Essays on Technology and Culture

A Brief Thought on watchOS 3 and Context Aware Computing

A key feature of watchOS 3, as announced at WWDC, is that it’s now easier to configure and switch between watch faces. This is awesome, and a lot of Apple Watch users, myself included, have several watch faces they switch to at different times. Currently, I keep an “Activity Face”, a “Productivity Face”, a “Sleep” face, a “Casual” face, and a “Time Only” face. Being able to have them a swipe away, instead of a force-press and a swipe away will make them even more useful.

Daniel Jalkut, however, had a better thought: using Siri to switch between named watch faces. This is brilliant, and I hope Apple considers his radar. If they decide to do this, if not in watchOS 3, perhaps in 3.1, it would go a long way towards something I dreamed of when the Watch first dropped: context-aware watch faces.

As long as the Watch is tethered to the iPhone, something I don’t see changing any time soon, it knows where I’m at and what I’m doing. If I’m walking to work, why not let it switch to my Activity face, so I can see my ring progress? When I’m at the office, show my productivity face, so I get my OmniFocus tasks. At home, show my casual face. Bedtime? Switch to the Sleep face. Weekend? X-Large face, please.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a pipe-dream, but as long as the data around knowing what my Watch face should show stays securely on my devices, I’m more than happy to let it be used to make my life a ittle more convenient. And yeah, stick the Siri integration on there, too. That would be great when you have speciality faces that don’t necessarily fit context, or if you’re paranoid about location data.

I want my devices to make my life easier, to be my outboard brain. That requires them to know more and step up what they can do for me. I’m more than willing to allow it, as long as that data remains in my control, and not sold to the highest bidder. The WWDC announcements this year have left me hopeful, more so than iOS 9’s weak-sauce Proactive stuff, but every little bit helps. You don’t need massive buildings of data-sucking machines in the cloud, you just need to use what’s already in people’s pockets, and on people’s wrists in a smarter manner.