That’s right — the Apple Watch will have a feature called “Complications.”
That’s not quite as strange as it might seem to those of us who aren’t hardcore watch people. The term has been used in watchmaking for some time to refer to small informational features that appear next to the main timekeeping piece. For instance, here’s a screenshot of some complications on a watch by luxury watchmaker Maurice Lacroix:
Still, the idea of Complications on the Apple Watch is kind of weird. With a traditional watch, there’s only one screen. If you want to show additional information, there’s only one way to do it. With the Apple Watch, people will be able to scroll through many different screens. So it seems odd to let users cram additional information into the one default timekeeping screen.
This reveals a real problem. The more we learn about the Apple Watch, the more intimidating it’s starting to sound. There will be a bunch of different ways to interact with it — swipes, taps, using the little crown to zoom in and out — and there are at least three different types of notifications that apps can display.
On one hand, adding features to redefine the category is the path Apple followed with the iPhone. Before the iPhone, smartphones were mainly used for email — that’s why the BlackBerry was so popular — and most of them had a crummy web browser that didn’t work on most sites.
The original iPhone added a better browser and bunch of built-in consumer apps like YouTube and Weather. Then the App Store followed a year later and the floodgates opened. Everybody now expects smartphones to be like miniature portable computers. Who even uses their phones to make phone calls anymore?
So Apple wants to reinvent watches for the digital age, just like it reinvented mobile phones.
But the Watch will have such a small screen, and they’re packing so many different features into it, it just doesn’t seem like it will be easy to figure out. With the iPhone, you could pretty much figure out what to do just by looking at the screen. The icons had names. You tapped an icon to get information, like a weather report. When you tried to fill out a form or start an email, the on-screen keyboard appeared. And so on.
Same with the original iPod — it was obvious how to use the scroll wheel to flip through menus.
We haven’t had chance to play with the Watch yet. Jony Ive and his design team are the among best in the business. Maybe Apple has figured everything out so that the device will be simple on the surface then reveal more of itself over time.
But from what we’re seeing so far, it looks pretty intimidating.