Today, Apple announced the first sequel to the Apple Watch, which itself is the first big new product line that Tim Cook’s Apple created.
The Watch has been a bit of an oddball product release. On the one hand, it appears to be far and away the most successful product in the general "smartwatch" category. On the other hand, judged on its own terms, it hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. People use it for fitness tracking and to tell to the time, but the various communications features that Apple launched it with (sending heartbeats to friends, weird scribbles, etc.) didn’t really take off, Siri is broadly considered inferior to similar voice assistants from other tech companies, and, most importantly, the Apple Watch doesn’t really work as an app platform.
Nilay Patel’s initial Watch review for the Verge hit on the basic problem: "the Apple Watch, as I reviewed it for the past week and a half, is kind of slow."
And it really is. The slowness is acceptable for the Watch’s core built-in functions, but it makes it basically useless as a platform for third-party apps. And that fundamentally limits the usefulness of the watch. When the product was first announced, analysts’ heads were spinning with visions of watch-activated hotel doors, watch-based Uber hailing, and a million other "real world" interactions where something wrist-mounted might be more convenient than something in your pocket. All of that, however, requires third-party apps that work well.
That’s the core upgrade in the Apple Watch Series Two. It’s powered by an S2 system on a chip that features a dual core processor that Apple says is 50 percent faster than the old one, plus a new GPU that delivers double the graphics performance.
Other features include:
- It’s waterproof so you can swim with it, plus they’ve added swim-related fitness tracking
- A brighter display for more visibility in the sunlight
- A built-in GPS chip so you can use it as a run tracker without also carrying your phone
- A custom Nike watchband
- A new hiking app
The basic picture is that Apple is leaning into the watch’s primary use as a fitness accessory, a significant pivot from its initial marketing as a general-purpose "fashion" accessory. That’s the short-term future of the platform. But the longer-term trajectory, I think, depends primarily on the speed issue. If these kinds of chip performance gains can be sustained over two or three more iterations of the hardware, then over time the Apple Watch will be an increasingly powerful tool for broader and broader groups of people. If they can’t, then it remains essentially a niche product — perhaps a good one, but still a niche — for fitness enthusiasts who also like gadgets.
The Series Two Watch costs $369, and the nonwaterproof original Apple Watch is getting the new S2 chip and will cost $269 — it will be called the Series One.
Both versions of the watch will be available for preorder in mid-September.