Following iOS 11.3, Apple also released watchOS 4.3 to the public today. The updated Apple Watch software, first released as a developer beta in January, brings a variety of improvements for music playback, a smarter Siri watch face, and bug fixes.
In watchOS 4.3, Apple has restored the ability to browse the entire iPhone music library and control iPhone music playback from the Watch. The lack of full iPhone playback control was one of the most criticized aspects of the Music app refresh on watchOS 4, and it's nice to see Apple rectify this feature with today's update.
Also on the music front, watchOS 4.3 allows HomePod owners to control playback and adjust volume of the speaker directly from the Watch. In the Now Playing screen, you can tap on the AirPlay icon (in the bottom left corner) to instantly connect to a HomePod on the same WiFi network, after which you'll be able to spin the Digital Crown to adjust its volume – all without having to connect to the HomePod through the iPhone first. As someone who routinely listens to Music via the kitchen HomePod while doing something else around the house, I've greatly enjoyed the ability to connect and change volume from my wrist.
There are a couple of noteworthy additions to the Siri watch face in watchOS 4.3. First, a new Activity card provides you with a handy summary of the progress you're making toward closing your rings. The card is updated in real-time during the day, so you can glance at it without opening the main Activity app. Furthermore, on days when one of your Apple Music mixes gets an update, the Siri watch face will bring up a card with a thumbnail preview of the playlist and a message that tells you an updated version of the mix is available.
Lastly, in addition to various bug fixes, watchOS 4.3 brings support for portrait orientation in Nightstand mode (likely in preparation for the company's AirPower charging mat) along with a refreshed charging animation. I've long charged my Watch using a portrait-oriented Belkin Valet charger that sits on my desk, and I like how Nightstand mode is now an option for me.
As I wrote earlier this month, the changes introduced in watchOS 4.3 have helped me enjoy the benefits of Apple's ecosystem as they integrate the Watch more deeply with my iPhone and HomePods. The update is available now, and you can read our original review of watchOS 4 here.
Every year soon after WWDC, I install the beta of the upcoming version of iOS on my devices and embark on an experiment: I try to use Apple's stock apps and services as much as possible for three months, then evaluate which ones have to be replaced with third-party alternatives after September. My reasoning for going through these repetitive stages on an annual basis is simple: to me, it's the only way to build the first-hand knowledge necessary for my iOS reviews.
I also spent the past couple of years testing and switching back and forth between non-Apple hardware and services. I think every Apple-focused writer should try to expose themselves to different tech products to avoid the perilous traps of preconceptions. Plus, besides the research-driven nature of my experiments, I often preferred third-party offerings to Apple's as I felt like they provided me with something Apple was not delivering.
Since the end of last year, however, I've been witnessing a gradual shift that made me realize my relationship with Apple's hardware and software has changed. I've progressively gotten deeper in the Apple ecosystem and I don't feel like I'm being underserved by some aspects of it anymore.
Probably for the first time since I started MacStories nine years ago, I feel comfortable using Apple's services and hardware extensively not because I've given up on searching for third-party products, but because I've tried them all. And ultimately, none of them made me happier with my tech habits. It took me years of experiments (and a lot of money spent on gadgets and subscriptions) to notice how, for a variety of reasons, I found a healthy tech balance by consciously deciding to embrace the Apple ecosystem.
In a press release today, Apple announced new spring bands for the Apple Watch. The lineup includes new Woven Nylon, Nike, and Hermès bands, which will be available later this month online and in Apple Stores.
Among the bands highlighted by Apple are striped versions of the Woven Nylon band, new Nike color schemes that match the color of the company’s running shoes, and Hermès bands with a new edge paint color.
