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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Six Colors coverage of Apple Watch

By Jason Snell

watchOS 2 released: Let’s get this party started

In July I wrote a column for Macworld called “The real Apple Watch party starts this fall.” The premise was simple: For all the talk about the first few months of the Apple Watch’s existence, the holiday quarter will tell the tale. To get it ready for its big moment, Apple has added new bands, new body colors, and—most importantly—given it its first major OS update, watchOS 2, which arrives today.

(To install watchOS 2, go to the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, tap General, then Software Update. Your iPhone and Apple Watch will need to be on the same wi-fi network, your watch needs to be at least 50 percent charged, and it must be attached to your charger.)

Nightstand mode!

I’ve been using a beta version of watchOS 2 for the last couple of months, and I love some of the new features. Most notably, I’ve unplugged my old bedside alarm clock and replaced it with my Apple Watch charger in an Elevation NightStand dock. In watchOS 2, when you dock your Apple Watch, it goes into Nightstand Mode, displaying the time in a 90-degree-rotated orientation. When the alarm goes off in the morning, the digital crown is your off button, and the other button lets you snooze the alarm. I love this feature.

But the make-or-break feature for watchOS 2 is probably improvements to third-party apps, and there weren’t many for me to try during the beta period. watchOS 2 promises improved apps that can run right on the watch, rather than being tethered to the phone. Up to now, using watch apps has been a crapshoot, with apps usually loading slowly, if at all. The ability of apps to run on their own, and even access the Internet via wi-fi even when a companion iPhone isn’t available, is exciting. I just haven’t been able to test it.

More important than the apps themselves is the ability of apps to project data onto your watch face via third-party complications. I’m so excited to see a variety of new data sources on my watch face. (Weather Underground, let me put my weather station’s temperature on my watch!) But again, we’ll have to see how third-party developers take advantage of this feature.

The Timelapse face.

Also new in watchOS 2: Some new watch faces—stay tuned for the return of the Apple Watch Face-Off! There’s a new see-what’s-up-next feature called Time Travel, that I didn’t find particularly helpful on my fairly minimal watch face, but combined with third-party complications on a more information-rich face such as Modular, it could be pretty awesome.

Is watchOS a revolutionary update to the Apple Watch? No, it’s not. What it offers, though, is a raft of improvements that make it a much more useful and versatile product for its very first holiday season. There’s a lot of improvement still to be done on the software side, but even if all watchOS 2 does is sweep away the brainless, useless third-party apps and replace them with ones that are responsive and functional, it will have done its job.

It’s almost the holiday quarter. The doors to the party are open. Let’s see what the guests say.

By Jason Snell

Is the Apple Watch intuitive?

My hairy arm.

When the Apple Watch first arrived, there was a word that I noticed kept popping up: Intuitive. Was the interface intuitive? 1 Could you just start using it and figure out how it worked? This was an entirely new kind of Apple product. Had the company brought its trademark design skills to bear and figured out how this new class of device should function?

When you’re first learning how to use the Apple Watch, you make guesses based on your prior experience. With iPhones, with real watches, maybe even with other computers and home-electronic devices. If your guesses are wrong, if you have trouble figuring out how to get around, that doesn’t feel intuitive.

I used my Apple Watch for days while grousing about not being able to quickly switch between the watch face and my most recently used app, before someone pointed out that you can double-tap on the Digital Crown to do just that.

That feature was there, but I hadn’t intuited it. Fair enough.

Putting new users at ease is definitely one measure of intuitive design. If someone needs to read a manual and do a lot of training in order to use a product, that’s not intuitive. And the Apple Watch, by not replicating the iPhone interface, does have more of a learning curve. 2

But I’d argue that there’s a second layer to determining whether a product is truly intuitive, and that’s internal consistency. Using a product is like learning a language—over time, you begin to understand the vocabulary. With the Apple Watch that vocabulary takes the form of the buttons, the Digital Crown, how the screen wakes up and goes to sleep, how swipes and taps work, all that sort of thing.

After a few weeks with the Apple Watch, I feel like I’ve learned its language. And I’ve had a few moments that suggest to me that the Apple Watch offers an internal consistency that leads me to delightfully intuitive responses.

In my second week with the Apple Watch, I was using the Now Playing glance and wanted to make my audio volume louder. Without thinking, I turned the Digital Crown, and it worked.

A few weeks later, I was scrolling through my notifications and I realized that a whole bunch of them had piled up. You can clear notifications by swiping them to the left and then tapping the X/Clear button. But who wants to do that on every single notification in a stack that might be 5 or 10 items high?

I thought to myself, There’s got to be a better way. And (intuitively) I Force Pressed on the notification list, just to see what would happen. Sure enough, up popped a Clear All button.

Are these interface touches obvious? No, they’re not. And I’d wager a lot of people haven’t even realized that they exist. But I was able to figure them out, on my very first attempt, because I’d come to understand the vocabulary of the Apple Watch, with its Force Presses and the spinnable, clickable Digital Crown.

