My Apple Watch Diary: To Speak on Wrist Raise or Not

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

When I first saw mention of the Apple Watch having a ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’ option for VoiceOver users, my immediate reaction was that this would be one of those ‘set it and forget it’ settings. However, this is not turning out to be the case.

For those of you who don’t have an Apple Watch and are unfamiliar with this option and what it does, it simply has VoiceOver automatically speak the Watch screen when you lift your wrist (which most commonly results in the time being announced). Essentially, it takes things one step further than the ‘Activate On Wrist Raise’ option found elsewhere in the Watch settings, which controls whether the Watch display wakes when you lift your wrist. Actually, it’s supposed to be smarter than that might suggest, in that it should recognize and require the combination of both the lifting and the turning movements typically indicative of somebody looking at their watch.

My initial thought, that of course I would want this setting permanently turned on, is now looking rather hasty, and perhaps even a little naive,

In part, this is due to the sensitivity of the motion detection used by the Watch to recognise the lifting and turning movement of your wrist. If others were’t also commenting on this and related issues, I might be tempted to think that I simply have particularly animated arms when going about my daily life. However, others are sharing similar experiences. In his review of the Apple Watch for Bloomberg, Joshua Topolsky wrote that on occasions “a subtle twist of your wrist” was all that it takes for the Apple Watch to think that you are looking at it. The result is that if you have ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’ turned on, you can find your Watch chatting away to you when you really don’t want it to.

There are times when this behavior is amusing, times when it is mildly irritating, and other times when it can be downright embarrassing.

So, right now, this is not a ‘set it and forget it’ option (unless, of course, your choice is to never use this facility). Even if Apple does something in a future Watch OS update to improve motion detection or adds a setting that allows you to calibrate its sensitivity, it’s likely that ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’ will always be something that many of us will want to toggle either on or off depending upon where we are and what we are doing at the time. It’s also likely to be something that we will often want to do as quickly and unobtrusively as possible.

Unfortunately, that’s not made easy right now.

You can’t access the setting on the Watch itself. Neither can you use Siri. So, this leaves you having to dig the iPhone out of your pocket, open the Watch app and drill down into My Watch > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver and find the toggle switch. Yes, that’s the obvious place for the toggle to be located. And, yes, perhaps I am also being obtuse by making it sound far more involved than it actually is. However, one thing that it currently is not, and that’s quick and unobtrusive.

Considering that this is a setting that it’s looking like I will be accessing a lot, I am really hoping that Apple can do something to make things easier. As I see it, there are two obvious solutions. The first would be to make this toggle available as an option for the Accessibility Shortcut on the Watch. Three presses of the Digital Crown would certainly meet my hopes for a quick and unobtrusive solution. In fact, there have already been occasions when I have used the Accessibility Shortcut to completely turn VoiceOver off when I have wanted to quickly silence the consequences of having ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’ enabled. It’s not ideal, but it does the job for now.

Would Apple add ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’ to the Accessibility Shortcut? As much as I would like to see it, I really can’t see this happening. Traditionally, the Accessibility Shortcut has been used for quick access to what can probably be termed ‘top level’ toggles such as VoiceOver, Zoom and Color Inversion. Adding a toggle for something which is already dependent upon one of these existing options has the potential for making things complicated and for creating a precedent. After all, I am sure that we all have a certain setting or toggle that we would really like to have quick access to.

So, assuming that three presses on the Digital Crown isn’t going to be an option that will sit well with Apple, that leaves my second possible solution, which is to simply make this setting available via Siri. I can currently say “Hey Siri, turn off VoiceOver”, and it’s done. Want it back on, just as easy. So, I am hoping that Apple could add a similar command for ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’. It would be quick and easy, yes. Perhaps not as unobtrusive as I would often like, but it would certainly be a whole lot better than how things are now. For this to work, it would probably also require that this toggle be added to the settings available on the Watch itself, but that might have merits of its own.

I have already reached out to Apple and asked them to consider this. If you have an Apple Watch and agree, then do please also reach out to Apple and make the suggestion. If enough of us do, then perhaps this can be made into a reality in a future Watch OS update.

In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on ‘Speak On Wrist Raise’. Are you using it? All of the time? Some of the time? Or do you prefer having to touch the screen to initiate VoiceOver? Please leave a comment to share your views and experience.