Apple says the full spring line of its bands include the following:
- Sport Band in Denim Blue, Lemonade and Red Raspberry
- Woven Nylon in Black Stripe, Blue Stripe, Gray Stripe and Pink Stripe
- Sport Loop in Flash Light, Hot Pink, Marine Green and Tahoe Blue
- Classic Buckle in Spring Yellow, Electric Blue and Soft Pink
The Nike lineup includes:
- Nike Sport in Barely Rose/Pearl Pink, Black/White and Cargo Khaki/Black
- Nike Sport Loop in Black/Pure Platinum, Bright Crimson/Black, Cargo Khaki, Midnight Fog and Pearl Pink
Finally, the Single Tour Rallye and Double Tour Hèmes bands include:
- 38mm Double Tour in Indigo with rouge H polished edge and rouge H contrasted loop
- 38mm Double Tour in Blanc with rouge H polished edge and rouge H contrasted loop
- 42mm Single Tour Rallye in Indigo with rouge H polished edge and rouge H contrasted loop
- 42mm Single Tour Rallye in Blanc with rouge H polished edge and rouge H contrasted loop
It’s interesting that the new Watch bands are not yet available. I suspect we’ll see them appear next week after the education event in Chicago alongside any products announced there.
I’ve been keeping an eye on the adoption of the Apple Watch Series 3 since its introduction last fall. From a development perspective the Series 3 is a delight to work with. It is fast, capable and LTE allows a wide variety of new applications (for example, the podcast support I added to Workouts++).
This stands in contrast to the challenges of working with the Series 0 (or Apple Watch (1st generation) as Apple would call it). It is just slow and honestly a bit painful to develop for. Even basic things like deploying your application to the watch can take uncomfortably long amounts of time. In daily use the Series 0 is probably “good enough” for many customers, especially with the speed/stability improvements added in watchOS 4, but as a developer I can’t wait until I no longer have to support it.
Which is why I’ve been watching the Apple Watch adoption curve within my apps (specifically Pedometer++ for this analysis) quite carefully. My personal hope is that this summer when we get watchOS 5 it will drop support for the Series 0 and free Apple to really push forward on what is possible for developers. But in order for that wish to be realistic I imagine Apple will need the daily use of those first watches to have died down significantly.
These are fascinating numbers about the adoption of different Apple Watch models by David Smith, who makes some of the best apps for the platform.
I've been wondering about when Apple could drop support for the original Apple Watch in new versions of watchOS. For context, the original iPhone, launched in 2007, couldn't be updated to iOS 4 in 2010, three years later. The Apple Watch will have its official third anniversary next month. I suppose that Apple Watch owners hold onto their devices for longer, but if old hardware is stifling innovation for the developer community who wants to push Watch apps forward (as much as that is possible with the current tools), then maybe it is time for Apple to move on.
Apple released watchOS 4.2 in December with new workout APIs for skiing and snowboarding workouts. Those additions have allowed third-party developers to offer an enhanced workout experience to Apple Watch Series 3 users when they hit the slopes. In a press release today, which was timed with the release of updates to several popular skiing apps, Apple said:
Developers are taking advantage of the built-in GPS and altimeter in Apple Watch Series 3 as well as custom workout APIs released in watchOS 4.2 to enable tracking of specialized metrics. App updates for snoww, Slopes, Squaw Alpine, Snocru and Ski Tracks now track new metrics on the slopes including:
- Total vertical descent and horizontal distance
- Number of runs
- Average and maximum speeds
- Total time spent
- Calories burned
The new workout features include other benefits for skiers and snowboarders too:
Apps can auto pause and resume and users will get credit towards their Activity rings; workout information will also be recorded to the Health app on iPhone with user permission. Using Siri, users can start Slopes and snoww to track their runs using just their voice.
Apps that take advantage of the new watchOS 4.2 features are also spotlighted in the App Store’s Today section and include:
There’s more Apple could do to improve the overall experience of developing for watchOS, but it’s good to see the workout APIs continue to expand and third-party developers take advantage of them.
