THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM

The Apple Watch finally looks useful

I’ve been a skeptic on the Apple Watch, but I’m thinking about changing my tune.

Apple didn’t announce a single piece of new hardware during the June 13 kickoff to its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, but it announced a boatload of software updates. And the new operating system it previewed for one of its products—the Apple Watch—might actually make the wearable feel like an entirely new device.

Onstage, Apple executives unveiled watchOS 3, the third version of the operating system to launch on the first-generation Apple Watch. While Apple hasn’t released any sales figures for the watch yet, it’s fairly clear that the company’s first wearable has likely not been a hit at the level of the Mac, the iPhone, or even the iPad. Many of the complaints levied against the watch have revolved around the fact that it was slow to load any apps, and couldn’t actually do very much.

Here’s how the new software might help change that perception when it’s released this autumn:

Lighting-fast loading apps

Apps on the Apple Watch currently load at a glacial pace. If you want to find out your city’s forecast, it’d be quicker to go outside and just wait for the day’s weather to unfold. Apps will now load seven times faster on watchOS 3, which should drastically cut down on the amount of time Apple Watch owners stand around holding out their wrists waiting for something to happen.

Switch between apps you actually use

Much like the iPhone and the Mac before it, the dock is coming to the Apple Watch. Apple has remapped the side button on the watch to pull up a dock of apps that users can customize. The apps in the dock are live, meaning they show you the information you’re after, such as how much activity you’ve done so far in the day. Every app’s functionality should now be just a single tap away.

Respond more easily

With watchOS 3, Apple’s made it easier to answer messages you receive on the watch. Instead of having to tap “reply” and then wait for another screen to load with responses, you can now scroll down right on the message to reply. There’s also a new function, called Scribble, that lets users trace out letters with their fingers on their screen, responding to messages as they want, without having to dictate replies to Siri. This feels familiar, for some reason.

Unlock your computer without a password

With a watch running watchOS 3 and a Mac running macOS Sierra—the company’s forthcoming update and rebranding of its OS X computer operating system—users won’t need to enter their passwords to open up their Macs. If you’re wearing a watch and you’ve told your computer to remember the device, it’ll unlock the computer when you wake it up.

Call for help

Apple introduced a new feature where if you hold down the side button, the watch will make a call to local emergency services, without you having to know the number. It also can pull up your medical information (entered through your phone) and message your emergency contacts, rather like a modern version of Life Alert.

Brag about your health

Taking a page out of Fitbit or Jawbone’s playbook, users can now share their activity data with friends and family, and see theirs. If you want to compete with your brother over who walks the most steps in a day, or tell your coworkers that your heart rate is so much lower than theirs, you can do that now.

New watch faces

Minnie Mouse is coming to a watch screen near you. Apple introduced a few new watch face designs, and made it simpler to switch between faces, including ones for low light situations. Options include Mickey’s better half. But perhaps the most useful new face is one that puts your workout information at the forefront, meaning while you’re exercising, you no longer have to squint at the corner of your watch face, or swipe through glances to find your activity. It’s just right there now.

Other stuff

Apple also introduced a new app called Breathe, which is meant to remind you to chill out with breathing exercises throughout the day. It also created a new mode for wheelchair users, who will now be reminded hourly when it’s “time to roll” instead of “time to stand.” It also opened up Apple Pay and its underdeveloped internet of things platform, HomeKit, to third-party apps, but it remains to be seen whether developers will actually be able to build anything useful with those.

At the very least, the Apple Watch about to get a lot faster, and easier to use.

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