Apple Improves the Watch, Slightly ; but Software Update Hints at Direction Product May Take

By Manjoo, Farhad | International New York Times, September 23, 2015 | Go to article overview

Apple Improves the Watch, Slightly ; but Software Update Hints at Direction Product May Take


Manjoo, Farhad, International New York Times


But software update hints at direction product may take.

The Apple Watch has been on sale since the spring, and like all Apple products, it has been the subject of intense speculation, criticism, fawning and doomsaying. Expect all of it to accelerate, because on Monday Apple is releasing the first major upgrade of the watch's operating system. The new software had been scheduled for release last week, but Apple postponed the rollout at the last minute because of an unspecified bug. That bug has now been fixed.

I've been using the new version for almost two weeks. The watch's hardware remains unchanged; all the upgrades will be delivered via an update to watch owners. Here is my assessment.

The watch is still probably not for you. Apple has made some small and useful improvements, but it's unlikely that any will alter the overall reception of the device. This is still a product of limited utility for most people.

As I wrote in April, I like the Apple Watch. I still wear it daily. I use it mainly for the quick access to digital notifications -- incoming texts, tweets, email and reminders about the next meeting. Also, I use it to tell the time (it is, after all, a watch). The problem, as every critic has noted, is that a variety of other devices, most obviously your smartphone, already provide this information. The watch may give you access to the flood of notifications with added speed and panache, but it does not do much that you would not be able to do otherwise, and nothing in the new software changes that.

So if you liked the watch before, you'll like it a bit more after this upgrade. If you didn't see the need for the device, you still won't.

This doesn't mean the watch is doomed. As I argued in July, it's too early to tell if the watch will become a hit, because all new major Apple product introductions tend to follow a familiar script. The iPod, the iPhone and the iPad were all criticized for being too expensive and not very useful in their earliest days; only after steady, incremental improvements over a period of years did they become entrenched in the culture. (The tech industry is still debating the success of the iPad, five years after its introduction.)

In that sense, then, it's not a surprise that the new software isn't revolutionary -- it's in the nature of these updates that they're more incremental than overhauls. What's important, though, is that Apple is figuring out what the watch is for and experimenting with some new ideas that may ultimately prove quite novel.

Some of the new features reflect Apple's emerging understanding about how people use the watch. For instance, the company didn't anticipate that people would want to reply to email using their watches, so the first version let you only read email. Now that's fixed; as with texts, you can respond to email by voice dictation or with a set of canned responses. …

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