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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

watchOS 2 released: Let’s get this party started

In July I wrote a column for Macworld called “The real Apple Watch party starts this fall.” The premise was simple: For all the talk about the first few months of the Apple Watch’s existence, the holiday quarter will tell the tale. To get it ready for its big moment, Apple has added new bands, new body colors, and—most importantly—given it its first major OS update, watchOS 2, which arrives today.

(To install watchOS 2, go to the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, tap General, then Software Update. Your iPhone and Apple Watch will need to be on the same wi-fi network, your watch needs to be at least 50 percent charged, and it must be attached to your charger.)

Nightstand mode!

I’ve been using a beta version of watchOS 2 for the last couple of months, and I love some of the new features. Most notably, I’ve unplugged my old bedside alarm clock and replaced it with my Apple Watch charger in an Elevation NightStand dock. In watchOS 2, when you dock your Apple Watch, it goes into Nightstand Mode, displaying the time in a 90-degree-rotated orientation. When the alarm goes off in the morning, the digital crown is your off button, and the other button lets you snooze the alarm. I love this feature.

But the make-or-break feature for watchOS 2 is probably improvements to third-party apps, and there weren’t many for me to try during the beta period. watchOS 2 promises improved apps that can run right on the watch, rather than being tethered to the phone. Up to now, using watch apps has been a crapshoot, with apps usually loading slowly, if at all. The ability of apps to run on their own, and even access the Internet via wi-fi even when a companion iPhone isn’t available, is exciting. I just haven’t been able to test it.

More important than the apps themselves is the ability of apps to project data onto your watch face via third-party complications. I’m so excited to see a variety of new data sources on my watch face. (Weather Underground, let me put my weather station’s temperature on my watch!) But again, we’ll have to see how third-party developers take advantage of this feature.

timelapse
The Timelapse face.

Also new in watchOS 2: Some new watch faces—stay tuned for the return of the Apple Watch Face-Off! There’s a new see-what’s-up-next feature called Time Travel, that I didn’t find particularly helpful on my fairly minimal watch face, but combined with third-party complications on a more information-rich face such as Modular, it could be pretty awesome.

Is watchOS a revolutionary update to the Apple Watch? No, it’s not. What it offers, though, is a raft of improvements that make it a much more useful and versatile product for its very first holiday season. There’s a lot of improvement still to be done on the software side, but even if all watchOS 2 does is sweep away the brainless, useless third-party apps and replace them with ones that are responsive and functional, it will have done its job.

It’s almost the holiday quarter. The doors to the party are open. Let’s see what the guests say.

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[Get much more watch-related stuff on our Apple Watch page.]