The Apple Watch Series 2 announcement isn’t earth shattering. Swim proof, built-in GPS, brighter display, faster chip, and same design. Most first-gen Apple Watch users will be satisfied with the speed gains that the watchOS 3 software update offers and won’t consider upgrading, and first time Apple Watch buyers will have a better experience with the new hardware and software from day one.
I’m hardly disappointed personally. I asked for a better sports watch and that’s what Apple delivered. The Series 2 message is so clearly targeted toward health and activity that it’s easy to miss features like Siri and Apple Pay!
It’s especially interesting to me that Apple actually introduced two new Apple Watch models: Series 1 and Series 2. The first-gen Apple Watch is dead. That’s absolutely the right thing to do even if it’s a new move for Apple and implies we were all beta testers for the original.
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Apple Watch Series 2 looks like the original Apple Watch, so what exactly has changed? Series 2 packs in a new S2 chip with a faster dual-core processor and built-in GPS; the casing is swim proof versus just splash proof, and the second-generation OLED Retina display is 2x brighter at 1000 nits versus 450 nits.
Series 2 also includes a new white ceramic Apple Watch Edition, a Nike+ version of the Sport model with unique watch faces and a modified Sport band, and Apple Watch Hermès lives on with new orange Sport bands bundled. Series 2 does not include gold and rose gold Apple Watch Edition models that ranged in price from $10,000 to $17,000, just the new ceramic model at $1250-$1300.
Otherwise Series 2 includes the same materials (aluminum and stainless steel) in the same colors (silver, space gray, gold, rose gold, stainless steel, and space black stainless steel) paired with the same band styles in a variety of new colors. (Series 2 does upgrade all Apple Watches to ceramic backs; Series 1 and the original Apple Watch Sport had composite backs. Series 1 also doesn’t include a USB wall adapter.)
The original Apple Watch with its S1 chip is discontinued. Its reputation to be slow and underpowered despite useful features like fitness tracking and access to notifications was too damaging. Good! Instead Apple also introduced Apple Watch Series 1. It’s the first-generation hardware without the GPS and swim proof rating, but it gets a necessary speed boost with its S1P chip, a dual-core processor like the Series 2’s S2 chip.
Apple Watch Series 1 creates a more affordable price than Series 2 without compromising the experience for customers that don’t care about fitness features. Series 1’s $269 price is $80 lower than the $349 starting price for the original Apple Watch and $30 under the $299 price Apple offered since September. Series 2 is pricier than the original Apple Watch at $369 so keeping a lower-end model around makes perfect sense.
I love my original Apple Watch but I haven’t recommended it since it turned a year old; if you want an Apple Watch but don’t care about swim-tracking or outdoor running/biking I think the Apple Watch Series 1 with its dual-core chip is totally fine.
Apple Watch Series 1 is as much a new watch as Apple Watch Series 2. One could easily argue that Apple Watch was released too soon. The external hardware was ready, but the processor that drives it was underpowered and the software changed dramatically from Watch OS 1.0 to watchOS 3.
Apple doesn’t release hardware products in beta, but the original Apple Watch could be described as just that. Tim Cook’s Apple was under a lot of pressure to prove it could innovate and create a new product category. Even if that wasn’t the motivation, it’s clear in retrospect that Apple gave the Apple Watch to the public and learned from how people used it to improve its focus on version 2.
That also explains why there are tech enthusiasts like myself that feel strongly about the benefit of the original Apple Watch, while there are even more people who dismiss it, or just don’t feel strongly about it. I like to beta test products, especially Apple products, and I like Apple Watch a lot. The jury is out on Apple Watch Series 1 and Series 2 performance, but the S1P/S2 chip and watchOS 3 should help it feel more like a mainstream product.
