Apple Watch still fails at its most basic function — telling the time

Apple Watch will soon become an even more capable computer.

But it’s still struggling to do the most basic thing expected of a watch – display the time.

Apple on Monday announced a slew of new features for its smartwatch at its annual developers conference. The new version of its operating system – watchOS 6 – will bring Apple’s voice-memo and calculator apps to the device. Users will now be able to download apps directly to their watches through its new built-in app store.

Women will be able to track their menstrual cycles with it, using a new app. And the device will even warn users when ambient noise levels get loud enough to damage their hearing.

Read more: Apple’s new watch update is the missing piece of the puzzle the Apple Watch needed, and Fitbit should be worried

But one thing the new software won’t do is display the time at all times. Instead, as they have since the first Apple Watch debuted four years ago, users will still have to twist or raise their wrists just to check the hour.

That may not seem like a big deal, but it can be. It can force users to stop whatever they’re doing with their hands – typing on a keyboard, say, or carrying luggage – just to check the time.

It’s also just a plain design failure. The most essential function of a watch is to display the time, to allow the wearer to see the hour at just a simple glance. The vast majority of traditional wristwatches and many of Apple Watch’s rivals offer this simple, basic function. Why can’t Apple’s smartwatch?

Battery life isn’t a good excuse for not displaying the time

An Apple representative confirmed that watchOS 6 won’t include an always-on time feature but declined to explain the company’s rationale for leaving it out. So I don’t exactly know what the thinking is in Cupertino, California.

But company officials would probably argue that it would diminish the device’s battery life. And they could probably make a strong case that the device is selling pretty well without that ability.

That may be true, but I think many users would opt for an always-on screen if they had a choice, battery life be damned. And I’m no expert, but I would think that there are ways to minimise the effect on the device’s charge.

The Apple Watch comes with an OLED screen. That type of screen doesn’t have a backlight; instead, it can be set to illuminate only the particular pixels it needs for each image it displays. It likely wouldn’t need a lot of power to display just a digital readout of the time or a simple pair of watch hands on a black background. Apple could also limit battery drain by not displaying the time with full brightness or use the watch’s built-in ambient-light sensor to adjust the brightness on the fly.

The company seems to recognise that customers use the Apple Watch as a timepiece. With watchOS 6, users will be able to set the device to buzz them every hour, on the hour. And the updated software, like its predecessors, will come with a new collection of watch faces. Many of these are customisable; users can have them display the date, their appointment or, now, the noise level around them.

What they can’t do is have these watch faces show the time all the time. Until they can, Apple Watch will be a smart gadget but a really dumb watch.

Got a tip about Apple or the tech industry?Contact this reporter via email at [email protected], message him on Twitter @troywolv, or send him a secure message through Signal at 415.515.5594. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

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