by Jim Lynch

Great things are coming in watchOS 2

Jun 09, 2015
Consumer ElectronicsMobileOperating Systems

watchOS 2 will take the Apple Watch to the next level

The Apple Watch has only been available for a while little now, but Apple is wasting no time in speeding ahead with the next version of the device’s operating system. watchOS 2 promises to add many new features and enhancements to the Apple Watch.

I’ve had my own Apple Watch for a few weeks now, and I love it. I got the Stainless Steel with Classic Buckle and it’s turned out to be an incredibly useful device. But after seeing today’s keynote, I can’t wait for the fall to arrive so I can use watchOS 2.

In this post I’ll walk you through some of the new features in watchOS 2, and I’ll share my thoughts about them and consider whether or not they add real value to the Apple Watch.

New watch faces in watchOS 2

watchOS 2 has some very interesting new watch faces. Five of them are geographical in nature: Hong Kong, London, Mack Lake, New York, and Shanghai. What makes them particularly neat is that they feature time-lapse videos shot over 24 hours. So you will see London at night if it’s night where you are, or in the day if it’s daytime.

I must admit to being completely surprised by this, I have to give Apple credit for coming up with something novel in watch faces. I’d expected maybe Minnie Mouse and some other static watch faces. It never occurred to me that Apple would offer time-lapse watch faces. Very neat stuff!

One thing that many Apple Watch owners wanted was the ability to use their own photos for a watch face, and that too is coming in watchOS 2. You can choose a photo, or pick a photo album. If you choose a photo album, the photo used will come from that album and it will change each time you raise your wrist to use your Apple Watch.

I particularly like the Photo Album feature in watchOS 2. No matter how great a single photo is, we all get tired of seeing it after a while. But seeing a different photo each time the watch is raised adds a whole new wrinkle to the use of personal photos as watch faces.

Customized complications and Time Travel in watchOS 2

Complications add a lot of value to the Apple Watch experience. They make it possible to see little snippets of information right in your watch face. And in watchOS 2 users will be able to use data from App Store apps as complications.

This is a terrific way to give Apple Watch owners more control over their watch faces, and add real value to the watch itself. Instead of just being dependent on the complications provided by default by Apple, an Apple Watch owner can choose the ones from apps that he or she wants to use.

Time Travel is another feature that will make use of complications in watch faces. With it you can turn the Digital Crown forward or backward to move through time. This can be very handy if you want to see what you have coming up tomorrow, or what the weather will be, etc. And you can go backwards to see stuff that you might have missed.

I’m not sure how often I’d actually use Time Travel, but I can see where it would be very useful in certain situations. At the very least it will be a helpful option for some users that want to look ahead or look backward with their Apple Watch.

I’ll have a better idea how useful Time Travel is going to be once I’ve had it on my Apple Watch for a week or two. It may be something that you have to get used to having available before you see it’s real value, that’s the way it was with the Apple Watch itself when I first got it and it may prove true for Time Travel too.

Nightstand mode in watchOS 2

Nightstand mode works when you put your Apple Watch on its side on its charger at night. It basically turns it into an alarm clock, and you can use the Digital Crown to snooze or the friends button to turn off your alarm.

I confess that I almost never use alarms, so Nightstand mode is not something that really appeals to me, or that I’d have much use for regularly. But for travelers and other folks who depend on alarms to get up in the morning, it will no doubt be a very helpful feature.

Don’t worry about the digital display of the Apple Watch staying on all night like a regular alarm clock though, it goes off and doesn’t display until you tap the screen. So you don’t have to worry about seeing it at night if you you’d rather have it turned off.

Native apps in watchOS 2

One of the big beefs by some people about the Apple Watch is that third party apps ran slow. Well that happened in some cases because the apps were actually running on the iPhone not the Apple Watch. Fortunately, those days are coming to an end already because watchOS 2 will provide real, native apps that run right on the Apple Watch.

If you’ve ever used Apple’s own watch apps then you know how much faster they are than those from third party developers. And that’s because all of Apple’s apps run natively on the Apple Watch. So we should see some big improvements from third party developers as soon as they have their native apps ready.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing what third party apps can do running natively on the Apple Watch. The ones I have now work well enough, but it’s very clear things are going to get much, much better with watchOS 2.

