When I first saw mention of the Apple Watch having a ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’ option for VoiceOver users, my immediate reaction was that this would be one of those ‘set it and forget it’ settings. However, this is not turning out to be the case.
For those of you who don’t have an Apple Watch and are unfamiliar with this option and what it does, it simply has VoiceOver automatically speak the Watch screen when you lift your wrist (which most commonly results in the time being announced). Essentially, it takes things one step further than the ‘Activate On Wrist Raise’ option found elsewhere in the Watch settings, which controls whether the Watch display wakes when you lift your wrist. Actually, it’s supposed to be smarter than that might suggest, in that it should recognize and require the combination of both the lifting and the turning movements typically indicative of somebody looking at their watch.
My initial thought, that of course I would want this setting permanently turned on, is now looking rather hasty, and perhaps even a little naive,
In part, this is due to the sensitivity of the motion detection used by the Watch to recognise the lifting and turning movement of your wrist. If others were’t also commenting on this and related issues, I might be tempted to think that I simply have particularly animated arms when going about my daily life. However, others are sharing similar experiences. In his review of the Apple Watch for Bloomberg, Joshua Topolsky wrote that on occasions “a subtle twist of your wrist” was all that it takes for the Apple Watch to think that you are looking at it. The result is that if you have ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’ turned on, you can find your Watch chatting away to you when you really don’t want it to.
There are times when this behavior is amusing, times when it is mildly irritating, and other times when it can be downright embarrassing.
So, right now, this is not a ‘set it and forget it’ option (unless, of course, your choice is to never use this facility). Even if Apple does something in a future Watch OS update to improve motion detection or adds a setting that allows you to calibrate its sensitivity, it’s likely that ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’ will always be something that many of us will want to toggle either on or off depending upon where we are and what we are doing at the time. It’s also likely to be something that we will often want to do as quickly and unobtrusively as possible.
Unfortunately, that’s not made easy right now.
You can’t access the setting on the Watch itself. Neither can you use Siri. So, this leaves you having to dig the iPhone out of your pocket, open the Watch app and drill down into My Watch > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver and find the toggle switch. Yes, that’s the obvious place for the toggle to be located. And, yes, perhaps I am also being obtuse by making it sound far more involved than it actually is. However, one thing that it currently is not, and that’s quick and unobtrusive.
Considering that this is a setting that it’s looking like I will be accessing a lot, I am really hoping that Apple can do something to make things easier. As I see it, there are two obvious solutions. The first would be to make this toggle available as an option for the Accessibility Shortcut on the Watch. Three presses of the Digital Crown would certainly meet my hopes for a quick and unobtrusive solution. In fact, there have already been occasions when I have used the Accessibility Shortcut to completely turn VoiceOver off when I have wanted to quickly silence the consequences of having ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’ enabled. It’s not ideal, but it does the job for now.
Would Apple add ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’ to the Accessibility Shortcut? As much as I would like to see it, I really can’t see this happening. Traditionally, the Accessibility Shortcut has been used for quick access to what can probably be termed ‘top level’ toggles such as VoiceOver, Zoom and Color Inversion. Adding a toggle for something which is already dependent upon one of these existing options has the potential for making things complicated and for creating a precedent. After all, I am sure that we all have a certain setting or toggle that we would really like to have quick access to.
So, assuming that three presses on the Digital Crown isn’t going to be an option that will sit well with Apple, that leaves my second possible solution, which is to simply make this setting available via Siri. I can currently say “Hey Siri, turn off VoiceOver”, and it’s done. Want it back on, just as easy. So, I am hoping that Apple could add a similar command for ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’. It would be quick and easy, yes. Perhaps not as unobtrusive as I would often like, but it would certainly be a whole lot better than how things are now. For this to work, it would probably also require that this toggle be added to the settings available on the Watch itself, but that might have merits of its own.
I have already reached out to Apple and asked them to consider this. If you have an Apple Watch and agree, then do please also reach out to Apple and make the suggestion. If enough of us do, then perhaps this can be made into a reality in a future Watch OS update.
In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’. Are you using it? All of the time? Some of the time? Or do you prefer having to touch the screen to initiate VoiceOver? Please leave a comment to share your views and experience.