Apple Watch OS update an improvement, needs more work

October 7, 2015, 2:55 PM UTC
Apple Watches in new colors are displayed during an Apple media event in San Francisco
Apple Watches in new colors are displayed during an Apple media event in San Francisco, California, September 9, 2015. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach - RTSE2Y
© Beck Diefenbach / Reuters REUTERS

Apple recently pushed out a fairly significant software update, called WatchOS 2, for the Apple Watch. Apple (AAPL) claimed the update made third-party apps faster, included customizable watch faces, and a new Time Travel mode to name just a few of the new features.

Over the past couple of weeks, I tested out the new watchOS, in an attempt, to determine if the update delivered on its promises.

There are a couple small, but appreciated new features found on watchOS 2. One of which is the ability to set your own photo(s) as a watch face. I’ve set a series of photos I captured throughout the month—which include tall buildings and busy streets of New York City, as well as some of my family—as my custom background. With each raise of the wrist, a different photo is used.

Another welcomed addition is a new Nightstand mode. The new feature turns the Apple Watch into an alarm clock when it’s on its side and charging. For a long time I used my smartphone as my alarm, but now use the Apple Watch instead because it’s easier to silence—all you have to do is press a button on the right side of the watch—as opposed to picking up a phone and swiping across the screen (in the right direction, mind you) while still half-asleep.

When the Apple Watch launched, its biggest issue was how slow third-party applications performed. Tapping on an app icon sometimes resulted in the app launching within a couple of seconds, although it often required more time to load.

The app delay was partially because developers had created apps for a platform they themselves had never used. The bulk of the blame was placed on the inherently slow nature in which an Apple Watch app ran. The original Apple Watch OS offloaded any computing tasks to the iPhone, a process which relied far too much on the Bluetooth connection between the watch and phone.

WatchOS 2 gave developers the ability to build a watch app that runs on the watch itself. The promise, according to Apple, would be faster apps and a better experience for the user. I found while random delays and load times were still present, most apps that have been updated for WatchOS 2 compatibility run faster.

Complications are easily my favorite, and most-used feature of the new operating system. A complication provides quick access to additional information on the smartwatch. For example, Dark Sky, a popular iOS weather app, allows users to view current temperature and other weather-related information by simply raising their wrist.

With the new update a user can turn the digital crown on the watch to jump ahead (or go backwards) in time. As the time displayed on the watch face changes, the complications update. Your calendar complication will show upcoming appointments, and a weather complication will show forecasted temperature changes.

The most frustrating aspect of WatchOS 2 isn’t performance related, but developer related. There simply aren’t enough apps available to take full advantage of the update, and that’s disappointing.

Receiving notifications, sending messages, and checking the time are all fantastic, but its long-term potential is in apps. Much like the iPhone before the App Store, without apps the Apple Watch is kind of boring.

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