By Jason Snell
September 13, 2018 4:29 PM PT
Apple Event Notebook: Apple Watch
Warning: This story has not been updated in several years and may contain out-of-date information.
The two most important hours in the Apple year are the two hours that make up the annual iPhone event. They happened on Wednesday, and in the intervening day I’ve written a bunch of freelance articles, read a load of hot takes, and recorded some podcasts. And yet… there’s still a little bit more. Here are the observations that I’ve left rattling around in my notebook ever since I walked down the winding path (lined with smiling Apple employees) that took me away from the Steve Jobs Theater and back into reality.
First up, the Apple Watch. (Next, the iPhone.)
A defined focus
Four years ago Apple unveiled the Apple Watch, in a presentation that was the very definition of tossing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks. The what-can’t-it-do approach of 2014 has become a disciplined, carefully constructed list of priorities in 2018. As Jeff Williams said on stage, the Apple Watch is “the ultimate guardian for your health, the best fitness companion, and the most convenient way to stay connected.” Health, Fitness, and Connections.
Better focus means better products. It also helps that Apple has four years of watch-building and technological development under its belt…
Shedding some baggage
The Apple Watch Series 4 is so much more capable than the original model was that it isn’t funny. Expanding the screen gives apps more room, but it also enables more and larger complications. After some false starts, Apple seems to have realized that the Apple Watch interface is about watch faces and the complications that live on them, just as the Mac is about Finder windows full of files and folders, and the iPhone is about a springboard window full of app icons.
Operating systems aren’t built in a day. They evolve slowly—sometimes more slowly than the hardware they’re running on. It’s taken watchOS a few years to find its footing and also progress from some of the choices that were made for the original model. For example, Apple has embraced washes of color on its new element-themed watch faces. The original Apple Watch design seemed terrified of displaying too much on its OLED screen for fear of depleting its battery, and of course any full-screen wash of color would also reveal the bezels on the display, which are also gone with the Series 4.
Complications for some, empty faces for others
The new Infograph and Infograph Modular watch faces are packed with information, for those who want that out of their watch. The larger screen means that app developers have room to spread out, creating new complications that span the width of the Infograph Modular face with items like a heart rate chart or a baseball linescore. And of course, if you tap on a complication, the corresponding app opens—which strikes me as the right approach to apps on the Apple Watch.
I have to admit that I rolled my eyes a little bit when I saw people decrying the information density of the two Infograph faces. Nobody’s forcing people to use these new faces. Apple has, in fact, provided a whole bunch of new pretty faces that contain nothing but some hands and a wash of color or an animated effect. Personally, I want an information-dense watch face… but if you don’t, Apple’s not going to force you to use one.
One feature can make a difference
After the event, I saw numerous people comment that they were seriously considering an Apple Watch purchase, all because a single feature had struck them as being worth it. The specific feature varied, of course.
Most common, I think, was the idea of a device that can detect your fall and call for help if you’re immobile for a minute. That’s great if you’re worried about falling as a runner or crashing as a cyclist, but it’s also a concern for people who are aging, infirm, and isolated.
But I also noticed a lot of people who were intrigued by the Series 4’s enhanced heart-health functionality. Heart problems are often silent killers, so the prospect of wearing a watch that can warn you if your heart rate dips, and allows you to perform an at-home EKG, is intriguing, too.
Extrapolating forward a few years, I can see how the Apple Watch (and devices like it) may end up becoming devices we just can’t live without, because of their connectivity and their increasingly sophisticated sensors.
Apple Watch joins Apple’s general price creep
Did you notice that, like last year’s iPhones, this year’s Apple Watches come with a bit of a price increase? This year’s Apple Watches start at $399 and $499; last year’s models started at $329 and $399. If you want to buy a Series 4 cellular watch, you’ll spend $100 more than a year ago.
Even at the low end, the entry price has risen by $30. The now-discounted Series 3 is $279. Last year, the Series 1 was $249.
Look, nobody has ever said being a user of Apple products was going to be cheap.
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