Apple Watch and it’s frustrating UI for runners

Imagine you created a product which in one of the main marketed use cases the UI became inoperable. That’s the Apple Watch.

A year ago this past spring I got myself an Apple Watch as a bit of fun for finishing a long contract.

My needs were very simple. It was primarily going to be a device to support my burgeoning running hobby – notifications and music control were an added bonus. GPS would be nice, but at the time I almost always carried my phone so it wasn’t a necessity. Originally I thought of a Garmin, but as things often are here, the model I wanted wasn’t available and others only came with super bright color combinations (it also took Garmin 7 months to reply to my email about when the watch might be available, and the reply was a non-answer).

So I went with an Apple Watch (Series 0).

Generally, using the Apple Watch is a pretty satisfying experience. There have been periods of frequent crashes, especially with the buggy Nike+ app., and the 38mm version’s text and UI is just a little too difficult to read and operate.

But my next watch will likely be a Garmin.

There are a couple neat use cases which I like the watch for, dictating a note into Evernote (which I hardly use) and replying to iMessages with voice dictation. Unfortunately dictation is not entirely accurate and without punctuation becomes just a stream of harder to read text. I do find it a faster experience than typing on the iPhone, which might be the point. Outside of iMessage all notifications are off as I find it annoying.

Otherwise, my primary use case is running, and under optimal conditions it’s fine. You can awkwardly see your key running data and stop and start your run. The lifting your arm to see the display is entirely unnatural. Optimal conditions are rare. If your fingers or the screen are at all moist there is no guarantee your touch will be registered.

More concerning, however, is the functionality of the watch when it gets wet or sweaty. Good luck changing screens or getting the watch to respond. This was an issue my colleague Brian Dalek dealt with while testing the first version of this watch. It’s still an issue. On one hot day, I wiped my forehead to get my hands good and sweaty, and the Watch failed to respond to any touches on its face. This is one reason you still find buttons on running watches.
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If it’s raining or you sweat a lot like me you can forget any accurate interaction with the UI. It can be impossible to stop a run or pause a running segment. Pretty disheartening if you just ran a great race or completed a great segment. So how do you stop the watch from recording your run? Well, today I had to leave it running until I could get home to wash my hands and polish the screen. Ridiculous.

Like many I’m sure Apple has a vigorous testing program – both for software and hardware. I’d love to understand how this decision was reached – produce a device with a focus on activity but let the lack of being able to control the device when sweating slide.

There are 2 hardware buttons on the side, Apple should open those up to allow 3rd party apps. to use as basic pause/start controls. Until then the Apple Watch is only usable if you don’t sweat.