I’ve been an Apple fan since before the first Macintosh made its appearance a day after my birthday back in 1984. I’ve owned almost every piece of hardware Apple ever made including the Newton tablet. So naturally, when the Apple Watch came on the market I had to have one. It turned out to be a powerhouse feature for me as a dance teacher until last week’s release of Watch OS 4.0 which inexplicably broke key functionality for no reason that makes any sense.

Update April 2018: Apple released Watch OS 4.3 which promised to fix the problem described here. It fixes some things but others are still broken. You can now use the music app to play or pause the current song, rewind to the beginning, or move to the next song. While you can select a playlist from the iPhone, you can’t just select a song within that play list. You can only scroll through them one at a time, which takes forever if your play list contains more than a handful of songs. So I consider the watch still broken for dance teachers, as you still have to go back to your iPhone to select a different piece of music.

Hundreds of dance teachers around the world use the Apple Watch to help them teach more efficiently. I personally know a number of dance teachers who bought the Apple Watch specifically for that purpose. We use the watch to control our iPhone playlists while we’re on the floor.

When you’re teaching, it’s a nuisance to have to walk back to your music station every time you want to start or stop the music and then walk back onto the floor to continue the class. Back and forth. Back and forth. It disrupts the class. The music station may be in an awkward place. You lose a little bit of control of the class during that time and it’s inefficient.

The Apple Watch still offers a screen where you can see playlists, artists and songs in your library, but good luck trying to access any of them.

With the Apple Watch, dance teachers would just plug in their iPhone, then select a playlist and song from their watch and hit start and stop to control the music without leaving their spot on the floor. We had numerous playlists available and could choose the one we wanted, such as a particular genre, or a slow practice list, or a run-through list. It was magical! Often we would hear people remark that this was “the coolest thing ever.”

When Watch OS 4 came out last week, I immediately noticed that the watch no longer showed all my playlists. It now only shows one playlist, the one that is embedded into the watch memory itself. But I couldn’t even see the songs in that playlist!

With the new OS, when you select even an embedded playlist, it asks you to connect the watch to Bluetooth headphones. Not your phone, but the watch itself. It is entirely focused on Bluetooth playback, as if the only people who would ever use the Apple Watch with their iPhone are those who are listening through a Bluetooth headset while still holding their iphone in their hand. This UI change is ridiculous and makes absolutely no sense.

I contacted Apple Support to talk with them about this. The support rep didn’t even know that the previous functionality had been crippled and was as perplexed by this fundamental change in the UI as I was. I then asked around some more and received this information:

Under watchOS 4.x, for controlling playback of music from your iPhone rather than the synced playlists on Apple Watch, then — other than by using Siri — it is necessary to first start playback on your iPhone before being able to control playback on your Apple Watch.

Seriously? In other words, the only way that the Apple Watch now has any value for music playback is if you are already holding your iPhone in your hand and using it to select your music. What’s the point of that? Isn’t the whole idea of the Apple Watch to free you from being tethered to your phone?

The new Watch OS lets you see what is currently playing, but you must hold the phone in your hand to select music. Really?

Some dance teachers have now paid as much as $1400 for a watch that has no functional value on the dance floor.

When you are already playing supported audio on your iPhone (whether via the Music app or a third-party app), the Now Playing app is shown automatically in the Dock on your Apple Watch and can be used to control playback on your iPhone. However, those controls no longer include the ability to browse or select playlists on your iPhone via screen-based inputs. Anything you do, such as changing the song or going back to the start of the song, requires you to hold the iPhone in your hand.

You are now tethered to the phone the same way you were before the Apple Watch existed. It is inexplicable why Apple would make a change like this.

As if that’s not bad enough, another change is the way that the Now Playing app times out shortly after you pause the music. So even if you are playing something meaningful and stop to explain something for a couple of minutes, when you go back to your watch you have nothing and have to return to your phone to reselect the music and start playing from there. In previous versions of the watch, the music you were playing would still be queued up and ready to resume or select another song.

The only way that the Apple Watch now has any value for music playback is if you are already holding your iPhone in your hand and using it to select your music. What’s the point of that? Isn’t the whole idea of the Apple Watch to free you from being tethered to your phone?

I am incredulous about this change of functionality, as are all the other dance teachers who have been discussing this issue. We cannot understand why such a fundamental feature as being able to control your iPhone’s music from your watch has been so severely crippled as to be utterly useless.

If you are one of those dancers or teachers affected by this change, I urge you to contact Apple Feedback and let them know. If there is enough of a public outcry, there’s a chance that someone will reconsider this ill-fated decision.

To give your feedback, visit www.apple.com/feedback/watch.html

Contact Apple Feedback

Does this change affect you? If so, use the comment area below to leave feedback and make sure to share this post.

George Pytlik

Author George Pytlik

Before turning pro, George achieved impressive results as an amateur competitor, holding the Senior (30+) Latin championship in BC, Canada for 7 consecutive years with his wife Wendy. The couple twice achieved a top-3 Canadian ranking in Senior Latin as well as a 3rd place Canadian ranking in 30+ Ten Dance. Today, George and Wendy are professional teachers with a vision of growing a strong dance community in Delta near Vancouver, BC.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Michael Black says:

    Thanks for this information. As of the current date of March 20, 2021, has Apple fixed these problems ? I would like to purchase an Apple Watch for my wife who is a dance teacher.

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