Dive Tidbits From Underwater Chamber Testing the Apple Watch Ultra

I hadn’t really planned on writing a separate post for the video shown above, where I put the Apple Watch Ultra in my underwater depth testing chamber. Mostly because my list of non-Apple things is growing right now, and there’s lots of other cool stuff to get to. However, after I published the video I’ve seen some questions on the lack of Apple’s ascent rate warnings and safety stops. So, I figured I’d quickly cover that here, merely as somewhere to link to.

First though, in case you haven’t watched the video – you should. Especially if you’re into geeky things (that’s why you’re here, right?). For those long-term readings, you’ll remember nearly a decade ago I had a depth testing chamber made, which allows me to simulate various depths – including creating entire second-by-second dive profiles. I can literally re-create any dive profile I want and have the machine control it, to the second, emulating the dive. It’s super cool. I go into the entire backstory of this in the last 3 minutes or so of the video (literally titled “Story Time”).

However, before we get there, I explain that basically the Apple Watch Ultra is a certified dive device, and that it has two levels of ‘design’. The first is the hardware design, which is certified to 100m in depth. And then the second is their software app, which is designed for usage to 40m (131ft) of depth.  That native app is called…umm…Depth. And it essentially aims to show your current, well…depth (and duration/water temp). But that’s it.

But, Apple made a big deal in the keynote about their partnership with Huish Outdoors and their upcoming app called the Oceanic+ app. That app (which costs $79/year) has all the dive-related functions you’d find in a normal dive computer. Things like dive planning, water type, ascent warnings, safety stops, mixed gas options, etc… That app isn’t available today, and is slated for sometime this fall.

Now, in the keynote, they briefly showed some app data pages, but it was slim pickings. However, if you found the right person over in the hands-on area at the post-keynote tables, there was a guy that was demoing the app. I got a long-form hands-on demo, but it wasn’t entirely the focus on my time there. So while that was cool (there’s some tidbits in my original Apple Watch Ultra video), what’s more useful is this nifty chart that I was sent, which shows a slate of screenshots from the Oceanic+ app, including things like ascent warnings, etc…

And then this all pairs with the Oceanic+ phone app, which has a dive log, including showing the entry/exit GPS points on the map and the full details of the dive (plus pre-dive planning).

Of course, all of this would make for a super interesting comparison to the Garmin Descent G1 ($649), which has been sitting in my long-term testing queue for many months. I’ve got a number of dives in on it, and a boatload of non-dive stuff as well. Basically, the Descent G1 is an Instinct 2 Solar, but with all the dive stuff of Garmin’s higher-end Descent MK2 series ($1,299). The core dive-specific difference is it lacks air integration (which then requires the $1,499 version of the MK2, plus Air Integration module for another $400). Below, the Descent G1.

Price-wise, the Descent G1 is cheaper than the Apple Watch Ultra ($799), and of course has all the native dive stuff built-in, whereas the Ultra would at present require the $79/year subscription for the Oceanic+ app. Obviously, there’s a gazillion other differences between the two watches.

Anyways, that’s getting off on a tangent, but a few of you have asked my thoughts there as well. Certainly, there’s many reasons why someone would choose Garmin vs Apple or vice versa, beyond just diving. And until the Oceanic+ app releases, it’s hard to know how exactly those two feature sets compare.

With that, hope you found the video interesting – and get ready for yet more busy weeks. Definitely a fun time of year!

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View Comments (49)

  • You clearly had fun and it is infectious. Good to know it’s actually so hard to flood most watches. Now I’m waiting for someone to make a non-subscription dive app.

  • I'd love to know if the background on that warning screen changes to match the color of the band you're wearing :)

  • I’d love to see Garmin put the hardware in the Fenix 8 for dive functionality. Even if they delay the actual dive parts at least it would mean the dive watch wouldn’t always be a generation behind for everything else.
    That subscription for the dive app is insane. When compared to a cheap Suunto or even the less cheap Garmin I don’t see why I’d even consider renting that functionality.

    • Yeah, I agree. Or perhaps at least on whatever the equiv to the Sapphire models is in the future.

      The downside though is that Garmin has historically massively slowed firmware rollouts to the dive watches relative to the rest of the Fenix/etc product line, as they've cited additional safety/QA type checks related to software updates for the dive watches.

