Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Apple Watch Ultra

Apple (MacRumors, Hacker News):

Apple Watch Ultra introduces a 49mm titanium case and flat sapphire front crystal that reveals the biggest and brightest Apple Watch display yet. A customizable Action button offers instant access to a wide range of useful features. Apple Watch Ultra has the best battery life of any Apple Watch, reaching up to 36 hours during normal use. Additionally, a new low-power setting, ideal for multi-day experiences, can extend battery life to reach up to 60 hours. The Wayfinder watch face is designed specifically for the larger Apple Watch Ultra display and includes a compass built into the dial, with space for up to eight complications. Apple Watch Ultra also brings three new bands — Trail Loop, Alpine Loop, and Ocean Band — offering unique design features that provide a secure and comfortable fit for every adventure.


Apple Watch Ultra has three built-in microphones to significantly improve sound quality in voice calls during any conditions.


For the first time ever in an Apple Watch, the precision dual-frequency GPS integrates both L1 and the latest frequency, L5, plus new positioning algorithms.


Backtrack uses GPS data to create a path showing where the user has been, which is useful if they get lost or disoriented and need help retracing their steps. It can also turn on automatically in the background when off the grid. With a single press of the Action button, users can quickly drop a Compass Waypoint or start or view a Backtrack. An 86-decibel siren is designed for emergencies, should users become lost or injured, and can help draw attention to a location.

All models have cellular and start at $799.

Ryan Jones:

So nomenclature definitions.

Pro = fancy high-end
Max = maximum pro’ness
Ultra = over-the-top, ultra-rare use cases
Extreme = no one really needs this, just pushing limits to push limits

Michael Gorbach:

The Apple Watch Ultra’s Action Button is powered by some awesome new App Intents APIs. You will be able to build your own apps to integrate with it, like a hockey app that uses the button to record goals! And for users, the button can kick off any Shortcut you want!

Jason Snell:

Turns out that extreme-sport-focused Apple Watch really is extreme-sport focused. Apple Watch Ultra. I suppose there will be aspirational aspects of this but Apple’s not shying away from the sports messaging.

Alex Roddie:

As someone who has tested countless GPS watches actually designed for mountain use, I’m not impressed by it. 36 hours battery life is pathetic. 65 hours would be just about competitive these days.

And by 65 hours I mean 65 hours of full-burn GPS tracking. I doubt that the Watch Ultra can cope with even a third of this, which makes it years behind the competition.

It’s so painfully obviously a device designed by urban people who want to ‘disrupt’ a market they don’t understand.


It’s amazingly hard to find any tech that works without frustration in the backcountry. Even Garmin/Suunto devices, designed from the ground up for this stuff, are full of issues and irritations.

Sean Heber:

Well, I will say, this Ultra watch is a much better use of Apple’s vast resources and research than making a solid gold $10,000 “I’m too rich for my own good” edition like they did way back in the day.


Update (2022-09-08): Victoria Song (tweet):

As for how that wrist slab feels, it was actually lighter on my wrist than I’d expected, probably because its case is made of titanium. But make no mistake — it is a BIG watch.

Ben Bajarin:

It was surprising how light Apple Watch Ultra is. For me, the size won’t be an issue. I asked why not a smaller size for women and basically they couldn’t pack all the tech into a smaller size.

Nicolas Magand:

I don’t think Apple wants to be the most popular smartwatch brand among “adventurers” or wants to compete with Garmin directly (it has to be a small market overall: Garmin’s fitness division revenue in 2021 was only $1,534 million, which is pretty much pocket change for Apple). Apple wouldn’t mind, and I am pretty sure it is one of the company’s goals. What Apple wants first is to attract a very desirable segment of the population into the Apple ecosystem because Apple knows these people are inspiring, just like creatives.

It can be described, I think, as product placement. But instead of spending money to pay companies or individuals to have a device featured in a movie or on Instagram, Apple spends money creating the product that people making these movies and social media posts will organically buy.

Thomas Ricker:

I’m a longtime Garmin watch fan. Most of my friends and family have all purchased svelte Apple Watches. It’s a great smartwatch but I wanted a great outdoor adventure and fitness watch to pair with my iPhone instead. That’s why I’ve been wearing big hulking Garmin watches like the Fenix and Epix series despite their clumsy software interfaces. I’ve used them to obsessively track and measure my performance in a variety of activities that include kitesurfing, trail running, golfing, weight training, and mountain biking.


Without a doubt, the Apple Watch Ultra comes up short on a spec comparison with similarly priced devices sold by Garmin, Coros, and others. The battery is the most glaring example: 36, or even 60 hours enabled by a future low-power update, is weak in a category where batteries are measured in weeks. Out of the box it also lacks things like built-in topographical maps needed for trails, or support for Bluetooth power meters and cadence sensors used by cyclists. Apple’s sport features and analytics also pale in comparison to the depth and variety offered by the competition.


I can say this already though: Garmin’s biggest weak spot is usability. Its high-end watches have tons of features and capabilities that are obscured by complicated software that feels, at times, like operating a scientific calculator. Apple excels at user interfaces, Garmin doesn’t, just like Nokia which struggled in vain to adapt Symbian in response to the iPhone and Android. And given enough time, Apple’s watches will catch up to the specs and features available on Garmin’s flagship watches.

Jason Snell:

I’m not sure how you can underestimate one of the world’s most successful companies, but somehow we managed to do it with Apple regarding Wednesday’s “Far Out” event.

Update (2022-09-09): John C. Welch:

So i know that a lot of the new Watch stuff were aimed at long hikes or what have you, but I want you to think about how those same features contribute to safety in everyday situations.

