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Posts tagged with "apple watch"

Developers Show What They Could Make if Apple Opened Up Watch Face Development

Last week we linked to Marco Arment’s article critiquing Apple’s watch faces and calling for Apple to open up watch face design and development to third parties. By the next day, Steve Troughton-Smith had an Xcode project up and running that uses SpriteKit to simulate custom watch faces. Troughton-Smith posted pictures of the watch faces he created on Twitter, which drew a lot of interest from other developers.

Troughton-Smith uploaded his watch face project to GitHub, and in the days that followed, developers, including David Smith, who’s been making Apple Watch apps for his health and fitness apps since the Series 0 was introduced, began playing with Troughton-Smith’s code. Writing about the experience on his website Smith said:

There is something delightful about solving a problem that is superficially so simple and constrained. The constraint leads to lots of opportunities for creative thinking. Ultimately you just need to communicate the time but how you do that can take countless different forms. It reminds me of the various ‘UI Playgrounds’ that have existed in app design. For a while it was twitter clients, then podcast players and weather apps.

I spent the weekend following along as Troughton-Smith, Smith, and others designed all manner of personalized watch faces. The experience reminds me of the flurry of activity and excitement during the first months after the iPhone was released when developers reverse-engineered Apple’s APIs to create the first jailbroken apps even before there was an App Store. Let’s hope that history repeats itself and Apple opens up watch face development to third parties like it did with apps.

Below and after the break, we’ve collected tweets following Troughton-Smith's work and showing off some of the designs that have been created over the past several days.

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Apple Watch Face Legibility

In a post on Marco.org, Overcast developer Marco Arment critiques the design of many of the current Apple Watch faces. Using a variety of analog watches as references, Arment highlights the design elements that make them legible, few of which are followed by Apple’s faces:

Across a wide variety of brands, styles, and price points, a few key design principles are clear:

  • The hour markers for 12 (and often 3/6/9) are more prominent.
  • The hour indices are much larger than the minute markings.
  • The hour hands nearly touch the hour indices.

These all improve legibility by making it as fast and easy as possible to know which hour is being indicated (and minimize the chance of an off-by-one error), first by orienting your eyes to the current rotation with the 12 marker, then by minimizing the distance between the hour hand and the indices it’s between.

Arment is especially critical of the Infograph face, which is so hard to read that many people have resorted to using a digital time complication with it. He concludes that it’s time for Apple to allow third parties to create watch faces.

We covered our Apple Watch faces on AppStories this week, and both Federico and I noted that we use a digital time complication with the Infograph watch face because the hands are so hard to read. As Arment’s piece points out, that isn’t uncommon, but it shouldn’t be necessary and is a pretty clear indication that the design is flawed. I’ve been happy with the Series 4 Watch’s support for more complications, but I also want more face options and flexibility across watch faces. It's time for Apple to re-evaluate its current watch faces and reconsider letting developers create faces of their own.

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Daily Dictionary’s New Watch App Showcases the Latest watchOS Capabilities

Developer Benjamin Mayo released an update this week to his new word of the day app, Daily Dictionary. Version 1.2 adds an Apple Watch app, making it easy and convenient to view each day's featured word from your wrist.

Daily Dictionary's Watch app is particularly noteworthy due to its complications for the Series 4's Infograph faces, and its custom UI for notifications. For complications, you can use a smaller option containing the app's logo which serves as a launcher, or you can select a larger complication that includes the logo alongside the word of the day itself. If you'd like it to, the larger complication can also display the current date, saving you the need for a separate date complication elsewhere on the face.

One of the ways Daily Dictionary can provide its featured word each day is through a push notification, and if you have the new Watch app installed, you'll get to see a custom notification UI that reflects the design of the full iOS app. Watch developers can take advantage of APIs that enable crafting more customizable notification interfaces, and Daily Dictionary is a great example of that. Now that the Apple Watch is becoming a more mainstream product, and since one of the Watch's chief strengths is as a notification conduit, I hope we see lots of apps follow Daily Dictionary's example in providing more creative Watch notifications.

