I described my own journey with the Apple Watch, from smartwatch skeptic to daily user, in a four-part diary (parts one, two, three and four). My uncertainty was less to do with the specifics of the Apple Watch and more to do with whether there was a role in my life for any kind of smartwatch.
But there are those who have been holding off for another reason: they steer clear of first-generation Apple products of all kinds. Their thinking is that the 1st-gen model tends to have a bunch of glitches, with the 2nd-gen product not just getting those worked out but also adding significantly to the functionality too.
This is a perfectly reasonable viewpoint, with significant historical evidence behind it – from the original Macintosh onward (one could even say from the Apple I). But with Apple having added a whole bunch of functionality to the existing Watch via watchOS 2, has the company managed to give the first-gen refuseniks enough reason to reconsider … ?
We outlined on Monday the main new features added – with screengrabs and video – and it’s a lengthy list. Apple describes the Watch as its most personal device yet, and I think that’s a description which very much applies to its applications. What one person finds crucial may be irrelevant to someone else. For that reason, the features I highlight here may or may not be the ones that persuade you to take another look, and you may not agree with my classifications, but let’s see …
Apple added a few things I consider pretty minor, but they do still add slightly to the appeal. The city time-lapse watch faces, for example. Minor, but a sign that more watch faces are likely to be added, and for a device selling itself as much on fashion as functionality, more choice in how the device looks when you turn your wrist can only be a good thing.
The “Time Travel” feature, allowing you to flick forward in time to see upcoming appointments, weather and so on. Again, trivial, but still a handy feature that makes the watch a slightly more convenient device.
Nightstand mode, similarly, offers a minor improvement in usability when used as a bedside clock. For some, it might even be enough to allow them to dispense with their existing clock.
But nobody who was holding out is likely to change their mind over such minor enhancements.
I would put a bunch of the watchOS 2 features into the ‘medium deals’ category.
I said that time-lapse watch faces were trivial, but I think the two photo faces – Single Photo and Photo Album – are more important. A tiny watch screen isn’t the best of ways to sit and scroll through photos, but seeing a photo of your partner, or your kids, every time you glance at your watch is a nice touch. I can see that holding reasonable appeal, and was surprised that such a seemingly simple feature didn’t make it into the original version of watchOS.
Similarly, with the Friends screen. While nobody wants to store hundreds of contacts on the watch, twelve was always too restrictive, especially as they had to mix friends, work colleagues and other numbers you might call frequently, such as a local minicab company. Having two or three screens of categorized contacts does make the Watch a lot more useful as a means of contacting someone.
Native apps, too, will make a significant difference – hopefully ending the delays I complained about previously.
The ability to reply to emails directly on the watch – either with a canned response, as per Messages, or by dictating to Siri – could be a big-ish deal for some. I’m mostly desk-based, so can’t see myself making too much use of it personally, but for someone who is on the move a great deal and receives a lot of email requiring only short replies, this could be very handy.
Maps with mass transit support similarly. The ability to navigate by wrist taps is very convenient (and safer in sketchy areas, with no technology visibly in use), and this makes it significantly more useful for those who live in big cities and thus avoid driving whenever possible. Support for Activation Lock will also help reduce theft fears – another feature that should definitely have been there from the start.
Adding store cards and merchant rewards to Apple Pay makes the Watch more useful as a method of payment. Not something I’ve been able to try yet in the UK, but looking forward to doing so next month.
Proper support for third-party workout apps could be a medium deal for fitness fans. Everyone tends to have their own favorite app, so the ability of the watch to log data from all apps will definitely make it more appealing.
Finally, in the medium-deal category, I’d place haptic feedback from third-party apps. It’s one of those small-sounding things that I think could make a big difference to those who care primarily about a small number of apps, like third-party IM apps. A haptic tap is more discreet than a sound, and can also be felt in noisy environments, where an audible alert might be missed.
Two enhancements that are, to me, big deals – one addressing passive use of the watch, viewing information, the other interacting with it.
Passive viewing first. To me, any smartwatch is mostly about at-a-glance information. That’s the real selling-point: instead of having to pull your phone out of your pocket to see what an alert was, or check your next appointment, you can simply glance at your wrist.
So I think something that sounds small – support for third-party complications on watch faces – is actually huge. I mentioned in my diary series that I stick exclusively to the Modular face precisely because it maximizes the amount of data I can see at a glance. So far, I’ve been limited to the fields Apple allows me to view, but being able to import data from third-party apps will substantially increase the utility of the watch to me.
On the interaction side, I think teaching Siri new tricks will make a very big difference. I’m a huge Siri fan, using it as my preferred input method for most things I do on my phone, so perhaps I’m biased – but to me, asking Siri to display a Glance is a lot quicker and easier than swiping up then sideways until I reach the one I want.
But even those who are only moderate Siri fans are, I think, going to be won over by Siri’s new-found ability to control HomeKit devices. You walk into your home, raise your wrist and tell Siri to switch on the living-room lights and turn up the AC. That, to me, is the closest thing yet to a killer app for the Watch.
Is it all enough?
Personally, I think the big deals plus the medium ones are sufficient to at least give the first-generation avoiders pause for thought.
But I do recognize that while software enhancements are one thing, hardware improvements another. And nobody outside Apple knows yet what the new hardware may offer. The smart money has to be on an extra sensor or two. Maybe better battery-life (though honestly, the only times I’ve run out of power before the end of the day were when I was getting up at 5.45am and going to bed at midnight – not something I intend to make a habit).
Will there be visible differences? A slimmer model is always a possibility. Despite my first impressions, compare the Apple Watch to most conventional watches, and it’s not thick. It’s about the same as many, thinner than some. But if the iPhone and iPad has taught us anything, it’s that mass-market consumers want slim devices – and Apple works hard to cater to their tastes.
Buying a 1st-gen product is a gamble. But then so is buying at any other time: there’s always going to be a better model next time around. For me, I think buying the Sport model with Sport band is a reasonable compromise. You get the benefits of the watch today – with the enhancements added by watchOS 2 – but will have something easily resellable and won’t have so much invested in it that you’ll cry when Apple announces the next one.