Reviewing the functionality of news and listening apps on the Apple Watch

As we consider the future of our native mobile applications, it is worth considering what features we want to add and support as the capabilities of devices grow. Recently, the Apple Watch has extended the utility of the iPhone. I have had the opportunity to use an Apple Watch for some time and have tried a number of different news and audio listening apps. These are some rough notes on how various applications work and what they provide.

NPR One

This is one of the more polished and apps on the watch and it is a great companion/extension of the iOS app. Almost all the functionality of the iOS app is here, except the ability to sign in (you have to do that on your phone). If I have any gripe of this app, it’s that finding the menu with a force touch is not terribly intuitive, but that is more a condemnation of the Watch’s UX pattern than the NPR app.

Launching Local intro playing After the intro Story playing Story details Force touch menu Search Suggested

BBC News

This app has several basic groupings of news that you can choose from: Top Stories, My News, and Most Read. The interface is a simple watch-like tree, using the default watch typefaces. Each story detail consists of a small image and short summary. A force touch brings up a menu that lets you jump to an extended version of each of these sections, even if you’re already in one. Strangely, it does not let you add a story to “My News”.

Home Story detail Force touch menu

Flipboard

Flipboard feels like a natural and smaller-weight extension of the iOS app. It doesn’t feature the compelling visual transitions, but it does retain most of the important functionality, in an albeit stripped down manner. You only have a selection of the most important 10 or so stories to choose from, not the depth that you can explore on your phone.

Sign up Story details Read on phone Force touch menu Send to magazine

New York Times

Upon launching, this app gives you a very simple walk-through of what it does. Perhaps because I am a new Apple Watch user, I did not find this as tedious as similar experiences on the phone. Like most watch apps, this one is basic and focused; there is a limited selection of important stories and your only force-touch option is to save them for later. The app tells you when you’ve seen everything that there is to see. Unlike the other apps, the NYT app is more richly styled with their signature typefaces.

Launching Story Story detail Force touch save It all fit

Overcast

Overcast is the popular alternative podcast player and its designer, Marco Arment, has written extensively about the iterations of the watch app. You should go read his piece rather than mine, but it’s a gem of an app. As you might expect, controls are up front and easy to use, and the power-user features of voice boost and smart speed are hidden behind a force touch menu. Since Apple doesn’t have a watch version of their own Podcast app, this app is useful for prolific podcast listeners.

Initial now playing Playing details Available items Force touch menu Speed and effects

Tune in Radio

Like Flipboard, you cannot start your experience in this app, but have to set up stations and an account in the iOS app. Once you’ve set up stations, the watch app gives a basic view of your stations and what’s playing. The artwork is inconsistent, but that might be a problem of metadata from providers (like us!). Also, the app does work with the now playing glance, and shows fast forward / rewind controls, which is not correct for an audio stream.

Now playing Stations menu Force touch menu Media player glance

SoundCloud

This app is very simple. It offers you play/pause and prev/next functionality for whatever list of content you’re looking at in the iOS app. There is no ability to find other content. The only other option that it offers is the ability to like a track via the force touch menu.

Playing Paused

Pacemaker

This is a strange but potentially fun media player app. You can play songs from your media library, either on the watch itself or via the connected iPhone. The play/pause/next track controls are straight forward. The real differentiator in this app are the four effects that it offers: ChopChop, Whitenoise, 8-Bit, and Hi-Lo. They’re useful just in case you ever wanted to DJ a party with cheesy effects from your watch. There are no force touch menus in this app.

Playing Choose tracks Effects

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