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Two studies show the most & least common things people do with their Apple Watch – and what Apple needs to fix


The average Apple Watch owner interacts with their Watch 60-80 times a day, but most of that usage doesn’t involve anything more than looking at the watch face, checking the time and information displayed in the complications. The least common thing people do on the Watch is read emails.

These are among the findings of two very different studies noted by Fortune. Wristly’s latest update provides a whole raft of data about what people do with their watches, based on a large panel of 1450 owners, but relying on users to estimate their usage. A Stockholm University study took the exact opposite approach, studying a mere dozen owners, but analysing video from wearable cameras to measure what people actually did rather than what they reported … 

In the Wristly study, 96% of panel members said that their most common interaction with the Watch was simply looking at the watchface. Other popular uses were checking Activity progress, responding to a text message, using Siri and checking their heart-rate. The least common activities among those Wristly asked about were using it as a remote and playing a game.

Wristly’s panel also confirmed something I’ve found, having now worn my own Apple Watch in three different seasons: a fifth of owners said that they expected to use their Watch less frequently (or even stop wearing it altogether) when cold and wet weather would mean wearing more layers of clothing, losing the convenience of simply glancing at their wrist.


The Stockholm study broadly supported Wristly’s usage reports, finding that half of all interactions were simply glancing at the watchface (for an average of 3.8 seconds), with checking notifications accounting for a further 23%. Activity-related activities (Activity rings, Workout app, Workout timer) came next, at 11%, with Siri in a fairly distant fourth place, at just 2% of interactions. Reading email came bottom at 0.1%.

The longest interaction was for Maps, where the average time using the app was 46 seconds.

And the one thing Apple needs to fix? The second-longest interaction – at 33 seconds – was on the main Apps screen, presumably spent trying to find the app they want to launch. At over half a minute to find and launch an app, it seems to confirm what many of us have said: that a whole mass of tiny and rather similar-looking apps isn’t a great user experience.


If you’ve been waiting for the right time to buy an Apple Watch, you can pick one up now from $232 effective price after gift card.

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  1. J.latham - 7 years ago

    That makes sense. I’m not doing anything extensive on this thing just checking the basics and activity for the most part. I honestly don’t think I’ve downloaded anything other than Lose It, and that’s just for the complication on the watch face. For anything else, it is just easier to pull out my phone.

  2. I would imagine Apple is also collecting data about Apple Watch use, and it makes me really excited to see what they change for the second generation Watch. Especially now they know what users find most useful about the watch, it’ll be interesting to see how the marketing changes for gen 2.

  3. Graham J - 7 years ago

    After staying up till 3am to preorder and receiving it on day one, I sold my Apple Watch yesterday.

    I figure I’m pretty much the canonical target market for smartwatches – a middle-aged software developer with a penchant for Apple hardware – but even so I found I just wasn’t using it.

    For years I’ve promoted the idea of “ambient information awareness” as part of a sort of an archaic revival where we stop focusing on technology so much and just let it blend into the background and help us without having to interact so much. The Apple Watch seemed to be an early step towards that and I couldn’t have been more excited to take that step.

    Before I got it I envisioned using my phone less, leaving it here or there rather than always having it in my pocket. I loved the idea of a tap on the wrist with only useful information coming to me. I thought remote control of my lights and media plus touchless voice messaging would be the primary uses with lots of apps providing functionality I hadn’t even thought of.

    And I was right on all accounts. It did all that. But it didn’t change anything. I still needed to have my phone close by (and that’s not a dig against lack of cell connectivity – I would have carried it anyway for the screen). The most important notifications did come right to my wrist. I did control my lights and my media and for a while I did use it for messages and some miscellaneous other apps. But it all waned over time.

    A week ago when I decided to give it up and get an iPad Air 2 instead, it was because having those notifications on my wrist didn’t make them any more important. I still don’t care what’s happening on Facebook. I’m still pretty good at remembering what events I’m going to today. As someone who sits at a desk all day, an activity report was not overly useful. My lights are mostly automatic, I rarely adjust them manually. We still needed to have a media remote because my wife doesn’t have a Watch. Messaging was a “say and pray” affair that just wasn’t faster overall than pulling out my phone and I’m not as text-loquacious as I used to be anyway. As for apps, I rarely left the watch face in the end.

    The thing I used it for more than anything? Showing my toddler pictures of flowers and butterflies.

    She’ll miss it more than I will.

    • Doug Aalseth - 7 years ago

      Your experience mirrors my reasons for not getting an Apple Watch in the first place. I just don’t see it as that useful. I too am a technology professional and I carry my phone and an iPad Air. They do everything I need and want. I gave up wearing a watch almost nine years ago and so far I haven’t seen anything in an Apple Watch, or any other smart watch to make me change my mind.

