Apple has updated the operating system of its first smartwatch with native apps, added complications and a few interface tweaks.
On the face of it, watchOS 2 changes very little. Fundamentally the Apple Watch looks, behaves and lasts as long as it did when it launched.
There are a few new watchfaces and some new colours for the originals, including a more eye-catching multicolour mode for the Modular watchface.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest The London time-lapse watchface. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
All of the new watchfaces are picture- or video-based, including six time-lapse faces depicting cityscapes in Hong Kong, Mack Lake, Paris, New York, Shanghai and London. They display a video showing 24 hours from a fixed location – across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament in London’s case.
A particular photo or album of photos taken from the Photos app on the iPhone can also be used, with a basic digital clock in the right-hand corner.
All the new watchfaces move away from the light-text-on-a-black-background rubric Apple used for the initial set of faces and end up emphasising the small size of the Apple Watch’s screen compared to its body.
More complications Facebook Twitter Pinterest Third-party apps can add little widgets called ‘complications’ on to the watchface. Here Dark Sky displays rain coming soon and Citymapper displays the estimated time of arrival for a planned journey. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
More interesting are the third-party “complications”. Apps such as Dark Sky can insert a small weather-information widget right on the watchface. The number of apps is limited at the moment, but a good example is Citymapper, which puts the estimated time of arrival of any planned journey in a complication.
The complications also act as buttons to quickly launch the app, rather than having to hunt for them in the app grid, swipe through a glance or ask Siri.
The nightstand mode, which displays the time, date, charge state and next alarm in a green hue reminiscent of monochrome LCD alarm clocks. It works well given the Apple Watch has to be charged over night – but no change there to battery life.
The time is displayed when the screen or buttons are touched, while hitting the side button turns the alarm off or the crown to snooze. It works better on a phone as an alarm clock.
Moving forward Facebook Twitter Pinterest The digital crown will scroll forwards or backwards in time, showing events including within some third-party apps and complications. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
Turning the digital crown on compatible watchfaces now moves forwards or backwards in time. On the modular watchface, for instance, it will scroll through upcoming calendar events, the weather or other interactive elements. That includes new third-party complications such as Dark Sky, which lists the temperature forecast at that particular time.
Other watchfaces, such as Astronomy or Solar, will run through their animations when the dial is turned, while you can make Mickey dance by moving his hands backwards and forwards. It’s the little things.
The Mickey Mouse watchface moves as you twist the digital crown. Beyond amusing animations, I found it quicker to dive into the dedicated app to view my upcoming appointments or weather than it was to turn the crown.
Siri does more, from launching glances to starting workouts, but it still feels awkward talking into a watch. Users can also reply to more messages with emojis, dictation and canned responses. Wi-Fi calling is also built-in, which means you don’t need a phone to place a call if being Dick Tracey is your thing and your mobile phone provider supports it – currently EE and Vodafone in the UK.
Apple has also added activation lock for if the smartwatch ever gets stolen – a feature the iPhone has had for a while and was conspicuously missing when the Apple Watch launched.
All about the apps The biggest change has yet to be realised. Apple now allows apps to run directly on the Watch, rather than relying on the iPhone to do all the processing.
At the moment, for most apps that means running a little faster. We’re not talking leagues faster – I still routinely got the loading screen while the app attempted to pull data from the iPhone – but at least a little.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest As with the iPhone and iPad, apps are likely to provide the killer feature for the Apple Watch and now they can do more. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
Developers can do more now, including accessing the sensors and various hardware features of the Watch, so I suspect that will open the door to much better, more function apps in the future.
Most of my niggles with the Apple Watch are still there. The user interface is still inconsistent. For example, you can force touch to clear multiple notifications, but not a single one. Glances are still not actually glanceable, and some third-party ones take a while to load data. And it is still not obvious when you should force touch, when you should swipe left or right, or when you simply have to scroll to the bottom to get stuff done.
Apple has fixed one of my original complaints of the Watch, however. One press of the digital crown now takes you back to the watchface from the app grid, rather than centring and then requiring another press.
Verdict It doesn’t cost anything, brings a bunch of security fixes, activation lock and unlocks greater app possibilities, so I don’t know why you would not install watchOS on an Apple Watch if you have one.
Yes, the Apple Watch is better with watchOS 2, and arguably should have shipped with it out of the box, but none of the new features are revolutionary. The Pebble, for instance, does time travel better and most other smartwatches have a night clock-style mode.
Maybe a killer feature will emerge once developers get their hooks into the hardware, but for now the Apple Watch is still not the best smartwatch out there.
Pros: potential for more powerful apps, quicker to get back to the watchface, third-party complications, improved Siri, nightstand mode, Wi-Fi calling
Cons: the update took hours, inconsistencies not ironed out, apps can still take a while to load or pull data
Other reviews Apple Watch review: beautiful hardware spoiled by complicated software
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