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.

Exercise-tracking

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 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.

24 Comments
  • I'm a little confused about the things Siri *can't do* on the Watch even though she should: Since I am able to tell Siri to call or text someone, she can can obviously access contact information. Also when you open the phone app on the watch the contact info is available. But when I ask Siri stuff like "When's Mike's birthday?" or "What's Nicole's address?" I keep getting that stupid Handoff message!? If the information is clearly available then why can't Siri access it instead of making me take out my phone?
  • Some of that is, I think, just 1.0 programming limits. I'm guessing Apple hasn't figured out a good "Contact Card" view on the Watch that doesn't look cramped, and until they do, it doesn't make sense to try and port it. I'm assuming we'll see that in future versions of Watch OS.
  • Yeah, I kinda get that but seriously -- how hard would it be to just draw a line of text saying "Mike Miller's birthday is May 15th"? :-/ But you're right about the limitations of a first version, we'll just have to wait and see.
  • I'll have to remember the "answer on iphone" trick since I can't buzz people into my building if I answer the intercom on my watch.
  • I think of it as a really good remote for my iPhone 6 Plus. Last night at a weekly event I attend, I did not pull my iPhone out even once.
  • I can see your point. Sent from the iMore App
  • If it only did detailed sleep tracking like my MS Band/handcuff then I'd get one. I sure wish they'd add that so I would have a reason to get the watch. Tracking my sleep is an important part of the whole workout and fitness tracking.
  • When do you plan on charging your device then? Sent from the iMore App
  • During the day when it's not needed. Or if it had decent battery life, every bother night. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Sleep tracking with a wearable device is more gimmick than science. The only sleep data value worth keeping track of is quantity, which wrist-worn sleep tracking sensors only guess at based on whether you're moving or not. There's no real actionable data derived from knowing how often your wrist moves during sleep hours. Watch some YouTube videos on sleep study and note all the sensor equipment involved. This is why Apple didn't include a native sleep tracking app in the Watch. Instead. manually enter your daily sleep quantity in iOS' Health app.
  • Why did you get the ms band when the awesome new jawbone up3 is out with a much better sleep tracking system?
  • The magic that it has a friends button that can't tell you where they are if they agreed to share their location with you on Find My Friends. That's really magic how Apple missed that obvious use case.
  • Yes, I miss Find My Friends too. It seems a straightforward thing for Watch to do, probably coming later.
  • The title of your article speaks volumes in helping define the Apple Watch to so many confused and critical reviewers. It's a beautiful, ecosystem accessory. It's not now, nor aspires to be, a Swiss Army knife of autonomous versatility, and I'm happy about that. It becomes part of our workflows, not a surrogate for them. It's this unique, thoughtful philosophy that, when compared to the all-in-one, clunky Samsung Gear, proves the striking sameness of Samsung's flagships to iPhones as no mere coincidence. The Apple Watch is destined to be copied.
  • Another user regurgitating everything Apple marketing is feeding you, like it's the world's answer to a problem that doesn't exist. Yet, as Apple starts adding more functionality, you will no doubt continue to revise your statement about it knows what it is and isn't, Nd it's the perfect balance. Ugh.
  • What does the person on the other end experience while "on hold" by you taking the call to the iPhone? Does it keep ringing? Is there silence? How is it different to let them know, hey the person is there, just give her a second.
  • It's a short set of beeps, not unlike a "this call is being transferred!" sound.
  • I honestly still think that Apple Watch does too much, where as Android Wear does barely too little. Apple has built in a freaking photos app into a 2- inch screen! They have it run full apps that would be better, faster, and more convenient on an iPhone.
  • It is a little on the complex side. I'm usually pretty fast on the uptake with tech stuff, and its taken me over 24 hours to get to grips with moving between screens efficiently. (Probably doesn't help that I have to unlearn the Pebble interface too). I guess we are all having to learn this at once, whereas iPhone started simpler and gained abilities later.
  • To an extent I also think it tries to do too much. We didn't get apps right away on the iPhone for a reason. I'm actually choosing to use no third party apps right now on my watch--too slow. Sent from the iMore App
  • I can't wait to see how this little marvel of technology is going to evolve. It's going to be better and better. I keep mine as simple as possible on this v1.0 this way the performance is just right.
  • The more I use Apple Watch the more I'm baffled by those who are disappointed by it, thinking of it as a small iPhone that can't do as much as an iPhone. People! It's a watch that can do a s*#%load of cool things, it's not a frickin' iPhone! You gotta reframe how you're looking at this device, then it makes a ton of sense. In fact I question whether I really ever want it to be a standalone device. It would then be yet another device I'd have to manage, reset/restore rather than do all that through the iPhone. I actually like that it's connected this way. But, I will say that I had to restore my iPhone and I lost all my activity data from the Activity app. I'd think with all the iCloud space we are being coaxed to purchase that they'd be able to store that data somewhere to have access even after a restore. Sent from the iMore App
  • This is the best "review" of the Apple Watch yet. Too many people (especially reviewers) are harping on what the Apple Watch CAN'T do, which in fact is the brilliance of the device. I don't want a 1.25"x1" screen trying to replicate my iPhone 6 +; I want it to be a window into that device. Once you come to understand that, the Apple Watch becomes more than just a convenient, but almost essential accessory. In that regard, the only true shortcoming I see is the inability to make quick replies to emails, like you can with text messages.
  • The majority of my interaction with my iPhone is email. (Text and messaging as well, but I am old school so predominantly email). I understand that you can reply (canned replies?) to text / imessages on the Watch but that you cannot reply (even pre-set replies) to email. Is that correct? Can I use Siri to reply to an email on my watch? I had a pebble for about 1 day and while I didn't really give it a chance and returned it, I found that I was actually doing 2 steps (looking at the watch, reading the email, pulling out the phone, replying to the email) whereas before I was just doing 1 step (pulling out the phone, reading and replying to the email).