      • Lee Mahi - 7 years ago

        I bought my Watch yesterday at target with 100 dollars off. . As a long time iPhone and iPad user, I think it’s the best watch you can buy. I think it’s better than owning those really expensive watches just because they look nice. This iWatch looks really nice and does activity tracking, stop watch, timer, and is a watch. I normally wear watches because of my job. I sold my Fitbit HR because the edges were really sharp and it was very uncomfortable. So, I think the Apple Watch is sort of worth it, it’s only as a status of disposable income. It could attract some of the ladies.

    • Ben Lovejoy - 7 years ago

      I can understand that. For me, though, the convenience of notifications at a glance, and being able to pay for things without reaching into my pocket for my wallet or phone won me over. I do very occasionally forget to wear it, and I have missed it when I’ve done that.

      • J.latham - 7 years ago

        Ben, just as a question are there that many places in the UK that take NFC based payments? Just wondering because finding somewhere near me in the US is like pulling teeth.

      • Ben Lovejoy - 7 years ago

        Yes, in London at least they are everywhere. We’ve had contactless cards for years.

      • Graham J - 7 years ago

        If Apple Pay had come to Canada I would have been first in line to use it with my watch but alas (I assume because of our lame, greedy banks) it’s not here yet (except for AmEx which no one uses). It wouldn’t have changed my mind about selling it though.

        Pulling out my phone to pay will work just fine.

    • J.latham - 7 years ago

      I would agree on all fronts. I’m all for notifications on the wrist but as you said it didn’t make them any more meaning full. I usually just dismiss whatever comes up or pull out my phone to respond. Responding on the watch isn’t easier, faster, or less distracting.
      I could be the minority, but it could’ve had a third of the functions, a quarter of the price, and a quarter of the screen and I would’ve been fine with it but ultimately I think it is going up for sale as well. Something the size of a Fitbit or Up wristband would’ve been more to something I might use on a daily basis.
      Payments may have been the thing that made it more useful but seeing as the only places around me that take ApplePay are Walgreens and McDonalds (places I visit maybe a handful of times a year) I haven’t even seen that as a benefit.

    • Graham J - 7 years ago

      Posted this on Medium in case anyone wants to heart my very first article :)

    • Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

      From what you described it sounds like you werent really the apple watch target audience… The apple watch is for people who want to stay connected and updated — they want the notification more instantly, especially from twitter and facebook… They want the ability to quickly check what events are coming up, where they need to be and when etc… they want to be able to see if it’s worth getting the phone out to read a message or just ignore it…

      Using it to control lighting and media device comes secondary…

      It seems that you just need a watch… i think you bought it cos you convinced yourself that it was for you, and probably the main reason was that it was apple and new…

      I made a similar mistake when the ipad came out — i just never used it… it wasnt useful for doing my work on, games were soso, i much preferred responding to emails on my laptop… the only thing it was good for was the internet and light reading…i sold it, and eventually tried the ipad mini…but as soon as i got the iphone 6plus the idea of a tablet went out of the window… i think the main issue was i was tied to wifi.

      I am hoping with the watch that more can be synced over icloud so i dont have to have my phone around all the time.

    • rob nienburg (@robogobo) - 7 years ago

      I’d say if you gave up on your Watch to get an iPad Air then you were definitely under the wrong impression of its usefulness.

    • acslater017 - 7 years ago

      Not trying to be rude but I don’t get this: “as someone who sits at a desk all day, an activity report was not overly useful.” Isn’t that the perfect scenario to get something beneficial from your Watch? :)

      I’ve found that simply having a reminder to stand up and get a bit of exercise every day has been worth the $350. Not to mention the time telling functions & notifications.

  4. bellevueboy - 7 years ago

    Hmm part of the reason is not a lot of native apps.
    I use it for payments primarily, unlock my home security…so slow, set reminders with Siri, messages, control my home AV, answer phone calls…though awkward and painful, listen to music at the gym…not the best way, find my phone ;) and navigation.I don’t see myself not wearing my Apple Watch but it feels like there is a huge untapped potential.
    My thermostat phone app needs to be on it so does my door bell and garage door opener. Oh and most important the calendar app needs to be fixed. These changes along with making it faster would do it for me apps which were a significant advantage for the phone are proving to be a disadvantage. Then again I think when the first iPhone came out and App Store didn’t exist…after their initial novelty there was nothing to “show” friends when the adjective so what’s new with the phone. I m hoping that the developer community can help with willing done if the gaps. On a side note I have seen people bash the Apple Watch but it takes a company like Apple to make a company like Tag and Tissot think and act different. All along they just kept building in their existing models and never saw this disruption coming. Look out for version 2.

