61: WWDC 2016 – The Watch

Yesterday Apple kicked off WWDC 2016 with a whirlwind tour of their four major platforms. They set the keynote to grueling pace and pushed a lot to the pre- and post-show, with major App Store announcements coming the week before and John Siracusa learning about the new Apple File System on the streets outside Bill Graham.

There will be tons to analyze throughout the entire summer, but I'll follow Apple's lead and dive in with my first impressions, starting with the Apple Watch.

This is a little cynical, but I for one am excited that Apple Watch version 1.0 looks like it's finally here. I wasn't so much down on the Apple Watch as a product but watches in general; I've never worn a watch, and presumed I never would from the time I started carrying my own cell phone. In the lead-up to the Apple Watch's original launch, I knew that it would have to stand out as an Apple device, not a timepiece, for me to ever consider it. Early (and more recent) reviews pointed out the platform's flaws, and I didn't expect that it would have anything to offer me until the release of a new generation of Watch hardware.

It really seemed like watchOS couldn't become a first-class platform without an injection of computing power. App launch times were more like floppy disk I/O than the way of the future. But if the keynote demos are to be believed, watchOS 3 will make the existing Watch hardware snappy. Its design will finally lift apps to first-class citizens with a new "Dock" interface, accessed by the side button. I understand that Apple made a wrong bet when it dedicated the lone hardware button to the Friends feature, and I'm glad to see they didn't double down. (No doubt both anecdotes and analytics showed just how seldom anyone ever pushed that button.) Equally, I'm mystified that massive performance increases — the difference between usability and uselessness — came about entirely through software.

Was there a magic breakthrough in the past year that allowed this? With the advancement of Swift, I suppose it's possible; but unless an unforseen architecture advance allowed watchOS 3 to happen, why wasn't it watchOS 1? The simple answer is "it wasn't ready", but then why launch the Apple Watch at all? I'm at the point where I'll now consider the Apple Watch, hesitantly, likely still waiting for new hardware. But if I saw the keynote demonstration at the Watch special event a year ago, I probably would have placed a preorder. As a general watch skeptic, I may well be the exception. And with some install base of Apple Watch users, the platform has a head start. With watchOS 3 and beyond, I look forward to it not just finding its feet, but running — or rolling — quickly into the future.