I've been wearing an Apple Watch for a month now, and to tell the truth, I'm not sold. It's a great-looking device, but it's an expensive way to wear my notifications.
At Apple's iPhone launch event this week, I got to check out some of the features in the new Watch OS 2. It makes the watch even more fashionable, but it doesn't solve the utility question.
Let's start with the new watch faces. There's a "time lapse" face, which shows a timelapse animation of one of six world locations, and a new gallery face that works with the iPhone 6s's "Live Photos" to animate photos when you raise your wrist. You can "time travel" on any face with a clock to see what your various complication modules would have said in the past, or what they might say in the future (like getting a weather forecast, for instance.) It's all very smooth and very pretty, as you'd expect.
I saw a few third-party apps with new features. CNN plays videos now; anyone can. The Maps app now has transit directions. Those are cool things. Third parties can also introduce new complication modules into custom faces, but hold that thought.
None of them change the game, though, and I think the current game is more embodied in the new Hermes leather wristbands than in anything the Apple Watch actually does. I can only understand the Watch as a fashion item. It's an elegant design statement that has some useful technology features, not a life-changing piece of technology that happens to have some style.
That might change as developers try the new native-app and complication APIs in Watch OS 2. I saw a modular face that had CNN headlines in it. Smartwatches have been able to do news headlines for a while, but the point was that any developer can now integrate its data into watch faces. Developers can also write apps that run natively and use the speaker and microphone.
Could the Watch now become much more of a communication tool? Could it develop a following as an enterprise walkie-talkie, for instance?
Even more than Microsoft, Apple's mobile business has always been about "developers, developers, developers." Opening up the iPhone to third parties with iOS 2.0 launched the iPhone into a completely new realm, and ensured its continued success. If the Watch is to make it past fashion to utility, the new developer APIs in Watch OS 2 need to do the same.
That's what could change Apple's game, and the smartwatch game in general.