Thoughts After Three Months of watchOS 4, and Its Release

4 minute read
| In-Depth Review

I’ve been beta testing watchOS 4 since the very first release. I’ve grown to appreciate many of the changes and enhancements that you, dear reader, may just be starting to explore now that watchOS 4 has been released. There’s plenty to enjoy about the new version of Apple Watch’s operating system. Unfortunately, there are also a few things worth continuing to complain about. Let’s take a look, shall we?

watchOS 4

Apple’s watchOS 4 is here, so let’s see how worthwhile the upgrade is

The Update Process — Still as Painful as Ever

One thing hasn’t changed with watchOS 4, and that’s the lengthy update process. It’s gotten better, sure, but it still isn’t anything like updating an iPhone with the latest version of iOS.

Downloading the beta software takes an unexplainably long time, considering the size of the upgrade file. It consistently took me nearly half an hour over a 100Mbs connection. I also had to keep my iPhone awake much of the time to prevent the download from pausing. Once downloaded, you still have to make sure your Apple Watch is charged to at least 50 percent. You also have to keep it on the charger.

The update itself takes at least another 40 minutes to an hour. I haven’t confirmed this with Apple, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the transfer of the upgrade files to the Apple Watch might be utilizing Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi.

Needless to say, you need to set aside the better part of an afternoon to upgrade your Apple Watch to watchOS 4. It’s incrementally better than previous upgrades, but only just.

Great Features of watchOS 4

As I said, there’s a lot to love within watchOS 4. In no particular order, let’s go over some of my favorite improvements and new features.

Getting Rid of the Honeycomb Grid

I’ve never been a fan of the honeycomb grid apps are displayed in by default. Even if you don’t add third-party apps into the mix, finding a particular piece of software is much like finding a needle in a haystack. Too many of the app icons look similar, and they’re arranged in what seems to me a very haphazard way.

With the new List View, my life with Apple Watch is much more serene. I can swipe through the apps or use the Digital Crown to find what I’m looking for, and everything is arranged alphabetically. This makes more sense to me than the honeycomb grid ever will.

The New Watch Faces

I can do without the Toy Story Watch face, but it’s bound to appeal to a lot of younger Apple Watch owners. The Kaleidoscope, on the other hand, is absolutely gorgeous. I love the fact that I can bring in whatever photograph I want, and use it as the basis for the abstract display of art.

Certain times of the day, the Siri Watch face is almost my best friend. While I typically keep my Apple Watch on the Utility face, I’ll switch to the Siri face when things get truly busy. The intelligence behind it helps me maintain a good balance between running around like a chicken with its head cut off and being frantically productive.

It’s by far a new feature, since the ability to fast-change Watch faces came about in watchOS 3. However, the feature seems to have been improved somewhat in watchOS 4. No longer do I have to start my finger as low down on the curve of the display as I used to. It’s much more responsive, and makes changing back and forth between Watch faces a breeze.

Encouraging and Celebrating My Activity

The Activity app has been overhauled, and is much more encouraging to me to remain active than it used to be. The full-screen celebrations of filling a ring or completing a goal are quite motivational, and the daily encouragement helps get me moving early on.

Still, some additional intelligence needs to be inserted into the evening nudges to finish off your goals for the day. I don’t know many people who are going to go for a “brisk, 9 minute walk” at nearly midnight. Nevertheless, my Watch certainly seems to think I’m one of them. (Spoiler alert: I’m not.)

The incremental monthly challenges help you remain vigilant in constantly improving your fitness. Rather than keeping the same goals each month, Apple Watch encourages you to step things up a bit after you’ve successfully achieved one set of goals.

Finally, if you keep track of your heart rate, there’s some good news. Apple Watch now lets you know more about your heart rate. The app shows your average resting heart rate, your walking beats per minute, your pulse during a workout, details about your heart rate during recovery from a workout, and more.

Where the Work’s Not Quite Done Yet

There are a couple of areas for improvement in watchOS 4. It’s unfortunate, but truly expected. You can’t have everything, and it usually takes time for a piece of software or operating system to truly mature to the level of being nearly perfect.

