Rating Apple's watchOS 3 Announcements at WWDC

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 7 min read

Apple talked about a lot of stuff at their WWDC keynote today, and there are literally thousands of articles posted today about what they announced. But if you came to this site, you want to hear something about the Apple Watch, so don't worry, it was the watchOS 3 news that got me the most excited today.

Apple talked about a lot of stuff, so I'm going to hit on the most significant things that were (and weren't) announced today. Enjoy!

How fast can you go?

Before Kevin Lynch even walked to the center of the stage, he already said that the number one focus of the team has been on making the Apple Watch faster. Pardon my French, but fuck yeah! There is nothing that makes us Apple Watch users more frustrated than how slow many things are on the Watch. Seriously, the Apple Watch does so much, it's a shame it does so much of it slow and makes us go to our phones for more things than we would like.

With watchOS 3, they've done a ton to make the device zippy. Instant Launch is the most exciting, of course, as it means that apps will launch significantly faster than they did before. In the example they showed on stage, the app launched 7x faster, which is just insane!

Moving beyond launch speed, Apple has also added background updates, which means apps can update themselves in the background, so they are up to date with the latest information the moment you launch them. Did I mention that launch time should be nearly instantaneous? The system will also keep your worst used apps in memory so they will be even faster to launch.

They also mentioned that your watch should know what you want to see before you even ask it. I didn't see exactly what they meant by this in the demo, but one hopes they're doing some predictive work in the background to get specific apps running right before you raise your wrist to launch them. That's probably wishful thinking, but I definitely want to dig into the update a bit more and see what else there is to see from a speed perspective.

This is all exactly what we wanted to see, and I'm so happy that Apple acknowledged that watchOS is pretty slow today. They never said the word "slow" on stage1, but they kept driving home the point that everything they were showing was faster. I pray these enhancements work as well as advertised.

Rating: A+

Activity/Workouts revamp, so you can Breath

I am a huge fan of the 3 ring system on the Apple Watch, and it's been a huge motivator to get me to work out more regularly. I'm happy to report that Activity got a lot of love in this release.

First up are the Activity watch faces, which appeal greatly to me. I already have the Activity complication on my watch face, but getting them front and center not only makes them easier to see and understand, but it also clears up space for another app's complication, which is always welcome. There are 3 different versions of the watch face, and all appeal to me in a different way. I'll probably end up using the Utility-style one.

They've made your activity stats more social as well. Now don't run, I know "Apple makes X social" makes more level-headed people run for the hills, but I think Apple's ambitions are mild enough that this will be fun. You can now add your friends to your Activity circle and see how they are doing in real time. It's mild social, but it follows what Fitbit has been doing for a while. It's just nice to see how you stack up against your friends and family. I'm into this and will be adding all my Apple Watch friends once this goes live.

While I'm pleased to see these new social features, I still think it's crazy that Activity data resides entirely on my iPhone and not on iCloud. The fact that I lose all my data if I ever have the audacity to restore my iPhone is insane. I also would have liked to see workouts like running and biking get GPS maps so I could see my routes.

The new Breath app was a bit of a surprise, and I don't think most people will use this. It's essentially a meditation app, and while that's something I would like to do more, I don't think Breath is going to get me to. I could be wrong, but this new features was a snore.

Workouts got some love, but nothing incredibly notable from what Apple showed on stage. The Quick Start workout feature is really nice, and I hear that there is a new auto-pause feature for when you're running/biking and pause for a little bit. My current app, Strava does this, and it's really nice when you get stuck at a stoplight so you don't have to worry about that damn red light messing up your split time. Apparently third party workout apps will get more power, but the specifics are still a little nebulous.

Oh yeah, and this slid was my favorite thing that happened in the whole afternoon. Apple does stuff like this all the time and it just warms your heart.

Rating: B-

What if replying to messages was super convenient?

We saw Google add handwriting recognition and a keyboard to Android Wear 2 last month, and Apple is adding the not-stupid half of those. In case that wasn't clear, they've added a handwriting interface.

There are tons of times where I want to enter just a little text to reply to a notification, but none of the watch's suggestions are right, and I can't talk to my watch. The new handwriting recognition is going to be perfect for those cases where you want to say something fast and don't want to talk to your watch (which makes you a crazy person in some circumstances, that's just how it goes).

The implementation matters a ton for the feature, as it's not worth a damn if it can't figure out what I'm saying. If sending digital touches (that still sounds dirty) has taught me anything, it's that writing on a 42mm screen is really tough. The best case scenario is this greatly increases how much I can do on my watch, and that's pretty exciting.

Rating: B+

Always waiting for always on watch faces

Seriously Apple, these had better be in the version of watchOS 3 that ships on the Apple Watch 2 later this year, because this is a critical feature that needs to get here sooner rather than later.

Rating: Sadness (I guess that's an F)

A better app launcher

Well, the honeycomb is still here, but there are a couple interface casualties here: Glances and Friends. As I said months ago, Apple needed to do something with the Friends button that no one used, so seeing it change functions just makes me happy. I wouldn't say Glances died, but have been reborn as The Dock2.

I have to say I wasn't expecting Glances to get the axe, but I can't say I'll miss them. They never seemed to live up to their potential. The Dock intends to make right all the sins of Glances by being faster, more powerful, and more customizable. Sounds great!

The idea is that when you hit the side button the Apple Watch, you'll see a list of whatever apps you have in The Dock. These apps will be 100% updated so the information is immediately useful. If you want to go into one of these apps, simply tap the app and you're in the app instantly. Again, time will tell if this is really as fast as they showed, but I'm optimistic it will at least be better than what we have now.

Rating: B

Third party watch faces are still just a dream

Again, this was an easy one, Apple! I guess there's always hope for next year.

Rating: C'mon Apple (up, another F)


I'm very pleased with what Apple showed off in watchOS 3 today. While I would have liked to see custom and always-on watch faces, activity data move to the cloud, and a bigger rethink of the UI, but they've definitely made a lot of good moves that push the platform forward. In retrospect, it's not surprising that Apple didn't blow the whole thing up and start over, so considering that wasn't on the table, watchOS 3 is solid.

I'm incredibly encouraged by Apple's focus on speed, and love how bluntly they took on that issue in the presentation. The Dock could be the biggest deal here if it works as advertised. When you add that to the other smaller things like Control Center which is accessible from everywhere with a swipe up, new complications and apps, better tools for developers, and more, this is a really good looking update.

I'm not installing the beta today because I tried it last year and it was a disaster. Don't repeat my mistakes!

  1. And if they did, I missed it. 
  2. The capital "The" lets you know it means business.