  5. Dbolander - 7 years ago

    My #1 activity on my watch is: Waiting.

  6. kpom1 - 7 years ago

    What I’ve found useful are the taps from the maps application. I travel for business, frequently drive rental cars, and rely heavily on Apple Maps. It’s nice getting the taps so I know when to exit, turn right or left, etc. without looking down at the phone.

    Regarding the app launcher, this may be an area that Samsung got right with the rotating bezel. While Apple can’t quite replicate it with the Digital Crown, perhaps they could display highlighted app name at the bottom of the screen, or make use of the Digital Crown to scroll through a list of apps.

  7. minieggseater - 7 years ago

    I’m really surprised there is no mention of the Music or any other audio app control ? I would have thought lots of people would use it with BT headphones down the gym etc. Having said that when actually streaming over Bluetooth it kills the battery on my 6+ ie more than halves the life of a full charge

    • twelve01 - 7 years ago

      I imagine most are using music through the controller glance, i.e. playing music stored on the phone while controlling through the watch. I consistently have problems getting music loaded on the watch. Didn’t catch if payments was listed. It’s a great feature to use when supported.

      • minieggseater - 7 years ago

        Yes the first part of your reply is what surprised me (that, that type of use did not show up in the stats) I would have though commuters would have really used this ? Do you happen to use BT headphones with your iPhone ? does it ‘kill’ the battery ? I’m waiting for the native podcast app before buying one by which time we will probably be on watch v2 !

      • twelve01 - 7 years ago

        Yes a podcast app would be nice. Can’t speak to the Bluetooth headphones question. I don’t use them frequently to notice any change in power consumption.

    • bellevueboy - 7 years ago

      I sent a big feedback note to apple on how I use it and how it needs to be simplified unless I m using it wrong. Basically if it takes more than 3 clicks/touches it’s useless.
      Click crown, touch music app, select source, select play list, play song/audio file, wait for it to go to the place u were yesterday as there is no scrubbing. Yes podcast app will be great but again it wifi needs the ability to scan/fwd, put that Digital Crown to use Apple. Apple needs to push the paddle on apps(some how ) before people start giving up on the watch.

  8. Richard Lynch - 7 years ago

    If an app is not accessible by a complication or a glance I won’t use it. I never use the app screen. Also the digital Crowne is something I never use. I mostly use it as a watch. I had hoped it would help with omnifocus but their watch app doesn’t sync unless I launch it and wait. I was hoping watch apps would provide timely push notifications but I found its faster to use my phone even with watchOS2. Looking forward to faster sync, on watch cellular and Gps in next version.

  9. triankar - 7 years ago

    this Heartbeat “feature”, and for God’s sake, viewing images or emails on that tiny screen, are for me its two biggest gimmicks. Oh, and all that doodling stuff where you draw smileys etc. Really???

    Someone please tell Apple’s product managers that we need something (way!) better to justify a €700+ purchase for a *watch*, especially given that it’ll be practically obsolete in 2-3 years. This device does not make my life €700 better, or even 400. Not by a long shot. And I think this is reflected by the Watch’s market acceptance. iPhone 6 are all over the place, Watches aren’t.

    Long before the Watch was even announced, I was commenting here how I expected the (traditional watch’s) crown to become a scroll wheel or so, because otherwise our paws would be obscuring the tiny screens far too often. Apple created the digital crown on the side of the device, which to my experience is quite clumsy to use (overall I found the Watch’s navigation mediocre AT BEST). Samsung implemented the (my) idea in the Gear S2 beautifully and they got positive reviews all over the place. So, in this sense I feel justified, even by the “wrong” company :/

    • triankar - 7 years ago

      The Watch is a disappointment.

      I have an iPhone, an iPad, an Apple TV and a couple of Macs, so I’m deep enough into the Apple ecosystem. I would love a smartwatch that integrates fully with my iDevices, but spending €800 on a Watch (that also looks the part, for my tastes), with its current feature set is definitely NOT justified. Mostly, it’s the price that is too steep. Then comes the fact that pretty much nothing on the Watch makes me say “ok, I’d give €800 for /that/ feature”. Then I tried it for a week and never got around to liking the interaction with it (and I design user interfaces for a living!).

      So, I’ve pretty much narrowed my options down to either
      – buying an Android smartwatch (either the LG Watch Urbane or the Gear S2 Classic) and living with the compromises (mostly regarding compatibility with iOS), which I find acceptable for their respective prices, or
      – buying a smartband that’s discrete and classy enough, that will do HR monitoring and deliver the basic notifications on my wrist. On my other wrist I’ll be keeping my trusty 20yo Seiko chronograph. Current runner-ups are the Jawbone Up3 (though I’ve read quite a few negative reviews on it), the Sony Smartband 2 or the InBody Band.

