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Friday, July 12, 2024

The Apple Watch Now Lets You Answer Phone Calls by Tapping Your Fingers

For almost a decade, Apple has released an Apple Watch every fall. Each release is greeted like the turning of the leaves: welcome, but not necessarily mind-blowing. In 2022, the rugged Apple Watch Ultra (8/10, WIRED Recommends) was one of the biggest launches we’d seen in years. The Series 8 (8/10, WIRED Recommends), which also debuted last year, introduced skin temperature sensing—nice, but we’ve seen similar features on wearables like the Oura ring for years.

For its tenth anniversary—in either 2024 or 2025—Apple is rumored to be giving its watch a complete revamp, and maybe even a new name (the catchy Apple Watch X). In the meantime, 2023 brought a few upgrades, including a faster processor, a new pink color, and a new feature called Double Tap that lets you play music and start and stop workouts with a little flick of your fingers. 

Tippity Tap

This year’s Series 9 looks basically the same as the Series 8, with a faster S9 chipset. (Apple has used the same chip for every watch since the Series 6, which includes last year’s Series 8 and Ultra.) This will theoretically make processing much faster than in the Series 8 and help improve the battery life. Siri requests can now be processed on-device, which means they don’t have to travel to and from the crowd. A blippy Wi-Fi connection or poor cell coverage can’t keep your from starting or stopping a workout with your watch. There’s also the new pink color. (Sweet.)

At $799, this year’s Watch Ultra 2 is still the priciest watch in Apple’s lineup. The Ultra 2 has a new, astonishingly bright display that reaches 3,000 nits (for context, the iPhone 14 Pro maxes out at 2,000 nits). A new modular watch face utilizes that bright display to make it easier to check sports data that changes by the second, like your elevation. 

Both the Ultra Watch 2 and the Series 9 also have a new feature called Double Tap. Starting in a month, you will be able to tap your index finger and thumb together on your watch hand for simple actions like hanging up a call, starting a timer, and playing your music. The watch processes data from the gyroscope and accelerometer and uses machine learning algorithms to process minute changes in blood flow to detect your tiny motions. This is helpful if, as Apple predicts, you are frequently using your other hand to walk your dog or slurp gallons of coffee. 

As some Apple products get older, their update cycles become longer and longer. This year, the Apple Watch SE, the company’s entry-level option, didn’t see any upgrades at all. Last year, it got a refresh with a new, lighter nylon back. Just like last year’s model, the SE is mostly defined by what it doesn’t have compared to your spendier watch options (i.e. blood oxygen monitoring, temperature sensing, and dual-band GPS). 

You can preorder all the watches starting today. The watches will be available everywhere on September 22. The SE retails for $249; the Watch Series 9 for $399, and the Watch Ultra 2 will retail for $799. 

Eco-Friendly Manufacturing

Sustainability was a huge focus for Apple this year. The company announced that the watches would use recycled cobalt in the battery and recycled materials in the case; however, it wouldn’t be an Apple Watch announcement if it weren’t accompanied by a bunch of new accessories that you can buy.

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The most noteworthy is probably the development of a recycled, suede-like material that Apple calls FineWoven, which is made from 86 percent recycled content. Apple’s popular proprietary sport loops will now be made from recycled nylon, and the Ultra Alpine and Trail run loops will also be carbon-neutral. The Nike loops will include recycled nylon and flakes of recycled material. For every purchase, Apple will invest in renewable energy use. If you combine a new watch with a recycled band, Apple claims that the product is now carbon-neutral. 

Looking Ahead

Apple might be saving its big guns for the Watch X, which is rumored to have all sorts of fun and fancy upgrades. Some differences that we could see include a much thinner case and a new strap attachment system. Dropping the current magnetic band attachments would make it possible to cut a lot of space from the case. Watch X might even have a microLED display, a more power-efficient display that would help extend the watch’s still-not-so-great battery life and power a much bigger screen—5 to 10 percent larger than the display on the current Series 8.

Apple also regularly introduces new health-related features with one iteration after the next. Previous features have included the ability to check your blood oxygen levels and skin temperature sensing. In the future, we could see blood pressure monitoring and noninvasive blood glucose monitoring. A quick, convenient way to continuously monitor blood sugar could be lifesaving for people who are diabetic or prediabetic. For the rest of us, optimizing our blood sugar levels may help us time peak athletic or mental performance.

Peak performance optimization aligns with Apple’s goal of encroaching on Garmin’s domination in the premium sport watch category, with both hardware and software. Earlier this year, Apple announced new features in WatchOS 10 that would make the Series 9 and the Watch Ultra 2 much more capable sports watches. 

For example, when you start a cycling workout on your watch, it will automatically launch a live view on your phone that turns your handheld device into an automatic cycling computer you can mount on your handlebars. The public beta came out in July of this year, but the official download date should arrive later this year. 

In an industry where every other manufacturer launches half-baked ideas just in time to make the news cycle, it is a blessed relief that every year the Apple Watch stays (mostly) the same wearable that we all know and love. If you have an iPhone and would appreciate faster and easier workouts—and the ability to control your watch hands-free—it’s increasingly difficult to justify buying any other fitness tracker. If this is your first Apple Watch, or you’re considering leaving Fitbit (as you might be, since Google, which owns the platform, may start focusing more resources on the Pixel Watch), these seem like significant reasons to try one out. 

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