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Things 3 has kick-butt Siri support, including on Watch

“In Things, remind me to finish my blog posts tomorrow at 2pm.”

“Show my Today list in Things.”

“Add support Finer Things in Tech on Patreon using Things.”

Seems like it all works from Apple Watch too. Per this Twitter thread, it sounds like developers must deliberately add that; they don’t get it for free just by adding Siri support on iPhone.

The iTunes moment for Apple Watch

Before 2011, every iPhone and iPad had to be plugged into iTunes before you could use them. A Mac or PC was required for the activation and basic setup process. Apple cut that cord with iOS 5, allowing iPhones and iPads to start working right out of the box. Now that Apple Watch Series 3 has gained LTE connectivity, I wonder if it will head down a similar path.

I’ve met people who would love to have an Apple Watch (and a Bluetooth headset) for basic calls and messaging, then an iPad for everything else. They don’t take a lot of photos, and they don’t have a large need for carrying around a phone other than calls and messaging—things the Watch does pretty well now.

From an end user perspective, I’d love to see this option arrive. I certainly would like for my Apple Watch to have connectivity when I’m away from my phone, but I’m not ready to pay $10 per month for that luxury just yet. Down the road? I could see it.

From a product design perspective, though, I wager there’s a significant challenge to building an autonomous Apple Watch: setup. It’s easy to type your iCloud account into an iPhone or iPad. But a Watch? Not so much.

In watchOS 4, Apple did make this process easier by bringing the AirPod setup simplicity to the Watch. This might be exclusive to Series 3, but I’ve seen a demo where all you need to do is unlock your iPhone and power on your brand new Watch, and they just find each other and begin the process.

It isn’t a 100 percent cordless setup, but it’s a step. If Apple allowed the iPad to set up a new Watch, it might help users who don’t necessarily want or need an iPhone.

Some thoughts after upgrading to an Apple Watch series 2

I’m a fan of the Apple Watch and I’ve worn my original (series 0) nearly every day since it arrived in May 2015. While watchOS 2 and 3 have been a big help in making the Watch more useful, mine started feeling more sluggish as I used more features and newly native apps more regularly. A little while ago I decided it was time to upgrade, and last week I jumped.

I went from a stainless steel, 42mm, series 0 Watch to a Sport space gray, 42mm, series 2. The stainless steel was just a tad too flashy for me, but somewhere down the road, I’d like to pick up another Watch or two in other colors.

For context, I’ll break out how I use my Watch and what I’ve noticed with the upgrade.

My Watch uses

This is a good place to note that two of my goals for wearing an Apple Watch are to carry my iPhone less and be more present. I get notifications on my iPhone (and iPad) for a variety of things, but I treat my Watch as a sort of “VIP notification safe place,” where only the most important get through. I try to put my iPhone in a bag or coat pocket more often to reduce distractions and be more present around people.

With this in mind, I use my Watch for:

  • Siri – I use Siri quite a bit for many of the typical things, but also some niche stuff: creating reminders and timers, messaging, asking basic information (“how many ounces in a cup” – don’t judge me), starting directions, and controlling our gradually expanding set of Hue lights.
  • Dictation – I dictate a lot of stuff, like new ideas in Drafts, new tasks in Todoist, and replying to messages. Pro tip: some messaging services, like Wire (which offers cross-platform E2E encryption, by the way) allow you to reply to messages from a Watch notification, even if they they don’t have a dedicated Watch app. If you’re concerned about privacy with non-Apple friends, Wire and Signal are much better options than SMS.
  • Notifications – I am continually evolving my strategy here, especially as Watch apps and notifications become more useful. But as stated above, in this context, I think of my Watch as an always-present notification widget for a handful of must-see alerts. It’s with me more than my iPhone is (or ever was), so it works great for my needs here.
  • Location tracking – I check into places with Day One and Swarm, generally. But I also do a fair amount of maps directions, and since I’m a transit or foot commuter, I mostly use my Watch and its wrist-tapping directions.
  • Workout tracking – I’m not a huge runner, but I generally do cardio and weightlifting with Gymatic at the gym 1-3 times a week. On the weekends I also love to take my rollerblades down to Chicago’s lakefront and explore the loop area. I usually do anywhere from 4-8 miles in a session and track the route with RunKeeper.

