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Here's how you use the Apple Watch

Here's how you use the Apple Watch

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Apple is giving a demo of the Apple Watch right now, and we're seeing a whole slew of new custom UI interactions to control such a small-screened device.

From a hardware perspective the most notable elements are an iPhone-like touch screen and the so-called "digital crown" — a dial on the right side of the device that you can spin and push like a button. Its most basic function is to zoom in and out of the interface. As Apple noted, the pinch-and-zoom gesture doesn't make a lot of sense on the small screen, but using the digital crown keeps you from obscuring the screen. Pressing the digital crown as a button quickly returns you to the home screen.

One of the best examples of the digital crown in action was shown off in the Maps interface — rather than pinching to zoom, you can spin the crown to go in and out of the interface. It's also heavily used in the "homescreen." You can pan across the homescreen by swiping, and then rotate the crown to zoom in and out of "neighborhoods" of apps. From there you just tap an app to launch it.

Apple Watch interface

The touch screen isn't just a standard touchscreen, either — it recognizes a standard press or swipe, but it also has a feature known as "force touch." Since the screen can recognize how much force you're putting behind an interaction with the watch, the "force touch" is similar to a right click, it brings up more options, like customizing the watch face.

The last hardware element in play is a button below the digital crown, which Apple is calling the "digital touch" app. It lets you jump directly into a contact list to place a call. It also lets you access messaging or "digital touch communication," in which you can do a quick doodle on your watch face and then send it to a contact.

Lots of new UI tricks at play here

Digital touch has a number of other features beyond just the doodle — you can also quickly send a contact a "tap" that they'll feel on their wrist, custom emoji, or even a walkie-talkie voice communication app.

Beyond standard app access, one of the biggest UI paradigms on display here is Glances. These are little widgets of information that are quite similar to the Google Now widgets found on Android Wear devices. When you swipe up from the bottom of the watch face, you can cycle through these glances — the usual suspects like calendar notifications, music controls, message notifications, and so forth. Tapping on a Glance will open the full app on Watch. Beyond glances are standard push notifications which pop up as needed, and it sounds like you can pull down from the top to get a notification center view of all your notifications, as well.

Of course, voice control is another major part of the Apple Watch. If you want to reply to a message, your only options are dictation or emoji — unsurprisingly, there's no way to pull up a tiny, watch-sized keyboard here. Siri-style control is also included — if you press down the crown from the home screen, it'll listen to what you're saying and answer your questions just like Siri on the iPhone.

There's still a lot we don't know about exactly how the Apple Watch will use — but we're checking it out in Apple's massive hands-on area and will keep updating this hands-on post with more impressions.