The Apple Watch is much maligned. Compared to competitors it’s ugly as sin. Worse, it’s slow and clunky to use. I bought one back in April when the price dropped to $299 and immediately named it My Great Regret. Now I am half-tempted to wave it in the faces of AndroidWear co-workers and shout My Great Triumph, because WatchOS 3 finally made the two-year-old Apple Watch into a great smartwatch.
It was a good one previously, but WatchOS 3 sped things up considerably. Animations are zippier and in some cases apps open three times as fast. To test exactly how fast they open I used the same watch and phone and timed the moment from hitting an app icon to that app being open on the Apple Watch screen. On WatchOS 2 it took 6.77 seconds to open the Philips Hue app. On WatchOS 3 it took just 2.42. WatchOS 3 didn’t fair as well when I tried to same test with Uber. The watch will still hang if the phone application is slow or not already running on your phone.
Where WatchOS 3 finds its best speed improvements is in opening previously opened apps. DarkSkies (a wonderful weather app) took nearly three seconds to open every time I accessed it on WatchOS 2, but it opens instantaneously on WatchOS 3. Same with Fantastical (an excellent calendar app). The delay dropped from five seconds to none at all.
In addition to the major speed gains, WatchOS 3 also picks up some great functionality improvements. Quick access settings like the mute button, Airplane mode, and battery status are viewed with a simple swipe up. Before you had to swipe up and then over. And over. And over.
WatchOS 3 also lets you have multiple watch faces active at once. You swipe left and right to activate them. This is useful if you want to switch from the Minnie Mouse face (great for amusing two year olds) to a workout face. If you have too many complications—those little tidbits of data on a watch face, like the weather and your current heart rate—you can actually program different watch faces with different complicates.
I’ve only been working with WatchOS 3 for an hour or two, but already I’m planning to wear this guy more than I have the last couple of months. In order to update you’ll need to have your watch paired to an iPhone that’s braved the brick risks and is running iOS 10, the watch will need to be at 50-percent battery and it will need to be on its charger. Open up the Watch app, hit General, and the Software Update, and prepare to wait. The update is significant and can take an hour or more.