Wednesday, April 17, 2024

How to customize double tap on the Apple Watch

Double tap has arrived with watchOS 10.1. The gesture allows you to control your supported Apple Watch (Series 9 and Ultra 2) with a pinching motion, all without ever having to touch the display. The idea is to give you a way to interact with the watch if you don’t have both hands free — like when you’re cooking, carrying groceries, or are on a walk and holding a cup of coffee.

While the feature may seem familiar to Assistive Touch, there are a few key differences. I go into it in-depth here, but the gist is Assistive Touch is a full navigational system designed for people with limb differences, whereas double tap is more like double clicking on your computer mouse. You use it to perform the “primary” action of an app at a given moment. For example, if you’ve got an active timer, double-tapping will pause and restart it. When the timer goes off, you can use double tap to end the timer.

Double-tapping works sort of like your computer mouse’s double click.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

For the most part, you don’t get to choose what double tap does. Apple means for the feature to be contextual, so for this first iteration of the gesture, it’s pretty much decided everything double tap will do for you. There are, however, two exceptions: music playback and the new widget Smart Stack in watchOS 10. With music, you can decide whether to pause or play a track or skip to the next one. For the Smart Stack, you can opt to scroll through all your widgets or select the first one.

While I wish you could customize more, these are two scenarios where you really need a choice — and here’s how to get started.

Customizing gestures

First, you’ll need to have at least the Apple Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2. Unfortunately, double tap is not compatible with older Apple Watch models, as it runs on the neural engine that was introduced with the S9 processor. If you’d like to control your watch hands-free and have an older model, take a gander at our Assistive Touch guide. Just keep in mind Assistive Touch is much more comprehensive because it needs to meet the full range of accessibility needs.

If you’ve got the right watch, head to Settings > Gestures > Double Tap. From there, you should see a toggle to turn the gesture on or off and two customization options under Playback and Smart Stack. Under Playback, you can decide whether you want double tap to Play / Pause or Skip. Under Smart Stack, you can choose between Advance and Select.

Keep in mind that playback options are limited to Apple’s Music and Podcast apps.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

For playback, it’s important to note that this only works within Apple’s Music and Podcast apps. (In the latter, skip moves your forward 30 seconds in an episode.) If you try to use Spotify, Pocket Casts, or any other third-party media app, it doesn’t do anything. For now, double tap with third-party apps is limited to notifications.

With the Smart Stack, choosing Advance will allow you to scroll through your list of widgets. That’s pretty straightforward. Select, however, may require a bit of forethought. Select basically makes it so you can launch the app associated with the first widget in the Smart Stack. Apple’s betting that it can surface the most relevant widget to the top spot at a given time. It takes a little time to learn your patterns, and even then, this kind of AI often comes with limitations.

Selecting advance lets you scroll through the Smart Stack.
GIF by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

However, you can also pin a specific widget so that it’s always at the top. If you’re a creature of habit, this is probably the most surefire way to use the Select option. To pin a widget, bring up the Smart Stack either by double-tapping from your watchface or by swiping up. Press and hold the screen. Scroll down the list of widgets to the one you want to pin. Tap the yellow pin icon in that widget’s upper righthand corner. Then, tap Done in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. This is a neat way to use double tap and the Smart Stack to create a hands-free app launcher.

That’s it. Again, I wish you could customize more, but you can’t at this point in time. That said, this is a very new feature, and it’s possible that Apple will open up a few more options down the line. In the meantime, you should play around with these customization settings and see what works best for your individual needs.


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