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How It Is

Apple Watch UX: Too Small

We’re making steps forward, but the UX could use some work.

The biggest issue I have with my watch is the UX to perform an action.

I use the WebMD app to remind me to take my pills every morning. At 7:15 it pings my watch and says to take them. I have to scroll down and tap ‘take’ but it gives me three options: Skip, Take, Dismiss.

This is not the same as the alert they show on their Apple page:

WebMD's  'skip/take' screen

That shows up when you miss the alert and go check what you need to take.

This strikes me as a bit off. The information is too small and the buttons are not as clear as they should be, and I have to scroll down.

So let’s think what does someone want when they get that alert? They either take the pill or not. Or they dismiss the alert. We want them to take the pills, so we should make that button bigger and green. We don’t want them to not, so make that normal and red. As for dismissing, we can swipe the alert down, so you can leave that button off completely and use the built in UX.

When we consider the Human Interface Guidelines of the Watch, I think they’ve aimed too small. While they say to have buttons be “large enough to be tapped easily” and “Create buttons that are easy for the user to tap.” the minimum sizes they provide are shockingly small.

The minimum button sizes are only 50 px tall!

A 42mm Watch has 390px of usable vertical height. 52px (which is the minimum size for the 42mm) is 13.3% of the height. That’s 13mm. Hold on to that number.

There was a study by the MIT Touch Lab which investigated Human Fingertips in the Mechanics of Tactile Sense and they determined the average width of an adult human index finger is 1.6 to 2 cm (16 – 20 mm).

Now Apple’s saying the minimum height is 13mm when the smaller end of average is 16mm. That means if your button is the minimum, most of us will have trouble tapping your button.

Apple Watch's UX kit with button examples

I’m not a graphic designer. I call myself a monkey with a crayon. I’m not a UX expert. But I am is a very experienced user and I’m someone who understands how users think. That’s distressingly more rare than you’d think. I understand how a user goes from A to B and gets lost on C.

When I first got my Apple Watch, I struggled. I had a lot of confusion over force touch (something I still find a little difficult to get correct). But I’ve learned the one thing. Those buttons need to be bigger.

Buttons on Alarms

These are the buttons for alarms. The one I don’t have is the nightstand mode button but I use my Watch for an alarm and I don’t have a snooze. Sometimes I have trouble tapping the button in the morning, but I don’t think that’s a function of button size. That said… Those buttons could be larger.

The Watch tries to separate functions on the Watch, alerts, by ones you look at and ones you interact with. I think the interactions need to have bigger buttons in order for more meaningful, easier, usability.

Some of this will be addressed in WatchOS 3, which will have us swiping less. But the majority of apps are still trying too hard to cram more information onto small screens. WebMD included. We need to get better about separating information from alerts on our notifications and devices. We need to have everything be easily dismissible with one gesture.

Thankfully we’ll keep iterating and getting better.