Jefferson Graham previews new apps for the Apple Watch. Notifications work best, but other highly touted ones have growing pains. #TalkingTech Chris Wiggins
SAN FRANCISCO — There are thousands of apps for the new Apple Watch, but really, how many are really worth your time?
Well, as I’ve found after a few days with the new digital device, the truncated apps designed for the new interface can run really slowly and take quite some time to load. They can be buggy — unless they take advantage of the best and most consistent feature of the watch: notifications.
Many of the new apps “are not intuitive, which is the kindest thing you can say,” says Richard Doherty, an analyst with the Envisioneering Group.
He chalks up the problem to developers rushing to get apps out for Day One — without having a test watch to practice with. Apple historically doesn’t send out test products to developers. So over the next few weeks, as developers get their hands on the Apple Watch, “you’ll start to see way better apps,” he says.
So for now, here’s a rundown on some of the more promising apps for the watch — and some of the potholes we encountered.
• Tickets: American Airlines and Southwest let you board a plane with a flick of the wrist. For Southwest, I checked in 24 hours ahead of my flight, had the boarding pass texted to my phone, and inserted it into Apple’s Passbook app. From there, my boarding pass was automatically transferred to the Passbook app on the Watch.
• The workout apps are terrific. The Apple Exercise app lets you choose from options like Outdoor Walk, Run or Cycle, Elliptical and Stair Stepper. You pick the time and how many calories you want to shed, and the Watch gets to work, counting calories as you step, and alerting you when you’ve reached your goal.
• Notifications. Mapping directions via the phone on Apple Maps instantly transfers to the Watch, with each turn-by-turn direction displaying there. New tweets notifications via the Twitter app show up on the watch face, and your watch rings when something new comes in. This could, however, be viewed as a potential problem, another set of tones to make us jump.
• Buying lunch. My favorite restaurant, Chipotle, promised that I could order on the watch. But not really. First I had to sign in to the app on the phone and do the ordering there. Then, I could waltz into the store, bypass everyone on the line, click open the Chipolte app on the watch, and display it to the clerk to get my lunch. That’s a lot of steps — why not just pull out the phone, which has all the same information?
• Uber. The app for ride-sharing did as promised — almost. It let me request a ride from the watch. But then Uber’s dreaded “Surge Pricing” notification came up. Once I agreed to hike over 25% more to Uber, the watch screen said:
“Demand is off the charts. Open the Uber app on your phone to confirm your fare.” Ugh.
• Target’s app sounds promising. Open it up to find directions to specific items within the store — like where to find diapers or toothpaste. At the Target City store here downtown, we got the app open, and saw the search tool, but that’s as far as we got. The app never fully loaded.
• Both Pandora and NPR have apps that act as a remote control to listen to music and radio on the phone. And they worked. I clicked open NPR, and a podcast started playing on the phone. I could click to go forward to the next one. Ditto for Pandora.
• Gaming. Most of the best games for the Apple Watch are simple puzzles and multiple choice quizzes. Trivia Crack is a perfect example. Compete against someone online, and answer the multiple-choice question. This works perfectly on the watch. But too many games, like Trivia Crack, Letterpad and Best Fiends, ask you to start the game on the phone and continue play on the Watch. You can’t be standing on a bus or killing time somewhere and crank open the watch for amusement, unless the phone is in your other hand. How’s that a fun experience?
To get new apps for the Watch, first you need to update your iOS software on the iPhone to version 8.3, and voila, an Apple Watch icon now appears on your iPhone.
Open that app to take you to the new Apple Watch store, where you can see what’s featured, links and descriptions to many, many new apps, and a search feature as well.
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