    • Yes I do get the reasons, but they're going to have to work that part out somehow if Apple intend to take the segment.
      In theory the Garmin platform can be segmented the way Apple have, with the dive app separately handled as an app, I believe they do this already anyway? Even if the dive app required specific firmware it would be less frustrating than requiring last gen hardware. Or if they require last gen hardware they need to get better at rolling software features out to older platforms, like Apple do. They've improved a lot in this regard, but they seem to still hold back too much in an effort to show value in new watches. I've had every Fenix since the 2, and I'd have done that even if they gave older watches new features. Every update has added significant hardware improvements which enable genuinely new features. Garmin just don't seem to think this is compelling enough, but I definitely do. Not that I use the touchscreen much!

    • Totally agree Dave. Despite Garmin's somewhat surprising claims to the contrary, the Decent G1 clearly uses the same codebase as the Instinct 2 (or they've done an outstanding job of replicating the bugs!). I understand the need for tighter testing on the dive functionality, but why can't that operate in a sandboxed environment during dives and have its own development cycle, allowing development of the other shared functionality of the watch to keep pace with the Instinct? Same goes for the Descent Mk2/Fenix family. It's not as if their current approach is paying dividends either, plenty of G1 mid-dive crashes/resets are being reported and on about 50% of my dives the watch has rebooted within 5-10 minutes of surfacing.

    • Yeah, I agree. I do think Garmin needs to figure out a way to keep regular firmware updates moving, else, people will lose the reasons why they bought a Garmin-based dive watch for the other 95% of the time. For example, the Instinct 2 series has had massive feature updates this summer, but the Descent G1 hasn't gotten those yet (everything from 9.23: https://forums.garmin.com/outdoor-recreation/outdoor-recreation/f/instinct-2-series/306287/system-software-9-23)

      Also notable that you're still seeing post-dive reboot. I saw that back this past spring as well, but haven't dived with it this summer. :-/

    • I suspect that traditionally it's because of the way Garmin were structured. Originally the outdoor team made Fenix and then handed it to another department (e.g. sailing) who would build on top. From the outside it looks as though they recently restructured to centralise a bit more as Fenix doesn't appear to sit in outdoors any more on the website. I think if that's the case we will see a gradual slide to a point where the OS and software will be pushed to every device that supports it. It'll be a slow change but from the outside it looks like they're moving that way.

    • The answer is really simple. Many people like me will already have an Apple Watch Ultra. I do 1-3 dives trips in an average year. That would mean that I am paying about $5.00 - $30.00 in an average year (there are cases where I will have a short trip and only be able to dive a single day). Suunto's cheapest dive computer shown on their website now seems to be $299. That would mean one would pay for a minimum of 10 years of subscriptions payments vs. a watch that would be 10 years old when it was done and likely had no software support for 5 years.

      This is not the watch for a dedicated scuba diver (although with 3 people in a family, doing 6 drive trips a year, it is $43 a person, vs. $897), but a great add on for a casual diver like me and many of my friends.

      I spoke to a friend in Bonaire who is a Dive Instructor/Dive Master who said it would be great for many of his customers who do one long dive trip a year.

    • Correct, per year. Which, I think is still kinda pricey for the recreational diver that might only use this once or twice per year at a resort/vacation dive.

    • It is indeed kinda pricey, considering you can buy a very decent second hand actual dedicated dive computer for that money.

      I just bought a very good if not good looking Suunto unit for my wife for 50 usd.

    • There seems to be sufficient open source decompression planning and even dive computer code out there that I hope someone will come out with a decent competitor app soon enough.

    • For a twice a year recreational diver the standard app is sufficient.

      But I gues divers migt be the same as runners/bikers. More data is better. Why? Because it’s more

    • They also offer monthly and even daily subscriptions, which whilst they work out considerably more expensive than the annual one, actually provide a very cost-effective option for occasional/holiday divers who might only need the functionality for a couple of weeks every year

    • "For a twice a year recreational diver the standard app is sufficient."

      Does the built in app do no-fly time? Does it tell you no-deco time? Looked like a bottom timer to me and that was old fashioned 20 years ago. As Andy said, a second hand Suunto is cheaper than the yearly sub and includes the watch. Even my (titanium body) Suunto Stinger still does everything the new computers do except Bluetooth, and they go for 100 bucks on Ebay. I'll buy a Descent when it's inside the latest Fenix, but until then I see no compelling reason to change

    • They have per month pricing ($9.99) but interestingly even per day pricing of $4.99. So for someone doing casual dive trips 2-3 times a year you’re looking at $30 a year.

