Note: This article was first published on 20th September 2016.
Straight to the top (almost)
Early last year, Apple finally jumped into the smartwatch fray with the Apple Watch. It’s Apple’s first smartwatch and also the company’s first major all-new product since the debut of the iPad in 2010. It’s got a lot on its shoulders and a year on, I think it’s fair to say that it did exceedingly well, despite what some critics may say.
Sure, Apple didn’t sell as many Apple Watches as iPhones, but then the Apple Watch isn’t a phone. Heck, many people these days don’t even wear watches. And the hard facts are these: the Apple Watch is the best-selling smartwatch by a considerable margin, and it currently enjoys more than 50% market share of the smartwatch market. Perhaps what’s even more impressive is that Apple is now the second biggest watch brand in the world in terms of sales, ahead of other illustrious names such as Omega, Cartier, and Patek Philippe. The only brand ahead of it is Rolex. That is quite an achievement.
Sales aside, it is also a very good smartwatch, arguably the best for any iPhone user. Not everyone is fond of its squarish looks, but there’s no denying its exemplary build quality and the attention to detail Apple paid to its first smartwatch. The strap change system is pure genius and then there’s the sheer multitude of straps to choose from, which will surely delight any fashionista. And when it comes down to it, the Apple Watch had loads of useful functions, too. It could keep you up to date on the latest messages and emails, keep track of your daily activity levels and exercises, help you navigate, and so on.
Of course, the Apple Watch isn't perfect. For one, the first-gen Apple Watch's battery life wasn’t great and some apps took a while to load. It wasn’t water-proof, and because it didn’t have a built-in GPS, some runners had no choice but to bring their iPhones along if they wanted to map their exercise routes. Apple took note of all these and made changes. The changes come in two forms: one of which is watchOS 3, a huge software update with new features and performance benefits; and the other is the watch you see here, the Apple Watch Series 2.
If you were hoping for a round smartwatch from Apple, look away because Apple has stuck to their guns and the Apple Watch Series 2 still has a square design. Admittedly, most people I spoke to prefer a conventional round watch, but I think a square dial suits a smartwatch best as it’s the most natural and efficient way to show text.
In addition, I think Apple has done a stellar job on the case design of the Apple Watch. Even with the display powered down, most people will be able to tell that that is an Apple Watch just by looking at the case. That for me is the mark of a powerful and successful design.
Additionally, the new Apple Watch Series 2 doesn’t deviate from its predecessor and is once again available in 38mm and 42mm sizes. The smaller size is supposedly for women, but if you have skinny wrists and prefer the look of smaller watches, don’t let that stop you from opting for the smaller size.
In fact, the new Apple Watch Series 2 is nearly identical in looks save for the slight increase in thickness and different markings on the case back. The new watch is about 0.9mm thicker, but the difference is only noticeable if you have been religiously wearing the first generation Apple Watch. And on the case back, you will spot some new labels, specifically “Series 2” and also “GPS. WR-50M”.
This brings me neatly to what’s arguably the two biggest improvements made to the new Apple Watch Series 2 - water resistance and built-in GPS. The first Apple Watch was only splash resistant, but the new Apple Watch Series 2 is water resistant up to 50 meters. In other words, you can finally wear your Apple smartwatch into the shower and swimming.
Making a watch water resistant to 50 meters is no mean feat, especially in a smartwatch that has so many ingress points. But generally, these points can be overcome using gaskets and adhesives. However, Apple pointed out that the tricky bit is the speaker as it requires air to produce sound. And if air can get in, so can water. As a result, Apple had to reengineer the speaker in the new Series 2 watch such that it generates vibrations to eject water out of its enclosure.
Since the Apple Watch Series 2 can now be used for swimming, it naturally has additional workout modes for its Workout app. Depending on where users are swimming, they can now choose between Pool Swim and Open Water Swim. What’s interesting about these new swimming modes is that Apple says it has developed algorithms to accurately track swimming activities by testing on over 700 different swimmers of varying abilities.
The other big news is the inclusion of a built-in GPS. The first Apple Watch did not have GPS capability, so for users who wanted their exercise routes to be mapped, they had to bring their iPhones along, which can be cumbersome. Now, the Apple Watch Series 2 will use a combination of its built-in GPS, Wi-Fi, and locally stored satellite data to quickly identify your location and map your workouts. And once you are done, you can see your route in the Activity app.
Water resistance and built-in GPS aside, another two hardware improvements worth mentioning are the new S2 dual-core processor and brighter display. The new S2 processor is said to be 50% faster and offers two times better graphics performance. And indeed, the Apple Watch Series 2 does feel more fluid and responsive as compared to the first generation Apple Watch, even if the latter has been upgraded to watchOS 3.
WatchOS 3 was announced at WWDC 2016 a couple of months ago and it features a thoroughly revamped user interface and makes everything feel faster and logical. One of the most significant changes to watchOS 3 is that the side button now launches the Dock that shows recently used and running apps. These apps are kept in memory and launch instantaneously. You can find out more about watchOS 3’s new features here.
The display on the Apple Watch Series 2 is also significantly brighter. Apple says its brightness is rated at 1,000 nits, which makes it more than twice as bright as its predecessor and also the brightest display on any Apple device ever. Though the brighter display improves legibility in most circumstances, it can still be hard to read the Apple Watch Series 2 especially since the sun can be extremely harsh in Singapore.
Apple has also changed the nomenclature of the watches. In the past, there used to be the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Sport, the latter had aluminum cases and were targeted explicitly at sports users. Now, there’s just the Apple Watch Series 2, and it encompasses models with aluminum and stainless steel cases. Also gone are watches with gold cases. The Apple Watch Edition still lives, but there is only a single variant now that comes with a striking white ceramic case.
Fans of luxury house Hermés will be happy to know that their collaboration will continue and that there’ll be no less than 7 different variants of the Apple Watch Hermès. These watches will come with unique Hermès watch faces and Hermès straps.
Finally, there’s the Apple Watch Nike+, which is basically Apple Watch Series 2, but with aluminum cases and special perforated Nike Sport bands. In addition, the Nike+ models will have custom Nike watch faces and will also come preloaded with the Nike+ Run Club app, a special app designed to help runners stay motivated.