After a brief delay to address a showstopper bug (see “Apple Delays watchOS 2, Citing a Bug,” 16 September 2015), Apple has released the first major update for the Apple Watch: watchOS 2. The 517 MB update can be installed by opening the Watch app on your iPhone and navigating to My Watch > General > Software Update. To install the update, the Apple Watch must be near the iPhone, the iPhone must be connected to Wi-Fi, and the Apple Watch must be connected to its charger and have at least a 50 percent charge. You also must have iOS 9 installed to perform the update.
The most significant change in watchOS 2 is also the least obvious at the moment — greatly expanded developer options. Apps will now be able to run natively on the watch, which should improve performance radically. Third-party complications will be a big deal as well, letting us customize our watch faces with the information we want from our apps. Those native apps will be able to do more too, since watchOS 2 gives developers access to the accelerometer, heart-rate sensors, microphone and speaker, the Digital Crown, and even the Taptic Engine that provides tactile feedback. Apps will also be able to play video directly on the Apple Watch.
More visibly for now, watchOS 2 adds several new watch faces, including time-lapse videos of Hong Kong, London, Mack Lake, New York, Shanghai, and Paris; faces that can display photos or photo albums (including Live Photos from the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus); a new multicolor option for the Modular face; and nine new colors for watch faces.
There are also two new time-related features: Nightstand mode, which lets you use your watch on its side as an alarm clock, and Time Travel, which enables you to use the Digital Crown to scroll through events on the watch face.
There are a number of communication improvements in watchOS 2. You can now make and receive FaceTime audio calls on your watch; reply to email messages with dictation, emoji, or smart replies; and make Wi-Fi calls (on supported carriers) without a nearby iPhone. Social Apple Watch users will be happy to know that watchOS lets you add more than 12 friends to the contacts screen, create multiple friend groups, and send sketches in multiple colors. It also offers new animated emoji options.
Although the current Apple Watch hardware can’t compete with dedicated GPS watches, those interested in casual fitness will appreciate changes in watchOS 2. Third-party apps can augment your Activity rings; the Activity iPhone app lets you share rings, workouts, and achievements; Activity achievements are now interactive; you can pull up a weekly activity summary on demand; Activity notifications can be muted for a day; and workouts are now saved automatically.
Wallet and Apple Pay see improvements as well, including support for Discover credit cards, rewards cards, and store credit and debit cards. You can now add passes to Wallet directly from Apple Watch apps.
Like iOS 9, watchOS 2 adds a Transit view to Maps, and it now lets you view a list of directions for your current route, as well as mass transit station placards with departure information.
Siri gains greater capabilities in watchOS 2, so you’ll be able to use voice commands to start a specific workout, get transit directions, display glances, make FaceTime audio calls, reply to email, and work with HomeKit devices. Siri in watchOS 2 also supports Austria, Belgium, and Norway.
Music sees a couple of improvements: a Beats 1 button and a new Quick Play button to play Apple Music tracks quickly.
On the security side, the most important change is that watchOS 2 now supports Activation Lock, making it impossible for anyone to activate a stolen Apple Watch without your Apple ID and password. See Apple’s security content article for more watchOS 2 security improvements.
We’re looking forward to playing with all these new features, but what we’re really looking forward to are the new apps that take advantage of everything developers can now do. Let us know in the comments what your favorite watchOS 2-savvy apps are!