watchOS 4: How to customize and use the new Siri face on Apple Watch
watchOS 4 introduces a new Siri watch face on Apple Watch that intelligently updates to show you relevant content throughout the day. The Siri watch face pulls data from 14 different sources by default, but customizing these sources can help remove information from the timeline that you don’t need and make the watch face more useful.
The Siri watch face includes a digital clock with a flashing second indicator (but no option for seconds), two customizable complications including a new Siri complication, and two dynamic tiles of information. These tiles will update depending on time of day, date, current events, activity progress, and more.
Like other watch faces, swiping down from the top reveals Notification Center and swiping up from the bottom opens Control Center. Spin the Digital Crown on Siri face, however, and the timeline becomes a vertical carousel of information.
Rotating the Digital Crown downward shows Recent and All-Day tiles like temperature highs and lows and Now Playing cards. The tap minimizes to the top right corner with a light background indicating that it’s a button you can tap to return to the main view. You can also click the Digital Crown to leave the timeline and go back to the starting point.
Rotating the Digital Crown upward shows you tiles for Up Next and Tomorrow. Siri face previews the first Up Next tiles by default, and scrolling here reveals more. Rolling the Digital Crown lets you move around the timeline too.
While these tiles change dynamically, Siri face features two complications that you set. My default, the new Siri complication is located in the top left (this is the only face with this complication) and the date is located above the digital clock.
Tapping the Siri complication invokes the voice assistant just like holding the Digital Crown or saying ‘Hey Siri’ when the display is on. It’s a visually satisfying complication, but you may get more use out of Siri face if you put something else here since you can invoke Siri with voice or a click.
Press the Siri face firmly, then select Customize to choose between Activity, Alarm, Battery, Breathe, Calendar, Date, Find My Friends, Heart Rate, Home, Mail, Maps, Messages, Moon Phase, Music, News, Phone, Reminders, Remote, Siri, Stocks, Stopwatch, Sunrise/Sunset, Timer, Weather, Weather Conditions, Workout, World Clock, and third-party complications.
The top right complication is a bit smaller and can be set to Alarm, Battery, Calendar, Date, Heart Rate, News, Stocks, Stopwatch, Sunrise/Sunset, Timer, Weather, World Clock, and third-party complications.
After you personalize the two complications, consider customizing which data sources Siri face uses. You can’t do this from the Apple Watch, however, so you’ll need your iPhone. Open the Watch app on your iPhone, look for the Siri face in the My Faces section (or add it from the Face Gallery tab at the bottom), then tap the Siri face to reveal customization options.
From here you can set both complications just like on the Apple Watch, and a Data Sources list lets you toggle apps that appear on Siri face on and off. watchOS 4.0 includes 14 data sources: Alarms, Breathe, Calendar, Home, News, Now Playing, Photos, Reminders, Stocks, Stopwatch, Timer, Wallet, Weather, and Workout.
You can’t use third-party apps as data sources (yet), but you can disable data sources that aren’t useful for you and declutter the Siri face timeline. For example, I toggle off Photos, News, and Stocks to avoid seeing poorly chosen snapshots, the latest Trump headline, and stock market changes on my Siri face.
This cleans up the experience for me and only surfaces useful tiles like HomeKit scene triggers, exercise recommendations, and upcoming Wallet passes.
My ‘Good morning’ scene is displayed when I wake up, and the ‘Good night’ scene is shown in the evening. Tapping these launches the Home app and shows the specific scene in the list, then tapping the scene activates it (which turns my lights off, locks the front door, etc.).
Siri face is a great exercise coach, too, as it will recommend the exact amount of walking you should do to complete your Move goal at the end of the day. Siri face also shows the Now Playing card for music and podcasts played on the iPhone (or music on the watch), upcoming alarms and reminders appear in the timeline as well as calendar events, and Wallet passes are surfaced to the top when needed just like the lock screen on the iPhone.
You’ll also see currently active Timers appear dynamically, sunrise and sunset times, and Breathe app reminders.
I wish there was a version with analog watch hands (and second hands on the digital clock) and third-party apps as data sources would be appreciated. It also feels unnecessary to open Notification Center to view a missed alert when the Siri face timeline could optionally display alerts as well, but perhaps future updates will bring these changes.
Siri face is a neat way to change how your Apple Watch works and how you interact with apps without changing watchOS for everyone. I don’t use it 24/7, but I have kept it in my watch face lineup since I started testing it with watchOS 4 beta earlier this year.
Siri face is available on all Apple Watches running watchOS 4 or later.
Converting JPEG to HEIF and why it’s a bad idea
Should you convert your existing iPhoto Library to use new file formats to save space?
One of the new features of macOS 10.13 High Sierra and iOS 11 is the addition of two new media formats:
• High-Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) for photos.
• High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), also known as H.265, for videos.
HEIF is intended to be a successor to JPEG, while HEVC will supplant H.264. Both of these new formats are industry standards and though they may not be in wide use at the moment, they will be real soon now for three big reasons:
- Add anything new to iOS and it quickly gets disseminated to tens of millions of iOS devices. Note Apple’s comments about how it became the largest augmented reality platform overnight once AR technology shipped as part of iOS 11. We all suddenly had the chance to enjoy a T-Rex galavanting unencumbered around a basketball court.
- The two new formats have much better compression algorithms than JPEG and H.264, so photos and videos encoded with these formats will take up much less space on iCloud Photo Library and on flash-memory constrained devices like iPhones and iPads.
- Even though the new file formats compress photos and videos to a much greater degree, there is no loss of visual quality.
