Apple Watch – A Few Months In

As many tech commentators have stated, Apple Watch is the kind of device that takes a while to grow on you. Part of that is figuring out where it fits in with the other tech you already own, and part of it is that it is still early on in the development of Apple Watch as a platform. The release of watchOS now allows for native apps that can not only run faster but also have access to many of the hardware features of the device, such as the microphone, the heart rate sensor and so on. This provides even more options for what developers can do with Apple Watch, and it will be exciting to see how it translates into apps that allow you to use your voice for even better accessibility.

After a few months of using the wearable, here is my take on it.

The Good

  • Battery life seems to be improved with watchOS 2: I have not done any scientific tests to confirm this, but since I updated to watchOS 2 it seems the battery is lasting longer into the following day when I forget to charge the watch. Are any of you seeing the same thing? To me, battery life is the key feature of all of these mobile devices (not how thin or how fast they run – they are already thinner and more powerful than we really need them to be in my opinion). As I have stated before, battery life is key for a device you rely on for accessibility throughout the day.
  • Native apps are a great addition: Not only do they run faster, but opening up access to the microphone and other hardware really expands what can be done with the device. One app that demonstrates this is Just Press Record (a voice memo app with iCloud saving capabilities). I am using this app to quickly save random bits of information (confirmation numbers, etc.) before they are lost or forgotten, but you can use it jus like any portable recorder (to record a quick interview, podcast, etc.).Just Press Record opens with a big record button
  • Apple Watch really shines on the road: Recently, I took my first trip where I did not use any kind of paper boarding pass throughout the entire journey. All of my boarding passes were added to Wallet from my airline’s app and I was able to check in at the gate using my Apple Watch. No paper to lose or misplace is a great thing for me, and overall digital is more accessible than paper to me too (at least when the app is accessible). While at the airport, I was also able to pay for Starbucks with my watch, instead of having to take out my phone while trying to manage both my white cane and my carry on bag. These are the kinds of interactions where I find the convenience of having every thing on my wrist truly valuable.
  • Apple Watch works great for text messaging and quick phone calls: Text messages are ideal for Apple Watch (they tend to be short and sweet). I love that I can be notified with a quick pulse on my wrist and then send a quick reply by selecting from a preset list of responses, selecting an emoji, or using my voice to dictate a response. With phone calls, I know who is usually a quick phone call and who will require switching to the iPhone. If it’s a contact I know will be a quick call I take it on the watch so I don’t have to go through the trouble of locating my iPhone. Even though you can now reply to emails as well with watchOS 2, I don’t find myself emailing from the watch that often. I do often use it to manage my email though: by dismissing and archiving emails so that I have fewer to look at when I get back to the iPhone or my Mac (works great for getting through all the spam!).
  • Directions in Maps is a killer feature: Using the Taptic Engine to let you know when it’s time to turn is both cool and useful. I am using this feature both for walking directions and while helping to navigate in the car (for everyone’s safety I don’t drive due to my visual impairment).

Overall, I am very happy with the Apple Watch, but as with any technology it’s not perfect.

The Not So Good

  • The watch bands: I have two, the Milanese loop and the Sport band in green. I have not yet tried any of the third-party bands. Of the two bands I have, I find the Milanese loop to be the easiest for me to use, but it looks a bit strange when you are at the gym or doing something more active. The Sport band is very comfortable and works well in those situations, but it is not the easiest to get on my wrist. When I first heard about Apple Watch I thought the watch bands would be like a “slap bracelet” that you could just put on your wrist and snap closed. I know Griffin used to make one of those for the old iPod nano, but I have not seen that option for the Apple Watch yet. If one becomes available, I’ll be first in line.

    Griffin slap bracelet for iPod nano.
    Let’s bring back slap bracelets, like this one from Griffin fro the old iPod nano.
  • The charger: I am not sure if it is possible from an engineering standpoint but what I would love is an adapter that just lets me use the same Lightning cable I plan to take with me to charge my iPhone. It looks like there will be third-party docks with an integrated charger that you will be able to use at home to charge the watch, but that will not help when you are on the road and every additional thing you have to carry adds weight. And, the watch charger is one more thing you have to remember to pack.

What are your thoughts on Apple Watch? What are your favorite features? What can be improved? Let me know in the comments.