Submitted by Tree on Friday, June 5, 2015

For me there is a bigger problem with raise to speak then voice over chatting away. Its true that having this feature on is not practical with voice over, because the time will be yelled at you with every movement, but the larger issue is that the feature is not what it claims to be. This feature is called raise to speak and is found in the accessibility settings; it, therefore, seems like turning this feature on and off should toggle weather or not voice over speaks when you rase your wrist. however, that is not what this setting toggles. Instead turning rase to speak off simply makes it where the screen of the watch does not wake up with the movement of your wrist. It may seem as though this should amount to the same thing, but it does not, because of how the feature impacts the utility of siri on the watch.

A sited person can simply raise their wrist, say hey siri, and then give a command. We can also do this if raise to speak is turned on, but if it is not then hey siri does not work when you raise your wrist. This is needlessly disappointing, especially since being able to use siri, hands free, at the rase of my wrist was one of the most exciting things about the watch for me. I'm very glad that we can make the watch not yell the time with every move we make, but why does the hey siri feature have to also be tied up with this? Just because I don't want voice over to speak with my wrist raise, does not mean that I don't want to use hey siri.

If you want to see what I am talking about in action do the following. toggle speak on wrist raise on, and then move your wrist and say hey siri and give her a command. You should feel a vibration and then the response to your command will be on the screen. Now turn off raise to speak and try the same thing. Siri will not respond to hey siri, unless you actually touch the watch to wake it up. Another way to see this is to simply turn off voice over, make sure hey siri and the show screen with wrist raise features are on, and then raise your wrist and say hey siri. Once again you will feel the vibration indicating that siri has heard you.

In short Apple has not thought through the raise to speak feature. Instead of making it a unique and useful feature for voice over users, it is simply an easy way to turn off the raise to unlock screen feature. I even tested this by turning off raise to speak and then asking a sited person if the screen was lighting up when I moved my wrist. They said no if the rase to speak feature was off, but if the feature was on the screen did light up with wrist movement.

I want to be able to use hey siri with the flick of a wrist like everyone els can, and I do not understand why we can not do this without also having to put up with voice over yelling the time with every move of the wrist.

Submitted by David Goodwin👨‍🦯 on Friday, June 5, 2015

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

This explains some of what I had been encountering, but had probably put down to my simply not knowing yet how some things were supposed to work on the Watch.

Submitted by Travis Roth on Friday, June 5, 2015

Hi Tree, I have found the same thing you have. What's funny is elsewhere the "raise on wrist" setting, which I have found on the Apple Watch settings, is still turned on. I agree it'd be nice if Siri would still work. For now I just have speak on raise turned off as it had about 19 false positives to every one time I actually was going to use the watch.
On another note, I find "hey Siri" to be very unreliable even when I know the watch is on. It worked the best the first day and ever since it has pretty much been non-responsive to me. Maybe its just my watch, but I am hoping for an OS update or two. <smile>

Submitted by Dave Nason on Friday, June 5, 2015

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Yeah I would agree with this. I switched the option on when I first got the watch, but had switched it off within again a couple of days. It was always lighting up and speaking at the wrong time, and got irritating.
As I do have some useable vision, I would actually like to be able to have the screen light up on wrist raise, but not to speak until I touch the screen. This way I could at least use the feature to allow me to glance at the time without VoiceOver speaking.
However, if you switch on the "Activate On Wrist Raise" option in the Settings app on the watch, but have "Speak On Wrist Raise" switched off in accessibility settings as described above, it does not work, which is disappointing.

Submitted by Michael Hansen on Saturday, June 6, 2015

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Like many others, I too have disabled Speak on Wrist Raise. I find that the Watch is simply too sensitive, and that it was activating even when I would move my wrist around when using my computer.

I would really like to see Apple implement a hybrid option to only speak on wrist raise if a notification had just come in. In this way, if a text comes in, all one need do is raise the wrist to hear it; if there's no pending notification or the time limit for the notification to still be displayed on the screen immediately upon waking the Watch has passed, then nothing would happen. To me, this seems like it might meet more needs than the current setup.

Submitted by Travis Roth on Saturday, June 6, 2015

One bonus I have found to not having the watch wake on wrist raise is with all the false positive screen lightings eliminated the battery life is improved. With a 42mm Apple Watch Sport without using wrist raise I can have between 50% and 60% of battery left after a 15 hour day of wearing.

I do agree the hybrid option speak notifications sounds quite useful.
I also still am hoping for a silent tactile watch face.

Submitted by hypnotic on Friday, January 8, 2016

I've had my watch for two weeks and didn't have this sensitivity problem. I restored my phone last night and had to repair my watch, I did not set it up as new. But now my watch is super sensitive going off almost everytime I move my arm, it wasn't like this before, frown.