after month. It’s come to the point where I just open up the Workout app and click a generic “Other” that pools everything together.
Instead, Apple should add the ability for Apple Watch to automatically track what workout you’re doing and launch the Workout exercise automatically. Apple is all about things that “just work,” and what’s a better watch equivalent to that than auto-tracking workouts?
Plenty of other devices, from the likes of Fitbit and Garmin, auto-track workouts though. We’d like to see Apple introduce automatic rep and workout tracking, so we don’t need to tell it when we’ve started out on a run or begun a bout of pushups. The Apple Watch could use its gyroscope and heart rate sensor to figure out what exercise you’re doing and how many times you’ve done it. There could even be one of those activity rings to count down your reps, using Apple’s taptic engine to signify each rep.
How about some guidance?
With its three activity rings, Apple found a fairly ingenious way to get people addicted to standing every hour, meeting their calorie goal and exercising for 30 minutes. Apple’s Activity and Workout app have therefore taken in a whole bunch of health data. But what good is data by itself?
It’s time for Apple to start using all that data to advise us on how to get healthier. This happens a tiny bit, with the Watch recommending a calorie goal for the next week based on your previous week’s activity, but there’s more to be done here. It should be able to recognize what exercises you’ve done all month and recommend ways to push yourself. This can be small stuff, like nudging you to stand around longer than usual, or it could be big stuff, like workout routines and training regimens.
Better music support
Ever since the second Steve Jobs era began at Apple, the company has been very much about music. From iTunes to iPod to iPhone to Apple TV, Apple attempts to make it as easy as possible to listen to all your favorite tunes. However, it’s not easy to listen to music on the Apple Watch.
First, it’s still convoluted and frustrating to sync your own music to the watch, because you can only sync music if it’s in a playlist. Second, unless you have an Apple Music complication or the Music app in your Watch dock, there’s no easy way to play it. iPhones and iPads, for comparison, have quick music navigation by swiping up on the Control Center. The Apple Watch also has a Control Center when you swipe up, but there are no playback controls here. Apple could make the Watch a helluva lot more musical solely by adding that.
Optimize, optimize, optimize
OS updates aren’t just about the big fancy features, they’re also about the small things that add up into a better experience. While watchOS has come a long way since its initial version, there are still a lot of little things that could be done to make the experience more refined.
Firstly, there is always a way to optimize watchOS 4 to be more battery efficient. Apple is already pretty consistent at this, which is why it can make thinner devices with smaller batteries yet maintain battery life. There is still plenty of progress to be done on how the Watch loads apps and how quickly it can load information for complications. Speaking of which, Apple needs to find a way to make it even easier for developers to update their apps for watchOS. Despite the operating system coming a long may, a lot of big apps are still built for watchOS 1. Why is it not easier for big developers like Twitter, Facebook, Google and more to adjust to the world of complications? Make it so.