So… better quality and dramatically smaller file sizes? Sold! Where do I sign?
HEIF and HEVC are the future of digital photos and videos
The good news is that any photos or videos shot with recent iPhones (the 7 series or later) and iPads (the 10.5-inch and 2nd generation 12.9-inch Pro models) that are running iOS 11 will use these new media formats by default.
You have the option of continuing to use JPEG and H.264 formats on these devices if you want. But because Apple has already built in a mechanism to convert a HEIF file to JPEG when it is shared (for example, through email or Messages) there’s no real good reason to use the less efficient JPEG format. It’s a little dicier when it comes to sharing H.265 videos on some older devices, but the easy solution is to upgrade to macOS High Sierra and iOS 11 and work with the video in its new format.
So we have a rosy future ahead, with the ability to stretch our storage a bit farther without an increase in cost, leaving all the more room for AR T-Rexes to fill.
All of this, of course, begs the question: OK, so how do I convert all my old JPEGs to HEIF and H.264 videos to H.265? If saving space with no loss of quality is a good idea for new photos and video, isn’t it an even better idea for the thousands of photos and videos I already have that are sucking up precious storage space?
Converting could be awesome, but right now, it’s not
The internet is full of websites that offer to convert a file based on one format into another. You can find them with a simple search. Here are two that I came across, both of which offer the ability to convert your JPEGs to HEIF and H.264 videos to H.265.
And there are apps that’ll do likewise. But because HEIF and HVEC are only now emerging as future mainstream formats, many of these websites and apps either can’t handle the new formats at all, or have some detrimental byproducts, such as removing EXIF data (that is, data about a photograph, such as location and camera settings) during the conversion process.
One website, JPEGtoHEIF lists step-by-step instructions for converting a JPEG to a HEIF, but it’s not for the faint of heart. If you understand terms like Homebrew, Git, cmake, and FFMPEG, you should give it a try and tell me how it worked out for you. But, if those sideloading programs kinda give you the shakes, do like I did and take a pass on that one.
Nevertheless, I’m the curious sort. So I did a little digging for some Mac apps that handle conversion while also safely hide the command line from me.
How I converted H.264 to H.265 and what my cat thought of the whole process
Handbrake, a free, open-source video transcoder, can convert H.264 files into H.265 format. I tested it with — what else? — a video of my cat playing with the business end of a laser pointer. The H.264 video was about 16 seconds long, 21.4 MB in size, and had a .m4v file extension. It took just a minute or so for Handbrake to convert it to the H.265 format. After conversion, the file was 5.4 MB in size (a 75% reduction in size compared to the original) and had a .mp4 file extension.
Great! So it worked… but not really.
The H.264 file would not open in QuickTime Player and only the audio played when I opened it with iTunes. So I tried it using VLC, a free video player that can handle a lot of different formats. To my eyes, there was no discernable difference in quality compared to the H.264 version (and the cat didn’t corral the laser in either version of the video, I know you wanted to know that).
When it came time to drag the H.265 video into the Photos app so I could check on the status of the EXIF data, Photos wouldn’t take it. Even sneakily changing the file’s extension to .m4v didn’t work. I used a couple of other apps to try to dig out the EXIF data to no avail.
So, I re-transcoded it using Handbrake back into H.264 format. Again, it took just a minute or so and created a file that, at 6.5 MB in size, was slightly larger than the H.265 version. I was able to successfully import it into Photos with a drag and drop (even though it retained its .mp4 file extension), but the EXIM data — specifically, the date and location of the video and the camera information — was missing.
The mess I made converting a JPEG photo to HEIF
Image2HEIF costs a few bucks on the Mac App Store and will convert images in various formats (BMP, GIF, JP2, JPG, and PNG) into HEIF.
The app description makes it clear that “original EXIF/metadata is not transferred to converted .heic image”. So no important information is saved like date, location, or camera settings. In addition, while I successfully converted three different JPEG files and saw no discernible drop-off in quality, the file size was not reduced by a significant amount. In fact, in two of the three cases, the HEIC files were slightly larger than their JPEG originals.
Just for fun, I converted a 3 MB JPEG file into a 20.9 MB PNG format using Preview’s export command. Then I ran the PNG file through Image2HEIF and it produced a 2.9 MB HEIF file. So, you know, what’s the point?
To make things even more difficult, all of the HEIF files were locked when I opened them with Preview, and when I tried to unlock them, I was informed that the file didn’t support editing, so I was offered the chance to duplicate it into a TIFF format to edit. I could, however, just import and edit them in Photos.
Stop to think whether you should
In the movie Jurassic Park, the mathematician played by Jeff Goldblum has a rather close encounter with a T-Rex (of the non-AR variety), brought back to life through advanced genetic engineering. He delivers a very succinct ethics lecture to the project leader and his quest to bring dinosaurs back to life: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
I’m not saying that a JPEG converted to HEIF is going to rampage through your neighborhood, drink all the water in your swimming pool, tear the roof off of your house, and swallow you whole. But it could do something that you might not like. At the very best, it’s a time-consuming process that doesn’t really reduce the file size that much.
Based on my limited testing, it’s probably not worth the effort for most folks to convert a bunch of videos and photos to the new HEVC and HEIF formats just to save some storage space. A lot of time and effort would be involved to make the conversions — not to mention having to recreate lost EXIM data. For me, with the current level of technology available, it’s not worth the tradeoff.
At some point, the formats will become more mainstream and Apple will likely build something into Photos and/or iCloud that will help take care of this. In meantime, I’m going to stick with what I’ve got.
If you’ve tried converting photos or videos to the new formats, tell us about it in the comments below.