Apple has just announced the new Apple Watch Ultra 2, alongside the also-new Apple Watch Series 9. Both of these units see largely hardware upgrades, mostly focused on performance and the display, while also adding one notable new feature that leverages these new internal components for specific gesture controls.
Starting off with the hardware side of things, here’s what’s new:
- New Apple Silicon S9 chipset, which Apple says has 5.6 billion transistors and is 60% more than before
- New GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), which Apple states is 30% faster, allowing for faster rendering
- New 4-core neural engine, which Apple states is twice as fast in machine learning applications
- New far brighter 3,000 nit display (previously the Apple Watch Ultra was 2,000 nits, and the previous Series 8 is 1,000 nits)
- New display can also go down to just 1 nit, versus the previous 2 nits. Apple says that in turn drives a big savings in battery consumption due to the always-on side of things (of course, that battery savings is then spent on the faster processor bits)
- New UWB 2 (Ultrawideband) chip, which increases finding of things (like your phone), including exact distance and direction, but also increased Homepod integration
- New watch bands
- Updated case made from 95% recycled aluminum (versus 0% prior)
- Same battery life as before (36hrs in normal mode, 72hrs in low-power mode)
- Same $799 price as before, shipping September 22nd
However, it’s these hardware components that then drive new software features, including:
- New Double tap: This allows you to double-tap your index and thumb together, acting as a virtual button. You can answer a call, hang-up a call, snooze an alarm, take a picture from the camera, or any number of other custom actions (more on this down below)
- New Flashlight boost: This leverages the brighter display for a brighter virtual flashlight option
- Siri now newly processes requests entirely offline (without cellular/WiFi) for things it can do locally
- Siri can now log Apple Health metrics (purely via voice), including weight, period information, as well as respond to Health requests (e.g., asking for last night’s sleep stats) – available later this year in English and Mandarin.
By far, the biggest new software feature here is Double Tap. Apple says the idea is that you may be holding a cup of coffee, or riding a bike, or otherwise having your hands full. By simply double-tapping your index and thumb together, it’ll trigger a button response, which varies based on the application/watch.
Apple says this feature leverages three core sensors: The accelerometer, gyro, and heart rate sensor. Specifically, they look at the tiny pulses using the optical HR sensor to validate the data they get from the gyro and accelerometer. The heart rate sensor itself remains the same as last year, as does GPS – neither have changed.
How double-tap responds varies based on what you’re doing in the watch. For example, if doing nothing and just on the watch face, double tap will open up the list of widgets (called the Smart Stack on WatchOS 10). Whereas if a call is coming in, it’ll answer the call. And inversely, if on a call, it’ll hang up the call. Alarm ringing? It’ll snooze it. The double tap action is tied specifically to the primary button in any given app/scenario. Though not all apps do anything with it yet. For example, in sport recording modes, nothing happens.
In testing it out in the hands-on area today, it works reasonably well. The first time I put different watches on my wrist I tended to need to adjust/tighten the straps a bit before it triggered, but once I found that ‘happy point’, it triggered flawlessly each time.
Next, here’s a look at the display, side by side with the existing Apple Watch Ultra. Of course, this is really an outdoor-focused feature for the higher nits, and in this case, the hands-on area was indoors. It’s sorta tricky taking photos of brightness comparison levels, so I’ll do better than this quick one in the in-depth review.
But you can see it a bit better in the new Flashlight Boost option, which essentially just leverages the full brightness of that 3,000 nits display (versus the 2,000 nits on the original Apple Watch Ultra).
Instead, here’s a look at a bunch of the different new band options. Actually, to be precise, I think I managed to get them all in one shot.
In terms of speed and responsiveness, while the new chips are probably faster, it wasn’t something I could really notice in day-to-day use. I’m guessing there are certain scenarios beyond the above-outlined ones (e.g., Siri leveraging it locally) that might leverage that processing power more, perhaps 3rd party apps.
Finally, for lack of anywhere else to put it – the heart rate sensor and GPS (dual-frequency/multi-band) remains the same as the original Apple Watch Ultra, as does the display size/case size.
Ultimately, these changes seem somewhat minor in comparison to what we saw last year. Certainly from an internal specs standpoint they’re huge bumps up, but for most consumers, the main notable changes will likely be the double-tap gestures and in a handful of very bright sunlight scenarios, the brighter display. Though I never had trouble with display brightness previously.
Of course – the biggest features of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 aren’t necessarily the hardware ones, but all the new software features delivered by WatchOS 10, including the topographic maps, cycling power meter support, revamped user interface, and plenty more. All of which were previously outlined back in June at WWDC, Apple’s developer conference.
With that – stay tuned for the full in-depth review to see how things handle day-to-day with the new watches.
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