Yesterday, Apple released updates for the iPhone and iPad (iOS 9.3.3) and Apple Watch (watchOS 2.2.2). They were minor updates that fixed a few bugs and don't add any new features that I have seen. What I'm really waiting for is iOS 10 and watchOS 3. Both are due in a few months, and developers are working with beta versions of them now so there are lots of folks kicking the tires. This past weekend, I had a chance to spend some time with the beta version of watchOS 3, running on the Apple Watch of a developer. I normally don't talk about beta software on iPhone J.D., but I know that lots of attorneys and others are really looking forward to watchOS 3 for the reasons set forth in my preview last month, especially the improvements that make the Apple Watch faster to use. After using the beta of watchOS 3, I can confirm that watchOS 3 is a significant upgrade and will vastly improve the experience of using an Apple Watch.
Faster app launching and access
One of the best features of watchOS 3 is that apps launch faster. This feature works really well. If you put an app in the new Apple Watch Dock, accessed by using the side button, then the app launches much, much faster than on watchOS 2. Often it is instantaneous, which is amazing. Other times there is maybe a second delay in launching, which is still much better than watchOS 2. (And remember, I was using beta software, so everything may be even faster and more optimized when the final software is released in a few months.)
The Dock also makes it much easier and faster to find the apps that you use the most. It is much better than having to find an app on the honeycomb shaped home screen.
When you launch an app that isn't in the Dock or a complication, it takes a long time to launch — perhaps just as long as on watchOS 2. But I don't see that as a real issue. Seeing the most frequently used apps launch faster is a very big improvement.
Changing watch faces is much faster in watchOS 3. Instead of a force touch followed by a swipe left or right, you can now use an edge-to-edge (left or right) swipe on the watch face to change to a different face. Put two watch faces that you like side-by-side, and you can swap them pretty quickly.
This feature works so well that changing faces in watchOS 3 becomes not just a fashion statement but also a utility. You can create a few watch faces that make the most sense depending upon the task that you are doing, and then quickly switch between them as necessary.
I still wish that Apple would allow third party watch faces, and perhaps this will come in watchOS 4. But this one change will make watch faces, and the complications that can be added to watch faces, much more useful.
With the new scribble feature in watchOS 3, you can easily send more complicated replies to emails or text messages, without having to talk and use the dictation function and without being limited to the pre-set replies. Scribbling letter by letter is somewhat slow, but I found it incredibly useful to have the freedom to write any word. Better yet, I didn't realize before using the beta software that you usually don't have to scribble every letter in a word. Just scribble one or two letters and a faint icon will appear on the right with an up and down arrow:
That icon indicates that you can scroll the digital crown to see words and phrases that begin with your letter(s). It is similar to the autocomplete feature on the iPhone, and it often means that you can enter a word by only scribbling one or two letters.
As a former Palm user, I did find myself wishing that Apple used something similar to Palm's old Graffiti alphabet. For example, instead of using two strokes to make the letter T, I found myself wishing that I could just use a single stroke to make an upside-down L (the Graffiti shortcut for a T). And there were a few times when I tried to make a capital B but the Apple Watch thought I was making a 13. I'm sure that with more use, one gets better at using the scribble feature on an Apple Watch.
Of course, for really long and complicated replies you will want to just reach for your iPhone and use the keyboard. But after just a few minutes of trying out this feature, I was really impressed by how useful it is. I've learned over the past 15 months of using an Apple Watch that there are times when it is far more convenient to send a message from the watch instead of pulling an iPhone out of my pocket, and the scribble feature of watchOS 3 assists with this convenience.
There was one part of watchOS 2 that I missed on watchOS 3. The only Glance that I regularly use in watchOS 2 is the Now Playing Glance. I swipe up on my watch face and instantly see the play/pause button, which is useful for controlling music, a podcast, or an audio book that is playing on my iPhone — sometimes using the built-in speaker, but more often using a Bluetooth speaker. My iPhone and/or speaker might be located across the room, but I can currently control the audio, and even skip back or forward, using a simple swipe up on the watch on my wrist:
In watchOS 3, Glances are gone. Swiping up on the clock face just brings up the Control Center. You can still control audio using the Music app, which you can put in your Dock, but in my tests over the weekend that is somewhat less convenient. First, you need to press the side button. Then, you need to swipe to locate and then select the Music app. You can move any app so that it is at the beginning of the Dock, but it still takes more steps to get to a screen with a play/pause button in watchOS 3 than on watchOS 2.
I thought that a workaround would be to put a Music complication on my watch face. That way, I could just tap the complication on the face of my watch and launch the app with the play/pause button. My gut tells me that there must be a way to make this work, but I couldn't figure out how to do that during my tests over the past weekend. If any of you are already using the beta of watchOS 3 and have found a simple way to get to that play/pause/FF/RW screen, I'd love to hear about it. Otherwise, this is one of the first things that I will be trying to figure out when watchOS 3 is released and on my own watch.
I also tried out iOS 10 on an iPhone this past weekend, and it also has some nice features as I noted in my preview. But once you are ten versions into an operating system, I suppose it is natural that the improvements are more incremental. In contrast, the Apple Watch is still young with lots of room to grow and improve. Perhaps for this reason, watchOS 3 is a major step forward.
Overall, I was incredibly impressed with the beta version of watchOS 3. Except for the Now Playing feature noted above, I was disappointed to return to using watchOS 2 on my own Apple Watch. Indeed, considering that this was beta software, I was surprised how well it worked, only crashing once during all of my tests. Maybe it will be even faster and more polished when the final version is released in a few months, but even if the final experience is exactly the same as what I tried this past weekend (other than that one crash), I think that most Apple Watch users will be incredibly satisfied.