Redefining Wearables with the Apple Watch Double-Tap Gesture

The human-technology communication that was once a dream and a futuristic vision of humans is finally here and by no other than Apple itself. The spatial computing, brought forward with the new Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2, is a major breakthrough that lets wearers issue commands via simple motions, without even looking. 

The simple gestures that are used to communicate with one another can now be used to control our devices, particularly the Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2. Or as Apple likes to call it, interactions that feel innate. Though these wearables were launched last month, it wasn't until the release of WatchOS 10.1 that you could use the double-tap gesture along with many existing ones like tapping, raising, swiping, covering, and pinching to interact and use them more intuitively.

Of course, all of this would not be possible without some advancements in the chip. That’s why the new releases are equipped with the powerful S9 chip. So how does the entire process work and what are the steps to using this incredible new feature? Let’s find out!

The Power of the S9 Chip

Wearable sensors do not work as simply as they may appear. They must take into account several factors and analytics, from how your blood reflects light to physical muscle movements, and more. This data is trained on the gyroscope, accelerometer, and optical heart rate sensor. Also taking into account the varying wrist sizes and limb length, you get yourself a challenge that seems near impossible. Surprisingly (or obviously), not for Apple. 

But if all these were already introduced in the AssistiveTouch feature in 2021, what’s new about the Double-Tap feature? And why is it not available on the older Apple Watch versions (Series 4 or later) very much capable of supporting the AssistiveTouch feature? Well, the short answer is these latest versions are equipped with a more powerful S9 chip. The long answer, you ask? The Assistive Touch feature utilizes the CPU for its functioning, mainly. Whereas the S9 chip features a 4-core Neural Engine for advanced machine learning. 

The Senior Director of Apple Watch software refers to this as a purpose-built part of the processor that is exclusively focused on detecting and processing the double-tap gesture, rather than being burdened with the tasks and processes that the main CPU is responsible for. The result is a less power intensive feature that provides higher efficiency in filtering the noise in the signal with 15% more accuracy. And that’s all while maintaining the reputation of Apple Watch's 18-hour battery life. Could we dream of any better?

Customizations & Limitations

If you think that creating a new feature is just a matter of ideas, you'll be in for a surprise. Apple is known to prefer delays over inconvenient technology while at the same time introducing features that no one could execute as efficiently. For the Double-Tap feature too, extensive internal research, thorough testing, and numerous considerations were taken into account for human-interaction engineering like never before.

This is the main reason why this exact feature witnessed an evolution from double-pinch and finally an official double-tap, a faster and more convenient gesture. But of course, there are a few limitations and areas for improvement, rightfully so, since this is the beginning of an era of spatial computing in the Watch Series.

The actions you want to assign to the double-tap gesture are quite a few, but mainly when it comes to media controls and smart stack navigation. However, these limited options are hard to ignore. In fact, many third-party apps don’t even support the gesture as of yet, and those that do only allow you to dismiss the notifications. But hey, half a loaf is better than none, right?

Now let’s take a little deeper glance, shall we? If you set the double-tap to advance through the Smart Stack, you’d still have to use the other hand when you want to select a widget. And if you set the gesture to select the widget, you’d have to trust Apple's algorithm to display the relevant widget at the top since the double-tap gesture only selects the first one.

On the brighter side, when the function performs as intended, you may feel like you’ve reached the epitome of technology where your wearable can truly read your mind. 

Final Verdict

Of course, there will be times when the primary action of the double-tap gesture may not align with your intention, and you’ll end up having to use the other hand. After all, that’s why you have it, right? But apart from jokes, you can rely on the combination of Siri, redesigned apps, widgets, and of course the double-tap gesture to bring more convenience into your life. At least for now. And before you know it, the future iterations of this latest feature will bring more customization and options to the table. And who knows, even more quick gestures too. After all, there’s only so much a single gesture can do alone. 

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