A deep dive into the Apple Watch, its history, growing feature set, and why it matters.
Just to be clear, Apple hasn’t necessarily been first to do a lot of this—including making a smartwatch—and yet, here we are. (Image: Reuters)
With over 30 million units sold globally since debut, the Apple Watch is undeniably the most successful and sought-after smartwatches in the world today. Some estimates even suggest Apple sells more watches than the whole Swiss watch industry combined. The Apple Watch is also possibly the only smartwatch that matters today, always keeping rivals –particularly Samsung—on their toes and making them come out with newer, better features to try and one up Apple.
Smartwatches have clearly come a long way from being an accessory that most people thought of as an additional thing to carry (and charge) once, to becoming a necessity for many people especially in the wake of a global pandemic when fitness and health consciousness are at an all-time high. Safe to say, the Apple Watch is still leading the way despite the fact that it (still) remains inaccessible to a large number of people—Android users.
Apple has launched a new Apple Watch every year (sometimes it has also launched more) since 2015. Its hardware has been marquee, and in many ways, ahead of its time but it is Apple’s tight integration with software, aka watchOS, that really sets an Apple Watch apart from anything else in its class and product category. We reviewed the Apple Watch Series 6 recently and called it ‘better than the best’ the best in this case being the last-generation Apple Watch Series 5. With this generation of Apple Watch, Apple has released a more affordable Apple Watch SE too, in a bid to attract even more people into getting into the watch ecosystem. That ecosystem has been slowly, but steadily, growing with Apple adding more and more compelling features, with special emphasis on motivating people to exercise, jog, walk, or whatever it is that they find fit to stay fit.
Just to be clear, Apple hasn’t necessarily been first to do a lot of this—including making a smartwatch—and yet, here we are. The Apple Watch makes a lot of sense today, so, we took time out to take you through its journey, its feature set and all the ways that Apple has been trying to make a case for smartwatches. Let’s dig in.
Apple Watch, a brief history
The Apple Watch made its debut in 2015. There were three models to boot. All of them came with Bluetooth, Wi-fi and heart rate sensor (among other things). The first-gen Apple Watch was discontinued in September 2016, the same month that Cupertino released two new versions – Apple Watch Series 1 and Apple Watch Series 2. Since then, the tech giant has been releasing a new series of the Apple Watch every year, with September 2020 witnessing the release of Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE, which is a more affordable model of Apple Watch. Apple continues to sell the Series 3 (in India) alongside the Series 6 and SE which means there are more options spanning multiple price points now more than ever.
That is not to say that Apple mastered the category from the get-go. In fact, it took Apple a few tries before it finally got the smartwatch right with the Series 4. Not a lot has changed on the outside since then, while on the inside there have been many changes including a faster processor and more.
Apple Watch, features and capabilities
The Apple Watch, like other fitness watches, tracks the activities of the user, like walking, running, cycling and exercising, to show the user their daily activity, which can also be shared with family members and friends. Apple Watch Series 6 also finally saw the inclusion of sleep tracking (this is a watchOS feature though so previous models also got it through an update). ECG and heart rate monitoring are also among the features that Apple offers, along with blood oxygen monitoring, a feature that most would look out for amid the pandemic. But this feature is no replacement for a pulse oximeter, and the readings of Apple Watch’s blood oxygen levels have been reported to not always be accurate.
Another useful feature during the pandemic is the tracking of handwashing. The Apple Watch detects when the user is washing their hands, and automatically begins a 20-second timer to encourage them to wash hands as per the time prescribed by the WHO. The Watch also detects when the user might need emergency assistance, like if they fall hard and are immobile, and connects them with the emergency services. Moreover, just like the iPhone, the Apple Watch also has the feature of pressing a button and activating emergency calling. It can also automatically switch to the do not disturb mode.
Some Series 5 and Apple Watch SE units initially had some technical issues wherein the watch was not being charged when in battery saver mode. Apple recently announced a watchOS update – version 7.3.1 – to tackle this issue. That’s just one example. Apple’s software support for its watches, like its iPhones, has been rock-solid.
Why is Apple Watch relevant today?
With more and more people seeking to remain fit (even more so) during the pandemic, a fitness accessory like band or smartwatch comes in handy, because it measures all the vitals, and the activity of the users. The features offered by the Apple Watch by far surpass those offered by rivals especially when it comes to the ‘motivating’ factor. Apple does things, and this includes frequently updated challenges, differently and in a way that feels more robust and practical. Features like handwashing may seem ‘basic’ but they go a long way in encouraging healthier habits among users. At the same time, heart rate monitoring, ECG and even blood oxygen saturation detection (that made its debut on the Apple Watch Series 6) are crucial in these challenging times, their accuracy a high priority. There have been numerous instances where the Apple Watch has helped people detect early signs of heart conditions, for instance, saving lives.
This year, Apple’s retail partners are also stepping in to promote healthier living among people. A ‘Get Active India’ challenge has been launched for Apple Watch users by Cupertino’s distributors Redington and Ingram in India. The challenge aims to make the users healthy and fit, while also making their city the fittest in the country. Get Active India, which is currently ongoing and will continue through March 14, will allow Apple Watch users from one city to compete against the users of another city, with achievement badges being distributed to users daily based on their scores.
To complete the challenge, participants will need to close their Activity ring daily on the Apple Watch, leading to accumulation of points in their account.
The goal is to keep moving forward, just the way the Apple Watch is. Hopefully, it would work with Android soon.