Synchronizing Music Playlists To Your Watch

I’m not the type of user who keeps his Apple Watch charging overnight, so this affects me more than most. I charge my Watch at the end of the day. Then, I wear it at night to monitor my heart rate and sleep movements.

Because of that, I have noticed that music takes far too long to synchronize to Apple Watch. The single playlist I listen to most often still isn’t on my Watch. It’s supposed to automatically update as part of the “Heavy Rotation” mix, but it never finishes downloading.

My “Chill Mix” and “New Music Mix” download just fine, since they’re smaller playlists. This is another area where I suspect the transfer is taking place using Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi. That suspicion is, I think, proven by the fact that Apple’s support page for synchronizing music to the Watch says to make sure Bluetooth, not Wi-Fi, is turned on.

No Seconds in Most Digital Time Watch Faces

John Martellaro has been crying out for Apple to add this, at least to the Astronomy Watch face, but it’s yet to happen. There is no seconds display in most of the Watch faces. Digital Activity provides the option, but none of the other digital Watch faces have it.

If you want a seconds display, you’ll have to use one of the analog Watch faces. It would be very useful if the other Watch faces at least gave you the option to choose a seconds display.

Still a Fantastic Improvement

Even with the few drawbacks, this is still a great improvement over past versions of watchOS. Apps seem to load faster, the new features are very useful, and the upcoming better support of Apple Music will be a joy.

Perhaps Apple will work on those pesky remaining trouble spots in an update to watchOS 4. Many of them have persisted through multiple versions, though. I have my doubts that they’re even on Cupertino’s radar.

Product: watchOS 4

Company: Apple

List Price: N/A

Rating:

We Like It. You Should Get It.

Pros:

Great new Watch faces, revamped Music experience, better fitness workout tracking and options

Cons:

Upgrading takes too long, synchronizing music is slow and tedious, no seconds display on most digital Watch faces

6 Comments Add a comment

  1. Frank V

    Looks good. Does anyone know if there is an auto-start/stop function in the cycling activity of the Work-out app? I regularly forget to stop the stopwatch when I have to wait for a traffic light.

      • Jeff Butts

        The workout automatically begins approximately 3 seconds after you select it, but the clock doesn’t stop when you stop moving. At least, that’s the case with walking workouts. I’m not a cyclist, so I can’t speak to those 🙂

      • Lee Dronick

        I usually pace back and forth while waiting for the traffic light to change.

  2. Lee Dronick

    One thing hasn’t changed with watchOS 4, and that’s the lengthy update process. It’s gotten better, sure, but it still isn’t anything like updating an iPhone with the latest version of iOS.

    Yes, the iPhone update/upgrade was pretty fast, the Watch one is dog slow.

  3. Mike Weasner

    I started the WatchOS 4 upgrade of my original Apple Watch this morning at 6 AM. The Watch app on the iPhone 6s Plus said it would take an hour. I came back two hours later. The Watch displayed a red ! and was bricked. Per the URL on the watch screen (www.apple.com/help/watch) I called Apple Support. The senior advisor there had me try to restart the Watch. It failed. He declared the Watch officially bricked by doing the WatchOS 4 update. He offered to send me a return shipping box but that would not match my upcoming plans. So I drove one hour to the “local” Apple Store. I managed to get a quick walk-in appointment. The tech there confirmed the Watch was bricked by the OS 4 update. He said they could send it in for “repair” but since my AppleCare+ had expired in May I might have to pay $199 for the repair (even though OS4 bricked it). So I decided to get a new Series 3 Watch, which seemed a more cost effective solution. I will be driving the one hour again to the “local” Apple Store on Friday to stand in line with the hopes of getting a new Watch. (Maybe that is an Apple Marketing Strategy: brick the customer’s old device, tell the customer they have to pay for the “repair”, offer to sell them a new device (without a trade in). If Apple really wants to learn what bricked my Apple Watch during the WatchOS 4 update, they can purchase my bricked Watch for a reasonable price.

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