Why watchOS 5 Is A Bigger Update Than You Might Think

Why watchOS 5 Is A Bigger Update Than You Might Think

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Usually, I‘m quite good at predicting human reactions. Especially regarding software and all kinds of gadgets.

After the WWDC keynote, I didn‘t have the time to immediately check social media for reactions. I was rather busy with a few deadlines and stories I had to file.

With all that done I started chatting with colleagues and checking social media. To my surprise, quite a few people whose opinion I value were disappointed with watchOS 5 and its new features.

I really didn‘t see that coming.

Let me explain why I‘m convinced that watchOS 5 is going to be a bigger update than some might think:

Rearrange the buttons in the control center: That‘s a big one. At least for me. Since I wear Apple Watch at night I always have to activate Do Not Disturb and Theatre Mode. Too bad the button for Find My iPhone is right next to the one for Do Not Disturb. If I’m not super careful and touch the wrong one I might wake the wife or our newborn. Trust me, you don‘t want to do that. Now I can finally arrange the buttons a bit more ergonomically and reduce the risk of involuntarily waking up half the family. (Update: After using it for a few days it really is my favorite new feature.)

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Automatic sports tracking: That‘s going to be super convenient. If Apple gets the recognition algorithms right. But since Samsung is doing this for years now Apple shouldn’t have many problems with it. By the way it doesn’t auto-recognize cycling for now. Apparently that's a bit too tricky for the watch to tell apart from other wrist movements.

Background audio: One word: Spotify. With the ability to play sound even when an app isn‘t shown on screen the door for a Spotify app is very open. Audible might be another great addition for the watch. Overall that’s another big step towards a more independent Apple Watch.

Podcast app: Finally! By the way, the simplified UI promises to be easier to use than the one on the iPhone which I find a bit too complex. Too bad the app doesn’t work yet on my watch. (Update: Now it works, even over LTE. It‘s perfect with Airpods or other Bluetooth headphones.) 

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No more „Hey Siri“: Whenever I go cycling I have to use this command: „Hey Siri, starte Fahrrad-Training Outdoor!“. You don‘t have to understand German to see how time-consuming and clumsy that is. Now that you can just raise your wrist and no longer need to say „Hey Siri“, talking to the watch will be far more natural. By the way, if you have privacy concerns about Siri always listening when you move your wrist, there‘s a toggle to go back to „Hey Siri“. But I‘ve been promised the microphones only activate when you hold the watch in front of your face an quite close to your mouth. Just like you did when you wanted to use Siri with watchOS 4.

Shortcuts: In my big analysis of this years WWDC I wrote that Siri Shortcuts is the big question mark. It might turn out to fix a lot of Siris‘ shortcomings. But it might also turn out to be a nerdy and too complicated feature hardly anyone uses. For now I‘m still excited to teach Siri a few tricks myself. (Update: In the meantime I did a first test and it looks very promising.)

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Walkie-Talkie: Voice-messaging was one of the features Apple showed at the presentation of the very first Apple Watch in September 2014. Too bad it never made it into the watch. Now it‘s finally ready. The first demo I saw (It‘s not in the beta yet) was surprisingly fast. There was hardly any delay or lag. Too bad you are limited to contacts with Apple Watches. But since it goes over the internet you can at least use it with everyone who has an Apple Watch. No matter where they live.

Hiking: In Switzerland we love hiking. Can‘t wait to put the new hiking workout option to the test.

Adios Series 0: Celebrating that the first model gets cut off from updates might sound harsh. But it‘s very good news for the big majority of Apple Watch owners. The first generation chips were holding back developers. Now they can focus on the faster chips of the more recent models. And owners of the first generation Apple Watch will still have a very good smartwatch. They just won‘t get all the before mentioned features. And let‘s be honest, that was bound to happen when you buy a first generation product.

Of course, some things are still missing:

More/custom watch faces: Apple talked quite a bit about the Siri watch face and how developers can add their app to it. But the only really new watch face was the (and rather nice) pride watch face. I still stand by my argument that Apple won‘t and shouldn’t open watch faces completely. But with the Series 4 in September I expect a bit more effort in that department. On a side-note: Some kind of a watchmaker app with tools like different hands and complications in more sizes to build your own watch face might end up being a good compromise.

Always on watch faces: If the Series 4 is indeed getting a bigger screen with the same body size, I doubt an always-on screen is coming this year. But who knows.

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Automatic night mode: As I mentioned above, before going to sleep I always have to push a few buttons to set my watch into some kind of a night mode. I really wish it would do all that automatically. But maybe Shortcuts will fix that as well?

Sleep-tracking: My guess is that Apple wants to show that with a new watch and maybe some new sensors. It might even be exclusive to newer models. Even-tough third-party apps can do it on old Apple Watches as well.

I already have the beta of watchOS 5 installed and I will test it over the summer. If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me on Twitter.

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