7 Apple Watch Apps for Diverse Learners

Over on my YouTube Channel, I have posted a few video tutorials focusing on the built-in accessibility features of Apple Watch.

I also discuss these accessibility features in more detail in my recently updated book on low vision supports for Apple users, Zoom In (available as a free download on the iBookstore). VoiceOver, Zoom and many of the accessibility features familiar to users of iOS devices are included in Apple Watch. These accessibility features ensure users with a variety of special needs can personalize and use their Apple wearables.

As with iOS devices, Apple Watch also supports apps that provide even more flexibility for users in how they can use the wearable. With the release of watchOS 2 these apps can now run natively on the device itself, promising faster loading times and better performance overall. More importantly, apps can now use many of the hardware features available on Apple Watch, such as the Taptic engine, the Digital Crown, the various sensors (heart rate sensor and accelerometer) and the microphone.  Basically, apps can do much more than they could with the initial release of Apple Watch, opening the door for developers to be even more creative in how they address the needs of users who have special needs. This post focuses on my favorite apps for such users.

With any of the apps mentioned here, you will install the app from App Store just as you would do it for iPhone apps. You would then open the Watch app, go to My Watch, tap on the name of the app and make sure the toggle for “Show App on Apple Watch” is set to on. For some apps, you will also have an option to include it in Glances, the Apple Watch feature that allows you to access information with a swipe up from the current watch face.

For your convenience, I  have collected all of the resources mentioned in this post into an AppoLearning Collection. Have anything to add (apps, ideas for use in the classroom)? Let me know and I can add you as a collaborator to this collection (a new feature available on Appo Learning).

Children with Autism: A Visual Schedule

Visual schedules are supports that allow children and adults with autism and related disabilities to better handle transitions in their daily routines. These schedules use pictures to indicate to learners what they are to do and where they are to go next, helping to ease anxiety around transitions and building their ability to act independently.  According to developer Enuma (formerly Locomotion Apps), Visual Schedule ($12.99)  is the first picture-based scheduler for the Apple Watch.

Current activity shown on Apple WatchOn the Apple Watch, the app will display each activity as it is happening, with a progress indicator to let the learner know how much time is left before transitioning . Swiping up on any activity will display any associated tasks so that they can be checked off. Swiping to the left will then show what activities come next.

Building the visual schedules themselves takes place on the paired iPhone, where most of the work is done through a drag and drop interface.  From the Today view, tapping Edit in the upper right corner will display icons for 14 preset activities on the right side of the screen.

Visual Schedule today view in edit mode, showing activities that can be added to daily schedule.

You can also tap Add (+) at the bottom of the list to create your own custom activity (which can use a photo from your Camera Roll as its icon).  For each activity, you can double-tap its icon in the Edit view to specify the color of the label as well as any associated tasks.

To build the visual schedule itself, you  drag the activity icons onto the Today view and use the provided handles to  adjust the activity’s duration .


Proloquo2Go ($249.99) is a robust symbol-based communication app that has been available for iOS devices for some time. The price listed is not for the Apple Watch app itself, but rather for the communication app that runs on iOS and which includes an Apple Watch component. Developer AssistiveWare originally  created the Apple Watch app when the watch was announced and at that time the app only allowed the wearable to be used as a switch for a paired iPhone running Proloquo2Go. With watch OS 2, Proloquo2Go now also provides basic communication capabilities on the Apple Watch app.

When you first launch Proloquo2Go on the Apple Watch you will be prompted to select the mode you want the app in: Switch or Communication. To change the mode after the initial selection, you will have to go into the Proloquo2Go options on the paired iPhone and change it there. You can see how the Switch feature works in a video I have posted on my YouTube channel.

Proloquo2Go Phrase BuilderThe new Communication option works by providing a basic set of phrases to start, then a Builder which can be accessed through a Force Touch to build new phrases. The Builder works very much in the same way you customize the various Complications  on the Apple Watch faces. The window is divided into three cells. You use the Digital Crown to select a sentence starter from the first cell, then repeat the process to select a noun or adjective from one of the available categories to complete the phrase (again, using the Digital Crown to navigate the choices). When the sentence is selected, it is displayed upside down so that the Apple Watch can be shown to the other person.  I found this to work out best when I turned off the option for “Wake Screen on Wrist Raise” on the Apple Watch settings. Otherwise, the screen would go to sleep as soon as I turned my wrist to display the message. Hopefully in the future the Apple Watch app can include text to speech, which according to AssistiveWare is a limitation imposed by Apple.