New functions in apps in watchOS 2

watchOS 2 is also going to provide some enhancements to apps that are already on the Apple Watch such as email, Friends, sketches and Maps. For example, right now you can’t respond to emails on your Apple Watch. But you will be able to send replies with watchOS 2.

Frankly, I can’t wait to be able to dictate replies to emails via my watch. Not being able to do that in watchOS 1 was a bit of a disappointment, but I had faith that Apple would get to it eventually and now they have in watchOS 2. I suspect I’m not alone in being very happy about being able to do email right on my watch rather than having to use my iPhone.

Friends is another feature that is taking a big jump forward. In watchOS 1 you could only add up to 12 friends, but in watchOS 2 you can have multiple Friends screens so you can add many more people. And you can use your iPhone as well to setup groups of friends using whatever labels you like.

I was very happy to find that the Friends feature was being upgraded. I already ran into a problem wanting to have too many people on my friends list on the Apple Watch. But that will soon be a thing of the past in watchOS 2, and I also really appreciate being able to create my own labels for groups of friends.

Digital Touch is also getting an upgrade. When you send a sketch you can send one in more than one color. I must say that while this is cool, I think I’ve sent a total of one or two sketches since I got my Apple Watch. So the sketch feature upgrade really doesn’t matter to me, but I have no doubt that some folks out there will really like it.

Maps on the Apple Watch will offer Transit in certain cities. So if you’re in one of them you should be able to easily get train, bus, and subway information on your Apple Watch. I rarely travel to any large cities, so Transit won’t do much for me but I’m sure there will be many, many people in the cities that are included that are going to love it.

Apple Pay is also being enhanced in watchOS 2. You’ll be able to use more credit cards, and also use reward cards. This has the potential to be very useful for the folks that get a lot out of certain reward cards. Apple is going out of its way to make sure that its customers don’t miss a single reward possibility when they are out shopping.

Siri has also been improved in watchOS 2. You can use Siri to start a workout, look at your Glances, figure out a tip amount, obtain transit information or even look up a word in the dictionary.

Siri on the Apple Watch has already seemed to work better than it does on the iPhone. And the changes to Siri coming in watchOS 2 seem to be mostly useful. I can see myself using Siri to start a workout on the watch instead of opening the fitness app myself.

Activation Lock is coming in watchOS 2

Activation Lock was sorely needed on the Apple Watch. It’s an important security measure to help protect a user’s data, and it’s coming in watchOS 2. You’ll be able to use your iCloud ID and password to protect your data on the Apple Watch.

While it would have been better for Activation Lock to have come with watchOS 1, it’s still great that Apple is putting it in watchOS 2. It will be a very useful tool for Apple Watch owners to help protect their information if their watch is lost or stolen from them.

FaceTime Audio comes to the Apple Watch in watchOS 2

One of the biggest disappointments in watchOS 1 was the inability to make FaceTime Audio calls. I was really bummed out when I realized I could only make regular phone calls. But watchOS 2 will let Apple Watch owners make FaceTime Audio calls from their watches.

If you’ve ever heard the call quality difference between FaceTime Audio and a regular phone call, you’ll understand why I’ve wanted to make FaceTime Audio calls from my watch. FaceTime Audio just sounds so much better than a regular phone call, and I’m thrilled that it’s coming in watchOS 2.

Can’t wait until the fall for watchOS 2? Get the beta version now

All of this sounds great, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, if you want watchOS 2 right now you’re mostly out of luck. It won’t be officially released until the fall. However, where there is a will there is a way and you do have the option to sign up for an Apple developer account for $99 if you want to use the watchOS beta on your Apple Watch right away.

Now please bear in mind that I do not recommend that you use beta software for daily use. It can have very annoying bugs so if you sign up for a developer account, make sure you understand that and that you are willing to put up with any inconveniences or problems caused by running the watchOS beta on your Apple Watch.

One thing is for sure: the fall can’t get here fast enough!

Here is a demo of watchOS 2 from WWDC 2015 via YouTube:

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