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Third-party complications are a bigger deal than native Apple Watch apps

Michael Simon | June 10, 2015
If the Watch is all about getting you in and getting you out, complications have the best real estate in town.

There's just something about the Apple Watch that seems to discourage a direct use of apps, and no matter much better the apps on Apple Watch perform under watchOS 2, I just don't see myself using them much. As I've become more acclimated to the new device on my wrist, Glances and faces occupy the bulk of my time, and rarely do I spend more than a handful of seconds looking at the screen. And with watchOS's 2's third-party complications, I suspect I'll be looking at it even less.

Apple Watch has returned something that I didn't even realize I had lost: concentration. Where I can easily get lost in a sea of apps on my iPhone, Apple Watch has made me more aware of the world around me even as I stay connected; a quick flip through my Glances can save me from looking at my iPhone for several minutes, helping me stay engaged with the people in my life, not the screens. You won't find it in its marketing materials, but it seems as though this is one of the main reasons Apple built a smartwatch, and watchOS 2 is another step toward the ultimate goal of truly integrating technology into our lives, not disrupting them with it.

Quick time

We interact with each of our Apple devices in vastly different ways, but it's not just how we use them that's unique, but also for how long. As our devices have gotten smaller and more powerful, the chunks of time we spend with each of them has been very clearly measured by what they do and how we do it:

Mac: Hours iPad: Quarter-hours iPhone: Minutes Watch: Seconds

I can sit at my desk all day and use my Mac without a bit of strain, but trying to do the same with my iPad isn't nearly as comfortable. And I can scroll through hundreds of Twitter messages or reply to multiple emails on my iPhone, but it's not so pleasant on my Watch. With a screen that's attached to my wrist, I need to hold my arm a very specific way to operate it, and after a rather brief period, it's just not enjoyable.

So all those apps that seemed great in theory just don't work for me in practice. And I don't see the how watchOS 2 will change that. I have no doubt that developers will create awesome tools and games that do incredible things with a tiny space, but it boils down to feasibility. Most people are unlikely to hold their arms up long enough to do more than press play or dismiss a notification.

That's why third-party complications are the most exciting part of the new SDK. After trying out every face Apple offered my favorite one quickly became Utility, mainly for its ability to customize what I see when I raise my wrist. Solar and Motion are certainly beautiful--and one of the first things I show off when demoing it--but I settled on a more functional face so I can quickly see a variety of things even quicker than a Glance.

 

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