What’s different with series 2?

Apple did a pretty good job of advertising what’s new in series 2. But if your uses overlap with any of mine, it’s hard to overstate just how significant of an impact those changes can have.

Speed

Seriously. Seriously. I recently wrote a piece for Mac Observer about how the new app Dock in watchOS 3 is a huge improvement for Watch app users. But the dual core CPU in series 2 takes it to another level.

Most apps start up very quickly, even if the aren’t in the Dock, and everything feels much snappier. You know that feeling when an old Mac or iPad tips over from being sluggish to annoyingly sluggish, and its replacement feels like a refreshing new world? That, but on your wrist.

Battery

Battery life so far has been fantastic. Most days when I put my series 0 on my bedside charging stand, I can have anywhere from 20-40 percent left. Over the last few days, my series 2 has been consistently in the 60 percent range, sometimes more.

Sleep tracking

There is a handful of generally well-regarded sleep tracking apps for Apple Watch. But thanks to the battery life improvements, series 2 is the first time I feel like I consistently have enough juice at the end of the day to properly try one. Upon Federico’s glowing recommendation, I picked up AutoSleep this weekend. We’ll see how it goes.

Water resistance

I know series 0 is supposed to be ok in the rain and shower, and even Tim Cook is on record as saying he wears his in the shower. But the fact that it isn’t officially water resistant always gave me pause.

It could just be my paranoia, but my series 0 seemed to act a little funny after some showers, and I enjoy swimming more often these days. Of course, I don’t need to wear my Watch in the shower or pool, but I’ve found it surprisingly useful. Like a lot of folks, I feel like I have some of my best ideas in the shower, so being able to fire off a transcription into Drafts for parsing later has been really useful.

It feels good to have official word that I can wear my Watch in every water-related setting I care about—not to mention warranty and AppleCare coverage. Performance has been great, and that occasional post-water behavior wonkiness is gone.

I’m glad I spent the money

In case it isn’t obvious, I’m happy I spent the money on a series 2 (though, for the record, I’m going to eBay my series 0 to recover some of the funds). I use mine a lot and the new features have made it well worth it to me. I’m not too worried about a series 3 arriving this year; if I had to guess, that feels like a 2018 thing to me.

But even if a series 3 shows up this year, I’m still planning to eventually pick up one or two more Apple Watches somewhere down the road (probably an aluminum and/or gold, possibly even a rose gold). I like watches as a fashion statement, and I was already in the middle of picking up a second old school watch when Apple released one.

If you’re curious about the series 2, I hope this piece helped. But you can always ask me questions on Tumblr and Twitter, and I’ll answer as best I can.

My favorite early Apple Watch moment

Apple Watch I finally got to my first WWDC in 2015. I took the opportunity to scratch my train itch and took an Amtrak out there from Chicago. It was a two-day trip, so I split a roomette with my friend Dan Peterson and it was amazing.

Verizon had decent-to-good 4G nearly the whole way. We hung out in the snack and observation cars a lot, splitting time between working, sightseeing, reading, and striking up conversations with our fellow cross-country strangers.

The original Apple Watch landed just a couple months before WWDC that year, slowly trickling out to people who preordered. Like a good chunk of attendees, I had mine and was busy exploring what it was all about, how its features worked, and how it would fit into my life.

Not being a developer, I was out there for the community and to make new friends. By day I attended AltConf, an excellent new indie conference that runs in parallel and just so happened to be streaming the keynote in the Metreon theater across the street from Moscone West.

My memory wants to say AltConf attendees filled up probably three quarters of the theater. People streamed in, found their seats, silenced their phones, and the show began.

It was a good keynote, but my favorite part happened in the Metreon theater. About 50 minutes in, a cacophony of Apple Watches all beeped nearly at once—according to the Activity features, it was time for us to stand.

