Yesterday at Apple's September launch event the tech giant introduced four new iPhones and a pair of Apple Watches. Unlike the iPhones, which gained new cameras, charging ports and slightly redesigned bodies, the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 look practically identical to the previous generations, and there aren't really major outer hardware updates, other than a screen that can get a bit brighter and dimmer.
Instead, it's what's on the inside that counts: both Apple Watches are powered by two new chips: the S9 SiP (systems-in-package) chip and an updated ultra-wideband chip. The new S9 consists 60% more transistors than the S8 chip, according to Apple, which means more efficiency and higher performance ceiling. The S9 chip also has a more advanced neural engine that allows both the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Watch Series 9 to access Siri on device without an internet connection. The new ultra-wideband chip lets the watches do precision tracking, including using it to track the location and distance of things like your phone, AirTags, or if the other party allows, another iPhone or Apple Watch user.
I only had limited hands-on time at a crowded demo booth surrounded by hundreds of people, so I did not get to test performance much, but I did get to try the new "double tap" feature which allows the Apple Watch wearer to quickly tap their thumb and index finger twice to trigger an action on the new Apple Watches. Considering that the fingers aren't actually touching any part of the watch, it's quite a magical feeling to pull it off. Apple says the double tap feature is made possible by using three sensors — gyroscope, accelerometer, optical heart rate sensor — plus machine learning to understand when the wearer is actively tapping two fingers together. According to Apple, the gyroscope and accelerometer have been trained to understand the subtle movements of the arm when performing a double tap action, and the optical heart rate sensor picks up the miniscule changes in our arm's bloodflow when tapping. Sounds far-fetched, but from my testing, the double tap action worked very accurately. I tried it a dozen times and the Apple Watch Ultra 2 I wore picked up the action every time.
The double tap can be used to trigger various actions, such as answering a call, starting a timer, or beginning a voice recording. It'll come in very handy for me, as I often ride electric scooters and would rather not take an arm off the handlebar just to interact with the Apple Watch.
The screens of the two new Apple Watches remain the same in terms of dimensions and resolution, but they have higher maximum and minimum brightness. The Ultra 2 screen gets up to 3,000 nits in brightness, while the Series 9 can get up to 2,000 nits. Both screens can get as dim as 1 nit.
Apple says battery life for both watches are the same as last year, and this is despite the brighter screen and more features (such as double tap). If this is true, this means the standard Apple Watch Series 9 battery life is going to be pretty underwhelming, as the Series 8 battery life was nothing to write home about. Basically, the Series 9 will still be a watch you have to charge just about every night, while the Ultra 2 should be able to go 2-3 days depending on how heavily you use it.
Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 price and availability
There's really not much more to talk about, as the watches look identical to the past generations. But the thing with the Apple Watch is that Apple isn't expecting consumers to make year-to-year upgrades, so the Series 9 isn't aimed at Series 8 owners, but rather those on the Series 6 or even older. And the Apple Watch Ultra 2 isn't meant to compete against the first Ultra, but to replace it. Prices remain the same for both watches. The Apple Watch Series 9 starts at $399, and the Apple Watch Ultra 2 starts at $799. Both watches are available for preorder now and shipping starts on September 22. Stay tuned for our full review, and check out the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro in the meantime if you're interested in what else Apple is working on.
Apple Watch Series 9
The new Apple Watch Series 9 includes the All-new Apple S9 processor, a brighter display, watchOS 10, and new features like Double Tap.
Apple Watch Ultra 2
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 packs the same improvements as the Apple Watch Series 9, such as improved performance, but it retains the premium titanium design and it has an even brighter screen up to 3000 nits.