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8 Apple Watch fixes I want in the next software update

The central problem with the Apple Watch is its software. When I hand someone an iPhone, its user interface is intuitive. Yet to me, the Apple Watch isn't something that's easy to understand. On top of that, for a company that's known for sweating the details, Apple has seemingly missed a few with its software.

I like my Apple Watch. It's great. But here are eight simple software changes — four fitness-based quirks, four general tweaks — that would make it even better.

1. Workouts need to end automatically

I love to work out, and the Apple Watch is the best fitness gadget I've ever owned. It records heart rate, caloric expenditure, and my progress throughout the day.

But what I don't love is what happens if I forget to end my workout: The app continues to monitor your pulse, quickly draining the battery and throwing off your fitness stats. I've had my Watch battery die at least 10 times this month from forgetting to end a workout. Often, when you've really worked out, fiddling with your watch is the last thing on your mind.

As a software problem, this is an easy fix: The Apple Watch is in high energy mode, monitoring your pulse. When it senses that your heart rate has returned to normal, it can vibrate to ask if you want to end the workout. No, I didn't spend 5 hours on a Stairmaster, I forgot to end my workout. And now my watch is dead.

2. Add other options for double-pressing the Side Button

Apple Pay is flat-out awesome: I love it for Uber, and I love it at the Apple Store. But, let's be honest: It's far from ubiquitous in 2015. I can't wait for the day that I don't have to carry my credit cards with me — but for now, let's admit it's not widespread enough to dedicate one of two shortcut buttons to.

For me, the app I use most is the Workout app. For others, it might be a third-party app like Marco Arment's Overcast (opens in new tab). The point is, this is something I should have control over. The entire point of the Apple Watch is giving us quicker access to information, so let's not waste it on a feature most of us can't use frequently yet.

3. The Workout app needs a Unified View

Let me paint you a word picture: I was biking the other day on the Minuteman Trail. It's gorgeous out, and my Apple Watch is tracking my workout. But because of Apple's UI choices, I was unable to see my statistics as I went: It would have required taking both hands off the handlebars — not a safety compromise I was willing to make.

This is a major problem with all of Apple's workout options — they only show you one stat at a time. I can see time, calories burned, speed and heart rate, but I have to page through them by swiping right and left. This is a bad design, and entirely against the Apple Watch's purpose, which to give you information more conveniently than your iPhone.

Garmin has been making fitness wearables for years, and understands that giving you glanceable information is vital. Apple should too. The Workout app needs to either give you a single pane of information, or automatically switch views every few seconds.

4. The Apple Watch should adjust your calorie targets day by day

When I got my Apple Watch, it gave me three activity levels to pick from. While these general goals are fine, they aren't very helpful for those of us trying to push ourselves to get into better shape. Right now, I work out for 600 calories on elliptical days, and 800 calories on running days.

You can manually change your weekly goal by pressing firmly on the screen while in the Activity app, but I'd love a way to set each day with more granularity, to prod myself to a better level of fitness.

Right now, my Apple Watch just tells me which days I worked out — usually all of them when I'm not sick. But I'd like it to hold me more accountable: I want it to push me to set the elliptical higher. Right now, it gives you no real motivation to do a hard workout at 160 BPM instead of a leisurely 130 BPM. The reward is the same — a filled in green circle.

5. More options for activate on wrist raise

I realize Apple is erring on the conservative side when it automatically shuts off my display to conserve battery life, but this is something the user should have more control over. It's simply not active for long enough for me to read my calendar information. Users should be able to specify how long this default should be — even at the expense of their battery life.

Instead, the only option we get on this screen is choosing what the screen wakes to: clock face or last-used app. I've tried both settings, and each has severe drawbacks: When I'm working out, I cannot quickly get information about my stats from the clock screen without hitting a button. But if you activate "Last used app," you find yourself staring at a workout start screen throughout the day.

This is where Apple should tailor this function for its built-in apps. It already does this haphazardly for the stopwatch and (some of the time) for workouts, but I'd like to see it applied to other active apps, too.

6. Make the time an option for the center for the Modular Face

Not that I don't love having my calendar displayed so prominently, but the most important function of a watch is telling time. Aesthetically, it makes little sense to have it shoved in the upper right corner.

I realize that there are typography issues with trying to put different functions in different locations; as such, Apple could also give users size variations of the modular design. Adding the option to replace the two tinier squares with a long column at the very bottom would let Apple move the time to the center where it belongs.

7. Timer, Stopwatch and Alarms should be a single app

This one really leaves me scratching my head. The Apple Watch home screen is already a mass of cluttered icons — it's like trying to find your clothes in a pile of unfolded laundry. So why did Apple add to this by making the same basic idea three separate apps?

I understand that Apple Watch apps can only be so complicated, but it especially makes no sense when you consider that these three features are a single app in iOS, and Apple Watch users must have an iPhone. Let's err on the side of simplicity and merge them.