One concern I have, though, is that the original Apple Watch’s reputation may hurt sales of the updated models. I think it’s clear that WatchKit apps for Watch OS 1.0 didn’t do much for the device’s reputation: Instagram and Twitter are two examples of Watch OS 1.0 apps that never bothered with watchOS 2. Maybe watchOS 3 will change that, but holding back third-party apps might have been the right call in retrospect. I’m personally glad I’ve had 18 months with the original Apple Watch, but the product category might have made a bigger impact if what we’re getting with Series 1 and Series 2 was everyone’s first impression.
I mentioned in the opening that I don’t think most Apple Watch 1 customers will upgrade to either a Series 1 or Series 2. It would be especially hard to justify the purchase from first-gen to Series 1 and a lot of Apple Watch owners I’m hearing from are planning to skip Series 2. I can’t share the same sentiments; I wrote a few weeks ago that I hope Apple Watch 2 doubles down on fitness tracking, and that’s what Series 2 did.
Water resistance is pretty good on the original Apple Watch and now Series 1. I’ve worn my Apple Watch in the ocean, in a hot tub, in a pool, and in the shower (this is starting to sound like a bizarre Dr. Seuss book) without damaging it, but the Workout app isn’t meant to track swimming. Series 2 is rated for a higher level of water resistance so proper swim tracking will be limited to that model. Series 2 using the speaker to eject lingering water from its opening after a workout is purely Apple!
I purchased an elliptical for my home office (and later a bike and gym membership) just to put my Apple Watch to better use. 36 pounds later and counting, I’m happier for it. Between now and Apple Watch Series 2 arriving, I’ll be looking into access to a pool (probably the local YMCA) to put the new swim tracking to use.
GPS is an interesting one for me. When the original Apple Watch was being reviewed as a fitness watch, everyone dinged it for requiring a nearby iPhone for accurate outdoor running and cycling. Series 2 has its own GPS and can map outdoor activity. But I like to bike to podcasts, not music, most of the time, and Apple Watch doesn’t play local podcasts yet. I’m also nervous about the idea of running without my iPhone even if I’m listening to music. What if I miss an important phone call about a family emergency? The benefit here for me might have to wait until cellular is an option.
Speed aside, learning that the display is over 2x brighter is music to my ears. I mentioned in my initial Apple Watch review that the display was very difficult to read in sunlight, unlike traditional watches. Apple Watch Sport with its Ion-X glass is more legible outdoors than sapphire displays on stainless steel models, but the brightness jump from 450 nits to 1000 nits on Series 2 should make a big difference for both cover types. I can’t wait to test this.
I’ve shared before that I plan on buying Apple Watch Sport this time around after spending a little extra on the stainless steel model to start. The fitness features are my favorite. I was thrilled to see the Apple Watch Nike+ model introduced on stage yesterday. It’s the same price as the other aluminum Series 2 models, but it features unique Nike watch faces (like how Hermès models have unique faces) and a different take on the Sport band. It’s a different look that may not be for everyone, but I like it.
The only problem is that Apple Watch Nike+ isn’t available until late October. The regular Series 2 models are available next Friday. Any normal person could wait a few more weeks, but I’m an impatient tech blogger and I’m really eager to take the Series 2 for a test drive as soon as possible. My plan is to buy a Series 2 Apple Watch Sport at launch, then switch to the Nike+ model when it’s available and gift the regular Series 2 to someone in the family.
Something else I should mention: I’m not exactly good at running. I hated exercise in general before the Apple Watch and now it’s part of my daily routine even when I’m traveling. I’m partly buying Apple Watch Nike+ to motivate me to shift my focus from exercise and weight loss to new forms of fitness training. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m optimistic that a good coach can help.
Small upgrade or not, there’s still a lot to unpack with the new Series 1 and Series 2 Apple Watch models. How much faster is the new chip? What can developers do with the built-in GPS that wasn’t possible before? How does the new display brightness perform in the real world? We’ll know soon enough. Pre-orders go live tonight at 12:01 AM PT/3:01 AM ET, then most of the new models ship next Friday on September 16.