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Review: WatchOS 2 offers timely (and needed) tweaks

Michael deAgonia | Sept. 22, 2015
Native apps, new watch faces make the Apple Watch more useful.

Third-party access

WatchOS 2 now gives third-party developers access to the onboard hardware, something that had previously been limited to Apple's own apps. The accessible watch hardware includes the accelerometer (which tracks activity and movement), the heart rate sensor, the tiny speaker, the microphone, the Taptic Engine (used to provide taps and other haptic feedback) and the Digital Crown (which can now be used to control various custom interface elements).

For Apple Watch users wanting more independent operation, the new software allows tetherless Wi-Fi, so that the watch can use Wi-Fi for more tasks on its own rather than relying on the iPhone for data and Internet connection.

Complications (in a good way)

Another addition to watchOS 2 is support for third-party complications (the elements that offer quick access to data in the watch face). According to Apple, the watch will soon be able to display the status of home automation devices, flight times, headlines and other useful bits of data. To add third-party complications, you have to use the Watch app on the iPhone, which has a new category, appropriately called Complications, for managing them.

There are several ways in which developers will be able to keep their complications updated throughout the day, including constant updates through push notifications. For example, sports fans could be able to track their favorite team's game in real time.

The new update also has a Time Travel feature, which lets you use the Digital Crown to move forwards and backwards in time, so that you can see what events, weather data, sports schedules, etc., are coming up next (or occurred in the past). As a result, you can now see what your day will look like in the Calendar app or what the weather will be hours from now. It's very handy. (Note: This doesn't work for viewing the final scores of live games. I tried.)

As useful as these changes will be, developers still have to rewrite their apps to take advantage of the new functions, so it may be a few weeks before your favorite app is updated.

More new features

There's a new Nightstand mode, which is activated when the watch is placed on its charger and turned on its side, with the Digital Crown facing up. In that mode, the watch display takes on the appearance of an alarm clock. You can manually configure alarms in the appropriate app or ask Siri to set the alarm for you.

night stand mode
The Apple Watch in Night Stand mode. The charging stand, made by Nomad, is designed to keep the watch on its side. Credit: Nomad


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