We remembered to silence our phones, but it sounded like most of us were not yet in the habit with our Watches. I’m pretty sure no one actually stood, but we all sprung into action to ensure the rest of the keynote went uninterrupted.

Writing Links: Apple Watch App Dock tip, roundup for Mac Observer

I published a couple pieces for Mac Observer this week, delving into my deepening appreciation for the Apple Watch:

If you're curious about the Apple Watch's advantages as a device for quick-action app experiences, I encourage you to check out these pieces. WatchOS has come a long way, and I now like my Watch more than ever.

Apple Watch faces for work, play, music, and every occasion in between

I wear my Apple Watch seven days a week, but recently realized that I do so for different reasons throughout the week. These days, it’s with me at least as much as, if not more than, my iPhone, so I decided to explore how I can make my Apple Watch even more contextually useful for each day’s tasks. After experimenting with the new watchOS 3 faces features, and getting a pair of AirPods, I’m getting the urge to break into song.

Context

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A whole new world

In watchOS 3, Apple added the ability to quickly swipe between multiple Watch faces. After playing with this effortless switching, I realized that it feels like swiping between pages of apps on an iPad or iPhone.

Now, I’m also the type of person who organizes my app pages by task or context. Page 1 is my most important personal + work apps, page 2 is for my photo, video, and music hobbies, page 3 is strictly work apps, and so on. Once I combined these two ideas, things started to click.

I got my Apple Watch in its early days, and my go-to face has always been an info-dense (for a watch, anyway) dashboard of my day’s events, tasks, and physical activity. I was looking for a way to be more present and cut down on how often I have my phone in my pocket or hands. This face was a great solution.

Around the beginning of December 2016, I decided to add a “relax mode” Watch face. It uses one of the new animated jelly fish backgrounds with only a clock and Drafts complication for quickly dictating ideas to revisit later. In the evening or on weekends when I had little-to-no work to finish, this “no work stuff allowed” face would serve as a nice on-demand reminder that it’s chill time.

After my standard work-based dashboard face, this was my second purpose-built Watch face. It worked great and made me think about Watch faces as the new app pages – quick access to a few apps for related tasks. Now that faces are so easy to switch between, what other occasions, tasks, or purposes could use a Watch face?

The Setup – Watch faces as the new app pages

It was easy to go down the rabbit hole, separating my days or even portions of them into all kinds of categories and “modes,” for lack of a better word. But I eventually settled on a few general purposes for which I think an individual, customized Watch face might be useful. Here we go, in order of appearance in the gallery below from top left to bottom right.

Music – The perfect AirPods companion for me

I love my AirPods, they go everywhere with me now. Pro-tip for pants people: the case probably fits in that little change pocket just above your right pocket.

However, I’d say around 50-60 percent of the time, I’m listening to a playlist I created or something I’m exploring from Apple Music, which means spurts of skipping. Since I’m trying to keep my phone in a pocket or, ideally, my bag or on the shelf at home more often, I realized I could create pretty quick access to media controls with a Watch face.

I didn’t expect to turn this music dashboard into what is technically now the first Watch face in my lineup, but there it is. Now I can quickly swipe a couple times to control my AirPods music without digging out my phone or fumbling with other app controls.

There’s a catch here, though, and I might have to tinker more. The music complication in the middle of this Modular face doesn’t have controls, it’s really just a nice big tap target for me to open the Music for Watch app and then start controlling stuff (tip: to quickly get back to your Watch face from an app like this, double-press the crown). I’ve considered adding a smaller complication to other faces, and maybe I simply don’t need this one. We’ll see.

Ultimately, I wish I could have one of two things. The first, and my preference, is an update to the Watch Control Center to give it multiple pages like iOS 10 added for iPad and iPhone. Also like iOS 10, it could remember the last page I picked, so swiping up on my Watch during a good music session could always display media controls.

