Wait, what? Yes, it’s back. First post in four months.

I thought I’d cover a few small points about Apple’s latest OS releases. I’ve been living with the iOS, iPadOS, and watchOS releases since early in the beta cycle, though some features only appeared with the final release this week.

watchOS

Sleep Tracking

I’ve had several runs at sleep tracking in recent years. I had most recently been using AutoSleep which was going pretty well. I occasionally forgot to start it , but for the most part got into a good habit with it and got used to wearing my watch all night.

When the native sleep tracking appeared in iOS 14 and watchOS 7, I decided to give it a go. It was clearly simpler than AutoSleep, but it seemed like it would be worth a go. The short version is I’ve not missed the extra details in AutoSleep, but I have greatly valued the way “Sleep” works.

It’s a combined effort between watch and phone and it works very well. I won’t go into detail here because MacStories have done a far better job of describing all the features, but I will mention my favourite feature of all. That is the ability to adjust tomorrow’s alarm. No more changing an alarm for one day, then only remembering the next morning when your change is still in force.

The sleep tracking view in Apple Health.
The sleep tracking view in Apple Health.

Hand Washing

This feature started out really well in the early betas, got a bit dodgy in the middle, and now seems to have come mostly right. Federico Viticci complained early on that while it detected hand washing fairly well, it also detected cheese grating. I don’t do much of that, but I did have it go off when I was grating some carrot for a salad.

I still don’t trust it entirely, so I am virtually always counting in my head as well. I’ve tried many times to determine what will reliably set it going when you are actually washing your hands.

I thought for a while that running water was improving the hit rate — which would not be a great feature environmentally speaking — but later discounted that. What has been working best lately is fast rubbing together of my hands, combined with a lot of the rolling action of covering both sides of your hands. The 20 second time usually kicks in at around 15 seconds to go for me, though I’ve seen it as low as 10 and as high, once, as 18.

Watch Faces

Surprising us all, when the Apple Watch Series 6 was announced this week, Apple showed off seven new watch faces. These appeared in the GM release of watchOS 7. Of these, my favourite by far is Stripes.

The Stripes face lets you have between two and nine stripes, each chosen from one of 41 different colours. You can set these stripes at an angle of any multiple of 15º. While the stripes are all even in width, you can put more than one stripe of the same colour adjacently to create uneven stripes, such as my examples below representing the Union Jack flag and a 41 Squadron RNZAF Bristol Freighter!

watchOS 7 "Stripes" watch faces representing the Union Jack flag (left) and a 41 Squadron RNZAF Bristol Freighter (right).
watchOS 7 “Stripes” watch faces representing the Union Jack flag (left) and a 41 Squadron RNZAF Bristol Freighter (right).

iOS

Widgets

Probably the most striking addition to iOS 14 (though if users don’t know about them they may never discover them) is widgets. Although limited for the entire beta period to Apple-supplied widgets, I tried numerous approaches to them.

The configuration I settled on and have stuck with the longest is a stack of the mid-sized widgets at the top of my only home screen page. This ‘steals’ the space of eight applications so I have had to be brutal with which apps kept a place in the remaining 16 spots. I have cheated and placed two folders among the 16.

I found the widgets take up a lot of space if I placed them separately, and even if I grouped similar ones together, having more than one stack seemed like too much at the expense of app icons. As some of those apps add their own widgets that calculus may change.

My favourite widget of all is the Photos widget and I leave this front most in the stack most of the time. The Photos app has for some time had “memories” which surface ‘interesting’ photos. I rarely saw these in the app, but having the widget on my home screen surfaces a new photo every hour, which I love.

My one home screen with mid-sized widget stack at the top.
My one home screen with mid-sized widget stack at the top.

App Library

One of the key reasons space for app icons is so constrained is because of the App Library. I originally settled on two home screen pages with a mix of widgets and apps, but found that having to rely at all on the App Library meant I wanted it instantly accessible. The trouble is, it’s not. It’s always placed as your “last home screen” so any additional pages of apps or widgets were getting in the way.

Since I settled on the one home screen page, I’ve found I am much happier flicking directly to the App Library for anything not on my home screen.

The major down side of the App Library is categories. I assume the categorisation (excepting the special categories of Suggestions, Recently Added, and TestFlight) comes directly from the App Store categories. This leads to odd situations like native Files app appearing under “Productivity and Finance” while the third party File Browser app appears under Utilities.

The App Library
The App Library

I do find I often get the app I want in one of the one-touch prominent positions so on balance it does work well, even if sometimes you need to hunt for an app. Mind you, no need to hunt when you can search.

Pulling down on the App Library screen reveals the complete alphabetical list of apps along with a search box. I’ve heard some commentators muse that this screen is unnecessary, but it has a key difference to the system-wide search available by pulling down on a regular home screen page. It searches all apps and only apps.

The regular search screen gives top app hits and all manner of other results and, importantly, is filtered by the settings under Siri & Search in the Settings app. Long ago you could either turn on or off an app appearing in search and this applied to the app itself and its content. Because I didn’t want my email contents appearing in search, I turned it off for the Spark email app. But that also meant I could not search for the app by name either. More recently, this has been improved such that you can exclude the app and the content separately, but I frequently search for an app then when it doesn’t appear I have to go into the settings to allow it to appear once again, with or without its content. The App Library search does not suffer this problem.

iPadOS

Scribble

I’m mentioning Scribble — the feature that lets you use an Apple Pencil to hand write in any text field — simply because it is amazing. The trouble for me is I lost my ability to write by hand many years ago. Very occasionally I need to fill out an A4-sized form and my hand is killing me by the end.

I would say my handwriting is terrible, too, but unbelievably iPadOS can reliably recognise it!

Sidebars

Not a huge feature as such, but the new layouts in many apps does make them a lot simpler to use, simply because you do not have to constantly ‘navigate’ between levels of information. This is most useful, I find, in Files and Photos. I constantly used to lose some parts of Photos but now the iPad sidebar makes them easily locatable.

The Rest

There’s little else on the iPad that jumps out at me. Widgets are constrained to a single column on the first home screen, and the App Library does not exist, both of which I think are a huge shame. Widgets on an expansive iPad screen could really shine, I think.

I’m still in love with the concept of the iPad Pro which I bought not long before WWDC. Though iPadOS 14 has improved it, for certain, the iPad itself is still outshining the new release for me.

Wrap Up

Those are just a few thoughts that have been percolating. Next up is macOS Big Sur. I did have a very brief play with an early beta but difficulties with APFS and the fact I rely on my only Mac for working during the pandemic have meant I barely dipped a toe. I am looking forward to it, though not as much as seeing what Apple Silicon will bring.

I thought I’d be fine with a Mac mini of modest specification, but the fact is I sorely miss my 27” screen and superior power. So I am fairly certain my next purchase will be an Apple Silicon iMac, as big as it comes.


That concludes this edition of Echoes. The comments are open, but will be moderated for civility. Alternatively you can hit me up on Twitter, where I go by @zkarj.

Categories: Echoes

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