Apple Watch; UI and UX Review

Yesterday I made the decision to trade-in my Fitbit for an Apple Watch. My Fitbit strap was starting to wear and I’ve flirted with the idea of purchasing Apple Watch for a few months now. After an impressive 24 hours, I wanted to share my impressions of the User Interface and some improvements I’d like to see.*

Icon recognition

My immediate thought after completing the setup was the importance labels play supporting app icons. The Apple system icons were immediately obvious. They embrace simplicity by identifying and promoting the unique symbol of the iOS icon while also using the same colour palette. However, some third-party icons have not been as successful in their implementation. Booking.com is an example of this. Their iOS icon uses a blue background with the brand name slapped across the centre. Their Watch OS icon uses a B with a designed full stop, however this is not present in the iOS icon. The icons lack similarity. Without the use of the icon label, its important designers find a unique symbol that can be shared accross both icons to improve recognition.

Booking.com iOS icon vs Booking.com Watch OS icon.

Low information density

Progressive disclosure is a clear principle in the Apple Watch interface. Each application I’ve encountered shows me only the information I need, nothing more. This simplicity has kept me focused on the task in hand and helped absorbing that information to be a relatively inexpensive task. One element I was unaware of at first was the access to secondary information via the scroll wheel, however once this became understood the interaction soon became a memorable one.

A text only UI is a good one

Over the last few of years we’ve witnessed leading companies shift their process towards focusing on content and less on visual aesthetics. Microsoft with Metro UI, Google prior to Material Design pushed ‘content before chrome’ and Apple removed 99% of skeuomorphism with their release of iOS 7. These were all initially received with mixed views, many traditional web designers disapproved of the lack of visual and felt the web was losing its identity. However, the physical dimensions of the Apple Watch and the way in which we use it, coupled with our mental model gathered over years of using mechanical watches alongside touch screen phones means a text only, reduced information density UI is the perfect UI for the Apple Watch.

Our interactions are lightweight and responsive. We seek information, quickly. As such, we don’t need visual distractions. Text is aptly left aligned improving reading speed, splash screens and logos are not allowed ensuring all real-estate is available to promote content and a plain back background promotes a high contrast ratio.

Contrast & legibility

The high contrast ratio (1.4.3) or above ensures Apple Watch is perfect for all weather conditions. Quick glances in direct sunlight are only possible with a high contrast ratio and legible font. Colours are also familiar as they’re consistent with those in iOS with subtle changes to their vibrance and luminosity to make them appropriate for the Apple Watch screen. Font sizes are larger for moving activities such as walking and running as this improves reading and recognition speed. This was immediately noticeable while I was running on the treadmill at the gym.

Buttons are affording

Since iOS 7, UI affordance has slowly changed by removing traditional button aesthetics (rounded shape with gradient background) to alone typography using verbs as instructions. As Apple Watch is not only a new product with a new interface, it’s one that has a mixed use of read and interaction so our mental model needs building upon to learn the differences between what we read when we glance and what we tap when we interact.

Buttons in iOS 6, iOS 7 and Watch OS

Apple have played this well by re-instating the original familiar shape of a button, however the visual aesthetic is less obtrusive and still places focus on typography.

Thickness is offset by weight

Within the first hour I visually noticed the thickness of the watch. Although I appreciate Apple’s industrial design and I think the side profile is seamless, at some angles the watch does look a little too thick. Obviously this is subjective and my opinion is purely visual, however, the lightness of the watch makes any increased weight as a result of the size a non-existent one. Compared to my steel Fossil watch, the Apple Watch is incredibly light and at no point has it became uncomfortable to wear. I even slept wearing the watch and woke to find it pleasantly comfortable.

I’d like to see…

As you may have guessed, I’m a big fan of the Apple Watch after a little over 24 hours. From a UI and UX perspective I think Apple have done a fantastic job understanding our mental model, our expectations and environment that plays a big impact in our interaction. I think this justifies Apple’s approach to a single user interface per product and a unique set of guidelines per product. However, there are a couple of additions I would like to see in the next version of Watch OS.

Shuffle music*

It would be nice to have the ability to shuffle a playlist. Force touch interaction on the playlist name could easily load a menu with the option of shuffle and play from beginning.

Additional complications

I’d like to have additional complications available to the ‘Colour’ and ‘Simple’ clock face. 4 is not sufficient for me.

Auto app layout

As the display of icons is not grid like, I’d like the option for the layout to fill the available space after deleting an app.

Thinner

As I mentioned, the weight is not an issue with the watch, however as all Apple products do thin over time I think this is a natural expectation.

I’m going to observe my use and time with Apple Watch more closely than I have with my other devices as I’m interested to see how my thoughts may change over time and if my relationship with the watch grows stronger or weaker.

*These may be achievable with Apple Watch and with being new to the product I may have missed them. Please leave me a comment if this is so.

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