For years, new health-tracking features have been one of the most important changes to the Apple Watch. Things were different in 2023, though. The most important new feature on the Apple Watch Series 9 had nothing to do with health.
Instead, Apple showed off a new way to use the watch with a gesture called “Double Tap.” This gesture was added to Apple’s new watches on Oct. 25 through a software update. By pressing your middle finger and thumb together twice, you can dismiss notifications, answer calls, and bring up your widget stack. This motion basically adds a button that you can’t see to your Apple Watch.
Double Tap might not seem like a big deal at first glance. Apple has been rethinking how to use the Apple Watch with new features like the Action button on the Apple Watch Ultra and the apps in WatchOS 10. Since the first Apple Watch came out more than eight years ago, Apple has learned a lot about how to make a small computer that fits on your wrist work differently than a bigger one that fits in your pocket.
Double Tap has been on my Series 9 since it came out, and I’m starting to see what it can do. Touch-based movements like tapping, typing, and scrolling should make it easier to use the Apple Watch’s small screen. But the current version of Double Tap feels like a place to start. I wanted more customization choices and other improvements after using it for a few days and seeing a sneak peek of it in September when I reviewed the Series 9.
Double Tap isn’t meant to take the place of basic motions like tapping the screen, twisting the Digital Crown, or speaking to Siri. This feature is meant to be used in addition to touching or talking to your watch, for times when those options might not be possible. In this case, you might be walking down the street with a coffee and need to answer the phone. In the middle of baking, you might not want to set off an alarm by touching your Apple Watch with dirty hands.
Because it needs Apple’s new S9 chip, Double Tap only works on the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2. Using a machine learning algorithm to look at data from sensors like the accelerometer, gyroscope, and optical heart rate monitor, it can tell when you’re tapping your index finger and thumb together.
Double Tap can be used to dismiss messages and bring up your home screen widgets. But it can also be used for a few other things:
See if a text message has arrived and send a specific answer.
- Pick up the phone or hang up.
- Delay an alarm.
- You can pause, restart, or stop a timer.
- Put an end to or start a clock.
- You can play back and stop podcasts, audiobooks, and music.
- Use the watch’s camera app to take a picture with your iPhone.
- Turn on or off regular reminders to work out.
- Use the Compass app to get to the Elevation view.
Double Tap could be useful in a lot of situations. But I have a problem: I haven’t found myself using it very often. When I think about why Double Tap hasn’t become a big part of my daily Apple Watch use, I can come up with two reasons.
I haven’t been in many situations that call for Double Tap yet, which is the easiest and most clear reason. I’ve mostly been working from home for the past week, so I haven’t had to mess up my coffee on the way to work or use one hand to hold on to the subway pole during my journey. The Apple Watch isn’t to blame for any of that, but it does show that Double Tap is only useful in certain scenarios.
Secondly, Double Tap doesn’t feel natural yet. Touchscreens have been an important part of our lives for about 15 years, so we’re used to tapping and swiping on them when we hear the buzz of an alert or see the light on. But putting your middle finger and thumb together and tapping? I don’t think so. It will require some time to create a new habit.
Although, I have been using Double Tap sometimes, mostly to dismiss notifications. When I’m working on a project at work and get a call to stand up or an Apple News alert on my wrist, Double Tapping has helped me quickly dismiss these notifications without pausing my work. Another interesting idea is that you can read a text message, write a reply, and send it all without touching your watch at all. In my experience, this worked well and didn’t need more than one try.
These are the kinds of times when I’m interested in what Double Tap means for the future of the Apple Watch. This is when the Apple Watch feels more natural and comfortable since I don’t have to press a specific button to make it work. It only knows when I press the numbers that I want to answer my new message and send it.
But Double Tap could also be used in better ways. It doesn’t always answer right away, for one thing. I noticed this happening most often with alarms, but I’ve also done the action more than once to bring up my widgets or dismiss a notification. As an aside, coworkers who have tried the Series 9 and Ultra 2 haven’t seen the same problems.
The always-on display shows your watch face even when your hand is down and the screen is not active. Double Tap only works when the screen is fully awake. It’s possible that some of my tries were made while the screen was fully off, but that might just show how deliberate the gesture is. But it’s better than having Double Tap be too sensitive, which could cause you to miss calls or dismiss warnings by accident. It’s still annoying when Double Tap doesn’t work, though.
In addition to that, I wish Double Tap had more ways to be customized. Right now, you can choose whether Double Tap moves the widget stack forward or chooses a widget. You can also choose whether to play, pause, or skip a song with this action. These choices are helpful, but I wish there were more, especially alarms and timers.
Setting 30-second timers during my pre-workout is a common way for me to make sure I stretch for long enough. To keep from hurting myself, I usually do these stretches more than once. So, when my 30-second timer goes off, I usually press the repeat button instead of ending it. And since Double Tap is the only way to turn off timers, I can’t use it when I’m stretching. Though I know this is a very unique and special case, I find myself in it almost every day. That makes sense since the Apple Watch is made for people who like to work out.
When put together, Double Tap, the Action button, and apps work to make the Apple Watch easier to understand and use. We should be happy about that. Not everything about Double Tap is great, but it’s another sign that Apple isn’t just copying and pasting an iPhone experience that’s been shrunk down.
It’s almost impossible to guess what goods the tech giant Apple will release in the future before officially announcing them. To be honest, I think the company will focus even more on new gesture-based interactions in the next few years when its Vision Pro mixed reality headset comes out.
At the moment, I’m more excited about the idea of Double Tap and what it could mean for the future of the Apple Watch than about using it. But I’m excited to see how Apple improves and grows it.