The true magic of the Apple Watch is in what it can't do

As I get more comfortable with my Apple Watch during day-to-day activities, I've started to figure out what tasks I like doing on it, along with the ones better suited to a larger screen. What I appreciate most about the Watch is that even as a 1.0 product it knows its limitations — it tackles the stuff it can, and offloads the rest to your iPhone.

Siri, Phone, Messages, and Handoff

When I first read the Apple Watch user guide, I was disappointed to learn that Siri on the Watch was more limited than the same interface on my iPhone: There were certain phrases — like booking tables, for instance — that the smaller device just wasn't equipped to deal with.

"I can help you with restaurant reservations on your iPhone. Just use Handoff."

Before I got the Watch, I thought this would be disappointing. But I've become grateful for the feature limitations, in a way. I still wish I could book a table — c'mon, there's an Open Table app for the Watch and everything! — but when it comes to other, more complicated queries, I appreciate the Watch's reminders that I should probably be doing this on a more capable device.

The real beauty is that you can pass that query off to your iPhone with Handoff when you swipe up, rather than having to redictate it on the phone. Because of the Watch's superior microphone, I've found myself using it for 99 percent of my Siri queries, then handing off to my iPhone when necessary.

Of course, there are a few things that Siri does independently on the Watch. If you dictate a message or ask to call someone on your wrist, those tasks will happen there — not on your iPhone — though you can always use Handoff to return to your smartphone.

For instance, if I ask the Watch to "Tell Ricky", it opens that person's thread in Messages and asks me whether I'd like to send a dictated message or emoji. If I instead decide I want to reply on my phone, I can swipe up using the Handoff icon on the iPhone's the lock screen and instantly swap over to that messages thread on my larger screen.

The Watch manages notification overload well, too: If you're looking at your phone, it automatically knows you're likely to see an alert on that bigger screen and doesn't need to ping you on your wrist as well. This is a feature I've been wanting on my Macs for ages, and I'm happy to see a variation finally show up in the Watch — it makes me hopeful for the future of continuity on Apple's other devices.

It also has deftly smart handling when it comes to phone calls. When you see a new call come in, you can either answer it directly on your wrist, or use the Digital Crown to scroll down and tap "Answer on iPhone" — do this, and your iPhone will hold the call until you can put your hands on it.

I used "Answer on iPhone" the other day to delay taking a work call while I was grabbing some tea in the kitchen, and it worked fantastically: The other person was briefly placed on hold while I took my tea bag out and headed back to my desk, where I was then was able to answer the call on my phone. (If you've misplaced your iPhone, there's even a Ping button on the Watch's hold screen to make its LED flash and ring so that you can use it to answer the call.)

I've also started calls on my Watch and used Handoff to seamlessly pass that call back to my iPhone. The process, overall, feels much slicker and smoother than Handoff between an iPhone or iPad and Mac. It's speedy, too — in part I'll bet because Watch apps run off your iPhone — and gets you on the right device for your work ASAP.


Continuity plays a big role in helping manage all that health data you're constantly collecting on your Watch, too. Checking your day's progress is easy enough on the Watch, but the screen isn't big enough to for you to properly analyze your progress week-to-week. That's why the companion Activity app on your iPhone exists: It holds all your Activity awards and your data, giving you an easy way to view how you've been doing with your goals.

The Watch keeps me accountable day-to-day. The Activity app makes me accountable week-to-week and month-to-month, and hopefully year-to-year. By seeing my progress at a glance, I'm more inclined to want to keep up the pattern and continue meeting — or exceeding — my set goals. Activity is also a much friendlier app than Apple's gigantic data haven, Health, and I'm more inclined to look at it on a daily basis. (Though, like Rene, I really want leaderboards and social interactivity. Let me brag about my crazy derby workouts!)

The Apple Watch as second screen

The more I use my Watch, the more I realize that it's not so much another device as it is another screen for my ecosystem — a way to get information that's best viewed at a glance, rather than digging through app folders and having the possibility of getting distracted by Twitter.

I've been equating it recently to having a second monitor on your desk for your Mac: It holds the important stuff you want on a second screen, and it can operate independently, but you can bring the stuff you're working on back to your main computer screen in a jiffy. There's something really delightful about being able to send text messages or hold phone conversations entirely on your Watch and still be able to have your iPhone ready to tackle a different task.

You can do a lot on the Watch without your iPhone, but there are some tasks a bigger screen just makes sense for — and the Handoff experience is so seamless, it makes the process comfortable and reassuring to the end-user. I don't know if my mother will ever use Handoff from her phone to her Mac, but it took five minutes before she was playing around with Handoff from Watch to phone when I was in town.

I don't think the Watch is perfect: There are lots of little tasks I'd like to be able to do in version two, and third-party apps are significantly slower than they really should be. But Apple's built a compelling promise here for Handoff and its right device for the right task mantra. I can only hope that the company takes some lessons from its Watch Handoff experience and incorporates them into the Mac OS, too.

Serenity Caldwell

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.