Why I now hate my Apple Watch slightly less

The Apple Watch is still a wonderful device that has maddening flaws. But we have now found some unpublicized ways around some of those flaws. Watch life is now slightly better.

applewatch close up
Susie Ochs

In last week's column about the Apple Watch, I listed a variety of watch attributes that drove me crazy, especially after repeated calls to Apple technical support indicated there was nothing that could be done to fix the issues. Google searches also revealed no fixes.

But after the column ran, quite a few Apple fans wrote in to describe ways to fix some of the key issues. (Yes, Apple fanbois being who they are, many first cursed me out for having the audacity to question the perfection of any Apple product. But they then revealed the path to watch happiness.)

I'll detail their fixes below, but first: Why do multiple Apple tech support employees not know these? I am assuming that they in fact didn't know because I can't think why they would hide this info. Secondly: I have covered technology since 1987 and have used Apple products (my family has multiple iPhones, plus an Apple Watch and an iPad and use iTunes and ApplePay extensively) since the very first iPhone. Hence, I'm somewhat familiar with Apple products, technology in general, and how to do Web searches. (I've been on the internet since '88, long before the popularization of the web, and learned browsing on text-based browsers — lynx was my favorite — and searches through Archie.) The wonderful thing about Google searches for Apple workarounds is that it really helps to already know the answer to the question and search for the answer. (Yeah, but that's a column for another day.)

And now, the promised fixes to some of the problems described in that column.

  • Can't make calls on the Apple Watch without the phone, when the phone is in airplane mode.

The problem: Even though I paid for the GPS and cellular option — and shell out non-trivial bucks each month to my carrier for Watch cellular access — I couldn't get the watch to make calls unless I was right by the phone. When I leave my phone at home and try to go out with just the watch, I routinely place it in airplane mode so that 1) it doesn't run up usage, 2) it doesn't run down the battery, and 3) it is much more difficult for someone to wirelessly access the phone (think malware and cyberthievery).

The Apple tech solution: I need to get an independent phone number for the watch so that it can independently make calls. Although several readers said I could just leave the phone off airplane mode — something I'd rather not do — one reader saved the day with something I should have thought off: It's OK to leave airplane mode on, but shut down Bluetooth. Bingo!

By shutting down Bluetooth, the phone couldn't communicate with the watch, and the watch didn't know the phone was in airplane mode. Problem solved!

  • The watch defaults to multimedia controls.

I am still waiting for someone at Apple to explain what satanic ritual convinced them to make this the default mode. The problem: When I listened to music or watched a video on the phone, the Watch stopped being a watch and became the world's most pointless and annoying remote control. I would be listening to some music to kill time before a meeting and would glance at my watch to — call me crazy — see what time it was and I would instead see a pause/play option and the name of the multimedia playing. (For the record, the time might have also been there somewhere, in tiny type, but not front-and-center as it normally was, given my watchface selection.) Even worse, it would do this not only when I was listening/watching multimedia. Sometimes, hours later, it would pop up to specifically tell me that nothing was playing. Gee, thanks.

Apple tech support said: Nothing can be done, although one guy did say that getting a separate phone number might help.

The actual solution: There is a setting to make this go away, but there's nothing intuitive about it. First, go to settings. No, not that settings. The other one. Most watch settings are adjusted through the Apple Watch app on the phone. Some might think that having settings in two places might just be a convenience issue, with both settings being the same and allowing the user to use whichever is more convenient.

Nope. The two settings control entirely different functions. How Apple chose which settings to put on the phone app and which on the watch itself is a mystery, but I strongly suspect it involved at least one Ouija board.

So, you go to the watch, click the dial button and find Settings. Then find Wake Screen. Why Wake Screen? Don't ask. There you should find Auto-Launch Audio Apps. (OK, I know it's not just audio, but video, too. I guess no one at Apple wanted to spell multimedia. This is the least of the watch's issues.) Deselect it, and the watch again becomes a watch.

  • The watch zaps my arm while driving

This was an easy fix, but, again, why didn't Apple tech support know this? Just go to the iPhone Watch app and select Maps. From there, you can deselect Driving With CarPlay.

As for the rest of the column, "falls that aren't falls" still triggers periodically. Indeed, it happened a day after this column appeared (and I have witnesses). "Display Delay" still is a massive delay. The accidental triggering of Siri while working out? Someone suggested wearing it on the other arm (so the button would point away from the glove) but that felt awkward. Still, it's an option.

My suggestions for Apple (so they can be properly and officially ignored): Train your Apple Watch tech support people better. If they feel the need to say, "I don't know," or, "There isn't a way to do that," require them to get their supervisor's approval. And if there later turns out to be a solution, inflict some pain on that supervisor.

Make settings and controls as intuitive as possible. If someone has to repeatedly look up how to change something, that's a big hint that your path is non-intuitive.

And a quick note to all of you Apple fanbois out there: Pointing out ways for a product to be improved is not the same thing as insulting the ancestry of its users. If that concept is still unclear, well, I have a New Jersey expression for you that my editor won't let me use.

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