Formed Opinions on Apple Watch Series 5

I’ve been using an Apple Watch Series 5 for almost a week now, and while there have been a few others smartwatches with always-on displays, I have not been able to try them. Apple Watch is the first smartwatch with an always-on display that I have used, and it certainly feels like a big step forward for the category.

Before Series 5, and as nice as an always-on display would have been on prior Apple Watch’s, it wasn’t exactly clear to me if the display turning off an not always visible was a gigantic pain point in my day to day life. Over the past week, it has been interesting to note my behavior change now being able to glance at my Apple Watch and see the display without having to turn my wrist over. It turns out there was more friction in a display turning off than I previously thought. That being said, I disagree with a few of the ways Apple has implemented a few things with the always-on display.

As I watched Apple announce the Series 5 and the always-on display, there was something that immediately stood out in my mind as a point of curiosity about how they would solve the problem of privacy. Being so privacy-focused, as Apple is, I was curious how they would solve the problem of someone with a clear line of sight of my Apple Watch could see who was calling or texting me.

While it would have been clever for Apple Watch to hide notifications until you look at them like they do with iPhone where the message is hidden until you unlock your phone, I quickly concluded this would be tricky with no FaceID solution on Apple Watch. I was curious to see if they even addressed this, as I was going to be quick to point it out if they didn’t.

It turns out Apple has a very clever solution to this, but its one that I think needs to have more user control than Apple allows today.

What happens, if there is anything on your screen like a phone call, message, etc., when you aren’t looking at your Watch, and your wrist is facing outward, the screen blurs out so what is it is not visible. Now in the context of a text message or phone call, something where I do want there to be some privacy, I completely appreciate this solution. However, in my week with the Series 5, I’ve come to the conclusion this is not always necessary.

For example, if you are using Apple Maps and getting directions, when you turn your wrist away from you to put on the steering wheel, for example, the screen blurs out, and you can no longer see your directions. I first noticed this pain point while driving with my Apple Watch hand on the wheel and my cup of coffee in the other hand. I was getting directions and wanted to glance at my Watch to see what I needed to do next, and the screen was blurred out so I couldn’t see it. Thus, I had to move my hand awkwardly inward while still holding the wheel in order to let the directions on my Watch to become visible.

Granted, this was what I had to do before, and it was not a pain point I realized before. Now that I knew I could, or should be able to, glance at my Watch without having to put my wrist in an awkward position while driving it was a bit disappointing it didn’t work as I expected it to in this context.

Another example was when I was out walking my dog while also holding a cup of coffee in my other hand. I was listening to music as I walked Nala and sipping my coffee having a good ol’ time. A song came on that I wanted to know the name of, and I tried to glance at my Watch, but the screen was blurred out. Holding my coffee in this hand, I was not in a position to turn my wrist all the way over in order to reveal the display fully and see the song. It was a bit frustrating.

In both those contexts of directions or music, I don’t particularly care about the privacy aspect of someone being able to see what I’m listening to or directions I’m needing. You can imagine the directions one causing some friction if you are walking in a city and have both hands occupied but can’t turn your wrist over.

It seems to me that some people may want their privacy protected at all times, which is why I think it would be nice if Apple let me determine what apps I want to blur out when my wrist is pointed away from me and which ones I don’t.

The way Apple is handling glanceable information when your wrist is pointed away from you is just the time. Which is important, because the time should be visible, but it generally is in the apps I mentioned like the music and directions screens on Apple Watch. But, right now, when you point your wrist away from you, the privacy mode makes it, so all you can glance at is the time. In general, I think this can evolve to allow for more control by the individual to determine what apps or experience are not sensitive and do not need to be blurred out for privacy as my Watch becomes visible to others.

One other thing this led me to think of is if the always-on Apple Watch display is a step closer to Apple having an always-on iPhone display experience. Something similar to many Android phones that always show the time and some general information like how many texts, or emails you have.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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