How The Apple Watch Will Work

By now, we’ve all heard about the Apple Watch, but how will you use it?


Today’s reveal of the Apple Watch put an end to years worth of speculation as to what an Apple wearable would look like. Many predicted it would adopt many of the iPhone’s gestures and behaviors like pinch-to-zoom, the ingenious interaction that would changed the way a billion people around the globe used a smartphone. But that simple gesture it’s nowhere to be found in Apple’s newest creation.


So how will the Apple Watch UI work? Since the Apple Watch hands-on demo is actually just a video loop on the watch screen, we did our best to piece things together from the presentation today.

You’ll Tap With One Finger
The Home screen of the Apple Watch is a pile of bubbles. These are your apps. You can arrange them as you like. And using one finger, you can can around pan around this rounded grid of apps to center the app you’d like to use on the screen. Tap it and you’re in. You can also tap buttons on any screen.

Or You’ll Press With One Finger
In a glossed over detail of the Apple Watch’s new screen, it can sense pressure. So a tap on your iTunes screen may play or pause a song. And a press can pull up another menu altogether, with options to shuffle your music or put it on repeat. It’s kind of like the right mouse click of the smartwatch world. (See it working in the iTunes gif above.) Existing touchscreens often have a long press gesture that does the same thing. It appears Apple has engineered their latest screen differently, to understand pressure rather than just length of your hold. The gesture becomes a step more physical than digital.

Or You’ll Use The “Crown”
Every rotary dial watch has a crown, that part you twist to wind it or change the time. The Apple Watch has a “digital crown.” Think of it like an old iPod clickwheel. You spin it to zoom in and out of content (it always appears to zoom whatever is centered), or to work your way through various buttons on menus. You tap it to go Home. It’s hard to tell if the Apple Watch can be used in part or whole without the crown. Its hard button appears to be the only way to get back to your Home screen, but much of its zooming functions can be replaced by taps. It appears Apple has more or less supported both touch and crown modalities for the UI.

There’s Also A Social Button Below The Crown
From what we can tell, this button is used for one thing and one thing only: Pulling up your database of friends to contact them. So no matter where you are in the Apple Watch interface, pushing this button brings you to a grid of your contacts. Tap on them, and you reach another screen–from here you can give them a call or use what Apple has dubbed “digital touch”–which allows you to send them a little sketch you make on your screen, a morse code series of taps, or even your heartbeat.


Oh, And Sometimes You’ll Swipe
Now, the Apple Watch also comes with a software framework called Glances. These are simple screens of information that can go from your iPhone to your Apple Watch. You know, like the weather or your calendar. You swipe right to go through these single-screen bites on info. In their promo video, it appears that Apple is using Glances for your notification feed that arrives from your iPhone. But assumably, any app developer could be feeding you glance content to just be waiting for you. This is very similar to how Google’s Android Wear smartwatch platform works.

Also be sure to check out today’s liveblog, where Apple also revealed its new payment system–Apple Pay–the iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus..

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach