hen I joined the iPhone Life team
in 2013, rumors of an “i Watch”
had recently begun circulating.
Analysts wondered, in the post-Steve Jobs era of Apple, did the
tech giant have what it took to
release a hit product in a new
category? We found out in April of
2015 when Tim Cook finally unveiled the original Apple Watch.
Initial sales for the device were pretty underwhelming, reflecting the mixed experience the wearable offered. While the
Apple Watch was the most user-friendly fitness tracker we’d
ever tested, the device fell short as a smartwatch, with apps
that were slow to load and couldn’t function without being
connected to an iPhone via Bluetooth. Fast forward to today,
and the Apple Watch has become the best-selling wearable
on the market. This begs the question; in the years since its
initial release, has Apple moved the ball forward in significant
ways? As someone who upgraded for the first time last fall
from the first-generation to the Series 4 watch, I will share
my contrasting experiences between the two devices in an
attempt to answer that question.
Upon arrival, one of the first things I noticed about the Series 4 was how, for a device whose form factor hasn’t changed
much since its initial release, it looks and feels a lot sleeker.
Apple made the new watch slightly wider and more closely
molded to the wrist, resulting in a more sophisticated-looking
accessory. The OLED display is also dramatically brighter than
the original, with an inky black background that adds a sense
of depth against bright graphics. A coworker who recently
upgraded from the Series 3 reported that even in a one-year
upgrade cycle, the improvement to the display was noticeable.
The Series 4 also inherited upgrades from the Series 1, 2, and
3, including waterproofing, GPS, and an improved Bluetooth
connection. While I’m dissappointed that Apple hasn’t released
a model with a round watch face, I was pleasantly surprised to
find that the subtle improvements did make an impact on the
When I unboxed my original Apple Watch, what I found
most disappointing was how slow it was. While I had been
excited about the possibilities using third-party apps on the
wearable opened up, I quickly abandoned that notion when I
saw how slowly non-native apps ran. By comparison, the Series 4 is quite fast. The lag time between actions is negligible,
making launching apps and starting workouts a much more
seamless experience. For me, the design and speed alone
have justified the upgrade.
FITNESS FEATURES: BUILDING
ON PAST SUCCESS
I’ve tested a lot of fitness trackers over the past few years,
and the Apple Watch is by far my favorite. From the start,
Apple got a lot right—logging workouts was relatively easy to
do, and the three-ring system made it easy to review progress
toward daily goals at a glance. Using the watch has had profound effects on my health; it’s helped me establish and maintain a fairly consistent workout routine over the past three
years, and even spurred me to join a CrossFit gym and invest
in a standing desk! My biggest complaint has been that in an
effort to be user friendly, Apple has left out some important
features that other fitness trackers.
With watchOS 5 (Apple’s software update that rolled out
with the Series 4 and is compatible with all models except
the original watch), Apple has made steps to correct this oversight. The update includes automatic workout tracking, which I
noticed right away when it suggested I log an outdoor walk as
I was strolling to lunch. I was happy to discover new workout
types including yoga and hiking, adding to the somewhat limited options watchOS previously provided.
The Series 4 running watchOS 5 offers new fitness features
for runners too, including pacing tools in the native Workout
app. When initiating a run, you can now set up a pace alert
based on your average or last mile run, and get notified via
haptic feedback if you’re going too fast or too slow.
Other offerings include cadence metrics, activity goal competitions with friends, and advanced Apple Music playlist
features integrated into the Workout app (these require a subscription.)
All in all, watchOS 5 takes the already-great fitness tracking
features of the Apple Watch to the next level. As Apple has
discovered, many users value their watches mainly for fitness
tracking, so continuing to improve these bedrock features
HEALTH: EKG READINGS &
The Apple Watch has branched out from mostly fitness
features into some groundbreaking health ones too. The
Series 4 can take electrocardiogram readings, a significant
achievement as it’s the first consumer device of its kind to be
cleared by the United States Food and Drug Administration to
detect atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat). Once you have the
feature set up, you can take readings by holding your finger to
the Digital Crown for about 30 seconds.
The Series 4 also features fall detection and will help you
call an emergency responder if needed. These watch features
offer a compelling reason to upgrade, especially for older users who wish to use the device as wearable safety tech and
be proactive in tracking their health.