It is not every day that Apple admits that they were wrong in a major way. Apple Watch 3.0 may end up being Apple’s biggest Mae culpa ever. Apple made some huge bets with the unveiling of the original Apple Watch. They bet heavily on features like:
- Digital Touch
- Digital Crown
- Friends button
- Force Touch
In WatchOS 3, all of these features have either been deemphasized or disappeared. These are not the only changes the Apple Watch as undergone since it’s release to the public. Another of those big changes is market positioning. The Apple Watch was intended to be a high-end product.
The $550 - $600 stainless steel version was intended to be the flagship. The $10,000 + gold Edition versions were to represent the status of the brand. The $350 - $400 Sport was the poor man’s entry point. The entry level of a luxury status symbol item is never a great place to be.
Today's Apple Watch has backed way off those lofty aspirations. Apple doesn't even talk about the Edition series. And you have to work a little harder to find it on the website. The Sports series has been undergoing what can only be called a fire-sale in some outlets.
At the time of this writing, Best Buy is offering an Apple Watch starting at $49 with the purchase of an iPhone 6s. There have been other notable discounts that make it seem as if Apple is having a hard time moving these devices.
While Apple hasn't exactly repositioned the Apple Watch ⌚️ as an every man's accessory, they seem to have accepted the fact that the Apple Watch is fundamentally a $350 - $400 device. The Sport is the flagship. All of their creative energy goes into $50 bands, while luxury brands handle the high-end.
It was clear, even to those of us who love our watches, that the product was in trouble, and needed to be overhauled in a serious way. I am happy to report that Apple has responded to the call in a big way. They have embraced all of the criticism. When watchOS 3 is released to the public, it will make you feel like you got a whole new device for free. Here's how:
So much faster
If you were not aware of how slow launching apps and updating information like the temperature can be on the current device, Apple helpfully demonstrated it on stage. That is not just the situation for third-party apps. That is what you get with Apple's own apps.
They demonstrated app launching with watchOS 3. The results were near instant. I am happy to say that the reality is equal to the hype, mostly. They do this by keeping certain apps resident in memory. These are the apps that you use most, or have placed in the new Dock. It is not a magical solution for apps you are launching cold.
That said, the vast majority of the apps you use on a daily basis will be in the Dock, and updated aggressively throughout the day. The frustrating wait for app data to appear is finally over with the new release.
Simplified navigation and interface
The Apple Watch frequently received a complaint that is rare for Apple products: It had too many buttons and interactions. It was confusing to operate. Many interactions were hard to discover. It was anything but intuitive. For Apple, that is a major fail.
Rather than doubling down on the Digital Crown as the future of human interface equal to the invention of the mouse, they didn’t mention it at all. The demonstrators showed off swipe and touch controls. The Digital Crown is still there. And it still does what it always did. But the message from Apple is that you don’t have to use it to get maximum use out of the Apple Watch.
The same goes for the Home screen with the honeycomb app layout. It is still there. But Apple isn’t showing it or talking about it. Apple treated these interface elements as if they never existed.
In that same vein, you know what else never existed? The Friends button. That’s what. Remember all those cutesie little digital touches, heartbeats, and sketches? Apple doesn’t. It is like it never happened. Except, it did. None of it has been removed. It has simply been buried under a few menus.
There are no more Glances. They’re done. There is only a Dock with a live view of your favorite apps. You don’t so much launch an app as you select an app from the Dock that has already been launched, and never shuts down. No one will complain about watchOS 3 being too complicated.
A major facelift
There are a few new watch faces. A couple are devoted to Activity. Another is called digits, and is more on the elegant, but simple side. The more interesting development in the watch face area is how we will be changing those faces. Right now, you have to Force Touch to get to other watch faces. In the new system, you just do an edge to edge swipe to smoothly move from one face to another.
You can still use a Force Touch. But Apple clearly wants you to have to do that as little as possible. Changing faces is now an intuitive swipe of the finger. You can set them up how you like, then change them without drama. It is a small thing that makes a big difference in how you use the various watch faces. You will probably be inclined to try more of them as they are only ever a swipe away.
Not quite perfect
If you try watchOS 3, you can never go back. I don’t mean that you will not want to go back. I mean that you are stuck on that version, and can never go back. So think twice before you hack the beta on your Apple Watch. That said, I never want to go back. The first beta of the new OS makes my watch more useful than the shipping version. It has breathed new life into my purchase, as it will yours when it is ready for public consumption.
But the worst thing about the watch is still unaddressed in the new version. That is the onboarding process. Getting a new Apple Watch ready to use is the worst process of any gadget I have ever owned. Apple should be ashamed of themselves. It takes too long to download and install the software. It takes far too many steps that involve the watch, the iPhone, and a charger, regardless of how much charge you have on the watch. Even powering the thing on takes an embarrassingly long time.
Updating the software is painful. Whenever you update the iPhone from a clean instal, you will need to reinstall the Apple Watch. It is neither fun nor easy. And anticipation quickly gives way to frustration and outbursts of rage. Apple is better than this onboarding process. Yet they have never done anything to address it. Don’t expect it to change anytime soon. Perhaps new hardware will help.
Bottom line, Apple has rethought the Apple Watch. You may be one of the people who gave up on it early. watchOS 3 invites you to also rethink the Apple Watch. As they say, time will tell.