So is the Apple Watch intuitive? For new users, I’d say partially—it’s got some family resemblance to the iPhone, but it’s a new class of device and there’s a little bit of a learning curve. But after a few weeks with the device, you come to understand it. And once you come to understand it, you discover it’s full of little touches that are, dare I say it, remarkably intuitive.

  1. Here’s some interesting reading on intuitive interfaces from Jef Raskin, via Dr. Drang. ↩

  2. In TidBITS, Adam Engst wrote, “If anyone claims the Apple Watch interface is intuitive, slap them. It’s utterly unfamiliar, and it will take… weeks before it becomes second nature.” Adam and I are probably not going to get in a slap fight, because he’s right about this first definition of intuitive. The Apple Watch is not an iPhone, and it takes some getting used to. ↩

By Jason Snell

Apple Watch Face Off: Astronomical faces

An Earth view from the Astronomy face.

When I was a kid I was obsessed with astronomy. I got astronomy magazines. We had a telescope. I memorized facts about the planets and their satellites. On a starry night I could point out most of the constellations and even name many of the stars in those constellations. I’m no longer quite so obsessed, though I do still follow a bunch of astronomers on Twitter and read a few astronomy blogs.

So how exciting it was to discover that Apple planned to ship not one but two astronomy-themed faces with the Apple Watch! Timekeeping and astronomy have historically gone hand in hand, since the passage of time is so often demarcated by astronomical events, whether it’s the rising and setting of the sun, the procession of the seasons, or the phases of the Moon.

These two faces, Astronomy and Solar, are beautiful, well-designed creations, and the Astronomy face really is a stunning demonstration of the Apple Watch’s computing power and the high quality of the display.

And I never use either of them.

(Update: When I wrote this story, my Solar face was not functioning properly. I tried a restart, and it still didn’t work. Once I posted the story, people reported that they were seeing a much more functional Solar than I was. My watch finally did show it properly, and the review’s been updated to reflect the more functional Solar I see today. I also heard from some people who say the same thing has happened to them—which makes me think that, while some of my initial criticisms of Solar were invalid, I need to add bugginess to the negative side of the ledger.)

How they tell time: Both Astronomy and Solar display the current time digitally in the upper right corner of the screen. The day and date appear in the top left corner. There are no options.

Solar didn’t work for me (left), but eventually—after a restart and a couple of hours of waiting—it started to function properly (right).

Of course, the digital time is an afterthought to both of these faces. The point of them is their visual display of the passage of time.

In Solar, it’s a simple solar chart, where a circle (the sun) moves along a path from below a horizon line (night) to above it, and then back below it at sunset. When it’s night, the sun is a black circle with a white outline a la a solar eclipse; when it’s day, it’s a brightly glowing white circle. In a nice touch, at sunrise and sunset the face displays some red on the horizon, emulating the sky at that time of day.

A simulated Solar sunset.

When you spin the Digital Crown, Solar places dots on the sun’s path to indicate sunrise, twilight, and night, and displays the time offset in the lower left corner (and the simulated time in the upper left) just as the Astronomy face does.

The Astronomy face is packed with features, possibly to its detriment. It’s really three different faces in one: One features an image of the Earth, centered on your current location (indicated by a pulsating dot), with day and night regions clearly visible. It looks great, right down to the (fake) wispy clouds 1.

If you tap on the Earth, the digital time recedes into the upper right corner and you can spin the globe with your finger. It’s fun to be able to glance and see if it’s after sunset in London. If you lift your finger (or tap), the globe spins back to your current location. Spinning the Digital Crown causes the scene to move forward or backward in time, with the simulated time appearing in the top left corner and the offset (e.g., “+1 Hours”) appearing in the bottom left.

During normal operation, you’ll see two icons representing the other two modes of this face in each of the bottom corners. When the Earth is visible, you’ll see an image of the Moon (it’s subtly animated and moves from light to dark, so it doesn’t display the current Moon phase—a missed opportunity) and a representation of the solar system. Tap on either of them to switch to those modes.

That wizard came from the Moon!

Since we don’t live on the Moon, the Moon face isn’t centered on your current location. Instead, it displays the face of the Moon with its current phase. (And yes, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, it does appear in the proper orientation!) As with the Earth, you can tap and then spin the Moon around, so you can get a glimpse at the dark side. 2 If you spin the Digital Crown, you can see past and future Moon phases; the simulated date appears in the top left corner, with the offset and the displayed Moon phase (e.g., “Waning Crescent”) appearing in the bottom left corner.

The third face mode displays the position of the planets in the solar system at the current time. It’s not as visually arresting as the other modes, and as an astronomy nerd I could point out that the orbits of the planets aren’t really circular and of course the sizes of the planets aren’t to scale (because then there’d be nothing to see), and since I’m not a believer in astrology I don’t find the position of the planets especially relevant to my life. It’s still kind of a fun and nerdy decoration, though, and right-thinking people will appreciate that Pluto is nowhere to be found on the face.

