Apple is getting a do-over with the Apple Watch

Apple Watch watchOS 3 update

Image: apple

Your Apple Watch is about to get the nearest thing to a brain transplant this fall.

Apples watchOS 3, (announced on Monday at WWDC 2016) represents a fundamental rethinking of Apples only wearable. It’s a concerted effort to clarify the sometimes confusing navigation, stop trying to control everything and to acknowledge that clever doesn’t always equal useful.

SEE ALSO: The Apple Watch’s iconic app screen isn’t dead, but it is getting demoted

It’s not that Apple Watch wasn’t already a very good wearable device. But, for most people, the utility had narrowed down to notifications, reminders to stand-up and regular alerts about your level of activity (“Look, I closed a ring!”). Watch OS 2.0, which arrived late last year, added important features like third-party complications, HomeKit device access and, of course, access to native hardware for third-party apps.

However, that last update also revealed a major weakness: These apps simply couldn’t load fast enough.Pre-loading oft-used apps in memory, as watchOS 3 promises to do, is going to make a major difference on that front, but I think it’s some of the other-other upcoming watchES watchES watchES 3 changes that will have the biggest impact on Apple Watch’s overall utility.

A fresh face

In some small ways, Apple Watch is becoming a bit more like the iPhone, meaning that watchOS is inheriting the best parts of iOS. A swipe up from the bottom of the watch will now reveal a control panel, just like on the iPhone. The Dock, which reveals cards of your most-used apps, looks a bit like the apps screen you get when you double-press the iPhones Touch ID button. (A swipe down from the top still gives access to notifications, something Apple got right with the Apple Watch from day one.)

But there are even bigger, more fundamental and strategic changes. As my colleague Raymond Wong has noted thoroughly, a number of key functions, for instance, have been demoted or recast.

The Apple Watch home screen and its lovely cluster of app bubbles become an artefact of a failed user interface experiment. You’ll still be able to access it, but only when you press the digital crown. The Friends Circle that used to come up when you pressed the side button is dead, but the digital touches it encouraged(drawing, sending heartbeats)will have a new life in the much more powerful and cohesive iOS message system.

Take Scribble, which turns finger swiping into drawings or handwriting. Scribble is now more or less the same between Apple mobile devices, but there’s an extra wrinkle in watchOS 3: It will let you write a custom message one letter at time for those instances was the boilerplate responses isn’t enough. (In my experience, they were almost never the ones I needed.)

Glances, which you accessed by sweeping up from the bottom of the Apple Watch screen and gave you quick links to things like your heart rate, battery life, activities and your calendar are done, too. That’s what the Dock is for: live cards of the apps you choose and the one you used most recently, instead of a set of features mostly selected by Apple.

Even the Apple Watch iPhone app is getting an update. No other Apple utility looks as much like an afterthought as the current watch app. With the brand new Face Gallery, the watchOS 3 app finally reveals all the hard work third-party apps vendors have been doing to create watch complications and even their own Apple Watch faces.

However, Apple change of heart is nowhere more evident in its fresh approach to activity and health.

Shaping up and calming down

Ever since companies started producing smartwatches, there’s been an ongoing debate about whether or not anyone even wears watches. A lot of people had given them up for the watch in their pocket: their smartphone. Wearables were all about fitness.

The Apple Watch, naturally, came with fitness- and health-tracking built in, but it was Apple brand of fitness and the company often seemed more interested in people seeing Apple Watch as a watch and fashion accessory first and a fitness gadget second.

That changes with watch OS 3.

Activities may no longer have a “glance,” but now they’re a full-blown watch face. So the three rings of Movement (for calories) Exercise and Standing can now be ever-present if you wish. Activities also still live within an app (which means it’s in the app Dock) and as a watch complication. No matter where you find it, though, Apple has done away with the virtual navigation grid in favour of strips. That’s right, if you want to see your activities, you just scroll the heck down.

It’s a much less complicated approach that will surely appeal to workout fanatics who perhaps found Apples wearable health and fitness ideas confusing and somewhat inflexible.

Speaking of flexibility, Apple has finally opened up the activity circles to third-party health and fitness apps like Strava. Now workouts done in your favourite workout app that start on the iPhone will get counted and continue on the watch. They’ll even let you define Other workouts.

WatchOS also adds a new workout complication and, when you tap that, up to five live workout metrics. You’ll even be able to pause a workout by simultaneously pressing the side and crown buttons, which means you don’t even have to look at the watch to control the tracking.

Apple seems particularly proud of its new well-being-focused to Breathe watch app, a watchOS 3 addition that’s probably not welcome news to apps like Headspace, which uses a mellifluous voice to help you practice mindfulness. Still, I have to applaud the simplicity of Apple approach. It’s really just about deep breathing, some flower graphics, and gentle wrist tips to help guide you along. Breathe seems emblematic of Apples larger watch OS 3 effort to help you achieve your goals without pressing its own methods and metrics upon you.

Apple has sold millions of Apple Watches, but still felt the need for a course correction. Not enough people want beautiful timepieces, but much more want to work out and get credit for it. Not everyone is charmed by Apples cute ideas for reaching friends or seeing their schedule for a day or a week ago (Time Travel anyone?), but notifications, messaging and fast access to the utility is something everyone can get behind.

WatchOS still bears little resemblance to any of the other wearable interfaces out there, but, like Samsung and Google before it, Apple has taken a major second swing at the wearable market. The Tizen-based Samsung Gear S2 showed that Samsung was listening to customer feedback and took note of the general disinterest in its previous (and relatively bulky) Gear watches. Android Wear 2.0 was also a major update that helped turn Google’s wearable platform into something usable.

Apple calls its new wearable platform watchOS 3, but it’s really the second iteration of the platform. And like everyone else, Apple is finally figuring this space out

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To your continued health and success


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