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Posts tagged with "watchOS 4"

Why There Are No Standalone Apple Watch Podcast Players

With watchOS 4 and the Series 3 Apple Watch, Apple has made several improvements to how the Watch handles music, untethering listeners from their iPhones. Apple Music subscribers can sync their My Favorites Mix, My Chill Mix, My New Music Mix and the Heavy Rotation section of Music to their watches, for example. In October, Apple will expand users' options on the Watch by adding Apple Music streaming for subscribers. However, there’s a glaring omission in Apple’s iPhone-free audio strategy: podcasts.

There is no good way to listen to podcasts on an Apple Watch without bringing along an iPhone. As Marco Arment, the maker of Overcast, details on Marco.org,

The Apple Watch desperately needs standalone podcast playback, especially with the LTE-equipped Series 3, which was designed specifically for exercising without an iPhone.

Believe me, I’ve tried. But limitations in watchOS 4 make it impossible to deliver standalone podcast playback with the basic functionality and quality that people expect.

Arment’s article walks through each of several technical challenges in detail, the biggest being syncing progress between a Watch and an iPhone. The post outlines the minimum changes to the watchOS APIs that Arment believes are necessary to build a viable standalone podcast player for the Watch as well as detailing more ambitious changes to Apple’s APIs that would be nice to have.

During the watchOS 4 beta period, I began running without my iPhone. I enjoyed listening to the music synced overnight to my Watch, but it was a taste of untethered freedom that only made me want a standalone podcast player more. Audio playback and syncing undoubtedly pose battery life issues and other challenges, but with the advancements in the Series 3 hardware, I hope we see corresponding API changes that will allow Arment and others to build iPhone-free podcast players.

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watchOS 4: The MacStories Review

It is difficult to reconcile a critical appraisal of the Apple Watch with the product’s commercial success. To examine the most popular watch in the world1 and find it wanting seems wrong; yet as Apple’s bombastic smartwatch kicks off its third year, its history implores ignominy.

The integration of hardware and software is a keystone in Apple’s foundation. Every game-changing product they’ve released over the years has used this as a core advantage over the competition. Yet despite the Cupertino company’s proven track record, the last three years of Apple Watch have demonstrated a consistent struggle to get this right.

Apple has certainly iterated on unsuccessful hardware and software ideas in the past, but never quite so publicly. The Apple Watch feels like a device that was rushed a little too early to market. Apple knew that it had something good, but it didn’t yet know which areas the device would really excel in.

One of the most interesting pieces of this product’s story is that all signs point to Apple having gotten the hardware of the Apple Watch exactly right, at least in terms of its direction. The original Apple Watch was underpowered and lacking some technology that Apple simply couldn’t fit into it at the time, but the idea was there. In subsequent hardware iterations Apple has significantly increased the processing power, added vital new sensors, improved battery life, and shipped LTE. In this time the case design has remained unchanged (other than growing slightly thicker), and the input methods have persisted exactly. It may have taken until the latest Series 3 release for Apple to fulfill its initial vision for the Apple Watch hardware, but that vision has remained unshaken since the beginning.

The same cannot be said for the Apple Watch software.

Apple’s smartwatch operating system has had a rocky first few years. watchOS 1 was fundamentally broken in several ways, and probably should never have shipped. watchOS 2 was an attempt to shore up and replace the poor foundations under the hood, but it left the substandard user interface to fester in production for over a year. With last year’s release of watchOS 3, Apple took its best shot at rethinking cardinal pieces of that interface.

watchOS 3 was a huge improvement over the blunders that came before it. As I wrote in my watchOS 3 review last year, Apple did great work with the update to cut away the excess and hone the OS to something simpler and more straightforward. It was a significant course correction which set a far better trajectory, but it didn’t get us all the way there.

In a lot of ways it feels like watchOS 3 was the true watchOS 1. Where Apple left off with the smartwatch operating system last year was really the point where it should have started. Nothing was complete, but almost every piece felt primed for improvement rather than necessitating reinvention. In the wake of that update, Apple has been at a crossroads. With the foundations of watchOS finally feeling solid, Apple could either continue to drive the platform forward, or leave it on a slow-moving autopilot.

Yesterday marked the release of watchOS 4 — our first opportunity to see the hope kindled by watchOS 3 borne out — and I’m pleased to report that Apple has succeeded in maintaining the platform’s momentum. Every area that this year’s update focuses on has seen fantastic improvements, and I’ve found myself interacting with my Apple Watch more than ever before. My only disappointment is that the scope of watchOS 4 isn’t quite as far-reaching as last year’s update.

The big themes of watchOS 4 are fitness and music, and Apple has done some excellent work in these departments. New activity goals, completely overhauled Workout and Music apps, auto-launch of audio apps, a Now Playing Complication, and more are all excellent upgrades. As always there is still room for improvement, but many of these features are making the leap for the first time from options on my Apple Watch which I mostly ignore to real features which I find consistently useful in my daily life.

There’s a lot to dig into here with the choices made and the new features added. Let’s dive in and find out what Apple has in store for the next year of Apple Watch.

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  1. That’s watch, not smartwatch. ↩︎

Apple Announces watchOS 4 Will Launch on September 19th

Apple confirmed the official release date of watchOS 4 at a media event held today at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino. watchOS 4 will be released on Tuesday, September 19th.

Announced at WWDC in June, watchOS 4 features new watch faces including a Siri watch face that displays personalized information based on the time of day, Toy Story and Kaleidoscope faces, motivational notifications to inspire you to close your Activity rings, a new Workout app interface, automatic syncing with curated Music playlists, a dedicated Apple News app, and more.

Apple hasn't announced a Golden Master seed of watchOS 4 yet, but it will presumably be released to developers later today. Usually the last developer release before a public launch, the GM seed will allow developers to finalize their watchOS 4 apps and submit them to the App Store for approval before watchOS 4 is released publicly.


You can also follow all of our Apple event coverage through our September 12 hub, or subscribe to the dedicated September 12 RSS feed.


A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Apple’s Fitness Lab

Men’s Health got a behind the scenes look at the fitness lab where Apple fine-tunes the Apple Watch algorithms that track your health and fitness. Like so many things Apple does, the numbers are staggering. According to Jay Blahnik, Apple’s director of fitness for health technologies:

‘Our lab has collected more data on activity and exercise than any other human performance study in history…. Over the past five years, we’ve logged 33,000 sessions with over 66,000 hours of data, involving more than 10,000 unique participants.’ A typical clinical trial enrolls fewer than a hundred participants.

Men’s Health also takes a look at the motivational messages coming to watchOS 4 and talked to Blahnik about the thinking behind the feature:

“We wanted to really make it easier for people to encourage each other, as well as smack-talk when the moment calls for it,” says Blahnik. “That’s why we have phrases like ‘Shazam’ and ‘You’re on fire.’ I share my activity with about 20 people, and whenever I see what someone else has done, it spurs me to train a little harder. It’s also a fun way to stay in touch.”

The refinements that Apple has made to watchOS 4 seem minor in print, but having tried the beta for about a month, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the impact they’ve had, especially with respect to the fitness features of the Watch. Now more than ever, it feels like Apple has figured out what the Watch does best and is putting all its wood behind those arrows.

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