Failing that, I could also go for a mini-music dashboard Watch face, or at least the complications we could use to build one. It could display the current thing playing and controls right on the face; no switching away from the clock to other apps. With the popularity of AirPods and how well they go with a Watch (iPhone not necessarily required), I wouldn’t be surprised if this arrives soon. Yes, I’ve submitted this idea to Apple’s feedback and bugreporter sites.

General purpose – Modular face

My standard face that I’ve had practically since day one with watchOS 1. Like my first iPhone and iPad app page, this is quick access to some basics for most days: date, Timepage in the middle (my new favorite calendar app), Drafts, Activity, and Weather Underground.

Work – Modular

This feels self-explanatory. Todoist in the upper left, Timepage again in the middle, then Drafts, Hours for time tracking, and AnyList in case there are errands I can run during my day. I’d prefer to have Trello in the lower right, but they don’t have a Watch complication yet. Hopefully soon.

Personal – Modular

A face for non-work personal days of errands, friends, and chores around the house. Timepage in the upper right, Todoist in the middle, then Drafts, AnyList, and Activity. I feel like I want to tinker with this one more, maybe replace Activity with something else. But for now it’s pretty good.

Activity – Analog

I deleted most of the default faces, but kept this one. On the (gradually more frequent) days where I exercise, I like having quick access to a dashboard of the health apps I use. Right now I use a mix of Apple’s workout tracking and RunKeeper, though I’m getting really unhappy with the latter. Details aside, I love having this big colorful view of how much exercise ass I’m kicking.

Relax – Motion

This is the chill out face I mentioned earlier, and in some ways my favorite. It isn’t just the pretty video—I love having an always-available dashboard, of sorts, which reinforces the idea that right now is my time, and I can do whatever I want.

Relax 2 – Photo Album

I sync my favorite photos from Apple Photos to my watch. This face is just an alternative for relaxing, and the only one that doesn’t have Drafts. I sacrificed it in the name of having a more complete view of my photos.

A work in progress

This is new territory for me, so I’ll continue to tweak my Watch faces and replace apps or switch faces altogether. Overall though, I’m really happy, as I feel like I’ve unlocked a new level of Watch usefulness. I hope some of these ideas can do the same for you.

Apple Watch: third time's the charm

Apple’s third attempt at a watchOS is currently in developer beta, so the usual disclaimers apply: stuff might change, features might be added or removed, nothing is finalized, blah blah blah.

For context, I’ve been a generally happy Watch owner since I got mine last summer. I was disappointed with the app performance problems, but I have worn mine daily mostly for the health tracking and notifications about a handful of must-know things.

That said, if you want my impression of watchOS 3 after testing it for about two weeks, picture me in the GIF below, dancing and spinning and singing on top of a mountain.

Sound of Music mountain singing GIF

A big help are the new tools in the iPhone app which make customization of Watch faces and complications much faster. But the real star, for me, is the huge performance and speed increases for third-party apps, including the new quick-switching Dock that takes the place of the previous friends wheel. As far as I know, developers cannot yet publicly release updates for watchOS 3 (whereas a number of iPhone and iPad apps have already updated in the App Store), but even current apps start up and simply run better. In a word, they’re usable now.

For example: one of my goals with getting a Watch in the first place, besides the health stuff, was untethering myself from my iPhone. More often, I’d like to keep it in my bag while out and about, or on a table or charger while at home. But I’d still like quick access to a handful of tasks without needing my phone—checking into places with Swarm, saving quick thoughts and ideas in Day One and Drafts, responding with a 👍🏻 to messages—so I can be more present with who and where I am.

With previous watchOS iteration, most of the wrist-able tasks I care about were prohibitively slow or tedious to the point where, like many, I just gave up on them. In watchOS 3, even though my apps haven’t been updated to take advantage of new developer goodies, I’m happy to do most of these tasks and leave my phone alone.

For a final detail, I haven’t noticed much change in battery life. I have always been able to get through a day with 30-50 percent left. That hasn’t seems to change with the beta, even though I’m using apps more often.

