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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

The AP News app is a great example of why a news app makes no sense on the Apple Watch -- because it's the wrong medium to read stories on.

The Flipboard app is an example of how to implement that bad idea in a bad way. It makes the yeoman mistake of overlaying critical text onto images without ensuring readability. As a result, the overlay text is harder to read on the already hard-to-read small screen. (The Le Monde app uses this overlay technique, too, but its design is quite readable, by contrast.)

Flipboard adds insult to injury by showing only some of the story and suggesting you read the rest on your iPhone. Why is this app on the Apple Watch in the first place?

The Twitter app for the Apple Watch is also an example of doing a news-style app badly. Twitter isn't strictly news, but it is much like a newsfeed. On the Apple Watch, the Twitter app shows a long scroll of tweets, which can be hard to navigate. Plus, the embedded data in tweets -- hashtags, URLs, and images -- as well as replies and retweets are stripped out or unusable. All you get is a crippled timeline. Why bother?

Other bad apps are bad because their developers screwed up, probably in a rush to get an Apple Watch app out for the device's public availability this past Friday.

Two examples are iTranslate and Zoho Expense. Both apps work fine on the iPhone, but their Apple Watch versions don't work right.

In the case of iTranslate for the Apple Watch, you can set the destination language for whatever spoken words you want translated, but not the source language. (On the iPhone, you set both.) Maybe the app will figure out the speaker's language automatically, but I suspect the developer forgot to put in the source language selector in the Apple Watch app.

Whatever the cause, what happens is that everything you say is treated as English. If you speak French to it, iTranslate displays the closest-sounding phrase in English. That results in gibberish, because the person is speaking a language other than English. For example, iTranslate heard the French phrase "peut être ça suffit" as the English "triple salsify."

Even if you set the output language to something other than English, such as French or Spanish, then speak an English phrase into iTranslate for Apple Watch, the app still shows the English text -- no translation! (Remember: It works fine on the iPhone.)

In the case of Zoho Expense, there's clearly a bug in the app. The expense-tracking app lets you track your mileage from the Apple Watch: You tap Start to have it track your progress via GPS and then Stop to calculate the miles traveled, then save that to the Zoho service for inclusion in your expense reports or tax records. 


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