Marco Arment (who's been struggling with Watch app development for a while now) makes the case for WatchKit to be either discontinued or substantially expanded as, in its current form, it hinders the creation of more powerful apps.
Developing Apple Watch apps is extremely frustrating and limited for one big reason: unlike on iOS, Apple doesn’t give app developers access to the same watchOS frameworks that they use on Apple Watch.
Instead, we’re only allowed to use WatchKit, a baby UI framework that would’ve seemed rudimentary to developers even in the 1990s. But unlike the iPhone’s web apps, WatchKit doesn’t appear to be a stopgap — it seems to be Apple’s long-term solution to third-party app development on the Apple Watch.
When I first read his post, I thought that asking Apple to discontinue and replace WatchKit was perhaps too much. But after spending some time reorganizing my Watch favorites and complications last night and this morning, I agree with Marco. My favorite apps on the Watch are all made by Apple and are not based on WatchKit. The only exception is Workouts++ (which, as a workout app, has specific privileges). The only third-party Watch apps I regularly use besides Smith's app are Things and Shazam (which is somewhat ironic) and they're both accessed via complications; they're okay, but I don't love them because they're often slow to sync data with their iPhone counterparts or take too long to launch and be in a usable state. When I'm out and about, I still don't trust Watch apps to be as reliable as iPhone apps.
Despite three years of watchOS updates and more powerful hardware (I use a Series 3), the Apple Watch still doesn't feel like the rich, diverse, and vibrant app platform that the iPhone is. Some might say that's precisely the point – it doesn't have to be because the Watch works best through notifications and complications. However, I often ask myself if such argument is the wearable equivalent of Aesop's sour grapes – real Watch apps wouldn't make sense anyway. Like Marco, I wonder what would happen if only Apple exposed real watchOS development tools to app makers.
Matt Birchler has published his list of requests for watchOS 5, and I wholeheartedly agree with all of his major feature ideas. His top request is identical to my own: letting third-party apps populate the Siri Watch face introduced last year.
Essentially, Apple should be making the Siri watch face the smartest, most useful watch face someone can choose. It already is the smartest, but to be useful to everyone, they need to make the apps people are actually using work with it.
I've been using the Siri face nearly non-stop since installing the watchOS 4 beta. Because I use a lot of first-party apps, it still offers me enough value to be the best Watch face for me. Once third-party apps can tap in though, it could end up becoming the best face for everyone.
Pair Siri face improvements with Birchler's other major requests – always-on Watch faces, an Apple Podcasts app, and further updates to Activity and Workout – and watchOS 5 would stack up to address all my outstanding issues with the platform.
Amazing story shared by Scott Killian with 9to5Mac:
Then Killian, who wears his Apple Watch to bed three to four nights a week for sleep tracking, says his Apple Watch woke him up around 1 am with an alert from a third-party app called HeartWatch saying his resting heart rate was elevated while sleeping (Apple recently introduced a built-in feature that can do this with Apple Watch Series 1 and later). Killian experienced mild indigestion which can be a sign of a heart attack, but says he generally didn’t feel sick.
His Apple Watch charted his heart rate at around 121 beats per minute in the middle of the night while data previously captured showed his average resting heart rate at around 49 beats per minute. The data also showed that this was the first time his resting heart rate had reached this level since he began wearing Apple Watch, so he decided to go to the emergency room as a precaution.
I’ve been using HeartWatch since it came out in late 2015 – if you care about heart rate stats monitored by the Apple Watch, I can’t recommend it enough.
Almost a year ago, David Smith released Workouts++, an alternative to watchOS’ built-in Workout app that adds an iOS component to leverage the data collected during workouts. Today, Smith released version 2.0 of Workouts++ with a host of new features enabled by advances in the Apple Watch and Apple’s health and fitness APIs, including podcast playback, location tracking and mapping, support for new workout types, Siri integration, and more. On top of that, Workouts++ is now free with no In-App Purchases, advertising, or subscription.