Daily Dictionary is available on the App Store.


Apple’s Watch Face Problem

Jason Snell today published the article I've been itching to write, outlining the current mess that is Apple's watch face ecosystem. The Apple Watch in so many ways is in its best position ever, which makes the lack of coherence in Apple's watch face strategy particularly surprising.

As Apple continues to create new watch faces at a regular clip, those faces have grown more and more fragmented in what they can do. The Siri face introduced last year was an interesting new direction for watch faces, yet it remains one of a kind in many ways. The Series 4 Watch's Infograph faces come with a whole new set of complications, all of which are wonderful except that they don't work on other faces, nor do older complications work on the new faces. This lack of compatibility is frustrating enough, but what may be even more vexing is that Apple itself hasn't even provided new complications for all of its apps, only some of them – I'd love a Podcasts complication on my Infograph face, but it simply doesn't exist.

Snell offers up a handful of suggestions for where Apple should focus its watch face efforts going forward, all of which earn my total agreement. He writes:

Every face needs to be modernized and support the new complication styles, at least on Series 4. Key system apps and features like Messages and cellular status should be available on all faces. Every face design should be more flexible.

And moving forward, Apple should allow developers even more power in building complications. Complications should be able to appear when they have something to say and disappear when they don’t—for example, I’d love for a Timer complication to appear when I’m running a timer, but the rest of the time I’d rather not see it. If complications truly are the best face of Apple Watch apps, the developers of those apps need more power to build good ones.

Every one of these ideas is entirely reasonable, and would go a long way toward fixing the current watch face mess. I know we just got watchOS 5, but I hope watch faces are a strong area of focus for Apple in next year's watchOS 6.

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Overcast 5.0.2 Adds New Series 4 Complications, More Siri Shortcuts

Following a major update that introduced a redesigned Now Playing screen, extensive shortcut support, and standalone Watch playback, Marco Arment has brought a variety of enhancements and fixes to version 5.0.2 of Overcast, released earlier today.

Overcast 5.0.2 has added new round complications for the Infograph faces on the new Apple Watch; these act as launchers that simply open the Overcast app on the Watch, which I find convenient enough. Furthermore, you can reduce the amount of haptics used by the app to communicate certain actions (I love haptic feedback in Overcast, so this option isn't for me), and there are new options for configuring how the 'Send to Watch' feature works.

New shortcuts in Overcast 5.0.2.

New shortcuts in Overcast 5.0.2.

Most of all though, I'm interested in the new Siri shortcuts supported by Overcast. The app now offers shortcuts to activate or cancel the sleep timer, as well as two shortcuts to copy the current episode's standard or timestamped link to the clipboard. The ability to quickly generate an Overcast link for the episode you're listening to is a perfect use case for shortcuts: it removes repetitive interactions with the app and, with the tap of a button or Siri phrase, it gives you a link you can instantly share with others.

For the occasion, I've turned my original Overcast Chapters widget shortcut into Overcast Controls, an enhanced widget that, besides chapter navigation, now uses the app's new shortcuts to let you copy episode links too. You can download it below.

Overcast Controls

Navigate chapters or copy links for the Overcast episode you're currently listening to. Best used as a widget.

Get the shortcut here.


How Apple Made Its New Apple Watch Faces

Apple has a variety of new watch faces built into watchOS 5. A couple are exclusive to the new Series 4 Watch, but older models will still have access to faces like Fire and Water, Vapor, and Liquid Metal. What you may not know about these faces is that they were all created using practical effects. Josh Rubin at Cool Hunting writes:

Talking to Alan Dye, Vice President of User Interface Design at Apple, about this particular project he shared that “it’s more of a story about the design team. We could have done this digitally, but we shot this all in a studio. It’s so indicative of how the design team works—bringing our best and varied talents together to create these faces.” Surely it would have been cheaper to just render fire, water, liquid metal and vapor, but this is what makes Apple special—putting in the time and effort to do something right and real might only be noticed directly by a few, but is certainly felt by all.