I feel like watchOS 3 will allow the Apple Watch to reach the original potential for which we were all excited. I’m sure the next hardware iteration will offer faster performance and longer battery life (having enough juice for sleep monitoring is interesting to me), but existing owners are in for a treat when watchOS 3 arrives, and that is exciting all by itself.

Find My Friends notifications on Apple Watch let you share back

When someone temporarily shares their location with you on Apple’s Find My Friends, you can respond by sharing your location right from the Watch notifications without having to grab your iPhone.

Pouring a task through Apple's product ecosystem

Justin Ouellette wrote this piece back in March about Apple Watch and its place among Apple’s products, but I just saw it recently thanks to Alex Stone. It’s a clever way to approach handling tasks in a world of devices that fit on, in, and under our hands.

When Apple shows the slide of their product family (ever increasing to the left in smallness) some view it as a sort of evolution-of-man in reverse, with the smallest thing intended as the top of the food chain. I think a better way to look at it is a stack of sieves with increasingly fine layers of mesh; pour a task in the top and it gets caught at the layer that matches its size.

Read the rest at Justin’s blog.

Quick Review: Third-party black Milanese Loop band for Apple Watch

Context: my daily is a stainless steel 42mm Apple Watch with Apple’s Milanese Loop, and I’m very happy with it. It’s just the kind of innovative band I’ve been trying to find since I started wearing a watch again a couple years ago, and I feel the price is well worth it for the quality. The only thing I would change is adding more color options, especially black.

This led me to find Kartice’s knockoff milanese loop band, which the company offers in seven colors. Wouldn’t you know it, they have black, so I gave it a shot. If you click my affiliate link above and buy one of these bands or anything else at Amazon, you will effortless send a little love for my work here at Finer Things in Tech.

After wearing it for nearly a week, here are my thoughts:

  • The overall design mimics Apple’s quite well. I’m not sure if they’re using Apple’s official pins, but they at least look the part (more on that in a minute).
  • Overall, the color is thorough and well done. I think it’s coated stainless steel, but there are no gaps or blemishes where I can tell.
  • It’s pretty comfortable to wear, and I wear my watch all day and evening (basically, I only take it off to sleep). I even forgot to switch in my sport band when I went skating over the weekend and had no trouble.
  • The band can kink slightly if you lay it down folded on itself, as if the small links have just a little friction between them, but it comes out effortlessly once you pick it up again. It hasn’t affected the aesthetic or wearability, but it’s definitely a noticeable quality drop from Apple’s band, and I’m curious about extended wear down the road.
  • One of the pins or its locking connectors is just a little too large, causing it to stick pretty damn hard in the Watch slot. It was a little tight inserting, but it needed so much effort to remove that I locked myself out of my Watch for a couple minutes because I was accidentally hitting the buttons or typing in the wrong passcode. It could be a manufacturing defect, so I’m tempted to try a replacement.
  • A key difference from Apple’s loop is that you cannot just undo the magnet and let the band fully open on your wrist. With Apple’s loop, the pin is designed to catch the magnet so that the loop never completely opens up; a convenient way to make sure the watch cannot easily fall off your wrist. But with Kartice’s, the magnet will slip through the pin pretty easily if you don’t pay attention.
  • The magnetic clasp is nice and strong, and I haven’t noticed any areas where it loosened abnormally from Apple’s milanese loop. I certainly don’t go boxing with it like Brianna Wu, but it’s been solid.

Overall, this might be a strange recommendation from me: the band is good for the roughly $46 sale price Amazon currently has on it. But if you’re a stickler for the quality of Apple’s band, I definitely don’t recommend this one at the $83 list price. At most I think I’d pay $60-70, assuming my pin issue was indeed just a manufacturing defect and it is usually easy to remove like Apple’s bands.

Will I keep this band? I would if I had a space gray Watch, but I’m not quite at the point of owning more than one Watch (yet). However, if you’re after a loop in a color Apple doesn’t offer, and if you’re not too bothered by the minor quality issues I mentioned, this is a pretty good band for under $50.