Proloquo4Text ($119.99)  is a text-based communication app from AssistiveWare that, like Proloquo2Go,  includes an Apple Watch component.  However, unlike the Proloquo2Go Apple Watch app, this one does not include a phrase builder. You can choose to store a number of phrases into a special Apple Watch folder on the iOS app, and these phrases are then available for selection on the Apple Watch. As with the phrase builder in the  Proloquo2Go app, the phrases are displayed upside down when selected.


For learners who have executive functioning challenges that make it difficult to stay organized, a good to do list app with reminders can be a helpful support. Surprisingly, there is no Reminders app for Apple Watch, though you can use Siri to create  a new reminder that shows up on the Reminders app on a paired iPhone.

Wunderlist Home ViewWunderlist (free) is an option if you would like to both create and view reminders on the Apple Watch. It is a free service for accessing to dos from just about any device (a full list of supported platforms is available on the Wunderlist site). On Apple Watch, the Wunderlist app provides a simple Home View with four options for viewing to dos: Inbox, Today, Starred and Surp to Me.  The Glances feature is also supported so you can access your to dos for the current day with a quick swipe up from the watch face.

To create a new to do item, you use the Force Touch feature of Apple Watch. You press and hold firmly to reveal the Add (+) button, then use your voice to dictate the text for the new to do and tap Done when you’re finished.

On the companion iPhone app you can then add details such as the due date, set up a reminder (which will use the Taptic Engine on the Apple Watch to get your attention with a gentle tap) and organize the to dos into lists that can be accessed by scrolling with the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch. The idea is that the Apple Watch app is an interface for creating quick to dos and checking them off as they are completed, while the iPhone app provides more options for managing said to dos.


Evernote launch screen on Apple WatchEvernote (free) is one of my favorite apps for collecting random bits of information before it can get lost. It has become my replacement for all the post it notes I used to keep around my desk. With the Apple Watch app, you can create quick notes, use your voice to search through all the notes you have on your account, and see a list of recently viewed or updated notes. Like Wunderlist, Evernote supports reminders for notes that are time sensitive. However, with Evernote you can indicate the time for the reminder right on the Apple Watch itself as you create the note (though the options are limited to “this evening,” “tomorrow,” “next week” and “next month”). I find Evernote to be a nice compliment to Wunderlist and I use both: Wunderlist for to dos and Evernote for quick notes I will need to refer to at a later time but don’t necessarily have to act on right away. Together the two apps are great supports for staying organized and minimizing the risks of losing important information.

Just Press Record

Just Press Record opens with a big record buttonJust Press Record ($4.99) is a new audio recording app that is made possible by the access developers now have to the microphone with  watchOS 2.  Just Press Record can record audio directly from the Apple Watch’s microphone and play it back with the built-in speaker. The interface couldn’t be simpler: a nice big microphone button you press to start your recording. A nice touch is that you can see the wave form as you record, and when you are finished you can preview the recording before you choose to save the file to your iCloud account. You can even record when your iPhone is not within range of the Apple Watch (the recording will be synced the next time you connect the two devices). This app is useful as another option for students to capture their thoughts and ideas using just speech. It could even be used for students to reflect on their progress at regular intervals (at the end of each
day or week). Recordings can be shared with the teacher from the iCloud account the app uses to store the recordings.


iTranslate app ready to translate to SpanishiTranslate (free, in-app purchase) is a nice app to have if you have English Language Learners in your class and your command of their native language is not as strong as you would like it to be. When the app launches, you can use Force Touch to change the language (more than 90 are supported). Once you have set your language, tap the middle of the screen and use your voice to speak the phrase you want translated. You can then play the translation back using the Apple Watch speaker. This is not the fastest app (especially at launch) but hopefully it will continue to improve on performance over time. 

The number of apps for Apple Watch will continue to grow as developers become more comfortable with the device. What is exciting to me is the ability for developers to tap into the hardware features of the device with watch OS 2. I look forward to how the developer community will take advantage of the microphone and I hope that soon text to speech is made available to third-party apps as well. That would make many of these apps even more useful. What do you think?