While the new iPhone often steals the show at Apple’s Cupertino, California fall hardware events, the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 were the sly stars this year with their incredible ‘Double Tap’ gesture control scheme.
What felt like science fiction when we tested it on the Vision Pro has become a reality for Apple’s upcoming smartwatches. Each of the watches uses a new chip called the S9. While it increases performance substantially and adds a few fun features, Double Tap is much more important since it’s potentially laying the groundwork for Apple to implement several gestures that can be used on its watch and its Vision Pro AR/VR headset.
It was described to me as pinching your thumb and forefinger together with the same cadence you would use to open Apple Pay — basically, two short pinches and your watch springs to life.
By default, it opens the new widget stack in watchOS 10, but if you’re receiving notifications or in an app that supports it, the watch will do other actions as well. Once the widget stack is open, every time you Double Tap, it moves you to the next widget. If you’re in the Timer app, you can use the gesture to start/stop timers. And when you get a call, you can use it to answer/hang up. It’s all quite seamless and gives the smartwatch an even more enticing spy gadget feeling than ever before.
Apple had a similar feature to Double Tap with previous Apple Watches, but it was buried in the Accessibility menu as ‘Assistive Touch.’ I’ve yet to compare the two features side-by-side, but in my testing, Double Tap worked really well, and the new watchOS seems to be built with the new gesture in mind.
When you first pick up an Apple Watch Series 9, the most eye-catching improvement is the brighter display. Reaching up to 2,000 nits in brightness, the new Apple Watch Series 9 matches the original Apple Watch Ultra, which was universally praised for its extremely bright screen because it was easy to use outdoors.
Other than that, the only other change you can see is with a new Pink Aluminium colourway and a plethora of new bands that are much more environmentally forward than any of Apple’s other products.
Some variants, like the Aluminum models with the Sport Loop, are even completely carbon-neutral, making them Apple’s first carbon-neutral products ever. The company is even stepping away from leather watch bands and instead offering more varieties or a new material called FineWoven, which felt like a very soft suede in my time trying them on. There are also new cases and Airtag accessories that use this environmentally friendly fabric.
Under the surface
Beyond the magic of Double Tap, the new Apple Watch models’ SiP allows for on-device Siri support. This means that even when you don’t have a connection to the internet, you can still ask the digital assistant to help with basic tasks like setting timers, logging health data or starting a workout. To take it a step further, you can even ask it things like “how was my sleep last night?” to get info about your sleep data.
On-device Siri has been available on iPads and iPhones for a few years, but this is the first time it’s coming to the Apple Watch, and potentially, it’s more useful there. Since many people use their watches away from their phones while exercising, this new internet-free functionality should open up a lot more Siri use cases for Apple Watch owners.
To make this even more seamless, Apple says that it’s improved its language processing neural engine, which increases dictation accuracy by 25 percent.
Another useful feature packed into the Apple Watch is the addition of ultra-wideband (UWB) technology. This is a modern wireless technology that allows your tech devices to sense other nearby UWB-equipped devices. This has been on iPhone since the iPhone 11 and is what allows AirTags to be so precise. With the new Apple Watches, you can precisely locate your iPhone and control music on nearby HomePods.
This feature is less exciting than some of the others but does help bring technological consistency to Apple’s hardware suite, allowing them to work together smartly.
A completely carbon neutral product
Beyond the new sustainable bands and materials, Apple also worked hard to make sure that you can buy a completely carbon-neutral smartwatch this fall.
Apple has lofty goals to make every one of its products carbon neutral by 2030, but for now, it’s just the Apple Watch Ultra 2, the Apple Watch SE and the Aluminum version of the Apple Watch Series 9. Take note that you also need to purchase this with a carbon-neutral band to make the least environmental impact possible.
Specifically, these bands are the Sport Loop and the Ultra’s Alpine and Trail Loop variants. Other bands are made substantially, but they’re not 100 percent carbon neutral.
The bigger picture
Software and hardware working together seamlessly has always been one of Apple’s strengths, and the Apple Watch has been a major part of that for years. While its basic functionality hasn’t changed, the addition of new air gesture controls on the latest models expands that paradigm and may suggest that the Apple Watch could be a larger key towards using Apple’s other devices like the Vision Pro in the future.
For now, it’s just a cool way to use your watch, but if it can detect much more diverse gestures and controls in the future, it could become a new control scheme for more than just the Apple Watch and a very futuristic way to interact with computers reminiscent of the magic leap and other wacky computer controls schemes from the past few years.
It may sound far-fetched, but Apple patented a ring in 2019 that does the same thing, so the tech giant is clearly thinking about it.
The Apple Watch Series 9 is up for pre-orders now. It will be on store shelves on September 22nd. The Aluminium model starts at $549 CAD and the Stainless Steel is $899.