Apple Watch Series 2’s shifting focus

watchseries2Apple released the second iteration of its Apple Watch — called Apple Watch Series 2 — about a month ago. This update is in line with the company’s preference of small, steady improvements over huge leaps forward. It looks almost identical to its predecessor and features nice changes like on-board GPS, dramatically increased water resistance, a faster processor and an improved display. All in all, it’s a sweet piece of kit.

Is it enough to warrant upgrading from the original model, which is just 18 months old? I don’t think so. It does, however, offer two things: a renewed focus on athletic owners, and a strong incentive for those who passed on the original. That’s the sentiment I’m seeing in the initial reviews.

Writing for CNN Money, Samantha Murphy Kelly notes that, while still a splurge at $369, “…the Apple Watch is finally getting closer to where it should have been all along.”

I should note here that the original model is still available with a price drop and improved processor. That’s more affordable, but it lacks the swim tracking, superior water protection, brighter screen and built-in GPS that make its successor so appealing.

Over at Ars Technica, Valentina Palladino calls the Series 2 “…still optional, but pleasantly defined.”

Meanwhile, The Verge‘s Lauren Goode hits on something I want to examine further. With this update, she notes, the Apple Watch is first and foremost fitness tracker:

“The Apple Watch Series 2 is exactly [a fitness tracker]. It’s what Apple had resisted calling its wearable for the past year and a half, even declining to categorize it as such when citing industry rankings, opting for the ‘smartwatch’ category instead. It is, definitely, still a smartwatch. But the Watch now has focus, and that’s a good thing.”

Apple even announced a partnership with Nike, resulting in the Apple Watch Nike +. It comes with a few exclusives, including a perforated sport band, Nike-themed watch faces and a list of unique Siri commands, as well as deep integration with the Nike+ Run Club app.

Apple’s renewed focus on the Watch as a fitness device is notable because it contrasts earlier marketing efforts and speaks to its future.

Fitness

When Apple Watch was introduced, Apple positioned it as a fitness tracker but also as a fashion accessory. You’ll remember that model model Christy Turlington Burns joined Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage in 2015 for the device’s introduction. It was a smart move, as Christy — a model and marathoner — represents both fashion and athletics. Christy then posted a series of videos chronicling her use of the Watch in a half marathon.

But really, fashion was the real push.

In October of 2014, shortly after the original device’s announcement, Vogue China featured supermodel Liu Wen sporting the Apple Watch on its October cover. In the following weeks, the Watch appeared on the pages of Vogue France, Vogue USA, Self (USA), and Style (UK). It was a smart move, as it allowed Apple to court an industry that was foreign to the tech giant.

You could argue that is was also a bit of misdirection away from the original model’s deficits: No GPS capability, moderate water protection, a screen that’s hard to read in bright sun. With Series 2, Apple has addressed those issues and is all about touting the device to athletes.

Built-in GPS is great for runners who don’t want to drag an iPhone along. A screen that’s twice as bright as version one means its easier to read outdoors. The real benefit here is for swimmers.

applewatchswimmingApple Watch Series 2 is water resistant up to 50 meters. The Workout app tracks both pool swims and open-water swims, recording laps, distance and stroke. When you opt to start a swim workout, the Watch locks its touchscreen display so that you won’t accidentally engage it during your workout. When you’re done, turn the crown and hit “End.” The speaker then ejects water that was collected while you were in the water.

But really you needn’t be a swimmer to reap this benefit. A water-lock feature is available outside of swimming workouts by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. Ever use the shower at the gym? Now you don’t have remove your Apple Watch and pray that no one finds it.

Should you buy?

What does this all mean for making a purchase decision? If you’re main focus is fitness, and you don’t own an original Apple Watch…and you have $400 lying around…Series 2 is a great way to go. Apple’s renewed focus on fitness bodes will for the device’s future.

Those looking for a one-stop wearable should consider the lower-cost Apple Watch. Current models have a faster processor than the those sold in the first go-round and start at $269.

Finally, WatchOS3 has made many original Watch owners — myself included — feel like we got a new device. So I’m happy with my OG Watch.

As for the device itself, it’s just a bit thicker and heavier than the original, but it’s not noticeable on the wrist. It’s still available in the same case sizes (38mm and 42mm), as well as aluminum and stainless steel. Note that a new high-end material, ceramic, has replaced the gold model.

Smartwatches will likely never be as essential as smart phones (especially as long as they rely on a Bluetooth tether for internet connectivity), but they’re maturing into the useful accessory that manufacturers want them to be. Apple Watch Series 2 is a nice step towards that goal.

Walking directions with the Apple Watch is a killer feature

IMG_1423It’s difficult to navigate an unfamiliar city on foot. You don’t want to look like a tourist (or a mark), so you pull out the internet-connected computer in your pocket, enter an address and start to follow along. It’s a logical move, but not ideal for several reasons:

  1. It’s very distracting. Staring at an iPhone while navigating a crowded sidewalk means you might bump into people, trash bins, hot dog carts…who knows what.
  2. Your more susceptible to pick-pockets and other n’er-do-wells. Nothing says “I’m a tourist!” quite like staring at a map while in Times Square, digital or not.
  3. Spoken directions from the phone can be hard to hear and annoying to others.

Conversely, the Apple Watch excels at delivering walking directions. It’s safer and more convenient than relying on an iPhone. Here’s how to get walking directions with Apple Watch.

Getting directions on Apple Watch

The first step, of course, is to get your destination’s address onto the Apple Watch. There are several ways to do this, and the fastest are these:

  1. Ask Siri for directions. The virtual personal assistant will automatically open Apple Maps with the directions ready to go.
  2. Start on Apple Maps on your iPhone. The app will automatically sync with Apple Watch. After you’ve entered the information on the iPhone app, open the watch app to view the directions.

Following a route

Once you’re ready to get moving, just tap Start. The Watch will guide you along, via clever use of Apple’s Taptic Engine:

  • A series of 12 taps means turn right at the next intersection.
  • Three pairs of two taps mean turn left.
  • A steady vibration means you’re at the last direction change.
  • A more urgent vibration (which I call “the freakout”) indicates your arrival at your destination.

Imagine walking from, say, the train station to a hotel in a city you aren’t familiar with. You’ve got a bag in your hand and a million things on your mind, like check-in, getting settled and whatever brought you there in the first place. Now you can walk with your eyes front and your head up. Perhaps you’ll even note a few landmarks along the way, to make the return stroll easier.

It’s a feature I love to use. Try it yourself.