Apple has taken the wrappers off watchOS 4, and while we've not been treated to any new hardware (specifically the Watch Series 3), the latest OS update is pretty telling about the current state of the smartwatch industry.
Apple's leading the charge when it comes to smartwatches, and the latest data seems to indicate that the segment is here to stay. And while Android Wear 2.0 has set the agenda so far this year, bringing fashion brands into the fold, Apple's focus on fitness and Siri offers a glimpse into how it plans to build on its dominance into 2018.
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Here's what we learned from the big watchOS 4 reveal.
Fitness and wellness is still the easiest sell
When it comes to convincing people to jump on the Apple Watch bandwagon, it's still fitness that provides the clearest sell. While sales of the Apple Watch are showing that desirability and brand still count, those asking "what can a smartwatch do for me?" get the clearest answer when shown the benefits of activity tracking, workout data and healthcare.
These are all areas in which the Apple Watch lags. GPS and waterproofing have provided a solid base for fitness enthusiasts, but the likes of Strava and Runkeeper aren't pushing the boundaries of what's possible via third party apps. What's more, Apple's own apps frankly suck compared to "proper" fitness devices, and trackers such as Fitbit. Resting heart rate, post workout metrics, tracking improvement are all alien concepts.
watchOS 4 ups things again with support for HIIT, the ability to sync up with gym equipment via GymKit and adding monthly challenges are just a few improvements that show that Apple is really pushing that fitness story.
Apple is following the pack on features
But with the exception of GymKit, Apple is continuing to join the dots of everyone else's best features. Fitbit's challenges, Moov's HIIT support, aping Google Now for the new Siri watch face – finally Apple is acknowledging the best ideas in the wider world of wearables. The Siri watch face is probably the most pleasing aspect of this, as Apple's services have always felt under used on its smartwatch. It's only challenge now is to match Google's quality of those services – yeah, we're looking at YOU Apple Maps…
Siri is the future, but not the present
Siri is starting to take centre stage in Apple's world, thanks to the HomePod speaker, and a more prominent role on the Apple Watch. While for our money Siri has a little way to go in order to match Alexa for interactions, the rich roster of Apple services (that word again) makes it a powerful proposition. But it's wise of Apple to take it slow. Talking to Siri or Alexa at home is one thing, it's a bit different out in the street. We're some way off a Siri-powered future.
Apple is still not letting people customise
Oh Apple. Drip feeding us new watch faces once a year. How you tease us. When you look at the experience of Android and the openness of apps like Facer, there's a huge appetite for customisation – so it's no wonder new watch faces for Apple Watch are seen as a big story. Personally, we'd like to see the licensing of watch faces move beyond cartoons (sorry Toy Story fans) and perhaps talk to fashion names. But for now, we'll just have to be happy with Woody and Buzz.
The Apple Watch universe is going to grow
OK – this is perhaps the biggest thing we've learned. Fast-forward a year and we believe there will be more to the Apple Watch than just a watch. The expansion of Bluetooth to enable the watch to connect to more Bluetooth items was demonstrated by its ability to connect to glucose monitors – a fairly niche medical sensor that's been touted on the Apple Watch since day one.
But it got us thinking – what else could be connected. Apple smartstraps has already been touted but we're thinking Nike+ Run pods, perhaps in the vein of the Garmin Running Pod that clips to your clothes for advanced running insights. What about bike sensors? Moov-style workout trackers. Making the Apple Watch a hub for other devices, so you can see your data and interact with them is a smart move.
What would you like to see included? Let us know in the comments below.
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