Apple Changes Course with watchOS 3

Posted on September 13, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in iOS with 0 Comments

Apple Changes Course with watchOS 3

With watchOS 3, Apple is doing an about-face of sorts, switching the focus of Apple Watch to fitness. As important, it has made key changes to the watchOS user experience, and is finally letting users leverage their iOS experience.

While I’ve been using iOS 10 on my iPhone 6S Plus and iPad mini 2 for a few months now, I’ve not spent all that much time with watchOS 3. The issue, of course, is the Apple Watch. This wearable isn’t just unnecessary, it’s downright hostile to its users, with a terrible interface I call the “bubble bath,” slow performance, and less than one-day battery life.

The new Apple Watch Series 2—and kudos to Apple for not giving a crap about naming consistency—solves some of these problems: It offers better performance, for example, though know that it won’t solve the battery life issue.

But then there’s watchOS 3. Surely, Apple could fix some of the problems of its own making in software. And in watching the recent Apple press event, I was at inspired to install watchOS 3 on my dusty, rarely-used Apple Watch and see whether that was the case.

From a UI perspective, the basics remain unchanged. But I’m surprised and delighted to say that two of the changes Apple made directly address complaints I’ve levied at the Apple Watch in the past.

From a high level though, the biggest change is a new focus. That is, with the new Apple Watch Series 2 and watchOS 3, Apple is admitting that it had no idea what it was doing a year ago. So after throwing a bunch of wearable ideas at the wall with the first Apple Watch, the only thing that really stuck was fitness. And watchOS 3 has been updated accordingly, with the fitness stuff now front-and-center.


That’s fine, and it makes sense. You can choose from useful new Activity watch faces, which I suspect many Apple Watch owners will do. You can share activities with other Apple Watch owners, which many will find engaging. And the new Breathe app will help you meditate when your credit card bill arrives. These Apple devices are expensive, after all. Breathe.

Looking past fitness, however, the worst thing about using Apple Watch still remains in watchOS 3: When you press the crown button on the side, the bubble bath appears, a useless screen of round icons—why are they round?—that bears zero resemblance to any other Apple UI. It’s just … weird. And it’s curiously non-configurable, where you simply cannot remove many of the app bubbles from the bath. There’s not even a secondary screens, as with the iOS home page, and no folders for hiding crap.

It's ... full of bubbles.

It’s … full of bubbles.

Fortunately, Apple has made two very important changes to watchOS, and these changes finally let users start leveraging their years of iOS experience. This is where the firm has addressed some of my (and others’, I’m sure) complaints, and both changes are smart.

The first involves the side button. In previous watchOS versions, when you pressed this button, a circular list of your contacts would appear. Now, a new Dock UI appears, giving you access to an apps list. So it works just like the Dock in iOS: It’s a place for your favorite apps. As good, these apps now launch immediately, even on my original Apple Watch, and that’s a big deal as well.


The second change is Control Center. When you swiped up from the bottom of the screen in previous watchOS versions, the most-recently-used app would appear. Now, it works as it does in iOS, and the Control Center appears instead, providing quick access to system functions like Airplane Mode, brightness, and the like.


There are other, smaller changes. More and better watch faces, though I had to put them on my watch manually from the iPhone. Messaging improvements galore. The ability to swipe between two watch faces, so you can customize the look of the device on the fly.

For those stuck in the Apple ecosystem—and like the woolly mammoth of the Pleistocene, you won’t realize this oasis is designed to keep you there forever until it’s too late—watchOS 3 makes the Apple Watch a lot more bearable. The device itself is still unnecessary, and more expensive and complex than superior wearables like virtually anything made by Fitbit. But it integrates so well with your iPhone that you probably won’t care at all.

Interesting? Yes. Not enough to recommend an Apple Watch of course. But this is a solid update for those who have already jumped in.


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