To see this watch face project in action, check out the behind-the-scenes video below.

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watchOS 5: The MacStories Review

watchOS had a bumpy first few years. Some poor decisions and perhaps a premature initial launch forced significant design changes to be in order right away. It wasn't until last year's watchOS 4 release that it finally felt like the waters had calmed. Apple seemed to have solidified the brunt of its focus around fitness and audio, while also debuting a healthy backdrop of first-party apps, new watch faces, and machine learning features. The Siri watch face was the big addition for both of those last two categories, and while its initial introduction was underwhelming, the ideas behind it were intriguing. The redesigned Workout and Music apps along with background audio during workouts were excellent additions to the Apple Watch's core foundation. All things considered, Apple pushed a great update last year, and it only got better as the year progressed.

While it didn't ship in time for watchOS 4's launch in September, streaming from Apple Music was released late the next month in watchOS 4.1. The ability to stream music in the background during workouts freed runners and other athletes from being tied to their phones while they exercised. Paired with the redesigned Workout app – which put live statistics front and center while keeping Now Playing and workout controls just a swipe away – watchOS 4 established a truly better fitness experience for Apple's smartwatch.

The audio story that Apple told last year felt much less complete. Despite receiving a significant amount of attention in Apple's marketing efforts, the Apple Watch's music improvements seemed almost strictly geared toward workouts. Background audio was limited to workout apps and withheld from the platform as a whole, the first-party Now Playing screen continued to monopolize possession of volume controls, and the Music app only gave manual access to preselected songs instead of the full music library on your iPhone1. Audio on the Apple Watch had received some strong improvements, but the scope of those positive consequences felt unnecessarily limited.

Thankfully, Apple seems to agree. This year's watchOS 5 update, released today for all Apple Watches Series 1 and later, fills in the gaps of the watchOS audio feature set. Third-party audio apps can now run in the background, and full audio controls including volume adjustment via the Digital Crown have been made available to them. watchOS 5 also introduces the first-party Podcasts app, which supports automatic syncing of new episodes that you're subscribed to and streaming of any show in the iTunes podcast directory.

Beyond audio, watchOS 5 also builds on the solid fitness foundation with activity competitions, expanded Workout types, automatic workout detection, and advanced running statistics. Siri has continued to receive attention as well, introducing third-party integrations to the Siri watch face and a raise-to-speak feature which truncates the inveterate "Hey Siri" prefix for the first time on any platform. A new Walkie-Talkie app marks the first return to novelty Apple Watch communication methods since Digital Touch, but this time I think Apple might have tapped into a legitimate, albeit niche use case. Top things off with improved notifications, the introduction of web content, and NFC-powered student ID cards and we have a substantial watchOS update on our hands.

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  1. This last decision always felt senselessly arbitrary, and indeed Apple finally reversed it in watchOS 4.3 last March↩︎

Jony Ive Talks About Users’ Personal Connection with the Apple Watch

After the keynote Wednesday, Chief Design Officer Jony Ive was interviewed by The Washington Post about the Apple Watch Series 4. Ive told the Post:

“Every bone in my body tells me this is very significant”

What seems to have Ive most excited about the new Watch is its increasing independence from the iPhone:

“The clues for the future are when you can have a high degree of confidence that you personally are connected to the Net — not your phone, you,” said Ive.

The addition of a cellular radio to the Series 3 made a big difference in freeing the Watch from the iPhone. This year, I expect the difference will be felt more on the software side as developers implement apps that take advantage of the new watchOS 5 APIs.

Despite the Series 3’s cellular radio, I almost always took my iPhone with me for runs because I wanted to listen to podcasts. More than anything else, the ability to listen to my favorite shows untethered has the potential to free me from my iPhone.

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