September 01, 2015

MAC USER: The Apple Watch

Victoria L. Herring

I’m just old enough to remember the comic strip Dick Tracy and its image of the detective talking into his wristwatch, a two-way radio. The Apple Watch can be seen as something similar, but it’s more than that. Plus, it’s a bit weird to be talking into your wrist, even if there’s an Apple Watch on it, so that is not something you’ll do all that often.

I decided to wait and see the early reviews. Besides, I am not in the habit of wearing a watch and normally just look around for a clock or pull out my iPhone to check the time. However, after a few weeks I decided to go ahead and buy an Apple Watch, hoping it would be a good investment. Of course, I didn’t buy the top-of-the-line model, not having an extra $17,000 for the gold Apple Watch Edition. Instead, I opted for the $349 Apple Watch Sport with a black sport band and a 38 mm space gray aluminum case. I now have some views on how the Apple Watch has already or will in the future impact my life.

A word of caution is warranted. If you will be getting an Apple Watch, you want to make sure that you have the correct iPhone to work with it: an iPhone 5 or any later model. If you have an older iPhone or no iPhone at all, the Apple Watch is a nice timepiece and will do some things, but not that much. And, frankly, you want to be able to set up the Apple Watch to run the way you want it to run using the Apple Watch application on the iPhone. In fact, that’s almost the first thing you should do when you unbox your Apple Watch and pair it to your iPhone.

Customizing Your Apple Watch

The Apple Watch has a number of features that allow for customization. You will want to go into the Apple Watch app on the iPhone and go through each part of it step-by-step. First, you can set up the application layout on your Apple Watch, tweaking it to make the apps you need easy to find and open. My apps are in a diamond layout with the important ones on or near the four corners. Over time I have deleted or moved some apps to the less-traveled areas of my watch face, accessible but not demanding.

What some people want as their watch features no doubt differs from what others want. For example, my stepson sent me a picture of his Apple Watch’s face, and it was the bare minimum “simple” clock face. I couldn’t use it that way, as I use my watch to fill me in on basic data that I need immediately. So I use the Modular watch face customized to show date, time, my calendar, a stopwatch, my activity, and any alarms. That’s pretty much all I really need to know upon giving my watch a quick look. These additions to the face are called “complications.” Some—such as Astronomy, Chronograph, and Motion—are actually beautiful as well as useful.

There are quite a few apps for your iPhone that now have an Apple Watch component. But rather than having every single app come into your watch when you add it to your iPhone, turn that feature off in Settings and add them only as you wish or need. There is nothing to be gained from gunking up the watch face with a plethora of apps.

Glances and Notifications

There are other ways to customize your Apple Watch. With “Glances” you can set up a number of applications to be accessed quickly by flicking up on the screen and then sliding left or right. I have mine set to access my calendar, the New York Times, my physical activity summary, the weather, and stock information. I even use Glances to send myself quick reminder notes. Glances allow you to set your Apple Watch and iPhone to airplane mode or “do not disturb,” so you don’t have to pull your iPhone out every time you fly (just be sure to re-pair it after you’ve turned off airplane mode). And if you’ve misplaced your iPhone, perhaps enjoying a senior moment, you can just ping it with your Apple Watch and find it that way. No more running to your computer or iPad to hunt it down with Find My iPhone.

You can also customize which notifications you will receive and in what manner, limiting their number and intrusiveness. In my view, you do not want to have notifications coming from every app. In Settings you can turn them on or off, and if on, then set them to come by sound (I do not do this) or by haptic touch (which works fine for me). This way, you can be notified of what you want to know without it becoming as bothersome as a ringing and pinging iPhone.

For instance, if you receive a call or text on your iPhone, your Apple Watch can notify you by haptic touch. And as long as you’re within range of the iPhone, you can answer a telephone call like Dick Tracy, talking (briefly, one hopes) right into your Apple Watch. You can reply to a text directly from your watch as well. Your response will go to your iPhone and then out to the caller/texter.

There are other forms of notifications that make sense. Incoming e-mail may be a good thing to know about, even if you don’t intend to and shouldn’t respond immediately. Passbook and Apple Pay notifications are important, and you can have those sent to you. You can shut off notifications just by cupping your hand over the phone.


One feature that I appreciate and use quite a lot is two-factor verification. If you really want security, a strong password is not enough. You will want to require two-factor verification for your most important online accounts. With this system, entering a password is only the first step to gaining access; you also must enter a randomly generated four- or six-digit code sent to your pre-approved mobile device.

Not too long ago I was checking my bank account via my computer, but my browser was different from the one I used before. The bank wanted to verify that I was, in fact, the person who should have access. So I instructed the bank’s website to send me a verification code. It came through on my iPhone, which was upstairs, but it also came through as a message on my Apple Watch. This gave me the four-digit code right on my wrist, and I was able to enter it into the verification field and gain entry to my account. If you are worried about security if your Apple Watch is lost or accessed by someone else, rest assured that the watch needs to be on your wrist and your passcode properly entered for it to operate.

Apple Watch Untethered

As long as you have your iPhone within Bluetooth or extended WiFi distance of your Apple Watch, there isn’t anything it can’t do: It can handle telephone calls, gather data from the Internet, send texts, notes, and e-mails, etc. Basically, it’s an extension of the iPhone. But there are some things the Apple Watch can do without an iPhone present. For instance, you can still use it to track your steps and workouts (but without GPS capability), and you can use its Apple Pay function. If you have a Bluetooth headset or speakers linked to your Apple Watch, you can play music. (Apple Watch holds up to 2 GB of audio; it also has built-in speakers, but they’re not very good.) Without the iPhone you can’t make telephone calls, but you can see who has called recently and read texts that have been received. You can even listen to voice mails.

Other features that work without the iPhone present include the timekeeper and watch functions, the world clock, the alarms, the timer and the stopwatch, the exercise tracker and heartbeat tracker, and the workout application (again, without GPS). You can also access anything that is already downloaded, such as mail, calendar, and messages. Basically, the Apple Watch syncs with the iPhone and holds current data as of the last syncing with that iPhone. You can’t get new messages or data, but you can get information from the last time the sync occurred.

Using My Apple Watch

I now have been using my Apple Watch every day for more than two months. What I have found to be true for me—and what I have seen in other reviews—is that instead of hauling out my iPhone anytime I want to receive or send a text, e-mail, or phone call, I do most of these things on the Apple Watch. My iPhone stays in my briefcase or purse—and the intrusion is minimized.

This is the first Apple Watch and software, and no doubt improvements will be made in the future, but I have not noticed too many problems at all. Some people questioned whether battery life would be sufficient for it to run all day. I haven’t found this to be a problem. When I plug it in at night, it usually has 35 percent power remaining. Just like any other computer, however, the Apple Watch does need to be restarted every now and then when it seems to be lagging.

Will Apple Watch be a good fit for you? Apple’s website ( provides a host of short videos on the watch’s features, as well as quite a few downloadable articles. Checking out this information might be wise before you run out to get your own Apple Watch. Personally, I do find the Apple Watch has made me more mindful of my health and activity. And it’s saved me from running upstairs every time my iPhone rings.

Victoria L. Herring

Victoria L. Herring ( practices in Des Moines, Iowa, in an office that has used only Apple/Macs since the early 1980s.