Apple Watch Ultra Reviews and Trade-Offs

The initial Apple Watch Ultra reviews are in. I spent the morning reading them. Some of the best coverage came from The Verge and Marques Brownlee.

The trade-offs of this watch are not in dispute.

The Good Parts

  • Doubled battery life (two days, perhaps three)
  • Lots of power-user features
  • An additional button
  • Rugged, bulky design

The Bad Parts

  • It’s big
  • It’s pricey
  • Rugged, bulky design

For a lot of people, myself included, the Apple Watch Ultra is overkill. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m interested. I am a fan of rugged design and the thought of never having to think about battery life on my watch is an appealing one to me. Best of all, it appears I’d be able to trigger shortcuts with that action button.

I’ve ordered one. Whether I keep it will come down to how big it looks and feels on my wrist, but I’m looking forward to trying it out.

A Few Thoughts on the Apple Watch Ultra

I’ve been on a journey with the Apple Watch Ultra. When rumors of a “Pro” Apple Watch first began to surface, I was against the idea. I always appreciated the way you could buy any Apple Watch and still get the same features and processor. This new hypothetical watch would break that.

However, over time I came around to the idea. As Apple products mature, they diversify. In every class of Apple hardware (Macs, iPhones, and iPads) there are consumer products and “Pro” products. Why wouldn’t that also happen for the Apple Watch, which had a slow start but is now very much a success? A MacSparky Labs member also pointed out to me in one of our meetups that having a “Pro” class of Apple Watch also lets Apple try features and hardware that isn’t appropriate or ready for the standard Apple Watch.

So that was my mindset as Apple announced the Apple Watch Ultra yesterday. The Ultra accomplishes what I’d hoped. It gives Apple the freedom to make an Apple Watch very much not for the masses. The Ultra is bulky with a big battery and a lot of accommodations for its active users that would not appeal to everyone. So the Ultra is an offshoot of the Apple Watch, and it looks like it is well suited for that job. I’m looking forward to early reviews.

It does make me wonder, however, if Ultra is not the only class of offshoot Apple Watches. For example, I’ve heard from doctors that rely on the Apple Watch for communications and images when working rounds. Could Apple make a watch that serves them better? Likely not. Apple doesn’t generally seem inclined to split their product lines very much, as the iPhone mini could attest. Still, it’s a fun experiment to imagine where else they could go.

Apple Watch Pro Rumors Multiply

As we’re now a few days away from Apple’s “Far Out” event, the circle of trust at Apple is expanding, and so are the leaks.

There is a leaked CAD design that may (or may not) be the new Apple Watch Pro. It’s notably different than what we’ve seen before with a bigger and flatter screen and an extra button. This design reads rugged more than finesse. Mark Gurman now tweets that the Apple Watch Pro will have a custom series of bands and faces.

If this is what Apple intends to ship, I have to question the “Pro” moniker. This looks to me something more like an “Extreme” or “Rugged” Apple Watch. Regardless, I’m looking forward to hearing the story behind the product on Wednesday.

“Far Out” Apple Event

Apple's "Far Out" Event Art

Today Apple made it official. The new iPhone event is September 7. Mark your calendar. Check your wallets. We’ll definitely get the new iPhones and likely Apple Watches. Things that I am curious about:

  • Rumors are the iPhone Pro camera will take a leap. I hope that’s true.
  • I’ll be shocked if the iPhone Pro doesn’t get the always on screen. I’m curious to see what that will be like in actual use.
  • There is an interesting rumor that we’ll get a “pro” or “sport” watch that will cost a bit more. It’ll be fun to see what that means if true. Also, if true it will be the first time that the phone chip between the watches will be different. Until now you got the same chip whether you bought a $300 watch or a $20,000 watch.

We’ll find out soon enough. I’ll be doing some fun things in The MacSparky Labs for this event. If you’re in the labs, keep an eye on your email over the next few days.

The Flat Apple Watch Rumors Return

Rumors are coming back about a flat-sided Apple Watch getting released this year. John Prosser made some renders, below. Who knows if this thing will actually ship. People were convinced it was going to release last year and it didn’t.

If this is truly the next design for the Apple Watch, I’m going to need some convincing. Just looking at the images, I like the existing, rounded design better. Maybe flatter equals thinner and lighter, and that would be good. However, my immediate reaction is that it looks boring.

Apple Watch 7 Initial Reviews and Thoughts

Yesterday all the early reviews dropped on the Apple Watch Series 7. My favorites were from TechCrunch, John Gruber, and Marques Brownlee. One theme that seems to run throughout is that the Apple Watch Hardware is to a point where the changes are more iterative than revolutionary, which is probably good news. I’ll be upgrading my Series 5 to a Series 7, so I’m invested. I like the additional pixels and the brighter always-on display. To be honest, I am most looking forward to having a watch with a fresh battery. I wear my Apple Watch every day and use it aggressively. I’m now to the point I often need a mid-day charge to get to the end of the day.

