The One to Watch: Apple Watch OS2

Details have arrived on Apple’s watchOS 2! In traditional Apple fashion, the first effort on the new product was admirable, but even the ‘one more thing’ left a lot to be desired. This software update carries much more weight and must meet higher expectations from consumers and industry analysts alike. This time, Apple must offer something distinctly better – something that will make the early adopters salivate in anticipation, and something that will make the broader audience jump into line. Apple doesn’t need the Watch to eclipse its other products in sales, but it will have to perform in order to survive. This is a crucial step in that direction.
With that context, the preview of the operating system update is here! It is certainly provocative, driving a heated discussion about power. Yes, the kind of power that drives new capabilities, features, and adoption, in that order, but also the kind of power that threatens to make users gnash their teeth as they dash back to their charging station. Let me explain.

The original Apple Watch, running watchOS, was architected to simply pull data and display it in a new wrist-mounted form factor. All of the heavy lifting was done by the paired iPhone, which made launching apps on the Watch very slow at times, often choppy, and the active performance suffered as it needed to communicate back to the phone at all times. It was a glorified remote screen, to be honest. Times have changed, however. WatchOS 2 indicates that the device is no longer a dumb terminal, permanently handcuffed to an iPhone. It has begun its transition to a stand-alone device, unlocking the surprisingly powerful internal processor – a terrifying thought for Samsung. It’s a whole new ballgame if Apple can sell watches to Android users.

Let’s talk about this new WatchKit. Truly native apps will run directly on the Watch! This bodes well for an improved, more responsive, faster user experience thanks to that internal processor. It also promises more impressive capabilities for apps and more independence, as it will be able to communicate with known wifi hotspots. These native Watch apps can work even if the phone is not in range. All major steps in the right direction!

The Apple watchOS 2 preview site highlights some awesome new use cases, such as golf innovator Ping measuring your swing with the accelerometer and Strava leveraging the heart rate sensor for more insight into your exercise regimen. Now that we can use the Taptic Engine, Digital Crown, microphone and other inputs, the Sourcebits team is overflowing with concepts. We started designing apps for the Watch before it was even released – imagine what we’ll do with this version!

It’s not all sunshine and roses, however. Power is a double-edged sword and it remains to be seen whether Apple’s hardware engineers will rise to the challenge. If the advances are limited to the operating system without a significant improvement to the battery and power supply, the next gen Watch won’t be able to operate long enough to inspire its users before it needs to be recharged. This isn’t a remote control car for kids, either. Ten minutes of glorious entertainment followed by a two hour plug-in period does not mirror the usage patterns of a watch. We need round-the-clock (pun absolutely intended) operation. Anything more frequent than an overnight charge will be met with derision, so here we are, crossing our fingers that Apple will beef up the battery specs on the second generation Watch to match the added punch of watchOS 2. With rumors of upcoming iPhones only needing weekly charges, we can only hope that the buzz is true and that the technology will filter down to all product lines.

Stay tuned for more details and commentary on Apple Watch announcements… and if you definitely, absolutely, undeniably need more content right now, keep the creative juices flowing with The Future of Wearables, a podcast dedicated to looking ahead at this incredible industry. Hosted by Futurist Heather Schlegel, it’ll keep you percolating while you listen to interviews with mobile industry thought leaders and wearables makers.

Piotr Gajos, Chief Innovation Officer

Piotr is Sourcebits Chief Innovation Officer. A 2006 Apple Design Award winner, Piotr draws much of his inspiration from film and music, and focuses on leading our Innovation Strategy Workshops, generating new ideas for Sourcebits, and consulting on projects.