Nope, no Pluto.

Tapping on the face in this mode will cause the time to recede, as it does on the Earth and Moon modes, but you can’t swipe around in the solar system. Using the Digital Crown will let you watch the dance of the planets around our sun, with the simulated date appearing in the top left corner and the time offset in the bottom left. Conjunction with Venus in 84 days!

I’ve heard some users complain that it’s too easy to jog the Digital Crown and move the Astronomy or Solar faces out of displaying the current time. I haven’t noticed that in my usage, but both faces make it a point to always display the current time in the top right corner.

Complication areas: None, on either face. I don’t overburden my most-used face with complications, but I’m a big believer in the power that complications provide. When I look at a mechanical watch these days, the first thing I think is how they won’t offer any complications that tell me what’s going on right now somewhere else on the Internet.

Astronomy is a face that’s just so packed with functionality that there’s little room for complications, though some could be eked out if the day-and-date section was turned into a complication and an additional slot was added in the top right corner just above the time. Solar has plenty of room for complications, but none are offered.

In short, it feels like these faces weren’t developed on the same track as many of the Apple Watch’s other faces. Most faces offer at least some amount of customization, but not these. You take them or leave them, and while they have some appeal, most of it is sapped away by the lack of complications and customizability.

Final verdict: Astronomy feels simultaneously overstuffed and unfinished. It’s attractive and impressive, but the addition of a few customization options would be welcome.

Solar is pretty, and I’m glad—once the bugs I experienced disappeared—that it show sunrise and sunset information when scrolling with the Digital Crown. It still needs more customization options, most particularly support for complications.

Both of these are pretty faces, but… shouldn’t we all aspire to being more than just another pretty face? More customization, please!

  1. It would be awesome if the cloud images were based on live satellite data, but it’s impractical—especially given that you can scroll into the future. ↩

  2. There’s no dark side of the Moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark. ↩

By Jason Snell

Apple Watch Face Off: Utility

For years I wore a Swiss Army watch with clear, readable sans-serif numbers on the face and not much else, so using the Utility face on the Apple Watch feels a bit like coming home. It’s an analog watch face with room for a few complications and a dash of color—but only a dash.

Utility animated GIF
You can choose the density of information surrounding the watch hands.

How it tells time: Large white analog hands and a highlight-colored second hand sweep over a dial that, cleverly, can be adjusted to display different levels of detail. You can choose to have it display no numbers at all, hour numbers only at the cardinal directions (3, 6, 9, 12), all the hour numbers, or all the hour numbers with a secondary ring indicating the minute positions as well.

I prefer the traditional display of all 12 numbers, but I am happy to do the minute translations in my head. Still, the ability to increase or decrease detail by spinning the Digital Crown is my favorite feature of this face, and one of the niftier features I’ve seen on the Apple Watch. This is truly an attention to detail that shows a great, er, attention to detail.

Complication areas: Four. Two rectangular blocks in the top right and left corners, a wide horizontal strip at the bottom that spans the width of the screen, and a rectangular block inside the ring of the circle next to three o’clock.

Utility offers four complications.

That rectangular complication is in a location where many classic watches put a date display, and in fact, that complication area can only be used for one of two options: A display of the date (which appears in the highlight color), or a display of the day and date (in which case the date is still in the highlight color, but the day is displayed in white). I prefer the latter approach, and really like the use of the highlight color on this complication.

One of the drawbacks of this complication being inside the watch circle is that, at various times of day, the watch face’s hands move over the complication and obscure it. (The same is true on an analog watch, of course.) If this drives you crazy, well, then I recommend you turn off this complication entirely. As for me, I don’t mind it—in fact, I kind of like it. It adds a little more analog flair to an unrepentantly analog face.

The two square complication spaces at the top corners can be filled with most of the expected Apple Watch complications, all of which appear in gray. Because each space is actually half the width of the screen, some complications have been designed to fill that space, while others are square in shape and stick to the corners. Complications that use the extra horizontal space are the day and date, calendar, sunrise/sunset, alarm, timer, stopwatch, and world clock. Complications that stay in the corner are weather, activity, moon phase, and battery.

The full-width complication space at the bottom is the biggest billboard on this face. You can fill it with the complete day and date (spelled out: “Monday, May 18”), the next calendar item (with its time and the first 10 characters or so of its name), the moon phase (spelled out: “Waxing Crescent”), the sunrise/sunset (with an icon, the time, and a textual countdown: “8:14pm 11hrs 35mins”), the weather (with the current temperature and text of the current conditions), stocks, activity (listing calorie count, how many minutes of daily exercise you’ve done, and how close you are to a standing goal), alarm, timer, stopwatch, battery, and world clock.

This space is all about text, and the text is gray and presented in all caps. Some of the complications seem awfully silly presented in this fashion—the battery one displays “97% BATTERY,” and does anyone want to walk around with WAXING CRESCENT at the bottom of their watch face? But others, like the calendar and stocks complications, really do take advantage of the extra space.

