Friday, May 15, 2015
My Apple Watch is quite literally the most nicely made thing that I own.
While it might not have the heritage and mechanical engineering of a Rolex, it has the feel: a smooth, heavy ingot of the watch itself and a lovely stainless link band crafted to what seems like aerospace tolerances.
The software has that same general fit and finish, too. It’s a device that just feels good in all ways.
Well, all ways but …
I am left-handed, like 10 percent of people in the world, Ned Flanders, and five out of seven of our most recent presidents. This poses a problem on a device that depends so much on inputs from hardware – a “digital crown” scrolly-spinny thing and a “friends” button.
Apple’s design solution for this hardware shortcoming is to suggest left-handed people wear their watch upside down like Jimi Hendrix’s Stratocaster.
The overall effect is that a company that is obsessive about sweating details of their products completely punted.
The problem is subtle, but with the crown in the upper right, a user’s fingertips rest on their wrist to steady their hand as their index finger rolls the digital crown like a tiny mousewheel. For lefties, this is a more awkward motion.
Setup is also strange. I took my watch from what is, to be honest, exquisite packaging where it was lovingly nestled like a Faberge egg, strapped it to my wrist, and was greeted with uhhh … wait, what?
The pairing process was also upside down, and it took at least a couple setup screens to get to the screen orientation menu. Annoying, yes, but perhaps necessary for technical reasons.
Once you actually tell the watch which way you want it oriented, the software doesn’t adapt. The watch OS has small scroll bar that appears next to the digital crown to both show position and to signal users to scroll.
When the watch’s orientation is changed, this scroll bar stays in the upper right instead of appearing next to the crown. You can see it here next to the zero.
With this signal missing, I found myself fumbling around trying to figure out how to make adjustments to the watch face. It was finally made clear – a ha! You spin the digital crown – when I found an image of the watch face with the scrollbar and crown in the correct orientation.
All of this confusion is strangely un-Apple-esque. It’s reminiscent of Mac OSX Yosemite “dark mode,” which was poorly implemented and suffered from display glitches, blacked-out menus, missing alpha channels and other junky half-assedness.
Us lefties have two options. We can wear the watch in a right-handed orientation on our right wrist – but now the microphone is on the wrong side – or wear it upside down and ignore the UX shortcomings.
Complaining about non-lefty friendly design in what is basically a luxury good seems small compared with the actual danger of, say, a lefty using a right-handed skill saw. But left-handed design in all devices is important.
The watch itself is a wonderful device. Dwelling on this UX problem might make it seem like I think it is not. It really is the kind of product that only Apple can make.
That praise still comes with a “but.” I just don’t like to wear an upside-down watch.