While the Apple Watch has only been out for two months, Apple has already released its first major software update in beta form to developers at the World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Called Watch OS 2, the beta version includes enhancements to timepiece functions, watch faces, communication features, Siri, Maps and Apple Pay.
While Apple’s existing watch faces are beautifully designed and detailed, it’s good to see that Watch OS 2 introduces a couple of fresh choices based on your photo collection. You can now select any photo from your library, crop it and apply it as a new watch face.
With the new Photo Album feature, you can also display a new photo from your album each time you raise your wrist to look at your watch.
A stunning time-lapse photo mode lets you choose from time-lapse photos of five major cities around the globe and assign this as your watch face. As the time-lapse runs from morning to night, the watch will match what’s shown with the current time. Unfortunately, Australian cities did not make it into the cut, but could possibly be added later.
There’s also a new Nightstand mode that transforms the watch into a digital alarm clock, and will display the time, date, charge level with the watch resting on its side. To trigger the snooze or turn the alarm on or off, you simply press the digital crown or side button.
Apple has also now opened up its ‘complications’ to 3rd party developers. Complications are definable areas of the watch face that can be used to display information about things like the weather, your schedule, the moon phase, temperature and more. During our demo at WWDC, a Volkswagen complication could show you your electric car’s battery charge level at a glance.
The Time Travel feature lets you review events by rolling the Digital Crown forwards for the future or backwards for the past. This can come in handy if you want to see what the weather will be like later on, your future appointments, or an upcoming flight.
A welcome change on the communication front is the ability to reply to emails via smart replies, Siri voice-to-text dictation, or emoji. Currently, you can only do this for text messages.
Watch OS 2 brings FaceTime Audio support so you can make and receive voice calls using Apple’s high quality voice-over-IP service in addition to normal mobile calls.
Also improved is the ability to add more friends to communicate with, including multiple friend screens that hold up to 12 friends, and you can now add friends directly from the watch, rather than via the app on your iPhone.
And in case you want to add a splash of colour to your Digital Touch messages, you can now draw sketches in multiple colours, rather than just one, and send them to your Apple Watch-wearing friends.
When it comes to activity tracking, Watch OS 2 can now, thankfully, accept information from 3rd party fitness devices, so your total activity goals can be reached more accurately if you exercise with other types of trackers.
Apple has made your activity achievement medals more personal, and some now show your name and date on the back, and you can spin them around with your finger.
Another handy tweak is that you can now use Siri to start your workout, as it can be a little finicky to start the timer with your fingers while you’re on the move.
There are also improvements to Apple Pay and the new Transit feature in Maps, however neither will be useful to Australians until they are supported here.
Apple has its developer community excited by allowing 3rd party apps direct access to the watch’s innovative features. This includes the Digital Crown, Taptic Engine (for screen pressing and tapping) and heart rate sensor, as well as software control for video and audio playback, audio recording, animations and more.
We saw some examples of early apps built for Watch OS 2, such as Strava, for more accurately tracking your heart rate while on a run or ride, Insteon can give customers more precise controls to dim their lights or control the temperature with the Digital Crown and Volkswagen owners can get haptic feedback when their car door has been locked.
We also saw demos of WeChat’s audio messaging using the watch’s microphone, and the Vine app can host and play video right on the watch face.
Apple expects Watch OS 2 to be available as a free upgrade this spring.
Valens Quinn was flown to Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) where this was announced as a guest of Apple.