Other options: The Utility face comes with eight color choices for the highlight, which is used to color the second hand and, optionally, the date on the inside-the-circle day/date complication. Everything else is gray on black.


Final verdict: The first watch I bought myself was a Casio with LCD hands, a digital watch that aped the look of an analog watch. It was ugly and impractical and I loved it. While a lot of people might look at the Apple Watch and wonder why you’d ever display analog watch hands on a digital device, I really enjoy it. I don’t need the precision of a digital watch, don’t need to know if it’s 11:47 or 11:46 or 11:45 precisely… just that it’s a quarter to noon.

I appreciate Utility’s small bursts of highlight color and the flexibility of its complications. I love the analog watch style of the day and date complication inside the circle. On the face I use every day, I have most of the complications turned off. Utility works for me as a more minimal face, but it also works as an information-dense one. It’s adaptable and beautiful. What I’m saying is, Utility has quickly settled in to be my favorite Apple Watch face. It’s a winner.

Linked by Jason Snell

Redesigning Overcast for Apple Watch

We users aren’t the only ones who have a lot to learn when it comes to an entirely new type of product like a smartwatch. Developers, too, have a whole lot to figure out. They often try to get ahead of the game by using simulators to design software before they’ve ever used a real version of the product, and sometimes that works fine.

But more often than not, actually using a device completely changes how you envision the products you might build for it. I remember this happening when the iPad first shipped, and it’s happened again with the Apple Watch. Witness Marco Arment’s diary of creating, junking, and rebuilding Overcast’s watch app, which will give you a hint of just how much consideration goes into building products like this, and ends with this great advice:

It’s unwise and futile to try to shove iPhone interfaces and paradigms into the Apple Watch. Instead, design for what the Watch really is.

Over the first couple of weeks I’ve spent with the Apple Watch, I’ve started to get a handle on what makes one watch app good and another one bad. Developers are struggling with this, too. But if Marco is any indication, they’re starting to figure it out. It’s exciting.

Linked by Jason Snell

No, the Apple Watch doesn’t cost $84 to make

A couple of weeks ago, Tim Cook said this to analysts:

Generally there’s cost breakdowns that come out around our products that are much different than the reality. I’ve never seen one that is anywhere close to being accurate. And so if that’s the basis of your comment, I’d really dig on the data if I were you.

Here’s who Cook was talking about: IHS claims the Apple Watch costs $84, while TechInsights says it’s more like $139.

Now here’s Hristo Daniel Ushev with the analysis:

From my experience working with product and cost experts at a well-known mobile device company, I can tell you:  Apple Watch does not cost $84 in hardware and manufacturing. It costs meaningfully more.

Ushev’s explanation is worth a read if you’ve ever wondered why these cost estimates are so far off base.

[via Charles Arthur]

By Dan Moren

All that glitters is not (pure) gold

“Money will always be paper, but gold will always be gold.” —Darwin Mayflower

On a blustery day in early April, piles of snow from our brutal winter still in evidence, I found myself in front of an unassuming brick building in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

I was going to see how gold was made.

“Made” is a strange word to use—gold, after all, is a naturally occurring element. Forged in the heart of ancient supernovae, it’s right there on the periodic table at number 79. But, as I was about to learn, there’s gold… and then there’s gold.

Much has been made of the Apple Watch Edition, mostly centered around its hefty price tag, but also about the device’s gold case, made from a special version of the metal that Apple claims is “twice as hard as standard gold.”

Even my colleague Jason Snell commented on that, in his first impressions of the Edition:

I know what you’re thinking. You’re a jeweler. You’re looking at Apple and thinking, “Technology guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.” But here’s Apple, fresh to the watch game and claiming they’ve fixed gold.

Thing is, improving on gold is nothing new. The company I visited on that early April day is LeachGarner, a firm that’s been around for more than a hundred years and whose specialty is custom formulations of precious metals. What Apple’s doing now, well, LeachGarner’s been doing for decades. And the folks there are pretty darn good at it.

Walking the floor

Getting ushered into LeachGarner’s production facility is a lot like going to the airport. I couldn’t take my belt, my cellphone, or my keys onto the shop floor, and I had to take my shoes off before going through a metal detector that was far more precisely attuned than the ones you’ve used at the airport. 1 The machine checks you on the way in and the way out and compares its readings to make sure that you haven’t made off with any of the goods, intentionally or accidentally.

All of that is for good reason, too, because when you pass through into the factory part of LeachGarner’s business, there are solid bricks of gold, silver, copper, and other precious metals all over the place. I felt like I’d wandered into a reboot of Goldfinger.

Me and Ed
Ed Rigano, SVP of sales, shows me a tiny gold bead.

Senior Vice President of Sales Ed Rigano toured me around the facility, walking me through the process of what LeachGarner does, start to finish. 2

Here’s the thing: most commercial gold is an alloy of one form or another. There are a couple reasons for that: for one thing, pure gold is, obviously, very expensive. Even 24-karat gold, which is about as good as it gets for an alloy, is still just 99.95 percent gold. The 18-karat gold used by Apple in the Edition, by comparison, is just 18 parts gold out of 24, or 75 percent gold. The rest—at least according to Apple’s own gold video—is silver, copper, and palladium.

