watchOS 3 is the reason why I bought the Apple Watch, despite knowing it’s shortcomings in watchOS 1. I bought an Apple Watch with the determination to make it the first Apple product that I get to physically see and experience from day one. I didn’t have an original iPod when it first came out, nor an original iPhone. The closest I got was an iPad 2. Now, I have the original iPod and iPhone, but I only bought them post facto to collect them and see how far we’ve come. I didn’t get to see these devices mature into the stunning products they are today. Thus, with the Apple Watch, I wanted to see it mature and grow into another great Apple product. Just like the others, it didn’t start out a great product. iPod started out as Mac-only, iPhone started out without 3G and the iPad wasn’t quite ready to be the amazing post-PC product Jobs promised when it was first released. With new software and hardware, all three became behemoths. That is what I wanted to see happen with the Apple Watch. I knew it’s shortcomings and why it wasn’t yet a great product. It was slow, the UI/UX was cumbersome and rudimentary, it didn’t even really know what it was.
Apple certainly did not yet have it pinned on what it has. Even with previous shortcomings on it’s other products, Apple knew what it had. Apple knew that the iPod was a revolutionary music player, Apple knew the iPhone was a revolutionary phone, and Apple knew the iPad was a revolutionary post-PC device, even if the world wasn’t ready for them just yet. Apple announced the Apple Watch very similar to the way it announced the iPhone. The Watch was 1. the most advanced timepiece, 2. a revolutionary new way to connect with others and 3. a health and fitness device. Apple focused a lot on the “connect with others” part, so much so that it devoted one of two buttons to it. The side button was devoted to the friends menu, where you would be able to connect with them and send them doodles and heartbeats, something literally no one really wanted to do. I accidentally pressed that button more times than I actually meant to press that button. That was a crying shame. It’s not often Apple wants to put a button on a device but when they do, it better be pretty doggone important. The button for Friends simply wasn’t. Apple started the Watch out as a somewhat vague accessory and emphasized the “iPhone on the wrist” part of it as a catch-all. “It can do most of the things your iPhone can do but on your wrist”. As Apple itself has proved in the past, attempting to do too many things at once can be a very bad thing. It is against their design and company ethos. But perhaps Apple broke this ethos purposely. Perhaps, it knew that it had was a great product but they didn’t quite know why. Perhaps watchOS1 and 2 emphasizing the catch-all idea was the stopgap to watchOS 3. Maybe Apple wanted the Watch to do a bit of everything until they could figure out what people really like about the Watch, and what they don’t like as much.
It turns out people do like the interactive notifications, so Apple improved the messaging notifications (and messaging itself) in various ways in watchOS 3. It got rid of the Friends section that no one used and baked all of the functions you’d find there into notifications, a function people really liked on the Watch. It also added in new ways to communicate with messaging. Apple’s Newton is back and it’s living in an iOSified watch. The Scribble feature, which allows you to write out a message, is one of my favorite features of watchOS 3 and best of all, it’s right along side the message notifications, so you can write out a quick message and reply.
It turns out people do like the fitness and health functions of the Apple Watch, so Apple increased the emphasis on those features. Activity gets new faces and complications in watchOS3, you can now share your Watch activity to compete with other Watch users, just like on Fitbit devices. The Watch also gets dedicated apps for heart rate and a new app called Breathe which will remind you to take slow, deep breaths during the course of the day, another neat focus on health. On the Watch hardware itself, Apple added in GPS and waterproofing to Series 2, with GPS taken full advantage of in watchOS 3 with route tracking. Of course, Apple has the Apple Watch Nike+, which is no more or less expensive than Apple’s other offerings. These Watches, especially with watchOS3, have definitely focused on the health and fitness part of the Watch. This, I imagine, will only continue with future iterations of watchOS and the Watch itself.
I think it’s also important to not that the focus on the Watch as a fashion accessory is greatly diminished. The Gold $12k+ Apple Watch Editions are completely gone. Apple does not wish to compete in the luxury watch brand world because it has been proved that that is not what people want the Watch to be. The Apple Watch is more a fitness companion than an elitist fashion accessory. Thus, Apple no longer needs to even compete in that market anymore. Apple’s increasing focus on fitness for the Watch, much of which are features in watchOS3, prove Apple’s increasing awareness of what the Watch is for, as well as what people are willing to pay for it. Truth be told, no matter how great watchOS is or gets, the experience isn’t worth $12k+.
It turns out that people did not want an iPhone on their wrist, but they do want an easy-to-use, fast, glanceable device. With watchOS 3, this comes to fruition. watchOS 3 makes even the original Apple Watch feel like a new Watch. Everything on the Watch is smoother and much, much faster. This was a huge issue as to why many people did not want to buy the Watch in the first place. Even if you get a first-gen Apple Watch, watchOS 3 will alleviate those concerns entirely. The overall clunky user interface has also been redesigned. The Watch is not trying to be the iPhone anymore. Glances are gone and replaced simply by Control Center. Force Touch is de-emphasized and more can be done by just swiping, like changing Watch faces. Simply swipe left or right to get to a different face. It’s handy if you want to go from a Fitness face one minute back to, say, the Numerals face for a bit more style. The new Dock is also another addition to the UI, as well as a main reason for the speediness. Every app in the dock is running in the background and updating regularly. In a way, they are like Glances but they are more powerful because they are the full app. Simply tap on it to get to the app itself. The honeycomb app screen has been heavily deemphasized in an attempt to simplify the UX and it certainly pans out that way. The complications and dock will be mostly all you need. The app screen is the UX weak link, but with Apple’s increased reluctance to treat the Watch as an iPhone on your wrist, I think it will be completely changed in favor of something else.
The Apple Watch is beginning to focus on what it does best. Provide glance-able, interact-able information in small 5-10 second bites, a quick way to read and respond to notifications we get during the day, a comprehensive health and fitness partner, and that’s it. No focus on gaming, no focus on prolonged interaction, no focus on being what it isn’t. The Apple Watch under watchOS 1 was the jack of all trades but the master of none. That, I think, was on purpose. Apple was trying to figure out what to master on and I think they have found the gold under the rocks. I believe that Apple has finally refined the Watch’s purpose and thus has the true first Apple Watch. To me, it makes sense that Apple is starting over with the naming scheme. We all thought this was the Apple Watch 1, but really it was the Apple Watch 0. S1 and S2 are the true start to the Apple Watch because they mark the beginning of Apple knowing why they made the Watch in the first place.
Apple wouldn’t have needed to update the Watch hardware-wise to say they have a new Watch. watchOS 3 is the Windows iPod, the iPhone 3G, it is the iPad 2. Even if it used to be slow and had clunky software, I’m glad I got to see this transition. The Apple Watch is already becoming a great, maturing product and as time goes on, it will only continue to be. watchOS3 proves Apple is committed to fixing the problems it has made and owning up to those mistakes. Perhaps that is the greatest thing about seeing watchOS mature the way that it has. To see that Apple can still move forward. That it can still make a great product, not just a good-enough product. To see that Apple can take it’s responsibility to improve it’s flaws by the horns and move with two feet forward. watchOS 3 shows that Apple’s internal culture is not failing without Jobs and rather that it is operating as it did with him. Iterating and iterating on the course to perfection.
Thanks for reading,