Is watchOS 4 finally going to get the Home screen right?

By , Nov 30, 2016

Apple Watch sport home screen apps

Much was made of Apple’s third major software overhaul for watchOS this year with Control Center and the Dock seeing the light of day, finally making for a much beefier experience on our wrists. The one other central interface of Apple Watch received no love though, meaning users are still embroiled in a love-hate relationship with their watch’s Home screen. It is easy to let patience wear thin with respect to Apple not pushing the Home screen on Watch forward, then again it took Apple more than a couple of years to refine the iPhone’s Home screen, just to put matters into perspective.

Regardless of the pace at which Apple is planning to shape up the screen accessed by pressing the crown, design and functionality changes are eventually going to take place. It’s a highly emotive topic and any watch owner will be able to raise one or two aspects they either dislike about the Home screen or wished to be fundamentally different. Personally, with the arrival of my snappier Series 2 watch, the Home screen is about the only qualm I still have with Apple’s youngest product line. So there, let me add my voice to what the Home screen in watchOS 4 needs to implement in order to catch up with the rest of the operating system.

Folders

apple watch homescreen mock up folder
The first thing that springs to mind is an easily replicable folder system for the circular icons on watchOS. It was no earlier than with iOS4 that app folders finally found their way to the iPhone’s Home screen, so watchOS 4 could and hopefully will introduce a concept resembling the mock-up above and below. While some might argue a whole bunch of smaller bubbles inside the incumbent bubbles sounds painfully finicky and confusing, I would argue that more than anywhere else, folders are duly needed on the watch. I mean, may I remind you of the proliferation of the four orange time piece icons? I’m seriously itching to stuff them into a wondrous, round folder.

watchOS home screen mock up

Customizable icon sizes

Accessibility features on Watch touch on this request, but unfortunately do not take it all the way yet. By way of activating the Reduce Motion setting on your watch, you get to tinker with the icon sizes to a degree. Flicking the switch renders all icons in uniform size as opposed to them shrinking on the peripherals of your Home screen. However for my money, what would both greatly improve navigation and curtail the rate of mishits (when you’re desperate to start a workout but keep hitting the weather icon) is a cluster of individually scaleable icon sizes. That is to say, why not offer users the chance to inflate icons that are being used more often than others? It is not as though Apple does not have their own UI to draw inspiration from, as they could easily lean on the Apple Music interface ‘Choose Artists For You’:

apple music ios10 for you

I would be delighted to see a setting in which I can tap my icons once, twice or three times to determine their size. Or how about intelligent machine learning, in which the icons swell the more often we use them? In light of what Windows has done with customizable tiles before, I would not hold my breath for this to happen, but I am certainly rooting for it all the same.

Add missing apps

missingiconswatchOS4

This one is a no-brainer, since Apple has still not managed to complete the app line-up on Watch. Being a staunch Podcast listener, I am still yearning for a purple, circular icon on my watch’s Home screen. What about Apple News? Notes? iBooks? Utility apps such as Calculator? The list goes on, and whilst I understand that the Home screen will always be bereft of the iPhone’s richness, surely we can all stomach a few more icons thrown in the mix. Especially when or if app folders are being added.

Cleansing the Home screen

As important as ridding the Home screen of waste of space icons is, it goes hand in hand with the features requested above and there is little point in introducing it prior to them. As soon as Apple entrusts us with a bigger pile of icons however, they should also permit the deactivation and activation of any app icon through Settings. This is not only a function of customisation but more vitally personalisation and something iOS 10 has at long last executed. By the same token, watchOS should follow suit.

In regard to implementation, it would be as easy as bringing the ‘Show on Apple Watch’ switch already in place for third party apps over to the stock app array:

breathe app settings ios10
Down the line this appears to be a safe bet for release – as it promises to bring much needed order into the mess the Home screen can be. Plus as excited as I was about Breathe at first, by now it would probably fall victim to my first icon purge.

Zoom & scroll speed

Lastly, rotating the the digital crown counterclockwise to zoom out of the icon cluster always felt less than half-baked to me. The idea is rock solid and an intuitive gesture to take a step back from the overwhelming flurry of icons is much needed, but the zoom in/out feature still feels iffy at best. What is it with Apple limiting it to one immovable degree as soon as you let go of the crown? When I dial back the crown just a touch to unveil the icons out of immediate sight, why does my watch have to zoom back into standard view as soon as my finger leaves the crown? Conversely, if I want to look at the bigger picture and zoom out to the max, just let me do it, Apple. The software that decides to jump back to the one accepted level of zoom instead needs to be supplanted with the next major watchOS upgrade.

watchOS3 screenshot home screen

Aside from the zoom, the speed of manoeuvring the cluster ought to be adjustable in the shape of another Accessibility feature. I for one am content with the speed at which I can blast from left to right or top to bottom, still I know of people that would wish for a slightly more conservative experience. One simple setting to for example halve scrolling speed would therefore be of use to a whole slew of customers.

