Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

This Week's Sponsor

Save 20% on the award-winning Audio Hijack with coupon code 6C20AH!

By Dan Moren

Wish List: Granular Apple Watch notifications

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Taptic Engine

I like my Apple Watch, but I love its Taptic Engine. The ability to get notifications silently is a key feature of the Watch, which is at its best when it doesn’t interrupt the flow of a human interaction. The Watch’s haptic notifications are noticeable, but discreet, accomplishing the kind of effect you were supposed to get from putting your phone on vibrate. (But which has instead become the all too flagrant and seemingly constant buzzing that makes everybody in a room look up.)

But there’s one feature I’d like to see Apple borrow from the iPhone’s vibration engine for the Apple Watch: customizable vibrations.

Makes sense, right? Given that vibration is one of the primary methods—if not the primary method—that the Apple Watch uses to communicate, it’d be great if we could pack a little more substance into it. The Apple Watch does have different styles of haptic notification—I can generally tell a “stand” prompt from, say, a Twitter direct message—but what I’d really love is the ability to get even more granular.

The iPhone has had this feature for a while. Not only can you assign custom vibration patterns to different contacts, but you can even create your own vibration patterns through a clever interface. I’d love to get a specific tap pattern on my Apple Watch for when my girlfriend texts me, for example.

For the first couple months I had the Apple Watch, I had the Prominent Haptic option enabled (under Sounds & Haptics in either the Apple Watch iOS app or in the Watch’s Settings). While this has the advantage of sending a haptic notification that you absolutely cannot miss, it’s also about as subtle as a noogie-dispensing meathead.

In watchOS 2, Apple will let developers access the Taptic Enginer from their own apps, which may at least let different apps have different notification patterns. Which I guess also means that it’s probably only a matter of time before someone invents an app that starts spelling out your notifications in Morse code.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]

If you appreciate articles like this one, support us by becoming a Six Colors subscriber. Subscribers get access to an exclusive podcast, members-only stories, and a special community.

Search Six Colors