Apple has always said that the Apple Watch was meant to be the most personal of all its devices.
The company announced watchOS 3, a new operating system for the Watch, at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) today. Many of the new features concerned ease of use, which is good, but many others seemed aimed at making the Watch something you want to have with you at all times.
A new personal relaxation and de-stressing app called Breathe finds a perfect home on the wrist. The app takes you through some deep breathing exercises and keeps you focused using gentle taps (from the haptic feedback engine) on your wrist. The measurement of stress levels is your heart rate, measured by a heart-rate sensor in contact with your skin.
My favorite upgrade in watchOS, and perhaps the most personal, is the ability of the Watch to act as an authentication device for your other Apple devices, such as a Mac. Using its sensors, the Watch can verify that the person wearing it is logged in. When that information is shared with a Mac, there's no reason that the user can't be securely logged into it, too.
Apple is setting up the Watch to be a universal personal identifier. In the future, it may be used for many more things than just logging into a Mac.
The communication aspects of the Watch make way for more personalized expression. Messages can have custom backgrounds or contain stickers. There's a Snapchat-like ephemeral messaging function with "invisible ink" for really personal messages. The new OS brings in a whole new communication mode with Scribble. It lets you trace letters on the Watch screen, and the OS turns them into text. Once you've scribbled one letter, it fades away, giving you room to write the next one. The fact that you're communicating in such a simple way with your finger makes the whole thing feel familiar in a very basic way.
Since many people seem to value their Apple Watches mainly for personal health, Apple made some thoughtful additions to the Exercise app. You can now use your exercise progress circles as your watch face, which should make wearers even more mindful of their activity levels.
While the Watch still doesn't automatically detect what sort of workout you're doing (as other health wearables such as FitBits do), Apple has made some progress in this direction. The Watch can now use its sensors to know when you need to pause a workout in progress, such as when you're waiting at a stoplight or are just taking a breather.
Apple has built in a social aspect to the exercise app so that you can share your steps and workouts with other people. So, taking a cue from a popular FitBit feature, you can compete with friends on steps walked or miles run. Some canned messages, like "You're going down!" even let you talk some trash with just a couple of touches on the screen.
The new OS also adds a personal safety tool with the new SOS feature. When you press and hold the side button (which had been previously reserved for calling up social contacts), the Watch puts out a call to emergency services no matter where you are, Apple says. It can also call a preselected set of emergency contacts.
Apple is set to launch a second generation of the Watch this fall. We got our first look at the operating system that will run on it today. However, the new features announced today give us no real clues as to what the next Watch will do from a hardware standpoint. I wouldn't be surprised if the company released a bunch of new features in an update to watchOS 3 on the same day the Watch 2 launches.
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