I’ve been hoping for Apple to give watchOS more capability and the Apple Watch more independence as the hardware has really come into its own. During the WWDC Keynote, we heard that an on-device App Store and dedicated apps that no longer have to be tied to the iPhone are coming to the Watch. These are certainly steps in the right direction. However, the rest of the feature rundown at the event was pretty expected: new Watch Faces and a couple of new Health and Fitness features. A new native Calculator app. Meh, but ok.
However, a couple of additional capabilities have come to light during the watchOS beta process that also point to increased independence for the Watch. First of all, Apple will now allow users to delete (or at least hide) some of their first-party apps, This has been possible on iOS for a few years now, but the latest beta marks the first time this has been possible on the Apple Watch. It is a small feature, but anything that cuts down on clutter on such a small interface is a positive.
The second feature is a more significant step that definitely points toward an independent future for the Apple Watch: on-device Software Updates. Before now, users had to perform all Watch updates using the Watch app on the iPhone that the device is paired to. Soon we will have the option to do it right from the Watch itself, which is an essential step for device independence.
It’s easy to see where all of this is headed. It is a slow process, but Apple is definitely tipping its hand here. Between adding Cellular, adding more and more direct streaming features, porting the App Store, giving devs the flexibility to make apps just for the Watch and now the ability to remove any app you want and upgrade right from the device. Apple is gradually moving watchOS into its own spotlight.
Uncovering little goodies like these after WWDC makes me wonder what additional features may be coming with the release of the Apple Watch Series 5 later this Summer or Fall. I don’t think that will get us all the way there, but I definitely expect to see a few more small steps like the ones included here. Anything that pushes the platform a little further down the road is a good thing.
It will be next year at the earliest before Apple pushes watchOS over the threshold of total independence from the iPhone. We still can’t select or log into WiFi, use a separate cell plan from the phone, or even set up an Apple Watch without an iPhone…yet. However, there is no way I can look at the current trajectory of watchOS and not see it becoming a completely stand-alone operating system very soon. And that’s a very good thing.