Apple Watch Series 2 review: The Apple Watch is now bigger than Rolex
Apps and software
The launch of the new Apple Watch also marks the release of watchOS 3, which is a major step forward for the platform. We’ll review watchOS 3 in depth soon, but in the meantime, it’s worth looking at some of the fundamental changes as they apply to the Series 2.
The first and probably most important change is the behaviour of the side button. On older versions of watchOS, this was used for to show a list of contacts, and let you quickly send them messages, calls or various slightly cheesy heartbeats and taps. A quick poll of all my Apple Watch-using friends revealed that it went unused for the most part. A waste of a really good button.
In watchOS 3, the button brings up a dock with your favourite applications in it, as well as the ones you’ve used most recently. Apps in the dock are stored in memory until the watch needs more space, at which point they’re purged in chronological order, oldest to most recently opened.[gallery:3]
Because the apps are stored in memory rather than being pulled from the iPhone every time, they’re much quicker to open. If they’ve been rewritten for watchOS 3, they can also pull data from the phone in the background, rather than on request, which means that the whole experience is much smoother. I tested this using a beta version of the excellent task-management tool OmniFocus, and found it to be basically instantaneous to launch and use, with none of the lag I experienced with earlier watchOS versions.
Why is this important? Because up until now, using apps on the Apple Watch has often been a frustrating experience for users, which meant people largely avoided them. That, in turn, reduced the incentive for developers to create great, unique, Watch apps. Now, hopefully, developers will start to look at Apple Watch apps again.
Apple’s focus on fitness with Apple Watch Series 2 is entirely justified. The addition of GPS makes this a much better watch for anyone doing outdoor fitness, and the water resistance and swimming features mean it’s now much more versatile.
The fitness angle also makes it a much easier sell. People understand the idea of a device that sits on your wrists and counts steps, exercises and heart rate. They don’t necessarily understand why you would use a watch as a wrist communicator, or a platform for apps, or for any one of the other hundred things that you could use a wrist-based computer for.
However, don’t let this make you think that the Apple Watch is only for fitness fanatics. If you’re not interested in fitness at all, then you’re still getting a stylish and powerful smartwatch with a great notification system and a broad selection of apps – a selection that, thanks the performance gains in watchOS 3 and on the Series 2 watch, I think will grow and become more powerful and useful.[gallery:6]
Of course, this is an Apple product, and you’re going to pay for the privilege. The model I tested – a 42mm Space Grey Aluminium Case with black woven nylon strap – will set you back £399, basically the same price as both a GPS-equipped TomTom Spark running watch and a Moto 360 Sport Android Wear watch. It’s also more expensive than the cheapest iPhone SE.
And that’s one of the cheaper watches in the Series 2 range (the cheapest is the 38mm with aluminium case at £369). Choose this year’s ceramic Edition model and you’ll pay £1,249, which looks a bargain compared to last year’s £8,000 gold Edition, but is still quite a lot to pay for a watch. Granted, it is gorgeous – the white ceramic feels like a smooth polished pebble in your hand, but still, who wants to pay £1,249?
Yes, there are cheaper smartwatches about. In fact, significantly cheaper. But I genuinely think this is a case of getting what you pay for. The original Apple Watch was the first smartwatch that actually made me want to wear a watch again, after years with bare wrists.
Series 2 improves on this considerably, with additional speed, waterproofing and GPS, while retaining the lovely design of the original. It’s a smartwatch people will genuinely want to wear.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my watch has just told me I have a plane to catch. I’m fleeing the country so Apple can’t track me down and get their review sample back.