But the other, and arguably more important factor, is that gold itself isn’t always an ideal material for the purposes for which it’s used. It’s incredibly soft and malleable, which is great for working it, but also means it’s easy to damage. That’s where LeachGarner comes in. The company has made a specialty out of being able to produce a wide variety of precious metals in various tints and hardnesses.

The best explanation is that they sort of “cook” gold to order. LeachGarner gets requests from its clients for materials with certain properties: for example, one of its buyers might want 14-karat gold with a certain hardness and color for a product it wants to make. LeachGarner takes that “recipe” and the raw materials—in this case the gold, whatever base metals it needs to achieve the desired hardness and other properties, any other metals it uses to provide a particular color, and then combines them to form the exact specification of gold requested.

One key to that process is annealing, in which the metal is heated to soften it; the metal is then rolled out into thin sheets. This process gets repeated over and over again, until the desired result is reached. The annealing process does in some cases have the side effect of adding a layer of residue on top, which then must be milled off to give the metal its actual lustrous appearance. It’s then either delivered to clients, if they’re just requesting raw materials, or further worked into whatever finished forms are needed.

The annealing process.

As we walked through LeachGarner’s factory, we passed roaring ovens, industrial rollers, and machines used to create everything from fine chain to metal beads. LeachGarner is involved in pretty much every step of the metals process save the actual mining of metals and the final retail process.

Some of the materials they produce are quite impressive. Rigano showed me one thin gold bracelet made for a client that has a springform quality: bend or twist it, and it bounces back to its original state. Try doing that with a lot of gold jewelry, and you’ll irreparably damage it.

In short, all gold is not created equal, and that’s as true for what Apple’s doing with the Watch Edition as it is for LeachGarner’s far more extensive catalog of products.

The Edition

Apple Watch Edition

While Rigano doesn’t have inside knowledge of the exact process that Apple is using for the metal in the Apple Watch Edition, he did tell me that most of what the company showed off in its material video is pretty much the same as LeachGarner’s process. In other words, Apple isn’t blowing smoke about the quality of the materials it’s delivering, but neither is what it’s doing totally unprecedented.

But keep in mind that Apple and LeachGarner are hardly competitors: Cupertino is doing only a fraction of what LeachGarner does, and only for—thus far—a single product line. As ever, Apple can afford to be very focused about what it learns and how it applies that knowledge.

It also speaks, however, to the depths that Apple will go to in order to ensure that it’s building a great product. Apple could probably have contracted a company like LeachGarner to produce exactly the materials it wanted for the Apple Watch; instead it decided to hire the talent and produce it in house.

That investment says that Apple is firmly committed to the Watch as a significant product. You don’t hire metallurgists and create your own gold formulation for a device that’s produced on a whim, or as some sort of self-indulgent prestige product—this isn’t, in other words, a Motorola ROKR or Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. The Apple Watch—and, by extension, the Apple Watch Edition—may only be in its first few weeks, but like the material on which it’s based, it’s clearly here to stay.

  1. I forgot to take off the plastic visitor card that I’d been given, and the small metal clip on that set off the machine; meanwhile, I’ve walked through airport metal detectors with my belt on or keys in my pocket with no alarm whatsoever.  ↩

  2. Though LeachGarner is actually now a part of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway empire, the company itself feels tight knit and local. It’s not a small place, but Rigano knew everybody by name, and stopped to chat in friendly fashion with them all.  ↩

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]

By Jason Snell

Spin the Digital Crown, change the volume

The Now Playing glance controls your Apple Watch or iPhone.

Some stuff seems obvious to one person and yet is completely missed by someone else. When I posted my initial reactions to the Apple Watch, I mentioned that I was frustrated you couldn’t quickly flip between an app and the watch face. It turns out you can do that by double-tapping on the Digital Crown 1.

Sometimes you stumble on something by making assumptions that turn out to be right, and it’s hard to tell whether you were a dummy for taking so long to realize something so obvious, or whether you’ve uncovered something that other people haven’t.

This is a long way of saying that if you use Apple’s Remote app or the Now Playing glance, you can turn the Digital Crown to adjust the volume of the source you’re controlling. As you turn the crown, the volume control gets a nice bit of highlighting to indicate what’s going on.

The Remote app can control Apple TV and iTunes.

I initially did this without thinking—turning the crown to change the volume just seemed logical. And it turns out, it works! But when I mentioned it to a few other Apple Watch users, they professed complete ignorance of the feature. So here I am, telling you.

While I’m on the subject of Now Playing and the Remote app, isn’t it odd that they’re not connected to one another? I suspect it has something to do with what glances are capable of doing, versus apps. The Now Playing glance only tells you what’s going on with your watch and your iPhone; the Remote app connects to Macs and Apple TVs. I’m pretty sure that it’s just too costly to keep a connection to remote devices open, but it is a bit of a mixed metaphor.

