There might have been a few silent murmurs of discontent when Appleunveiled the Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 at its annual September event. There is always — and come what may there will always be — a section of people out there who feel Apple hasn’t done anything ‘new’ with one or the other product. This year it was the Watch models. On the face of it, a lot has changed but because it ends up looking similar, people often feel little has changed.The one thing, however, that has changed drastically is the use of gestures onApple Watch. Double tap feature is a testament to that.
The new double tap gesture for Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 is available today with watchOS 10.1. It changes the way people interact and use their Apple Watch. For instance, users can tap the index finger and thumb of their watch hand together twice to quickly perform many of the most common actions.
While it certainly looks cool, there is a sense of skepticism on how reliable it is. In our case, we have been playing around with the feature since it was in beta stage. There are times when it works very well — though people might look at weirdly — as you tap your thumb and index finger together. But there were occasions when the double tap gesture just didn’t respond.
David Clark, Senior Director of Apple Watch Software Engineering, explains how Apple has ensured that it remains reliable. “We have ensured that the gesture is triggered when people actually double tap their thumb and index finger.” There was a sense of curiosity on why Apple chose the index finger and thumb. Clark says that the company tested the gesture in many scenarios before deciding on it.
“We thought a lot about the need to make sure with this sensor data we are able to make this work for diverse set of users wearing Apple Watch,” says Clark. What Apple had to keep in mind — and it’s no easy task getting it accurate — was capturing data internally from thousands of different gestures, from hundreds of different people including different variations in wrist size, limb length, subtle ways people perform gestures making sure that double tap worked for a wide variety of people. Think about it. Every wrist is different as are the limb lengths, Apple really must have had to test it rigorously to ensure that it works for users across the world.
At the ‘heart’ of the matter
Apple’s heart rate sensor has evolved a lot over the years and plays a crucial role in double tap as well. “We’ve done work to get the most accurate and reliable heart rate readings while the reality is that when you move throughout the day, there are brief moments in time, when you get gaps in the signal while moving your wrist,” says Clark. These gaps are precisely the signals we are looking for to feed into double tap gesture recognition, he adds.
Not only that but in order to make double tap more intuitive, Apple did an exhaustive evaluation of UI to identify moments that makes sense for users to take an action like phone calls, notifications, music playback among other. “We focused on actions that users would care about the idea is to give an experience where in the moment without thinking too much about it, users are able to understand what double tap feature will do and take action,” says Clark.

Furthermore, Apple uses an algorithm that detects that the unique signature of tiny wrist movements and changes in blood flow when the index finger and thumb perform a double tap. Apple’s Neural Engine on the two new Apple Watch models uses and processes data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and optical heart sensor.
We did ask Apple whether it can work underwater as well, considering the Watch Ultra 2 is meant for diving purposes. And there is a good logic behind why the feature doesn’t work underwater. Both the Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra have displays that are designed to light up as soon as you raise your wrist. When the Apple Watch — especially the Ultra — goes underwater, Apple is not looking for any wrist detection motions because it has to ensure that all the data that comes in handy while diving is visible. That’s the big reason why double tap doesn’t work underwater.
Notably, the feature is available only on Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2. That’s because of the S9 processor that has four neural engines which ensure machine learning is able to execute the double tap feature. Clark says that the S9 processor has computational abilities and power efficiency along with Apple neural engine (ANE) which is purpose built on the processor to perform tasks like double tap. “It allows to not only get upto three times power efficiency for these algorithms but also get 15% more accuracy and has the ability to detect real time subtle variations in signal to respond more quickly with three times more power efficiency,” he explains.

How is it different from Assistive Touch

Apple had a similar functionality with Assistive Touch. However, it is significantly different and you will notice that once you have used double tap. For example, with double tap, you can see a message from a notification. Further, you can scrolling through longer notifications with an additional double tap, replying using dictation, and sending a message. It works quite well and gives us a glimpse on how effectively Apple can integrate more gestures, not just in Watch but iPhone as well.
Eric Charles, senior manager of Apple Watch Product Marketing, says that the company did rigorous testing before implementing the feature. “We looked at various options to see how a user will use and then further benefit from it,” says Charles. He also says that on the feedback recieved by the company, double tap’s functionality was decided. “We wanted to make it useful for users in the best possible way,” adds Charles.
To make it intuitive, Apple did an exhaustive evaluation of UI to identify moments that makes sense for users to take an action like phone calls, notifications media call back, that they would care about take an action on and ‘What we arrived at is an experience where in the moment without thinking too much about it, users are able to understand what double tap feature will do and take action,” explains Charles.


The double tap feature on Apple Watch is really cool and one of those which Apple has implemented quite well. It is not easy to use the heart sensor and combine it with wrist data to enable a feature. When you tap your fingers, there are a whole lot of other parts that are taken into account before the algorithm kicks in and does its job.
However, the double tap functionality is still limited. For instance, the feature is not supported in apps and features like ECG, Heart Rate, Blood Oxygen, Sleep Focus, Walkie-Talkie, Maps (during navigation), Mindfulness (during an active session), SOS features (Emergency SOS, Fall Detection, Crash Detection), and Workout (during an active session).Also, third-party support is limited. For instance, you can’t play/pause music in Spotify but it works well with Apple Music.
Double tap does reduce your interactions with the Watch and gives a glimpse into the world of gestures. Apple has made a strong case with double tap that gestures can work well if they are implemented smartly. Double tap feature could very well open the doors for more gestures on the Apple Watch as well as the iPhone.

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