It might finally be time to buy an Apple Watch

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apple watch tim cook
Apple
CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple special event at the Steve
Jobs Theatre on the Apple Park campus on September 12, 2017 in
Cupertino, California.

Justin
Sullivan/Getty Images


New Apple product categories often take a few iterations to begin
to realize their potential and for users to figure out just what
they’re good for. But even more than the original iPhone or iPad,
the first Apple Watch felt like a prototype or proof of concept
as opposed to a polished, practical device. It was, in short, a
device only an early adopter could love.

It had texting and calling features but no cellular connectivity of its own. Its
battery lasted no more than a day. Though expensive and
thoughtfully designed, it still looked clunky, in the way that
the first iPhone, iPad, and iPod did in comparison to later
versions. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the Apple
Watch—as with most other smartwatches, to be fair—was the
difficulty of interacting with it. It came with an abundance of
controls, from taps to presses to swipes to twists of the digital
crown, plus voice controls. But they all added up to a
maddeningly complex, and at times counterintuitive, experience,
especially for a gizmo that was supposed to be all about
convenience.

In retrospect, the Apple Watch’s most compelling features were
its health and fitness–tracking functions. And so, with last
year’s Apple Watch Series 2, the company wisely built on these
and reframed the watch as more of a fitness tracker and iPhone
accessory than a wrist computer. That worked: CEO Tim Cook said
Tuesday that the Apple Watch is now “the No. 1 watch in the
world,” though the company still declines to disclose sales
figures. That progress accords with my initial review of the
Apple Watch, which was that it would ultimately
succeed as a watch, per se, rather than as a new kind
of mobile platform.

On Tuesday, however, Apple announced a new version of the watch
that might actually restore some of the device’s original promise
as a handy, lightweight gadget that’s capable and powerful in its
own right. In the meantime, the evolution of other portions of
Apple’s product lineup—notably Siri and the AirPods—has conspired
to make the smartwatch much easier to control than before. The
dreamer might even dare to say that the Apple Watch could yet
become the iPhone successor that the company has long sought. At
the very least, it could become a key part of the system that
succeeds the iPhone—a wrist-mounted control center
for your personal cloud.


The new iPhone 8 and Apple Watch Series 3
The new iPhone 8 and Apple
Watch Series 3

Justin Sullivan/Getty
Images


The Apple Watch Series 3 improves on its predecessors in one
crucial way, plus a couple of smaller ones that might be more
important than they sound.

The big news is that it finally comes with its own cellular LTE
data connection. That means you can make calls, send texts, and
even stream music on it without your iPhone nearby. That’s big.
(But not physically big: Apple proudly announced that the Series
3 will be no larger than the Series 2, despite the additional
hardware that was needed for cellular connectivity. That’s thanks
to some gee-whiz hardware design, which uses the Watch display
itself as part of the antenna system.)

It’s no accident that fitness and health tracking were the
Watch’s first killer app; it was the one that you could use
without being tethered to your phone. Now that’s true of a much
broader range of Watch functions.

The Series 3 will also get an S3 dual-core processor that is
supposed to make it 70 percent faster, while also enabling Siri
to talk out loud using the built-in speaker. And Apple says that
upgrades to the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth systems will make the former
faster and both more power-efficient. (One other new hardware
feature is a built-in barometric altimeter, which will facilitate
better fitness tracking.)

These under-the-face improvements aren’t revolutionary in
themselves. Yet, taken together, they might add up to a
significant change in how people use the watch. It’s been clear
from early on that swiping, tapping, and twisting the Apple Watch
is never going to be a lot of fun. Short of some kind of
holographic projection, the device is just inherently too small
to use like an iPhone.

In theory, the ideal way to command the watch would be by
voice—the same way more and more people are commanding their
Amazon Echos and their cars’ in-dash entertainment systems. So
far, however, using Siri on the Apple Watch has been a bit of a
chore. It’s partly that people really don’t want to walk around
talking to their wrists, any more than they want to do that with
their phones. (I’ve long been one of the dorky exceptions to this rule.) And
it’s partly that Siri itself often seemed even buggier and
laggier on the Watch than it is on the iPhone.

It’s too soon to say whether that has entirely changed with the
Series 3. Processor, battery, and Bluetooth constraints could
linger, even with the latest improvements. But thanks to the
AirPods—Apple’s most underrated innovationof the past five
years—all the makings are finally in place for a watch that you
can use and command intuitively, wirelessly, by voice.

Between an LTE-enabled smartwatch, wireless Bluetooth headphone
speakers, and Siri, you can now stream music, take calls, listen
to podcasts, and dictate text messages, all hands-free, and all
without your phone. At its launch event Tuesday, Apple showed off
some of these functions in a live demo in which Chief Operating
Officer Jeff Williams called Watch team member Dieidre Calbeck on
her Watch as she paddle-boarded on a lake, talking to him through
her AirPods.

In short, for better or worse, combining the Watch Series 3 with
AirPods will bring you another step closer to the characters
in Her
 who walk around engrossed in their
own digital worlds without any visible signs of the hardware
they’re using.


apple airpods
The Apple
Airpods

Reuters/Beck
Diefenbach


None of this will come particularly cheap, of course. The Series
3 with GPS + Cellular, which is available for order on Friday and
will begin shipping Sept. 22, starts at $399. AirPods are another
$159. And then you’ll need a streaming service like Apple Music,
plus your wireless data service, all on top of the iPhone that
you almost certainly already have. (Unless, of course, you’re
planning to spring for the new iPhone X, which will set you back another grand.) And that’s why
Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

One caveat: Just because all of these new uses are possible with
the Watch doesn’t mean they’ll work flawlessly. The original
Apple Watch looked awfully impressive in the launch demos, too. A
possible sticking point could be battery life: Apple maintains
the device will still last you a full day, but streaming music
and talking to Siri are power-intensive propositions.

But even if the Series 3 isn’t quite yet ready to fill in for
your iPhone over long stretches, the Apple Watch’s path to
blockbuster-hit status looks a lot clearer than it did a year or
two ago. Maybe Apple is ready for a post-iPhone future after all.



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