The Apple Watch App: Unheralded Yet Indispensable

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Since its release, the focus of watchOS 3 in the eyes of the tech commentariat—there are good takes by Lauren Goode and Walt Mossberg for The Verge—has been on the overhauled user interface. Glances are gone. Digital Touch has been integrated into Messages. The Dock makes it easier to find and launch favorite apps. Perhaps most importantly, watchOS 3 makes the experience of using even the original, “Series 0” hardware (which I’m still using) orders of magnitude faster and better.

But one aspect of watchOS 3 that I haven’t seen reported on is the improved Apple Watch app for iPhone. While there’s no need to use it all the time, I think the app greatly enhances the Watch experience as a whole. Especially from an accessibility standpoint, using the app to customize my watch is a joy. I can manage everything from my 6s Plus’s large screen and have any modifications synced automatically to my wrist.

As I’ve written in the past, I want to interact with my watch as little as possible; the screen is just too small for my low vision to deal with for extended periods. Of course, Apple realizes this too—that’s why the Apple Watch app exists in the first place. Still, its benefit for someone with disabilities I think is overlooked. In a sense, the app is a de-facto accessibility feature in itself, and it’s one I adore.

If the Apple Watch is the iPhone’s satellite, then the Apple Watch app is Mission Control. And in watch OS 3, Apple’s made it even easier to communicate without frustration and strain.

Take changing watch faces, for example. Although you can swipe to change watch faces in watchOS 3, I prefer to do so from the Apple Watch app. I like it because I can customize everything from color to complications on the bigger screen. Furthermore, I can see every available watch face, as well as the ones already on my device.

Again, for someone with low vision, this experience matters a lot. It’s still possible to force-press on the watch’s screen to switch faces and customize them via the Digital Crown, but using the app is an infinitely more accessible path. It’s quicker, sure, but it saves my eyes from unnecessary strain and fatigue.

The same is true for managing Dock apps and virtually anything else watch-related. The Watch app is so great for this. I have fine-motor delays as well, so sometimes turning the Digital Crown or force-pressing the Watch’s screen can be tricky. So, not only is the app helping me conserve visual energy, it’s also relieving me of muscular stress too. It’s a win-win for me.

I guess the moral of this story is to not sleep on the Apple Watch app. It really is a great tool, especially so for accessibility. I hope Apple continues to improve it.