Yesterday morning during their keynote event, Apple introduced the first ever hardware update to the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch Series 2 retains the same basic body design as predecessor. While it is thicker by 0.9mm, the internal components have received a significant refresh in power as well as capabilities. With the Series 2, Apple seems to be repositioning the Watch to be more directed toward health and fitness rather than an all purpose device, and the choices of hardware upgrades reflect this idea as much as the keynote highlighted it.
I’ll discuss this first because the change is stark, and important for understanding where the Watch is headed. The Apple Watch is not the same watch that we were introduced to in September two years ago. That watch had extremely lofty goals of high fashion and technological marvel. It sold as an aluminum “Apple Watch Sport” for health and fitness, a stainless steel “Apple Watch” for those who did not place fitness capabilities first, and a $10,000 or more gold “Apple Watch Edition” for those who could afford the expense for nothing more than luxury. That is a very, very different watch from the one that was announced at yesterday’s keynote.
The Apple Watch Series 2 has dropped the “Sport” moniker. Now the standard and the sport watches are both just “Apple Watch”, but with the choice of either aluminum or stainless steel. That would place them on even ground now, except that the vast majority of Apple’s marketing for the Apple Watch shows nothing other than aluminum models. In fact, the stainless steel Apple Watch only makes a single appearance on the home page for the Apple Watch on Apple.com: on the image of the special, “fashionable,” Hermès model.
As for the Apple Watch Edition, I hope there weren’t any wealthy people holding out to buy a gold Series 2, because the days of $10,000+ Apple Watches seem to be over (although I’m sure this will make the resale market for originals boom). In the new lineup, the Apple Watch Edition is no longer gold, but instead a pearly white ceramic. The ceramic is specially engineered by Apple, and is apparently four times stronger than steel. This makes the ceramic model extremely scratch and tarnish resistant. Supposedly, each individual ceramic enclosure that Apple makes requires such a delicate amount of workmanship that it takes multiple days to create.
The price for all this? A mere (mere used only in comparison to last year’s Edition models) $1,249. Apple has entirely dumped the super high end of the fashion market.
The final nail in the coffin of the original Apple Watch marketing is the new tagline: “The Ultimate Device For A Healthy Life.”
The days of the high-end, all-purpose Apple Watch are over. Long live the mass market fitness device Apple Watch!
The Apple Watch Nike+
With the Series 2, Apple Watch is all about health and fitness. This goes much deeper than the promotion of the Sport edition to a modifier-less title. The headline features of the new Apple Watch are almost all fitness related, and the keynote highlights were as well. Even the game that was given stage time at the event, Pokémon Go for Apple Watch, is tangentially related to fitness. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that this year’s new branded Apple Watch does not come from another fashion mogul like Hermès, but instead belongs to the sports and fitness superpower Nike.
The new Nike-branded Apple Watch consists of a custom watch face available only to buyers of the watch, and a custom band. The band is basically a standard Sport band in construction, but includes distinctive holes throughout the surface, the interiors of which are a different color than the surrounding area. The result stands out, and I actually quite like it.
The band is available in four different colors, which vary the scheme between light and dark gray and a neon yellow-green (Nike calls the color “Volt”). The watch face mirrors these colors, and is available in several different styles, all which incorporate Nike’s distinctive font and logo. The Apple Watch Nike+ also includes a permanent complication along the bottom of the display for the Nike+ Run Club app, which I assume comes preinstalled on the devices since the Complication can’t be removed.
The Apple Watch Nike+ will not be shipping at the same time as the other models of Apple Watch. It is listed for availability in “late October.”
To be the fitness powerhouse that the Series 2 is looking to be, it will help if it is not required to be in range of an iPhone or Wi-Fi connection at all times. While general internet capabilities are still out of reach without these crutches, the Apple Watch Series 2 is taking a great step in the right direction with the introduction of a built-in GPS.
Previous versions of the Apple Watch relied on its iPhone counterpart to take care of GPS tracking, but with the Series 2 this is no longer necessary. The new GPS will record precise distances and speeds completely on its own, which should be a great boon not only for tracking runs and other workouts, but also for the speed and responsiveness of location tracking via Maps.