In any event, spin the crown to change your volume. Try it. You’ll like it. And tell your friends—you can pretend you knew it all along.

  1. This tip is listed in the getting-started guide, which is a long slip of paper included with the extra band in the Apple Watch Sport box. I saw the paper but never unfolded it and had no idea there were useful tips there! ↩

By Jason Snell

Apple Watch Face Off: Modular


There’s something to be said for getting straight to the point. The Modular face for the Apple Watch is all about substance over style. It’s about text over graphics. It’s the most flexible and, well, modular of the nine faces Apple supplies with the watch, but even with all of the options, I found that I couldn’t get it to work the way I wanted.

How it tells time: In the top right corner is an unchangeable block taking up two-thirds of the top row and featuring a digital representation of the current time. It’s nice, but it highlights the frustrating fact that the representation of the time is never customizable on an Apple Watch face.

One of Modular’s customizable regions is huge, taking up an entire third of the watch face. It would be the perfect place to put, say, the time. Unfortunately, Modular isn’t interested in the time being the most important part of your watch face—and I think that’s a bad decision.


Complication areas: Five. Three square blocks across the bottom, a square block at the top left next to the time, and a huge region in the middle third of the display. The square blocks can display day and date, graphical moon phase, sunrise/sunset times, weather, stocks, activity, alarm, timer, stopwatch, battery, and world clock.

The showpiece is that center segment. It’ll let you display the current day and date, the time and name of your next calendar event, detailed textual moon phase or sunrise/sunset data, current weather, stocks, activity, alarm, timer, stopwatch, and world clock. Whatever complication you put in that segment will be the dominant piece of information on the face. If you care that much about your next appointment, this is the face for you. But to me it feels like the center is where the time belongs, not a huge announcement that the moon is waxing gibbous tonight.

Other options: The modular face comes with numerous color choices, including those that match the colored sport bands. You can opt for a white-and-gray monochrome look, or pick a color that suits you or the watch. For me, since I’m sporting a green-banded Apple Watch Sport, green seemed like the right decision. But choice is good, and Modular has it.

Final verdict: If you really like complications and data on your watch face, Modular is the choice for you. When I first got my Apple Watch, I assumed this would be my face of choice. But I really dislike the emphasis of the central complication over the time.

I don’t want to be too harsh on Modular. Apple needs to add more faces like it, with digital time and room for some decent-sized complications. Right now Modular is the only face of its kind on the Apple Watch, and because of that I find it wanting. Still, if one of Apple’s offered complications is more important to you than the time—and if you prefer text to graphics—Modular will work for you.

Linked by Dan Moren

A closer look at the Apple Watch’s S1 chip

Just in case you needed a reminder on just what a feat of engineering the Apple Watch is, ABI Research has cracked open the S1 unit inside the Apple Watch and detailed all the different components.

It’s kind of mind-blowing to really understand how much hardware is packed into that tiny module, which itself is only a small part of what’s inside the Watch. Not only a processor, but RAM, flash memory, wireless controllers, sensors, and specialized chips to deal with charging, the touch interface, and power management.

Tiny computers already get embedded in plenty of places, but this gives you an even better idea of how far wearable technology could go.

By Dan Moren

Apple Watch watch, week one

I never really wanted a cell phone. Back in college, I bought the only PDA I ever owned, a Handspring Visor Pro. I really coveted a Palm VII, with its built-in networking capability, but I settled for the Visor as it was cheaper and had the Game Boy-like expansion slot, and I thought at some point I might be able to afford the modem add-on. Because even then what I really wanted was a way to stay connected to the Internet, no matter where I was. Now I not only have that in my pocket, I have it on my wrist.

It’s been years since I wore a watch, but I noticed something funny the other week when I was at the Star Wars Celebration out in Anaheim. While we queued for the opening ceremonies, the convention staff handed out paper wristbands indicating that we’d been in line. Nothing fancy, just those adhesive ones that you’d get at parties to indicate that you’re over 21.

Not an Apple Watch
Not an Apple Watch

Despite those years of not wearing a watch, the muscle memory was ingrained so deeply in me that even that minute tactile sensation on my arm had me checking my wrist easily half a dozen times to see what time it was. The wristband, unsurprisingly, did not provide that information.

When I last gave up wearing a watch, it was in part because I didn’t like that I ended up checking it constantly; it had become a sort of non-verbal tic. In more recent years that has been replaced by feeling too beholden to pulling out my phone, but that’s a much more involved process, so it’s easier to check myself before reaching into my pocket.

During the past week, I have found myself fiddling with the Apple Watch a whole lot. Part of that is sheer novelty—I’m still trying to figure out the how and why of this device. I’m still getting attuned to the different patterns of haptic feedback, though I can now recognize when the Watch is telling me “it’s time to stand up” and “incoming text message.” But in the same way that novelty of the phone wore off as it became a fact of life, I expect the Watch too to fade into the background as time goes by.