To me, the obvious next step for the Apple Watch is more and better watch faces. I seem to repeatedly bounce between watch faces, none of which I am particularly excited about. At this point Apple has put way more creativity into watch bands than watch faces. I don’t need a new industrial design for the Apple Watch, but I sure would like some more face options.

Personalize Your Apple Watch with the Watchsmith Update

Before there was the sensation that is Widgetsmith, there was Watchsmith. If you’re an Apple Watch user, then you know that the device is a lot more than just a watch. It’s also a highly customizable accessory. But what if you wanted to make it even more personal? That’s where Watchsmith comes in. This newly updated app for your iPhone lets you customize your Apple Watch with a degree of control I have not seen from any other app.

Just like Apple left the Apple Watch with limited face options, it also left it with few complication options. Watchsmith fixes that. It starts with a comprehensive collection of highly customizable complications, ranging in function from date to weather. You can adjust each complication precisely how you want it and how that best suits your desired functionality or appearance while still retaining all the Apple Watch features and faces.

Watchsmith offers a pile of fully customizable complications ranging from today’s date to surf conditions. You also have complete control over how they look, so you can make them just about any foreground and background color. One of my more functional but straightforward complications with Watchsmith is a big, easy-to-read date complication giving me today’s date.

Version 2.0, the newest version of Watchsmith, ups the game a bit. Among the new features:

  • All of the complications have been updated to take advantage of the latest watchOS capabilities, which will lead to better performance and behavior when used in tinted watch faces.

  • A variety of new complication styles:
    – Photo
    – 24 Hour Dial
    – Modern Moonphase
    – Geometric Solar
    – Moon & Stars
    – Sun Timer
    – Solar Path
    – Golden Hour
    – Step Counting
    – Text Calendar

If you use the Apple Watch but aren’t satisfied with your complications, this one’s for you.

Five Years of the Apple Watch


Sparkys Apple Watch.png

Zach Hall is one of my favorite people covering the Apple Watch. He’s heavily invested in the platform but objective enough to call balls and strikes against Apple. I enjoyed his recent retrospective post looking back at the Apple Watch from his initial review in 2015 until today. It’s a great read.

As for me, the Apple Watch very quickly became a daily companion. I’ve historically worn watches, so putting one on never felt weird to me. The difference is that this watch delivers messages from my sweetheart, helps me stay in better shape, allows me to leave my phone in my pocket (or on the charger), and puts a digital tool chest on my wrist. It’s felt like a 100% upgrade to me.

I have my list of gripes, and I’d certainly like Apple to let third parties make watch faces, but overall, I don’t see myself stopping wearing my Apple Watch any time soon.

The Elusive Green Ring

When I first got my Apple Watch, I’d been using a FitBit for years and was very proud of my daily 10,000 steps. Immediately, however, I discovered that despite much walking, the green ring on my fancy new Apple Watch barely moved. Not only was I not hitting that target of 30 minutes of elevated heart rate a day, I realized I hadn’t even been aiming for that goal in all those years of wearing a FitBit.

So I made some changes, and now I spend time hiking up hills, riding my bike, and (until a few months ago) going to the gym to fill that elusive green ring. Even being stuck home, I’m finding ways to push myself and fill that green ring most days. I read some affirmation for this exercise this morning from cardiologist Brian Lima, who explains that when it comes to those Apple Watch rings, the green activity ring is one ring to rule them all.

Digging the Cellular Apple Watch

I’m on vacation this week (Aloha!) and as a result, spending a lot of my time doing things – like swimming in the ocean and jumping out of airplanes – that aren’t very friendly to iPhones.
This week I’ve come to appreciate the cellular radio in my Apple Watch. I initially bought it because I do lots of hikes and bike rides without a phone and wanted something that could give me a life-line “just in case”. It occurs to me this week, however, that the cellular Apple Watch is also useful if you just lead an active life.

With the cellular radio, I’ve been able to call my wife while snorkeling, text her from the plane right before I did my first skydive, and generally stay in contact with the rest of the world when otherwise I wouldn’t be able to.

While I still think the number one use case scenario for the cellular watch is for emergencies, I would add “a connection for an active life” as number two.

A Follow Up Point about Battery Life

Somewhat related, the series 5 Apple Watch started out with some significant battery issues that got better with recent software updates. However, using it to track extended ocean swims and hitting that cellular radio have been destroying my battery. With me starting most days at 7 AM, twice now I’ve had it go into low power mode by the end of the day. At this point, I’ve got a new habit that when I take an afternoon nap (it is a vacation after all), the watch goes on the charger.