Apple Watch was released five years ago today. An Apple wearable had been rumoured for a long time, but eventually, the first generation version was unveiled by Apple CEO Tim Cook at the company’s September 2014 event alongside the iPhone 6.
At the time, it was surprising that it wasn’t called iWatch and it looked a little odd – would people really go around wearing a mini-computer on their wrists in an era where fewer people were wearing watches and depending on their phones?
It turns out the answer was yes, but when the Apple Watch was released to the public on 24 April 2015 it wasn’t a runaway success.
Apple planned huge boutique-type tables with all the straps and accessories in their stores, but these seemed short-lived (although larger displays have made a comeback). It’s fair to say that Apple Watch took a little while to find its feet.
Analyst IDC suggested that Apple sold 1.6million watches in the second quarter of 2016, which was actually down on the original launch quarter when around 3 million watches were sold. But the late 2016 Apple Watch Series 2 had a big effect - research firm Canalys said that 6 million watches were sold over the last quarter of 2016, a rise of 12 percent compared to the previous year.
What was clear from the off was that Apple had managed to design a UI (called watchOS and based on iOS) that worked well and was reasonably easy to use (it has improved considerably over time).
Apple Watch apps have endured some ups and downs, with some big names pulling out of producing dedicated apps including Instagram, Amazon, Google, Slack, and Twitter – you’ll still get notifications for these apps from your iPhone though. However, there are still a huge number of available apps that work alongside their iOS equivalents.
The Apple Watch was originally pushed as an iPhone companion, but for the last few releases has been marketed more for its health and exercise prowess to compete with other top wearable players such as Fitbit and Garmin.
Clearly, things have clicked - Strategy Analytics suggested that Apple sold 31 million Apple Watches in 2019, up 36 percent compared with 2018. In an eye-catching headline, the analyst suggested this was bigger than the entire Swiss watch industry. Apple itself is now happy to tout that it’s the world’s number one watch.
Nowadays, there’s a new version of Apple Watch each September with incremental upgrades and what’s more, the upgrades have meant there’s a value-packed version, too. The Series 5 is the latest watch, of course, but the $199/£199 Series 3 – which this writer has been using for the last couple of years - has most of the feature set with a compelling price point.
Our 5 favourite Apple Watch features
It can be a phone
The Apple Watch 3 introduced cellular connectivity. While carrier support still isn’t total – Three don’t support it in the UK, for example – it’s relatively low cost to get it added to your plan for calls, texts and data. Making a call when out for a run, for example, is superb. But the data can’t be used for everything; while Apple Music is fine and works brilliantly independent of your phone, there isn’t yet a version of the Spotify app that can stream music (Spotify says Apple has blocked this).
It may seem like a small thing, but when we strapped on the Series 5 the always-on display in the latest Apple Watch Series 5 really does change the experience and we missed it when we swapped back to our Series 3. You don’t realise how many times you look at your Apple Watch only for the screen to be off because you haven’t moved your wrist.
The Series 2 introduced waterproofing and it really did change things. Anecdotally, we’d dipped our Series 1 in the bath a few times when washing kids and it was fine, but officially it wasn’t supposed to be able to go in the water. Apple still says you shouldn’t use the Apple Watch in deep water or pressure-related activities like scuba diving or water skiing.
Heart and health
The heart rate sensor was included from the off while the latest Series 5 has the ability to take an ECG on your wrist and can detect female cycles, too. The Apple Watch can also detect falls and call an emergency contact and also detect irregular heart rhythms or low heart rate and alert you. There are now numerous stories of users being alerted to serious health issues as a result of wearing the watch.
As well as tracking your heart rate and general activity, Apple’s Watch’s ability to track exercise is superb (there's a Nike version of the Apple Watch, but you can track this with any Apple Watch). We often track walks, HIIT workouts, swimming, football and runs and it copes with it all admirably. You can also pair the watch with Bluetooth headphones for running (we use AirPods Pro with our Series 3) so you can leave your phone at home. As we mentioned, you can stream music from Apple Watch or alternatively, you can upload offline music using the Watch app.