A year and a bit on from the release of the original Apple Watch, and Apple is now the #2 watch brand in the world, only trailing Rolex in the sales department – and #1 in customer satisfaction, according to a JD Power smartwatch study. So now’s the time to bring out a sequel. At its September Special Event, Apple announced its latest product: the Apple Watch Series 2. Let’s recap what we learned from the announcement.
Apple exec Jeff Williams opened with a recap of what’s new in watchOS 3. We first heard about the new operating system at WWDC in June, and its been beta tested since, so this stuff wasn’t a surprise. A new dock, Control Center, Breathe, Scribble, SOS mode – lots of new features, which you can read about in slightly more detail in our WWDC 2016 roundup.
After a typically over-the-top promotional video, it becomes clear that the rumors were true and the next-gen Apple Watch will have the same dimensions and form factor as the first edition smartwatch. There are some new watch bands though, and a brand new white ceramic finish on the cards. Apparently ceramic is four times stronger than stainless steel. Who knew?
Although last year’s Apple Watch performed surprisingly well in water resistance tests, it was never officially waterproof. This time, though, the device is being touted as completely swimproof, with a redesigned speaker system (the only opening on the body of the watch) that can flush itself clean of liquid after a swim with audio vibrations. The watch is certified to IP67 standards as able to withstand complete submersion down to 50m, and impressive new tracking software mean that fitness apps will be able to accurately track the calorie burn of sessions in the pool – and it’ll get better over time by tailoring to your stroke.
Now onto the “brains” of the device. The new S2 chip, complete with dual core processor, is up to 50% faster than the previous model, and a new GPU offers twice the graphical performance. Apps like Night Sky are already taking advantage of the tech, offering 5x more detail than before at 60 frames per second. That’s “a crazy amount of performance to be wearing on your wrist,” according to Williams.
Moving on, we learn that the second generation display is more than twice as bright as the first Apple Watch, at 1000 nits – in fact, it’s the brightest screen Apple has ever shipped on any device. That’s good news for those who like to wear their watches outdoors, which – we presume – covers pretty much everyone.
Two of the most popular activities tracked on the Apple Watch are walking and running, but users have been wanting the ability to do it without dragging their iPhone along for the ride. To answer this need, Apple has added built-in GPS to the Apple Watch Series 2. You can start straight away, without having to wait for connections, and the GPS offers accurate pace and distance right from the watch. When you get home and reunite with your iPhone, it’ll show a full map of your route, color coded to display changes of pace. All this, of course, will also be used by third-party developers, and a short demonstration from ViewRanger’s lead designer Hannah Catmur showed what we can expect to see from devs now the Apple Watch includes GPS.
Apple also announced a partnership with Nike to develop a new edition of the Apple Watch targeted squarely at runners: the Apple Watch Nike+. It features a unique look, with a light aluminum face and a breathable strap. There’s a redesigned Nike clock face that can launch you straight into a run, or you can just ask Siri to start a run and off you go. It’s distraction-free, with simple controls on a big clear screen, or an advanced mode for those that want more detail. The Nike representative said its available in four “amazing, cool colors” – as a picture of four subtly different gray and green devices filled the presentation screen. We guess shades of gray can be exciting if you try hard enough.
Oh, and perhaps least importantly (unless you’re really into the game) the developers of Pokémon GO appeared on stage to announce that a version of the popular augmented reality app was coming soon for Apple Watch. Apparently players have walked a combined 4.6 billion kilometers so far in search of the virtual creatures that populate the real world. Crazy stuff.
Availability and pricing
So the new device is a little underwhelming on the surface – it looks the same and is still dependent on iPhone tethering for almost every function. However, the performance improvements alone make this a decent upgrade, while swimmers and runners will be particularly impressed by the waterproofing and on-board GPS respectively.
The Apple Watch Series 2 will start from $369, while the first edition – rebranded to Apple Watch Series 1 – gains an improved processor and drops to $269, making it a significantly more affordable smartwatch option. It’s available in the same finishes as last year, plus that new ceramic option.
Pre-orders begin on September 9, with watchOS 3 available as an upgrade for existing users from September 13. The Apple Watch Nike+ edition will be released in late October.