8. Bring some organization to the Apple Watch Home screen

There's no nice way to say this: The Apple Watch's Home screen is a mess. I get that the idea is to give you a large list of functions to choose from with a single tap, but in practice, the touch targets are so small that you end up wasting time panning and zooming.

It's worth taking a step back in time to the fifth-generation iPod Nano, which many people wore as a watch. This interface was dead simple. I understand that it would become unwieldy with a lot of icons, but you could fit four to a page, and let people swipe up, right, left, or down.

Adding folders would be another option. Apple could keep the honeycomb pattern they've established for Apple Watch, and let users go into submenus. It would require several taps to get to some apps, but it would be neater than panning and zooming over a giant pile of icons.

My current best bad option I've found to organizing Apple Watch apps involves branches off the honeycomb. Lower left, system. Lower right, frequently used. Upper right, third-party apps.

Faith in a better future

All in all, the Apple Watch sets an amazingly high bar for wearables. But there are a lot of features that simply weren't thought all the way through. For a device that's supposed to be a convenience, I feel like I waste a lot of time with little things that could be easily fixed.

There are certain parts of the Apple Watch that can't be adjusted immediately: Battery life and speed, for example, are simple hardware limits. You can only cram a certain size battery into a small space; the same goes for the amount of power a tiny processor can draw upon.

But that's all the more reason for Apple to get to work and do what they do best — sweat these software details, and polish the experience until it shines.

Head of Development at Giant Spacekat. Host of Isometric and Rocket on Relay.FM. Godzilla of tech feminists.

