Real-world iOS 10 and watchOS 3

Apple’s big 2016 software releases start today with the introduction of iOS 10, watchOS 3, and tvOS 10 (the latter of which I’ve not had a chance to try).

Spoiler alert: They’re good upgrades (and in the case of watchOS, potentially a really great one).

iOS 10

I’ve been running iOS 10 on my iPhone 6+ since the public beta opened in early August. After a false start with the first beta and some Bluetooth issues, it’s been incredibly stable. Apple has been chided in the recent past for software stability and performance issues; iOS 10 sure seems to buck this in a big way. In some places, it feels faster than iOS 8 or 9 ever did on this phone. That is a great thing for those sticking with the 6 series (though I do plan to upgrade to the iPhone 7+ later this year).

The creature comforts in iOS 10 are really nice. Fully-interactive notifications are a huge time-saver and the new widget area is quite convenient. One new interaction that particularly struck me is the ability to dismiss interactive notifications by pulling down on them. This is right out of the Apple Watch playbook and feels quite natural. I suspect I would find far more convenience if I had a 3D Touch-enabled device — there are lots of shortcuts available via force-press that I have yet to experience. Still, it is quite good.

The thing about iOS 10 that is going to probably throw quite a few people for a loop is unlocking using the home button vs. the tried and true “slide to unlock” that has been with the iPhone since its inception. It makes a lot of sense on newer phones given the faster Touch ID sensor, but I still fumble with it on my 6+ on a fairly regular basis. We’ll see how the mass market reacts to this — I suspect there will be some backlash.

Finally, in no particular order, a few other cool little things I like in iOS 10:

  • Faster animations. The animations to open folders and apps have been sped up ever so subtly, but it is still noticeable (and welcomed).
  • The Bedtime feature. As part of Apple’s focus on health, the new Bedtime feature lets you set the number of hours you want to sleep and the time you want to wake up. From there, it calculates your bedtime and sets an alarm when it’s time to sleep. I’ve found it rather helpful after I got over the fact that I’m putting myself back on a bedtime after years of rebellion against one.
  • Apple News. I’ve really come to love Apple News as a reader. It will be interesting to compare the new notifications from News to those from sources like AP and The New York Times.
  • Maps. While I will probably never give up Waze, the new iteration of Apple Maps is very attractive and extremely usable. The suggestions based on location and time of day are scary accurate, and it’s still quite nice to get buzzed on my wrist for directions versus staring at a screen while driving. However, Waze still is the king of rerouting and realtime traffic data — it’s going to take significant improvements for me to switch.

Overall, I think many will find that iOS 10 is a thoughtful evolution from iOS 9. Aside from unlocking from the home button, most should feel right at home. App compatibility seems to be very good; third-party apps rarely gave me any problems in the beta and have been flawless in the last few days with the golden master build. Fingers crossed that this is as trouble-free of an upgrade for the rest of you as it has been for me.

watchOS 3

Apple’s pitch for watchOS 3 during the beta period was that it will “feel like a whole new watch.”

This assessment is accurate.

At first glance after installing watchOS 3, it doesn’t seem much different from versions past. Then, you press the side button to reveal the Dock, which takes over for Glances and the Friends Wheel (good riddance) to show you apps you frequently use. Tap one, and there it is, ready for action. This is so damned wonderful. Swipe up and you have the Control Center a la iOS, with a bunch of quickly accessible settings that are now always available (versus being stuck on a Glance that may be several pages away). Overall, the gestures are now much more uniform between the watch and the iPhone (especially in iOS 10), which should lower the learning curve for new Watch users dramatically.

Speed was a key focus for watchOS 3 and Apple has delivered. Bringing apps up out of the Dock is smooth and effortless. Siri feels several seconds faster as well (which was a really nice surprise). While making dinner, I’ll often ask Siri to set a timer for me (especially when the oven already has a timer set). This used to be a 10-20 second process, but in watchOS 3, Siri gets my timer going almost instantly. Dictating quick text messages is just as fast. It’s these little things that add up to be a huge difference. (I bet it will scream on the Series 2 hardware, too.)

The other part of watchOS 3 that I absolutely love is the new Scribble feature, which is some basic handwriting recognition that lets you respond to messages directly on the watch by writing out each letter. It’s quite fast and very accurate, and cuts down on the amount of dictation needed to send quick notes from the watch.

watchOS 3 has had a small impact on battery life, but I could very easily chalk that up to the fact that I just use the watch more than I did on previous iterations of the software. As new watchOS 3 apps come out, we’ll want to watch the effects of background app refresh, but overall, battery life is still well within tolerances.

Other things I like about watchOS 3, again in no particular order:

  • The Reminders app. It’s about damned time. I use the Reminders app fairly heavily and it’s nice to have it on the watch.
  • No more Glances. They were cool in theory, but it is much more sensible and much easier to have quick access to full apps. Apps in the Dock are also much faster than Glances ever were thanks to their persistence in memory.
  • Customizing faces on the iPhone. watchOS 3 now offers a Face Gallery right on the iPhone’s Watch app, making customizing new faces a breeze. The changes take effect in real time on the Watch. (You can still customize faces on the Watch as you had in previous versions, too.)
  • Better Workout layout. It’s nice to see all the vital statistics for the workout I’m in on one screen. The last thing I want to do is struggle to flip between screens with a sweaty finger during a workout.
  • Unlocking my Mac with my Watch. Turn on two-factor authentication for your Apple ID and you’ll be able to unlock your 2013 or later Mac with your Watch after macOS Sierra comes out next week. It’s a great timesaver and a real boon to security as well. (Everybody should be using 2FA anyway.)

When it all comes down to it, the third time is the charm for watchOS. There was a sense in the first couple revisions of watchOS that Apple was still very much feeling out this form factor. Now that they have 18 months of general availability under their belt, it’s clear that Apple’s Watch team has put what they have learned about how people use their devices into action. I have a feeling that with Series 2 hardware and the new software that the Apple Watch will really begin to take off. It’ll be interesting to…erm…watch.

By Jared Smith

Jared Smith is a web developer and weather enthusiast living in Charleston, SC.