Theater Mode first impressions

The headline feature in WatchOS 3.2 is Theater Mode. It’s turned on and off with a button in control center. Theater Mode consists of one thing: the watch face won’t turn on on wrist raise — you need to tap the screen (or press the digital crown). A decent solution to an obvious problem, but one that raises a few questions:

  • Why is this called Theater Mode? If only 10% of Apple Watch users sleep with their watches on (as I do), this will be used for sleeping a hundred times as often as it’s used at the theater.
  • Why can’t this be activated on a timer like Do Not Disturb? (Hell, why not combine it with Do Not Disturb?)
  • Drama masks, seriously?

To me though the biggest question is, if control center is going to scroll, what about all the other things that could/should be in there? For starters, how about a brightness slider? I have my watch permanently set to the dimmest setting because of how bright it is indoors after dark and because of how buried in settings the brightness adjustment is. Until the watch gets a much-needed hardware light level sensor, wouldn’t a brightness setting be a natural thing to have in control center? (And seriously, control center should be user-configurable. I never ever use the mute (always on), Do Not Disturb (on a timer, synced with my phone), or airplane mode (also better activated from the phone) buttons, but I would use volume and brightness sliders every single day.


Technology against Daylight Savings Time

If we let our internet-connected devices mind the time for us, we can shift the time gradually instead of an hour at a time.


Everybody hates daylight savings time. In the fall we lose an hour of daylight in the evening. In the spring we lose an hour of sleep, which does actual harm. (Among other things, the day after DST kicks in has more heart attacks than any other day of the year.) There is really compelling evidence that we should quit screwing with the time twice a year, and in fact is should stay in the ‘permanent daylight savings time’ mode.

Defenders of the status quo cite several arguments, most prominently the safety of children waiting by the side of the road for school buses in the dark, especially in rural regions with nonexistent street lighting. Nevermind the fact that the real problem here is insane elementary school schedules, this is a real problem.

Let’s assume clock-shifting isn’t going away. Does it need to happen twice a year, an hour each time? The Apple Watch is one more device in our lives that adjust the time on its own. How many non-internet connected clocks does the average household have?

Suppose we took the seasonal time shifts, and just continuously adjusted the clocks all year round. Every morning you wake up, and the time has shifted three minutes or so: forward during the summer, back during the winter. The stress of losing sleep goes away entirely, as do many of the other problems associated with time changes and the jarring effects. What you’re left with is having to adjust your old clocks at whatever schedule you like.

img_5992If this seems like a pain, consider how often you actually look at what we might as well call legacy clocks. Consider how inexpensive it is today to buy self-adjusting clocks, which don’t rely on an internet connection to work. Got clocks with sentimental value? Just swap out the movement and you’re set.

The beauty of this is that it could be adopted on a state-by-state, country-by-country basis. All you need is enough of a critical mass for smartphone software manufacturers to build it into their OS. These all already have world clock functions, so communicating with people in legacy time zones would not be particularly complicated. Seems almost inevitable that this is how it will work in the future, so why not now? The life we save could be yours.

Multi-complication stopwatch/timer feature proposal

There are lots of little customizations and improvements one could imagine for the various watch faces, but the want of a  combined complication for the timer and stopwatch frustrates me almost every day. There are any number of ways this could be implemented. Here are two.

In the simpler version, the stopwatch complication works exactly like it does now, except that it shows the timer when the stopwatch isn’t running but a timer is running. When neither is running, it shows the 00:00 stopwatch. Conversely, the timer complication shows the stopwatch when there’s no active timer but the stopwatch is running.

This would require zero interface changes and would, I think, genuinely delight users.

A slightly more ambitious implementation you might call a flex complication: the users sets a default mode for a complication, such as alarm or weather. The complication shows that most of the time. Whenever either stopwatch or timer is running, the complication simply switches to stopwatch or timer. (I would suggest favoring timer if both are running, but Apple could go nuts and make it a setting.)

I think this would make the watch face a hundred times more useful, and would keep me from having to switch faces so I can see my timers and stopwatches without having to look at a 00:00 all the time. With watchOS 3 it’s painless to start the stopwatch and timer from the dock or the home screen.

Bonus: I sometimes wonder why stopwatch timer, and alarm aren’t rolled into one app. They have this inherent complication synergy, but even the apps could be combined (just let the user swipe left to right between the three screens) and having two orange dots fewer on the home screen would be a win.

Apple Watch feature request: a screen brightness sensor

The Apple Watch 2 has (1) a faster processor, (2) waterproofing, and (3) a much brighter display. The first is an unquestionable win. The first watch screams out for a faster processor. Even with watchOS 3 simple apps like Streaks are slow to launch and slow to react. The waterproofing seems less essential. The original watch is pretty well water resistant. However, I’ve found that swimming (and even showering) with it tends to trigger screen activations and taps, so it’s better to take it off for swimming anyway (though I wonder whether this was fixed on the new hardware?).

img_5867The brighter display seems totally unnecessary. I have my original Apple Watch screen on its dimmest setting, and I never have trouble seeing it, even in direct sunlight. In fact, the main problem I have with the display is when I accidentally trigger it at night: it’s too bright. Actually, the one feature I was most expecting from Apple Watch 2 was an ambient light sensor. This is what allows the screen on an iPhone to automatically adjust its brightness so it’s always readable but not blinding.

In day-to-day use, the constant screen brightness is one of the few things that keeps the watch from feeling completely natural and refined. Perhaps the next watch will have an ambient light sensor incorporated directly into the display.

In the patent, there are a few configurations through which Apple could execute the technology. One showcases the light sensors — which help the iPhone detect the ambient light in a room or outside — integrated directly above the touch-sensitive layer of the display (figure 6), while another has the sensor placed next to the touch-sensitive layer without intersecting it (figure 9).