25 Comments
  • Maybe Apple reads these blogs and articles. We could always list those in the feedback. :)
    https://www.apple.com/feedback/iphone.html#mn_p
  • https://www.apple.com/feedback/watch.html#mn_p
  • First: Brianna Wu is writing for iMore! That's awesome as I love her work! :-) If anyone hasn't tried Revolution 60, for goodness sake go buy and play it! Second: One thing that I'd like is easy access to "Now Playing" from the workout app. I listen to podcasts when I work out (Overcast FTW) and I often would like to pause, skip forward/backward, etc. There is no quick way to do this with the workout app running in the foreground, and when I'm running outdoors, the quicker I can do this the safer. Perhaps a swipe access from workout to "Now Playing"?
  • Great list, Brianna, especially your 3, 5 and 8, However...
    1. I don't mind that timer, stopwatch and alarm are separate apps - that works for me.
    2. I do want to be able to hide Apple Apps - I'll never in a million years look at the Stocks app.
    3. There should be a way to easily switch between Workout and Glances - specifically the Now Playing glance.
    4. Apple should let us know just what they mean by Exercise. Apparently it has something to do with cardio, but we are left to guess exactly what.
    Yes, I've submitted those to Apple/feedback, but everyone should send them feedback so we'd have a stronger voice.
  • 3. Agree completely. Now Playing should be readily accessible from the Workout app. Also, podcasts. Podcasts don't do much for my pace, but they're great on longer runs. I'd love to be able to sync them without a cumbersome workaround. Submitting to feedback now: https://www.apple.com/feedback/watch.html#mn_p
  • Well written, but I disagree with some of these. Especially #1. Under no circumstance do I ever want a device ending my workout automatically. There are many times I set out for 30 minute run, but end up feeling good and decide to go longer. If my device automatically shut off at a pre-determined point and didn't track my extra workout time, I would be extremely angry. I have never once forgotten to end my workout on any device I use to track it. I'm usually looking forward to the end of the workout and can't wait to stop the device to see how I did. Having the device stop automatically is ludicrous to me. I also disagree with the take on the home screen. The last thing I wanted was another boring home screen interface like every other device out there. I like that the Apple Watch home screen is unique. Most of the other points are fair, but pretty meaningless to me. (ie, combining the timer & alarm apps, putting the time in the middle on the modular face, etc) Most of these are not picky. The biggest request I have for v2 is native 3rd party apps that don't have to connect to the phone to work, and 3rd party watch faces with more complication options.
  • Brianna wasn't suggesting it ended it automatically, and certainly not based on time. It was suggested that the watch look for a prolonged drop in heart rate and then notify you, asking if you want to end the workout.
  • Personally I would like to save $9300 dollars on the watch by being able to have the gold colored watch faces.
  • I haven't had too much trouble with the honeycomb app home screen. I mostly get to apps via glances or complications but even when needing the home screen for launching apps, it seems to work reasonably well. I would like to turn off various Apple apps though. I probably will never use the apps home screen for the stopwatch, timer, or alarms. If I need a stopwatch I'm going to be using the chronograph face. Alarms and timers are going to be accessible via complications. In the rare instances when I have the wrong watch face, I can always use Siri to get to the correct application. Marginal apps like the Stocks app and World Clock app have to go too.
  • Since the last update my exercise sensor is not nearly as sensitive as it was before. I can be on a brisk walk and doesn't register that I am moving. I walked 3 miles and it registered that I was active for 20 minutes only. The walk took about 50 mins. Frustrating. Sent from the iMore App
  • On the health app you can press the clock to display other info.
  • I just want to be able to change the notification sound, on the watch, so I can rock the Power Rangers or R2D2 sounds lol
  • Why isnt WORKOUT available under GLANCES?????? It would be so convinient if it is!!!!
  • What a refreshing and well though out read! Hopefully we won't have to wait too long for some much needed Watch s/w improvements. Next week could be very telling. Please post here more! Cheers!
  • Owned two Sports models since 24th April - UK shipment. As a "watch guy" my primary buying criteria is to use it as a Watch !
    The biggest irritation is the power off after 15 seconds.
    It needs an "always on" option or a range of times before powering off.
    Always use the "tap to display" (my wife does the same). More masculine colour options would be welcome for the Sports strap.
    Not bad for a first effort.
    7 out of 10.
    It can only get better & it will.
  • A great list. Fingers crossed that Watch OS 1.1 will bring all of those features and more. I was surprised by many of the OS shortcomings given how much Apple pushed the health/fitness aspect of this device and how long it took them to bring it to market. One would think they would have learned more from other players in the fitness space, particularly Garmin.
    Rather than start simple and add features, it sounds like Apple began with a lengthy wishlist that they were forced to pare it down in order to launch, resulting it an uncharacteristically scattershot UI. I see this iteration as the square, touch-screen, nano with the addition of wireless (Bluetooth and WiFi), HRM, and a "Taptic" engine (Ive-speak for linear actuator). I would have been happy with the sole addition of Bluetooth (for wireless ear-buds) so I wouldn't have to run with a phone strapped to my arm. Apple could have done that years ago.
  • I could not agree more with ALL of these recommendations. My only other big call out is we need more watch face designs. I'm already bored with the ones that come with Apple Watch. And to your point, it should be up to the user to determine if I want to pick a heavy graphic intensive watch face which may eat up my battery life faster versus one that's just more simplistic- then that's my choice. But please give us better designed watch faces. I'm so bored. Great article and great recommendations. I'm tweeting this in hopes others do too and Apple listens (yeah, probably not).
  • I'm confused with #5 - "when I'm working out, I cannot quickly get information about my stats from the clock screen without hitting a button." When I start a workout the app keeps priority and when I raise my wrist I get the workout app. I don't see the clockface unless I have explicitly left the workout app while it's running. I have Resume to Clock Face as my activate setting, so Workout when mid-workout (and also Remote) keeps priority. I think the problem may be that you're leaving the app?
  • Apple needs to add an option to monitor periodic heart rate through the day ,
    the original firmware did this, but the latest has been amended so it only records when 'resting'
    I would like it to measure heart rate periodically irrespective of me moving One example use is I might go for a walk during the day, but not want to be in the workout app.
    The phone can track steps, height, distance, but having the phone periodically measure heart rate during this is useful
  • My list:
    1. Reminders app that syncs with reminders app on iPhone/iCloud.
    2. Option to leave screen on longer.
    3. Click on an email notification to open the email.
    4. Demo app to show others what the watch can do - like the one they use at Apple Store try-ons.
    5. More consistent operation when the digital crown is pressed. Sometimes to goes to the app home screen, sometimes it backs up a function, sometimes it goes to the clock. I never really know what it is going to do until I push it - usually a few times.
    6. Native third-party apps, of course. This one is obvious. Love it the way it is, will love it even more as Apple does its usual great job of improving.
  • On the modular face where the temperature is given, I'd like to be able to tell whether the day will be
    sunny or cloudy or both. It could be as simple as making the "degree" symbol yellow, grey or half yellow and half grey.
  • We definitely need a bluetooth proximity limit warning! The other day I went tanning and afterward placed my watch on the edge of the tanning bed while I got re-dressed. Guess what? I let the watch behind. Would have been great for either device to notify me that Bluetooth connectivity was lost when I left the tanning salon. A vibration from my phone would have alerted me that my watch was out of range - perhaps posed as a friendly question "B/T connection lost. Did you intend to to separate your devices?" and a simple click to OK that you're aware.
    Happy ending this time - the store employee found it when she cleaned the room and held it for me. Could have been a very bad day though.
  • I agree! Plus a wifi icon on the watch so you know if you're connected. Since the watch is suppose to work off of wifi as long as your phone and watch are connected to the same wifi (which hasn't worked for me yet) but then again how strong is the wifi antenna in the watch? Sent from the iMore App
  • #2 - Even my Pebble has a programmable shortcut option for two of the side buttons. Would love to see that option on my Apple Watch. Also - Ability to keep screen on longer
  • #6 gets all my upvotes