Smartwatches haven’t exactly set the world on fire. After 18 months, the Apple Watch – a product that once seemed like a plausible successor (or at least an indispensable companion) to the iPhone – is still decidedly niche.
This requires some qualification, however: it dominates its market – about a third of smartwatches are made by Apple – but that market is tiny, and not growing particularly fast. More worrying, the app ecosystem that’s been the lifeblood of the iPhone remains insignificant, with hardly any notable third party apps made for Watch OS.
Against this bleak backdrop, the Apple Watch Series 2 offers some cause for hope, or at least a sign of where the category is heading. The first Apple Watch was pitched as a luxury lifestyle product, an iPhone on your wrist, an everyday assistant that will always be at your beck and call. The Series 2 is marketed primarily as a fitness watch, albeit one you can “dress up” if you want to wear it to the office.
Its two significant improvements over the previous model are both in this field – GPS so you can go running without your iPhone (overwhelmingly the most demanded feature) and full waterproofing so you can track your swims. Gone is the £13,500 18 carat gold version, with the most striking addition to the range being a Nike collaboration with a black and lime-green rubber strap (you can still get a leather Hermes strap, if you’re so inclined).
As one of the few users who’s stuck with the Apple Watch since its launch, I long-ago jettisoned most of its features, using it to check my messages in meetings, pay for the occasional coffee and tell the time. With the Series 2, I can add running without my phone, which is significant because that phone is a phablet and therefore singularly unsuited to running. With Nike+ Run Club mapping my route and 2GB of stored music playing through my wireless headphones, the Apple Watch feels like it’s found its place in my life.
Throw in a brighter screen, longer battery life (a couple of days between charges if you’re not using GPS) and a faster processor, and you’re looking at something that’s genuinely useful, if still very pricey.