      I still hate that what’s touted as a core feature comes with a subscription cost attached to it though…

    • Well that app is only $29 a year if you accept adverts.

      If you have to spend 30 minutes at 80 feet, might as well do some shopping*, right ?
      *Requires optional Starlink Dive buoy, sold separately.

    • @Andy: If you are comparing an $800 Apple Watch with a $79 subscription to a $50 used watch, you are correct, that would seem like a lot. I think that is not the comparison that any real user is going to make. No one is saying: “I want to go scuba diving a few times, should I spend almost $900 or should I buy a used watch without Bluetooth instead?” What they are saying is: “I already have an Apple Watch. I am thinking of upgrading my Apple Watch. I would like a bit more rugged design with a bit longer battery life. I think I will get the Apple Watch Ultra. Next month I am going to Bonaire (or Grand Cayman, Hawaii, BVI, USVI, etc.) for a week and instead of bringing my old dive watch that does not do anything other than be a dive computer, I can pay $10 and have a dive computer that nicely integrates with my ecosystem. I think I will do that.”

  • Maybe its just me and maybe its just me having seen quite a few things fail under pressure, but as a friendly tip and thinking purely your best I would recommend wearing (at least) safety glasses when near anything pressurized. They even make them quite cool looking nowadays!

    Its no fun removing shards/things from your eyeballs surgically, I have seen it done to my former coworkers.

    • I mean, I did technically have the safety glasses...they were just hanging up behind me. ;)

      That said, probably true and some validity there. In this system, the first failure point is specifically the thin little wimpy rubber hose that you see me plug in.

  • Ray, wait: perhaps I have missed it: you can use the instinct 2 solar for diving (apart from the references to this in the manual) to show you the depths? So the instinct 2 solar (about 359€) can do this and the much more expensive F6/F7 series can´t show this? Or have I missunderstood something? Thanks!

    • The Descent G1 is based on the Instinct 2 Solar, but it's not just an Instinct 2 Solar. It has additional hardware inside for the depth pieces. Same way the Descent MK2 is based on a Fenix 6 Series device, but has additional stuffs for the depth side.

      Thanks for being a supporter!

    • I mean, the depths is shown up to 36 (feet) on the shown instinct 2 solar pic - this will not work on a F6/7, correct?

    • The pic above is a Descent G1, not an Instinct 2 Solar (the G1 is based on the Instinct 2 Solar though, so it has all the base Instinct 2 Solar features as a starting point). That dive is after a relatively shallow secondary reef dive that day.

      But correct, they won't show on a Fenix 6/7 because it doesn't have the added depth hardware internally.

  • One thing that seems to be causing a lot of confusion in Apple forums and reviews is that a 100m rating refers to static pressure, and doesn't mean you could dive with the watch to depths of 100m or anywhere close, regardless of software, equipment or common sense. Of course, misunderstanding water resistance ratings is nothing new and no-one's going to be attempting anything beyond ND recreational dive depths with this anyway, but as is always the case with Apple's following, there's already a lot of 'passionate discussion' going on about this, with the usual amount of ultracrepidarianism.

    • Actually, Apple did in this case.

      If you check out the two specs that apple certified against, ISO 22810:2010 specifies the waterproof rating for watches statically (to 100m in Apple's case). However, DIN EN13319 covers the depth gauge and specifically operation of said gauge to the specified water pressure listed (100m in this case), given that would require pressing buttons in order to use said operation as covered under the functional area, thus would be covered to 100m according to Apple's claims.

      Apple would be playing a super-dangerous liability game if they tried to claim later down the road that their EN13319 didn't cover button usage to 100m despite their support article explicitly claiming it, since buttons are required to change data pages in the Oceanic+ app they featured - and also required per EN13319.

  • Hi Ray, i remember the depth chambers arrival so go back a while and have wanted to ask for a while now - can we go back to attaching watches to ceiling fans by the charger cables please? ;)

  • Hello,

    Great information here. Seems like it is getting tougher and tougher to find actual technical info on new products.
    I know the current release plan for the Apple Watch and Oceanic app do not include air integration, but wondering if the watch already has the hardware needed for this to be added later via software updates or not?

    • Not as far as Apple has announced. It does not have an FCC rating for the lower frequency radio needed to do air integration. Maybe on a future Ultra.

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