A few stray observations:

  • I keep the Watch exclusively on silent mode. To me the entire point of the device is to be unobtrusive, a goal that is completely undermined if it starts chiming and beeping all the time. 1 The Taptic Engine is, simply put, genius. Far more subtle than even a vibrating phone, it’s also a surprisingly powerful way to send different types of messages. I’m kind of dumbfounded that tactile feedback has been so under-utilized to date.

  • Glances feel like they have potential, but their slow update speeds and the annoyance of swiping through any more than three or four of them negate almost any utility. Having to remember where various Glances are in your ordering is a pain, as is having to swipe all the way back to the first one from the last one and vice versa. (My Rebound co-host Lex Friedman compares them to Today widgets, which is pretty much spot on.)


  • So far, I’ve pretty much stuck to the Utility face, with a green second hand and complications for activity (top left), weather (top right), date (middle), and calendar (bottom). 2 Like Jason, I wish that the calendar line would go blank rather than telling me that there are no more events, but I understand why Apple made that choice. I’d actually like to have the timer widget on there too, because it would be handy to have one-tap access to it, but right now I fall back to Siri.

  • Speaking of Siri, the Watch version is really, really good; I’ve only had a couple of transcription errors. But it sometimes feels slow to respond; like on the phone, you kind of have to barrel through and trust that Siri is listening, because if you say “Hey Siri” and wait, sometimes it gets confused. And sometimes it doesn’t respond at all, for example when you’ve raised your arm, but the Watch’s display turns off before you can make your query.

  • The lack of a Reminders app seems like an odd oversight, even though you can get notifications for reminders and view or add to them via Siri. I’d like a full-fledged Reminders app that lets me view my list and check off completed items.

  • The Calendar app is not the best. I appreciate the scrolling list of events, but the individual detail view isn’t super useful, and even weirder is that when you go back up a level to see the monthly calendar, it only shows you the current month (the event list shows you the next week or so). So if I just want to know what day of the week May 17 is, for example, I’m out of luck if it’s not currently May.

  • I like the “raise arm to turn on Watch display” option, but when combined with the Watch’s aggressive display-off mode it can be irritating. Sometimes it flits on and off depending on how I move my arm. If your arm is already up, you have to shake your hand or press a button to turn the screen on. I appreciate the battery savings, but I think a future version of this device is going to be able to keep its screen on all the time and we’re not going to look back.

  • The friends interface is just bizarre. Again, I understand what Apple’s trying to push here, but a few things: I rarely initiate texts or calls from my Watch. Those are tasks that I go to the iPhone for. Which means that the only reason to go into the friends screen is to send sketches/taps/heartbeats to people. And none of the people who the Watch automatically added from my Favorites also had a Watch, so I had to go through and add people I knew had a Watch to test the Digital Touch features, because otherwise there’s no way to access them. In short: the interface itself is a fine idea, but devoting an entire button to it? Wishful thinking on Apple’s part. But a week in I’m also not sure what else I would devote a button to.

On the whole, I’m bullish on the Watch. It’s a gadgety sort of thing, but I love gadgets, and as our friend John Gruber succinctly points out, “It’s about desire, not necessity.”

This surely won’t be the last I write about the Watch, but I think I still need more time to see whether it successfully becomes part of my life once the initial curiosity has worn off.

  1. To this I credit the fact that nobody has asked me “Is that an Apple Watch?” Score one for unobtrusiveness!  ↩

  2. I had Mickey Mouse on for a little while, because it’s charming, but I think that’s a “sometimes” face.  ↩

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]

By Jason Snell

Apple Watch weekend: My initial reactions


My Apple Watch came Friday. Well, not my Apple watch. I ordered the space gray Apple Watch Sport with the black sport band, and it was back-ordered until mid-May. Fortunately, a friend of mine ordered a watch he didn’t want, and decided to let Six Colors purchase his Apple Watch Sport with a green sport band. After a quick exchange on a little street a couple of miles from my house, I was in business.

I spent two and half days with the Apple Watch without writing a word about it. I was talking to my mother on the phone today, and she asked what I thought of it—and I told her I couldn’t really say. It’s complicated.

This is a new product. Like, a really new product. It’s not like any product I’ve used before, though it has echoes of my old Pebble and of iOS devices, of course. But my built-up skills in using iOS were no use to me when I started using the Apple Watch. This is not a tiny iPhone on my wrist. This is something new.

It might be good. It’s certainly impressive. But it’s new, and it’s going to take some time to figure out quite what it all means.

So, in the absence of that sort of revelation, what am I to write about? Let’s take my rapid-fire observations and present them in a hail of bullets…

Continue Reading "Apple Watch weekend: My initial reactions"

Linked by Jason Snell

iFixit tears down the Apple Watch

(Image: iFixit)

It’s a tradition — iFixit goes to Australia and tears apart new Apple hardware. And so they’re in Melbourne right now breaking down the Apple Watch. There are always fun tidbits that are gleaned from the disassembly, so check it out.

