Review of Apple's watchOS 2: An After Action Report

On September 21st, Apple released its first major upgrade to the watchOS, version 2.0. Many new features have been included, some details still need fixing, and the upgrade process itself was problematic.

__________________________

This may be a review in the article banner, but it's really more of an after action report. It's a follow up to my first reaction to the announced version 2 features: "10 Best Features of watchOS 2" in which I ranked my favorites.

Now it's time for a reality check after the install.

Image Credit: Apple

1. The Installation. The upgrade to watchOS 2 was the worst experience I've ever had with an Apple product. The total time for me, from when I launched the upgrade in the Apple Watch app on my iPhone 6 (iOS 9) to when I had a working Apple Watch, running watchOS 2.0 was five hours. Lest you think I have a poor connection, here's a screen shot of the latest speed test on my iPhone 6.

Here's a summary of my upgrade experience.

  1. Really slow download of the update file. About two hours.
  2. A false error message that the iPhone 6 was not on the Internet.
  3. The inability to stop the download with a hard reboot so as to try an install later. The glacial download progress survived an app quit and reboot. After reboot, the progress sped up however.
  4. A false error message that the iPhone could not connect to the Apple Watch when, in fact, the installation progress circle was active.
  5. On a positive note, when I decided to go for a walk and the iPhone politely said it would decline to continue to download the 515 MB update via cellular. That's standard practice in order to avoid taxing user data caps.
  6. A borked progress timer that went from 36, 33, 32, 20, 9, then 15 minutes remaining. Then resumed from 15 down to zero.

I was not alone. TMO staff members reported very similar problems. A good friend texted me with "Hey, were you able to update your watch? I've been stuck on verification for almost 4 hours."

I understand that Apple's servers were likely taxed. However, most of us had no problems with the larger iOS 9 upgrade. This upgrade was not a happy experience for me and others.

2. Time Travel. As expected, this is a pretty nifty feature. A good way to see it in action is to use the Modular watch face and rotate the Digital Crown. If you have compatible complications, like the temperature, they'll all update as you go forwards or backwards in time. This is a very cool feature, well implemented. Tap the digital Crown to return to the present.

Looking forward in time by about 2 hours. 
Events and temperature  get updated.

3. Complications are more orthogonal. In watchOS 1.x, not every standard complication was available on every section of every Apple Watch face. That has changed for the better now. Most every complication is available in all the outer sections of the various faces. One exception is the middle section on the Utility face.

4. Still no digital seconds. There is still no watch face that displays digital hh:mm:ss. One would think that, of all places, it would appear on the Astronomy face. It does not. This is an oversight bordering on negligence. No. It is negligence. Understandable in 1.x. Unforgivable in 2.0.

Tim Cook has claimed that the Apple Watch is accurate to 50 milliseconds, but if you want to even see whole seconds, you'll have to look at an analog watch face, such as Utility, Simple or Color. The problem here is that if you're reporting an event timing, you'll have to switch to an analog face and visually interpret where the second hand is. That's not a good as seeing hh:mm:ss in plain numbers. This is a surprising lack of attention to detail by Apple.

5. New watch faces. Several new watch faces have been added. You can sync a named photo album on your iPhone to the Apple Watch and select your favorite photo. Do that with the iPhone Watch app > My Watch > Photos > Synced Album. As with the Time Lapse faces, there are no additional complications available. That makes it a half-baked feature.

Next page: Stay awake, Wi-Fi mode, the Color watch face, Nightstand mode, documentation and final thoughts.

Page 2 - Stay Awake Mode, Wi-Fi Mode, the Color Watch Face, Nightstand Mode, Documentation and Final Thoughts

 

6. Stay Awake option. On the Apple Watch under Settings > General > Wake Screen you can select from 15 or 70 seconds. But if you've seen enough in the 70 second awake mode, there's no way to put the watch back to sleep that I have found. [UPDATE: You can rotate your wrist outward to put the display back to sleep.]


7. Coming out of Airplane mode. I noted a new icon coming out of Airplane mode. Because the Apple Watch can now connect by itself over Wi-Fi, it first notifies you that it's done that with a green cloud (iCloud) icon. Then, as before, confirms that it sees the iPhone via Bluetooth with the green outline of an iPhone. Apple's page of Apple Watch icons has not been updated to reflect any of that as of this writing, but the support page linked to above explains it all.

Image credit: Apple

8. Color watch face. In version 1.x, an amateur astronomer complained to me that, for purist reasons, he'd like to have the Color watch face all one color (red). The problem is that the hands stubbornly remain white. While I doubt this tiny bit of white light would affect one's night vision, it seems sensible to have every element in a each face called Color be definable. Or at least have them all the same color. This has not been attended to in watchOS 2 and shows continuing inattention to a technical detail.

9. Sunrise/Sunset Time. Since upgrading to watchOS 2, the sunrise/sunset complication is very reliable. I haven't seen the dashes since I upgraded.

10. Nightstand Mode. As Apple warned us, the Apple Watch has to be connected to charger for this to work. Turn it on in the watch with Settings > General > Nightstand Mode. Note that many of the current Apple Watch charging docks don't support this orientation. One that does is the Native Union Dock for Apple Watch (38 or 42 mm). I have one for evaluation.

What's annoying is that, after a short time, the display goes to sleep. So you wake up, see a blank face, reach out to touch the watch to wake it up and knock it on the floor. If the watch must be connected to the charger for this mode to work, the display should stay lit all night for the convenience of the owner and those in the vicinity. This is hardly an energy saver issue.

11. Discover Card Issue. One reader notified me about a problem. "After updating to WatchOS 2, I tried to add my Discover card to Apple Pay using the Watch app on my iPhone 5s. This is a supported configuration. I called Discover and they said they had reports of this failing for iPhone 5s and Apple Watch users. Apple had given them troubleshooting steps, which the rep had me do. It didn't help." The issue remains unresolved according to my reader.

12. Documentation. I haven't found the Apple Watch User Guide 2.0 yet. Perhaps it will be published soon. Here's the link to the 1.0 version.

Final Thoughts

This new version is at once both an exciting upgrade and mildly disappointing in several implementation details. Unlike the iPhone which has enormous computational and graphics power, where it seems there are few limits, the operating limits of the Apple Watch continue to peek through in this update.

If you have an Apple Watch and are considering the 2.0 upgrade, by all means do so. Perhaps Apple's technical difficulties have been resolved with the upgrade process by now. The new features are useful and almost make for a feeling of a new watch if you actively look for them. Alternatively, they remain behind the scenes if you're not aggressive in your exploration.

Finally, one thing that I hoped would be attended to has not changed. A US$23 Timex digital watch bought at Amazon can display the time of day digitally as hh:mm:ss , but the Apple Watch cannot out of the box. This needs to be remedied in the very next update.

Product: watchOS 2.0

Company: Apple

List Price: Free

Rating:

We Like It. You Should Get It.

Pros:

Lots of essential new features that fulfill the promise of the Apple Watch. A free upgrade.

Cons:

Difficult, long install with several false error messages. Inability to display hh:mm:ss in digital faces, especially the astronomy watch face.  Annoying inattention to detail with Color face, 70 sec wake and Nightstand mode. No extra complications on Photo faces.