watchOS 2: first look

16 Mar, 2019

Last week iOS 9, Apple's next-gen mobile software, became available to iPhone and iPad users, bringing with it some of the more notable features we've seen in an Apple software update in awhile (multitasking, anyone?). There was supposed to be another software launch that day, too: watchOS 2 for Apple Watch. However, a technical bug delayed the launch of watchO2 last week. Apple wouldn't say exactly what this bug was, just that it was minor and that it's likely not something that users of watchOS 2 would have noticed or experienced. Still, the company held off on releasing the software to the public — until today. This delay, however minor, is noteworthy not just because it's unusual for Apple to suddenly pull back on a new release because of a "bug." There's a lot more at stake for watchOS 2 than there is for iOS 9. The two software releases were aligned for a reason — an Apple Watch wearer has to install iOS 9 on iPhone in order to download watchOS 2 — but iOS 9 powers an already best-selling iPhone, while watchOS 2 is supposed to bring significant improvements to a gadget that many consumers still aren’t convinced they need.

The iPhone has nothing to prove; the Apple Watch does.One of the most important aspects of this update is speed around loading apps, and in my experience it’s been a mixed bag. I also haven’t been able to test updated third-party apps on the Watch yet — things like Strava, MLB, CNN, Facebook Messenger, and GoPro — because those are just rolling out now for watchOS 2. And a few of the Watch software updates will seem purely cosmetic in nature, because, well, they are. For example, you can now set a still photo as the watch face, or cycle through a series of favorite photos from a photo album. These are cool, but feel a little obvious, just like you can change your desktop or smartphone wallpaper to a personal image.

Until the third-party app experience is fully baked, we’re sort of trapped in the Apple ecosystem of Apple’s own Apple Watch apps. A lot of people would say — and I agree — that this third-party app experience is even more crucial to the watch’s success than the native apps. I’m really looking forward to seeing how health and fitness apps actually patch into the native sensors of the watch (like the heart rate sensor) and whether that improves the overall experience with my favorite third-party fitness apps.Aside from the color upgrade, there aren’t any material changes to Apple Watch. Battery life remains the same.

After a full day of wear, one that included plenty of notifications and an hour-long workout, I woke up the following morning with just about 10 percent left on the Watch, which is exactly the same percentage I wake up to when I forget to charge the original Watch. On the flipside, I haven’t noticed the battery draining any faster yet, even with the addition of features like a time-lapse watch face. All of which may lead you to ask: "Will this upgrade be the thing that convinces me to get an Apple Watch?" If you’ve been holding off on getting an Apple Watch because you thought the new software would change everything, the answer to that question is probably "no," at least for now.