Linked by Jason Snell

The Apple Watch and manufacturing methods

I couldn’t love this post by Luma Labs’s Greg Koenig more. It’s a Zapruder-like analysis of the three Apple Watch Craftsmanship videos 1 Apple released on Monday during the Apple Watch segment of its media event:

When we add the rest of the product line to the mix, it becomes clear that Apple’s supply chain is one of the largest scale production organizations in the world… In the manufacturing world, we hear rumors of entire German CNC mill factories being built to supply Apple exclusively, or even occasionally hear that one of our supplier’s process experts has been “disappeared” to move to Cupertino or Shenzhen. While we all are massively impressed with the scale of Apple’s operations, there is constant intrigue as to exactly how they pull it all off with the level of fit, finish and precision obvious to anyone who has examined their hardware.

Koenig knows a lot about manufacturing, and it’s fascinating to read about where he thinks Apple is ahead of the rest of the world, and where it’s rapidly catching up. Also, I say that any piece that contains the phrase “the most stunning video of the smelting process ever committed to film” is worth reading.

  1. Apple showed two of them, on alumin(i)um and stainless steel, on stage. The third, on gold, is only on the web—a sign, perhaps, of how Apple was soft-pedaling the Apple Watch Edition during Monday’s event. ↩

Linked by Jason Snell

The Apple Watch spreadsheet

Rob Griffiths doesn’t love watches, but boy, does he love spreadsheets. So he created the all-in-one Apple Watch spreadsheet:

By my count, Apple will be shipping 38 separate models of watches. There’s a gallery page at Apple’s site where you can page through all of the watches, and get the details on each specific model. You can also view the watches in the store, where you can find pricing info. Both of these solutions, though, require lots of paging and scrolling to get all the details. I was curious as to how all the watches compared, so I pulled data from those sources and made one massive spreadsheet.

Rob’s time spent researching led him to a few interesting quirks about the different Apple Watch offerings, too, including weights of different watches and bands.

Linked by Jason Snell

Apple’s particular formula for 18k gold

This is a great post from Dr. Drang in which he details how Apple may be formulating the 18-karat gold in the Apple Watch:

Apple’s gold is a metal matrix composite, not a standard alloy. Instead of mixing the gold with silver, copper, or other metals to make it harder, Apple is mixing it with low-density ceramic particles. The ceramic makes Apple’s gold harder and more scratch-resistant—which Tim Cook touted during the September announcement—and it also makes it less dense overall.

Because the karat level of gold is measured by the mass fraction, Apple’s 18k gold watches could contain much less gold than you might expect if it’s mixed with a low-density material rather than other high-density metals.

Linked by Jason Snell

Apple Watch FAQ update

We’re a few days away from an Apple event where we’ll presumably learn a whole lot more about the Apple Watch. So to get ready, Dan Moren just added a bunch of new answers to our Apple Watch FAQ. Including one featuring this guy!

And if you haven’t read our FAQ yet, consider this some fun pre-event reading.

Linked by Jason Snell

My (practical) Apple Watch wish list

Another month, another appearance by me in iMore’s weekly The Network column… this time I wrote about the features and philosophies that I think are most important in the Apple Watch:

Truly, this is an exciting time to follow Apple.

With the company set to hold a media event on Monday — six months to the day since Tim Cook first stood on the Flint Center stage and unveiled the Apple Watch — we’re about to move out of our current period of vaguely-informed speculamalation and into the era of somewhat more informed speculification. At that point, we’ll be perilously close to the time when the Apple Watch really ships, and pundits can actually start complaining about the real product rather than jousting with straw men wearing extremely expensive timepieces.

My point is, are we there yet? No? Okay, then, with a very short amount of time to go before we know incrementally more about the Apple Watch, here’s my wish list for the next six months of the Apple Watch. You know, when we can actually use the thing.

Linked by Jason Snell

Apple Watch is why I’m not buying a Pebble Time

Over on some site called Macworld, I discuss why I don’t think Pebble Time makes sense for iPhone users:

In the end, though, if I’m going to invest in a new smartwatch, and I’m an iPhone user, my money has to go to the Apple Watch. It’s being crafted to work seamlessly with iOS. If it’s not more reliable than the Pebble at relaying notifications to my wrist, I’ll eat my hat. Third-party app developers are rushing to embrace WatchKit, and I’d wager that on day one there will be vastly better third-party app support for Apple Watch than could have possibly existed for Pebble.

By Jason Snell

Apple Watch: What We Know


This time next year, we’ll probably all be wondering how we got by without our Apple Watches, but here and now there’s still plenty that we don’t know about the device Cupertino wants to put on your wrist. The crack Six Colors team (Jason Snell and Dan Moren) has assembled the sum total of human knowledge about Apple’s wearable device, or at least a reasonable facsimile. We’ve updated this document a few times, most recently after Apple’s March 9 event.

Continue Reading "Apple Watch: What We Know"