The inclusion of GPS is a step forward toward the inevitable future of an Apple Watch freed from its iPhone ball and chain. There aren’t too many more items to be checked off the list from here before that future becomes a reality.
The original Apple Watch was rated to be splash proof and mostly water resistant, but submerging it was not recommended. The Apple Watch Series 2 ups the ante, receiving a water resistance rating of up to 50 meters. This means the Apple Watch can now safely be worn for swimming in pools or the ocean, and should generally remove any worry about wearing your Apple Watch into potentially watery situations.
From the fitness angle, this change of course positions the Apple Watch to be an excellent tool for swimmers, and Apple pushed hard on this fact during the keynote. According to Apple’s keynote announcements, they have created a new algorithm that allows the Apple Watch to more accurately track calories burned during a swimming workout, and it can even count the number of laps a swimmer does. To compliment the new tracking capabilities, Apple will also be releasing new workout types for the Activity app, one for swimming in a pool and one for swimming in open water.
The final thing to note about the Apple Watch’s new waterproof design is the innovative answer to the problem of waterproofing speakers. As Apple described during the keynote, speakers require a throughput of air in order to function properly, and anywhere air can access, water generally can too. To compensate for this, Apple has crafted a new design in which the speaker itself is actually used to physically eject the water that ends up inside of it after the Apple Watch has been submerged. This clears up the speaker and prevents water from getting trapped inside of it. I find this to be a very intriguing design idea, and I hope to see it brought to the newly water resistant iPhone line at some point in the future.
The Apple Watch Series 2 also features a brand new display technology, engineered for increased brightness. According to Apple, the new display on the Series 2 is capable of producing 1,000 nits of light. Not only does than make it 2 times brighter than the previous Apple Watch display, but it is actually the brightest display that Apple has ever shipped in any product. This change should be a great step forward in making out the contents of the Apple Watch display under bright sunlight (which, of course, is commonly required during runs or other workouts).
Not surprisingly, the Series 2 Apple Watch has received an impressive boost in performance. The new watch features an improved dual-core processor within the Apple-designed S2 chip. This provides up to 50% faster performance than the original Apple Watch. The GPU has also been upgraded, resulting in double the graphics performance of the previous model.
Altogether, the performance improvements on the Series 2 are uncomplicated, but appreciated. Paired with the speed and efficiency enhancements of watchOS 3, these new internals are sure to make the Series 2 significantly better.
The Apple Watch Series 2 marks a new direction for the world’s most popular smartwatch, which is not the kind of change that Apple makes to its products very often. I think it’s fairly safe to say that this was the direction the Apple Watch has already taken itself over the past year and a half on the market. The huge reduction in the Edition’s price seems to show that Apple’s foray into high fashion was unsuccessful. The promotion of the Sport to a standard model and the accompanying change in marketing points to what was likely a huge majority of Sport watches sold over even the stainless steel models. Usually understanding Apple’s product direction can take a bit of reading the tea leaves, but for the Apple Watch Series 2, it’s surprisingly clear.
So fitness is the future, at least for the present. Regardless of the course correction, the Cupertino company still delivered a solid step forward for their smartwatch platform. While I wouldn’t have complained about seeing any other interesting new health sensors, or an improvement to battery life, the advancements we have received continue to build out the Apple Watch’s strong base.
The Apple Watch will be available for preorder starting September 9th at 12:01 AM, and will ship starting September 16th. The aluminum models of the Series 2, including the Apple Watch Nike+ (when it is released in October) will start at $369. The stainless steel Series 2 models will start at $549.
In a surprising last-minute twist, Apple is also upgrading the internals of the original Apple Watch (now to be dubbed the Series 1). The single change is to replace the Apple Watch’s original S1 chip with the brand new S2 chip, increasing the speed of the device by 50%. The upgraded Series 1 will be available only in aluminum models, and will surely be a competitive new option for Apple Watch purchases, as it holds a starting price of just $269.