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Apple Watch Messaging Is A One-Way Street

Apple Watch Messaging Is A One-Way Street

August 11, 2015

One of the grand conundrums of Apple Watch (and, really, any smartwatch) is that many of the apps and services we use on iPhone on the regular are not suitable for the smaller screen. The most obvious example of this so far is the Twitter app, an official Apple Watch launch “partner,” lauded from day one as a fundamentally natural fit for the wrist.

But it isn’t.

[Note: this is not a review of the Twitter app itself. Binyamin is working on that, and it’ll be out shortly as we kick off our fully-fledged App Reviews endeavor.]

I’ve discussed this in the past, lumping in other needless Watch Apps from the likes of Instagram and Amazon, along with the blatantly absent entries from Pinterest, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and various other social networks and services. But Twitter pushed forward with its Apple Watch support, and the result is a mess of philosophically broken rationale and utterly unhelpful, meaningless features. Perhaps this is why the aforementioned others have stayed away from Apple Watch and its first software release.

But I’m not so sure watchOS 2 will make the device any more welcoming to these services than the current iteration. Because frankly, Apple Watch might not be any good at all for effective social networking and messaging. Even Apple’s native iMessage is a mess on the thing, with Siri borking half of users’ responses and limiting rapid interactions to canned (and often impertinent) responses that play like a Turing test for your frustrated friend on the other end.

Here’s the problem: Apple Watch is a one-way messaging device. For incoming messages that dont need a quick reply, it’s mostly fantastic. But for anything that needs a response, it’s a burdensome, pointless affair that has you cursing your wasted cash every time you reach into your pocket to pull out a real, human answer.

This is especially ironic re: Twitter, as the service has built itself up as the ultimate one-shot messenger, limited in characters but unlimited in scope. If any social network should shine on Apple Watch, you’d expect Twitter, by its very nature, to be that social network. But the experience sucks.

Take my personal example: I have 4000-plus real followers (Crowdfire works wonders) on my private account, and my timeline is flooded with garbage, spam, politics, links, and promoted ads I dont give the smallest fraction of a frack about. Similarly, no “Top Trend” has ever mattered to me in the slightest degree. My interests and interactions on Twitter are of a very limited niche subject, and these two exclusive app options are utterly useless for promoting non-passive user involvement. But even if I could simply view my actual mentions (why I can’t already do this is baffling beyond belief), I’d still get very limited use out of the app. Sure, I could retweet something or plant a meek, almost insulting “Yes, I have read your tweet but find it of little value” favorite on some stupid message, but that’d be the extent of it. And that’s not the type of interaction I’m after on Twitter. I actually like to have conversations, and I can’t do that with Apple Watch.


Because social networks — all of them — have their own unique structures and languages. Twitter users rely heavily on atmarks and hashtags. Similarly, they also rely on alphanumeric alphabets that replace numbers for words to save characters, and they frequently use contractions (often of their own invention) to get a message out in the limited space available. Try using Siri for any of this, and it’s a total nonstarter. It is impossible. Twitter, like so many other big-name apps, doesn’t belong on the wrist. And maybe it never will.

On the other hand, maybe it could add some value to the iPhone experience it can never replace.

With watchOS 2, I can see a future where Twitter and other big brand messaging apps are able to augment their big-screen, QWERTY- and camera-supported services in clever ways that focus more on the subjective “delight” factor than the objective utilitarian one. With access to the Taptic Engine, for example, Twitter could allow users to add haptic rhythms hidden in the text of their tweets. Maybe a mention feels one way and a specific emoji another. Perhaps you’d get an urgent alert (“tap tap tap”) when a friend tags you into an existing thread that requires your expertise (which, if meme-based, would also require Camera Roll integration), or maybe you’d receive an appealing “thunk” when some moron blocks you out of cowardly spite. Imagine you’re in a particularly heated debate about some hot-button issue like, say, gun rights or police brutality. It would be amusing to see your opponent’s heart rate ramp up — replayed on your wrist — as you calmly (replayed on their wrist!) argue your points. Provided both parties are wearing Apple Watches, this could add an amusing emotional aspect to the pleasure of chatting with allies or stomping trolls and trivialities in your hot pursuit of true Internet slactivism.

Early on, we all had the idea that Watch Apps would be best suited boiling down existing apps to their core essences. Today, that seems less likely to be true, and I think existing brands should utilize the forthcoming full WatchKit API to underscore Apple Watch as a peripheral accessory, not a distilled experience. There will be plenty of new developers that create wearable-specific apps with functions that are truly impossible elsewhere, but for the existing big players, augmentation — not reinvention — is the name of the game.

Essentially, the idea I have to save social networks from themselves on Apple Watch is for Apple to promote Digital Touch and heart rate sensor interoperability with any app that wants it. A tweet or any other message notification is one thing, but the added subtext (which is added context) that these capabilities might offer once opened up could actually make social networks more compelling in their smartwatch forms.

All that said, however, the “response” aspect of these programs is still worlds away, and I see no way around it. Messaging on Apple Watch will remain that aforesaid one-way street, and the best that apps like Twitter et al. can hope to do is to make the ride a little more entertaining.

I expect they’ll put the pedal to the metal eventually. My $400 hunk of matte aluminum is getting mighty tired of life in the slow lane.