While the Apple Watch is widely regarded as the most functional smartwatch on the market, the wearable is far from perfect and continues to be hindered by apps that take far too long to load, as well as a user interface that isn’t as intuitive as it could be.
Even with the release of watchOS 2 and the promise of native apps, Apple’s watch remains slow to such an extent that opening an app like Transit App with the wearable, rather than through the iPhone, doesn’t make sense given the amount of time it takes to load. If Apple’s claims regarding watchOS 3’s speed upgrade pan out, this will no longer be an issue for the attractive but still cumbersome wearable.
Glanceable, actionable and responsive, are the three pillars Apple says watchOS 3 is build around, all centred on the importance of the “Dock,” a new way to quickly access 10 Apple Watch apps you frequently use. Apple says that with watchOS 3, the target launch time for apps has been lowered from five seconds to just two, a significant leap for a mere software update.
The iOS Apple Watch app also now allows users to alter and view watch faces, including the ability to change new third-party complications, which also now act as app launchers.
This adds a much-needed level of customization to Apple watch faces, though they still aren’t as open as the Android Wear’s third-party developed watch faces. This is, however, yet another example of Apple’s walled-garden approach to software eroding, a continued theme of WWDC 2016.
The Dock, a way for Apple to mimic iOS’ multitasking panels, allows users to add 10 apps they frequently launch, which effectively replaces the slow-to-load Glance system included in watchOS and watchOS 2. Apps located in the Dock also now perform tasks in the background with little affect on battery life, according to Apple.
This results in developers no longer needing to front-load their app’s content and is a significant reason why watchOS 3 apps will load more quickly.
Other changes to the Apple Watch’s OS are more subtle, but mark a shift in the right direction for the device’s less than stellar OS. The curved edge of the Apple Watch’s display now allows users to quickly shift between multiple watch faces, much like pre-Timeline versions of Pebble’s operating system. Finally, the OS’ fitness app has now been opened up to third-party developers and Breathe, a relaxation app, is also set to launch alongside watchOS 3.
On the development side, SpriteKit and and SceneKit allow developers to create watchOS 3 Apple Watch apps that are significantly more visual, a shift that will likely be most apparent in watch games, though Apple says its new watchOS 3 development tools will also ensure all watchOS apps are more visual. The OS also features gesture support, allowing developers to use taps, swipes and long presses in their apps, as well as what Apple calls “Digital Crown” events, giving developers the ability to utilize the digital crown for a variety of input purposes.
In many ways, watchOS 3 is a complete overhaul of the Apple Watch’s software. With Apple’s new wearable operating system making such a significant shift, its release also lays the groundwork for the Apple Watch 2’s impending launch, which is expected to hit store shelves at some point this fall.
While Apple’s claims regarding watchOS 3 are impressive, we will have to wait for the software’s public release this fall before passing final judgment. At first glance, however, watchOS 3 seems like a sign Apple is beginning to perfect the software powering its first wearable, though some will likely complain the Apple Watch still has not strayed from its core purpose; a companion for the iPhone that many still argue isn’t as necessary to day-to-day life as a smart phone.
Still, as a stop-gap measure to tide users over until the release of the Apple Watch 2, as well as an act of good faith towards early adopters who may be miffed their expensive wearable will soon be obsolete, watchOS 3 is a much-needed upgrade.