      • rob nienburg (@robogobo) - 7 years ago

        I only paid 450.- for mine (and it’s 380.- for the smaller aluminum case). It’s your choice to spend that extra money for a stainless steel case. The *features* are worth 380.- without question.

    • Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

      This is a new product for them… this is the first gen — remember when the ipad first came out that was thick, heavy, low quality screen, magnified iphone apps etc — but it got thinner, and faster, and more powerful…they tweaked it, created ipad specific apps etc.

      Look at how the macbook pro has changed over the years with each generation and the iphone too… all these products had many issues at the start and were far from perfect…

      You should see a first gen of any product a being a beta tester — hence why i am waiting for the 2nd gen… there are already rumours of it being thinner, faster, and a better battery — and they have time to tweak apps and the os…

      First adaptors always run the risk of running into issues – Apple cant predict what people want, so during this year they have been learning how people use watches, what features would make it better etc…and as with all new tech, it is often expensive…

      But considering the pebble watch round is only a little bit cheaper than the apple watch that uses cheaper materials and components with less functionality and only slightly better battery life due to using e-ink — you are getting a lot for you money with the apple watch.

  10. Darrell Pringle - 7 years ago

    Agree with a lot of this ;) The big ones for me are making the quick passive tasks quicker and increasingly passive!

    – Apple Pay being on the same button as contacts is a disaster, I activate contacts far too often when I’m trying to pay.
    – Wallet/Passbook functionality is really cumbersome too, it needs to be a complication or a swipe away as it currently takes longer to operate than the iPhone which is the worst feedback you could give a device that begs to be used in quick bursts.
    – Siri doesn’t work as well as the phone/Apple TV
    – Phone calls should be routed to wireless headphones rather than through the watch speaker
    – Apps are horrendously slow (some of this is third party support for native applications)

    I love the watch but it needs a lot of refinement and the app interface has got to go!

  11. numtsi - 7 years ago

    I’m absolutely not surprised by this article. I discussed the usage of a Smartwatch with my brother many times and I always said “the greatest part of usage will be Fitness”. And now the studies said 84% usage is looking at the time, reading notifications, doing sports.

    My advice for Apple: Make an Apple Watch Light with a focus on fitness/activity. A great example is the new “Polar A360” Fitnesstracker. It has a Touchscreen, Fitnesstracking, Heartbeatsensor, Notifications and a replaceable battery that lasts for 1-2 weeks on each loading cycle. And it costs the half of a Apple Watch. What do you need more on your wrist? Nothing, because you have an iPhone with you.
    I’m not working for polar and I haven’t had the chance for a quality check on the A360, but this thing from Apple would be amazing!

    And as a Fanboy I hate to say it, but: The Samsung Gear S2 has THE BEST UI for a smartwatch ever! EVER!!!

  12. Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

    I’m not really sure using just over a thousand participants to estimate their usages is really that useful, and certainly only using 12 (regardless whether they used cameras) doesnt help one bit… all this shows is how a small collective of users use their watches…
    You would need quite a larger selection of people, of different ages, from different location and professions before any of this data would be useful.

    Why would you stop wearing a watch in winter – you still need to tell the time… if you are wearing gloves it is much easier to pull a sleeve back to check the time, rather than shove your big hands in you pocket to find your phone to turn it on and see the time…and with the watch at least you can see if it is worth having to take your gloves off to then mess around on the phone…

    I think the key issue with the app launcher is that you are relying on users to be able to recognise apps based on their icon – what would be better would be to have folders… at least then you will be looking at a smaller mass of apps rather than all of them at the same time.

  13. rob nienburg (@robogobo) - 7 years ago

    It’s all too slow. Apple needs to speed up every aspect of the Watch, from the delay in checking the time to the connectivity (or success rate of connecting at all) when using Siri or launching apps. Way too slow.

  14. Jacob Helms - 7 years ago

    I love my watch and find it extremely useful. First off I like just looking down and seeing the time. I don’t want to have to take my phone out of my pocket. Second, I don’t always have my phone with me. When I am at the office I usually leave my phone at my desk. So when I am moving around the office its very useful to see I have phone call or a txt message. The same goes for when I am home. I leave my phone on the kitchen counter. Recently when I was deer hunting and my phone was deep in my coveralls it was great to just look at wrist if my wife sent me a txt message. The calendar complication is well worth it as well. I never look at my outlook popups for reminders. I always forget. However since I am looking at my watch all the time I have a constant reminder of my next appointment. I also use it for my exercise whether its for an outdoor run or seeing my heart rate while on the elliptical. Lastly the reminders you can set are great too. I have one set for my medicine.


Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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