My AppleWatch Experience, Watch 3.0 and how it affects VoiceOver users

Watch 3.0 has been out for a couple of days now, I initially thought it’d just be another update that I’d install only to find it didn’t really change much for me as a VoiceOver user. But I have to admit I was wrong.


I’ve been a fan of the AppleWatch since its release last year and despite a lot of the media gripes about it under performing, not having it’s own cellular connectivity, being too expensive etc, I still think it’s a great device that will evolve into something that many people will end up using. Although I doubt that will be the case for several years, I do feel that the AppleWatch is absolutely fantastic for those of us who are visually impaired or blind and use VoiceOver. It was an absolute revelation for me to finally have a watch that talked in a voice that was clear and understandable, that gave me the ability to adjust its speech volume on the fly and that actually had the potential to be of genuine use on a daily basis. One of the biggest reasons I took the plunge was the ability to check emails and messages etc whilst I’m on the road or with clients. The fact I can do so extremely quickly makes life much easier. I often check these things throughout the day and much of the time my assistant isn’t even aware I’ve done so. This for me is great because it means I don’t need to dig out my iPhone and do so in front of clients at a louder volume.


So getting down to the point of this blog, what’s the release of Watch 3.0 done for VoiceOver users in particular? Well, put simply it’s massively improved the usability of a device that was already pretty damned usable. Let’s be honest about it, Watch 1.0 introduced VoiceOver users to the AppleWatch and made it mostly accessible, Watch 2.0 refined that accessibility  a little more and made using the watch a more pleasurable experience. What Watch 3.0 has done is not only refined accessibility considerably more, but has boosted the overall performance of the watch in a big way and this of course has had a significant, positive impact for AppleWatch owners, including those using VoiceOver.


I’ve installed Watch 3.0 on my first generation AppleWatch so obviously I can only really comment on what has changed on it. Those who purchase a second generation AppleWatch will of course find additional differences in standards of performance etc.


The first thing you notice once you’ve installed Watch 3.0 is just how much faster everything is. This may sound a bit of a vague statement, but with Watch 2.0 apps would take around three seconds on average and sometimes as long as five or six seconds to open. Doesn’t sound long I know but believe me, if you’re trying to do something on the move it feels like an eternity. With Watch 3.0 opening an app is almost instantaneous,. The other thing connected to this is the speed at which the watch switches from the clock face screen to the apps screen when you press the digital crown, as again it’s pretty much instantaneous. These two improvements are brilliant for VoiceOver users as you no longer get that horrible lag between when you double tap on an app or press the digital crown and when the app actually opens or the screen switches.


There are some new additions to Watch 3.0, only two of which I’m going to focus on here. The first is Emergency SOS. This function allows you to choose up to three people from your contacts who will be messaged in the event that you call the emergency services. The way it works is that if you need to call the emergency services you hold down the side button on your AppleWatch and the watch makes the call for you. Whilst you’re on the call the watch sends your current location to the emergency call operator so they can find you. In the meantime any contacts you’ve added are sent a message informing them that you’ve called the emergency services and also sends them your current location. I think this is a brilliant addition to the AppleWatch and can imagine that many people could be helped by it in the future.


If you wish to activate the Emergency SOS function on your AppleWatch go to the AppleWatch app on your iPhone, then go to General and finally go into Emergency SOS.


The next addition, or perhaps I should say change, is the removal of the Friends list to be replaced with the Doc. Where on Watch 1.0 and 2.0 you could press and release the side button to go to a list of friends you had allocated to a list of your most contacted, pressing and releasing the side button on Watch 3.0 opens the Doc. Just like on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch where you have a Doc in which you can place up to four apps that you use most often and/or want to get to quickly, the AppleWatch now has the same. The Doc on the AppleWatch has two additions however, you can place up to four apps in the Doc just as you can on iOS devices. Below those apps the Doc displays the last app you had open so you can go straight back to it. Then below that there’s a “Now Playing” option. Single finger double tapping on the “Now playing” option opens a player controls screen that displays the name of the song, audio book or pod cast you’re listening to as well as allowing you to Play/Pause, skip backwards, skip forwards and adjust volume. I think the addition of the Doc will be welcomed by most VoiceOver users, not only because it works well, but because by using it in conjunction with Digital Crown Navigation the whole process of using it is a pleasurable experience rather than the more frustrating experience we had on Watch 1.0 and 2.0.


To reorder the apps in your Doc go to the AppleWatch app on your iPhone then go into the Doc settings area. Once you’re in there the four apps that are in the Doc by default are displayed at the top of the screen in a list. Below that list there’s a “Do not include” list. You can easily change which apps are in your Doc by single finger double tapping on the Edit button found at the top right corner of the screen. Once you’ve done this a “Reorder” button appears alongside the name of each app up the right side of the screen. Simply single finger double tap and hold on the “Reorder” button of the app you wish to move and drag your finger up or down the list. VoiceOver will announce where you’re moving the app to. For example. “Messages moved below Maps”. You can move apps into or out of the Doc list using this method. Once you’ve finished moving the apps simply single finger double tap on the “Done” button found in the top right corner of the screen.


There are also reported to be battery life improvements with Watch 3.0, but as I’ve only had it for a couple of days I can’t really comment much about that, but time will tell.


In summary, I think that anybody who owns a first generation AppleWatch and uses VoiceOver would benefit from installing the Watch 3.0 update, it’s faster, smoother and I feel more user friendly than its predecessors.

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