I got my first Apple Watch on launch day in April of 2015 and there has only been one month since that I haven’t owned and worn one. That first one was a Sport model in silver with a blue Sport Band. I remember how excited I was on launch day to hold what felt like a piece of the future. I remember wearing out the battery trying out every app and feature that first week. However, like the new shine on many gadgets, that faded over time. In fact, my time and experience with the Series 0 was much the same as many others- mixed.
That original Apple Watch was different for Apple. While they were far from the first company to release a smartwatch, they were further out on the bleeding edge than is typical for them when releasing a new product. Because of that, the first generation Watch wasn’t as polished a product as many of us expect from them. The hardware was sturdy enough, but it was underpowered for their ambitions and the software was muddled and confusing.
However, many of us could see beyond those early flaws and rough edges to what could be. I found this out myself when I briefly got rid of my first Watch. I was very disappointed in the performance of the early Watch apps which were much hyped by Apple, as well as the overall performance of the device. The connection speed and reliability to the iPhone just wasn’t there at the time and many developers quickly left or lost interest in the platform because there wasn’t a way to deliver a quality experience.
While some got rid of their Apple Watches quickly, it took months before I got to the point of selling, but I figured it wouldn’t miss it by that point. I was wrong. What I didn’t realize was just how valuable having notifications and the ability to triage messages and emails on my wrist was. I even tried a Pebble briefly, but that was just a reminder of how feeble the competition was. I ended up getting another Sport Watch, this time in the classic gold finish that was released in the Fall. I MUCH preferred the look of the gold version anyway, so it ended up being a very good trade, in the end. I’ve owned an Apple Watch and upgraded every year since.
A fast move forward
One of the remarkable things about the Apple Watch is how fast Apple moved to change things for the better. The iPhone and iPad have been on a much slower path, but more like Apple News and Apple Music, both of which were completely overhauled a year after release, the company has iterated and much more quickly than we are used to. watchOS 2 was released only a few months after the Watch hit the market and watchOS 3 ended up completely overhauling the user interface and definitely for the better.
Ever since the releases of the Series 1 and 2 Watches and watchOS 3, the Apple Watch has been on a steep upward trajectory. Each successive watchOS release brings new features, especially in areas of health and wellness, and more refinement. And then you have the hardware. Nowhere is Apple’s prowess in homegrown silicone more evident than than the Apple Watch, where their miniaturized S-Series system on a chip design is the standard for smartwatches. They are the only ones pouring significant R&D time and money into processors for wearables and it shows.
State of the art
The Series 4 and Series 5 Apple Watches are unmatched among current smartwatches. The S5 processor is the best available Wearable device system on a chip and the current hardware is polished, thin, and provides a great user experience. watchOS runs fast, apps work as they should and the available cellular option and newly independent App Store give the device some measure of independence.
I will be the first to admit that Apple isn’t always first to new features for any form factor, much less the smartwatch. Others added GPS, always-on displays and cellular connections ahead of them. However, in most cases, Apple has delivered the same features with better quality and with better battery performance. This is in large part thanks to the efficiency of their S-Series chips, which again are are huge advantage for them in wearables. That gap should only widen over time since most of their competition seems to have lost interest in anything more than treading water or delivering niche products. Apple’s lead in processors is the foundation for everything they are doing today.
What is ahead?
After 5 years of constant use, I still love the Apple Watch. I think it displays some of the best engineering and hardware innovation that Apple has to offer. They continue to innovate in system on a chip design and miniaturization and it looks like they will be one of the first to roll out a Watch with a Mini-LED screen. I also believe we will soon see an Apple Watch that is fully independent of the iPhone. Apple has been making moves in this direction for a while now, but they will certainly finish the job over the next year or two.
What I do know is that Apple still sees the Watch as the leading edge of its move into wearables. When other companies backed off after the poor reception of many early smartwatches, Apple doubled down, fixed the problems and took the market. To preserve that lead, they have continued to invest time and money into this advantage and I can’t imagine they will stop now. In fact, I believe the Watch will eventually become a digital hub for many of Apple’s wearable products that are still to come.
The Apple Watch has covered a pretty impressive amount of ground over its 5 year lifespan. I look forward to many more years of seeing it grow. I think we will one day also be able to look back at other successful Apple wearables like the very popular AirPods and their coming AR Glasses and see that they all had their origins in the Series 0 Watch of 2015. That’s quite a legacy for a device that most of the tech press initially dismissed as either a fad or a failure.