It goes without saying that this is the revisionist approach, contrary to demanding a complete reset for the Home screen on Apple Watch – which too is a valid stance to take. I understand why the cluster format was chosen and by and large believe it has panned out okay. It is now upon Apple to deliver the tweaks necessary to take the platform to the next level.

Have anything to add to my wish list for next year’s upgrade? Sound off in the comments!

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  • :D

    The current layout is so crap. I keep everything in the dock or as complications.

    • Gest2016

      I agree. The home screen is slippery eye-candy, and I can never remember which app is which because there are no text titles.

      OK how about this idea: Zooming in with the crown “explodes” into launching the centered app. Why can’t zooming out with the digital crown “implode” into a folder or list view of apps? Just plain and boring, but there if you need it. The eye candy icon cluster would just be the center of two different views.

  • christodouluke

    Do you seriously think people want to read books on their watch? There’s a good reason iBooks and News aren’t on there. Interactions on the watch shouldn’t last more than a few seconds. This isn’t a second smartphone on your wrist, it is a WATCH.

    Also, folders really would be a terrible layer of painfully fiddly interaction as you say. It says a lot when even you are arguing against it. Your icon size idea is a lot better, I’d like that.

    • Matta Fakt

      Ha. Yeah, really. iBooks on your wrist? Must be for those special times when you have a couple hours to sit and read a book, yet somehow don’t have a couple seconds to take your phone out of your pocket.

      • Diego Milano

        Hahaha! Maybe cause the iPhones are getting bigger and our pockets smaller by the year?

      • Gest2016

        I wouldn’t mind Audible books on my wrist, played back thru the Apple Watch speaker. Same for Podcasts. I think that voice-quality audio sources should be enabled and are a perfect use case for the Watch, obviously not music content. I think the batter life is to the point where audio can be supported; I know people that have several hour phone conversations on their Apple Watch and have plenty of juice left at the end of the day. Why can’t I listen to my books of Podcasts on my Watch, especially while traveling or not having access to headphones?

  • Diego Milano

    I’m not a Watch owner so I am no reference however I do believe being able to customize the size of the icons sounds like a great idea.

  • Nathan

    I wish they’d fix the choppiness. Even in the Series 2, you get the occasional choppiness.

  • Rowan09

    One of the biggest with the Apple Watch is that it doesn’t mirror the iPhone. They need to have a mirror function when using a workout app on the iPhone especially when running, so you can see your times.

    • Gest2016

      I get it. You are on the treadmill, your phone is in front of your face on the shelf of the treadmill. Would be fantastic to have the iPhone mirror your workout, as well as have basic audio player controls, or perhaps other motivational elements — a video of the virtual walk you might be on. Apple could really make this a spectacular use case.

  • B.A.M.F.

    iBooks?!?!?!? on my watch?!? lol come on bro……

    Im always down for more customization but the folders idea would be terrible i think. you gotta keep in mind this is a WATCH. Less is more in most cases and i feel like and having to go in and out of folders trying to find an app would be no good. if they would just make the icons a taaad bit bigger it would be perfect.

    Anyways… there are a ton of spelling errors on this post. might wanna go back through it.

    • Gest2016

      I kinda disagree. No going in and out of folders. Just tap the fitness folder and the dot explodes full screen. Press Digital Crown to return. Tap the icon you want and launch into app. The additional step of opening a folder would more than be compensated for by logically grouping your apps as well as greatly reducing the amount of tiny icons on your screen. Added bonus: Once “exploded” folder view is open, the icons can be big enough to actually recognize them better (or even have titles).

  • zebonaut

    Perhaps the Home screen should be 6 different folders. You dive into each ; Work; Home; Utilities; etc.

  • Joseph Apodaca
    • Gest2016

      You Sir, clearly have OCD. 😉

      • Furrnace

        I like the idea. It’s different. Maybe I’ll try that on my watch home screen. Been looking for some kind of change on it. It is a little bland.

      • Joseph Apodaca

        XD haha maybe so! @Gest2016

  • MOMAtteo79

    The new series 2 battery spans overnight, why don’t add a sleep tracking feature that doesn’t suck 30% of battery (like sleep++) ? My miband 2 consumes 2% of battery overnight for sleep tracking. They can create a low consumption mode that tracks sleep like the low battery mode (that just shows time).

  • malhal

    Simply making sending messages work would be a major upgrade for me!