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Hands on: The first Apple Watch apps for road warriors

Galen Gruman | April 28, 2015
30 first-gen apps show promise, but still make you wonder about smartwatch utility

Most Apple Watch notifications are unobtrusive: A colored dot at the top of the screen indicates a new notification that you can then pull down. Alerts, of course, show on your screen when needed, as you'd expect.

Finally, the Android Wear devices do little more than provide notifications and tell time. The Apple Watch can do a lot of tasks in concert with your iPhone, acting as an extension of your iPhone for a subset of activities.

The good: Apple Watch apps that show the smartwatch's promise
Even if you don't use many apps with the Apple Watch, its ability to display weather, upcoming events, day and date, another city's time, current location (city), moon phases, and battery capacity is quite useful -- as it would be on a high-end chronograph. What you can show in the watch face (which is really the Clock app) depends on the face design you select, but most faces have several fields whose content you can choose.

Yes, from the Apple Watch you can actually take and make phone calls using the Phone app as well as FaceTime calls to other Apple users -- Dick Tracy-style. But be sure to hold the watch face directly in front of your face so the other person can hear you. 

Apple has several other features on the Apple Watch that also show its promise.

One is the Timer app, a simple app that's both handy and quite easy to use. You can tell Siri to set the timer or do it yourself. Then, when the countdown ends you get an alarm. That'll help you remember to feed the parking meter!

Another is the navigation with Apple Maps. Using Siri, you can initiate the directions, then follow along. If your iPhone is not muted it will speak the directions to you, with the Apple Watch vibrating your wrist as well. If your iPhone is muted, the Apple Watch senses that fact and plays a tone about a half block before you have to make a turn, using the same tone that many cars use for their turn-signal indicators. You can also preview your route by swiping through it, as you would on an iPhone.

The Apple Watch is good with calendars, too. By default, its Calendar app shows you the current day's calendar in a  scrollable list view, though you can change it to day view, where your free time is also shown. I find that latter view harder to navigate on the smartwatch, though.

You can navigate to any date using a month view, though accurately tapping a specific date requires finer motor control. And you can accept or decline invitations you get -- on a watch, this activity makes sense when you're in a meeting or having lunch.

 

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