Not just the obvious, like crash detection et al, but all the new features…

Jonathan Deutsch:

Perspective on the pricing of the WATCH:

• Last year’s Series 7, Titanium, GPS+Cell, 45mm: $𝟴𝟰𝟵 𝗨𝗦𝗗

• This year’s Ultra, Titanium, GPS+Cell, 49mm, AND all other sensors/battery/etc: $𝟳𝟵𝟵 𝗨𝗦𝗗

You could argue it is cheaper than last year!

Update (2022-10-14): Marco Arment:

Hot take: Garmin will be fine. This isn’t like the iPhone.

They make a huge range of satellite phones and fitness watches, many with characteristics that outperform the Ultra because they require trade-offs toward bulk, ugliness, or non-smartness that Apple will never choose.

John Gruber:

Apple Watch Ultra isn’t going to just make watches like this [Casio] one disappear. […] But man, Apple Watch Ultra makes this thing look silly in so many ways.

August Mueller:

So I’ll be getting an Apple Watch Ultra, eventually, once this one kicks the bucket. Because I’m not gentle with these things.

Sami Fathi:

The Apple Watch Ultra features a 76% larger battery compared to the 45mm Series 8, according to newly uncovered specifications in a Chinese certification database.

Joe Rossignol:

Apple Watch Ultra will start arriving to customers and launch in stores on Friday, September 23. Ahead of time, the first reviews of the high-end watch have now been shared by select media publications and YouTube channels.

John Gruber:

Apple Watch Ultra feels like a different size class entirely. For the most part, though, you get the same on-screen content from WatchOS as on the regular Series models. You just see more at a time, like when reading a text message or email. There is one watch face unique to Ultra, the Wayfinder face that Apple is using in most promotional and marketing photos. But all the other WatchOS watch faces are more or less the same on Ultra, just scaled bigger.


But the larger and (for the first time on Apple Watch) perfectly flat display crystal gives it a different feel while using it. It’s unabashedly a computer on your wrist. The Calculator app, for the first time, feels perfectly usable without pecking at the buttons with particular care. The on-screen QWERTY keyboard that Apple added last year to WatchOS 8 is surprisingly usable.


The Action button is, functionally, the biggest difference between the Ultra and the Series models. As I wrote last week, an extra button is a big addition to a device that heretofore only had two, and even moreso given that the Action button is the first hardware button on Apple Watch that’s user-configurable at the system level and can be assigned app-specific functions by third-party developers.


The flashlight is surprisingly useful, which speaks to how bright the Ultra’s 2,000-nit-max display can be.


If WatchOS were more capable and independent, it really could be more of an iPhone Nano.

DC Rainmaker:

Whether or not the Apple Watch Ultra is for you, depends largely on what you plan to use it for. If you had or wanted an Apple Watch, but were held back by battery life, and perhaps button usability – then the Ultra largely solves that. Similarly, if you wanted more advanced running/workout metrics, then WatchOS 9 on the Apple Watch Ultra also solves that too. And, if you never knew you wanted an emergency siren on your wrist for when you fall off an embankment, then the Ultra is for you too (but seriously, that feature is surprisingly well executed).

However, as good as Ultra is for most existing Apple Watch users (or more mainstream prospective users), it falls short when it comes to features that you would need to complete an actual ‘ultra’ – that is, a long distance running race, or trek, or really any adventure in the backcountry. These gaps fall into a couple of different camps. Sure, there’s the bugs like the openwater swim one, or the disappearing compass backtrack one. I’m less concerned about those at the moment. Instead, it’s the navigational feature gaps, and sensor pairing/broadcasting gaps that are more key for Apple.

David Smith:

Having now used the Action button, do you think its utility could justify optionally replacing the Side button Dock behavior on the regular watches with a comparable feature? I rarely use the Dock but immediately thought having the same Action button options could fit well there.

Joe Cieplinski:

Good idea. As long as they make the Dock one of the options for those who still want it, I don’t see a downside. And no need for another physical button.

I never use the Dock, either.

Garrett Murray:

On the fence about getting Apple Watch Ultra because you think it’ll be too big? Here’s a comparison on my small wrists of the Series 7 and Ultra. It’s very comfortable, and after wearing it for a bit, feels completely normal to me (if anything, the 7 looks a little small now).

Sami Fathi:

A YouTuber has put Apple’s claims for the durability of the Apple Watch Ultra to the test by putting it up against a drop test, a jar of nails, and repeated hits with a hammer to test the sapphire crystal protecting the display.

Joonas (via Hacker News):

At the launch event, Apple spent quite a bit of time discussing how wonderful Ultra will be for hiking and multi-day expeditions. Even their ad video told how “you need a map”. To every hiker’s astonishment, there is no map on Ultra. Instead, Apple focused on telling how the watch now records a backtrack of waypoints that you can use to get out of the wilderness.


Many Garmin hiking-focused watches have a real offline topographic map, including the trusty Garmin Fenix 6X Pro I have been using for two years.

Tim Hardwick:

For anyone curious, tech reviewer and YouTuber DC Rainmaker has posted a video in which he demonstrates the Depth app in action at deeper levels, using an underwater test chamber designed for diving equipment.

Tim Hardwick:

Apple Watch Ultra has been endorsed by American musician and famous watch collector John Mayer, who has been showing off the new device on his Instagram account.

Joe Rossignol:

iFixit today shared an Apple Watch Ultra teardown post and video, providing a closer look at the watch’s internal design and components.

David Smith:

For my previous day’s test I had configured my watch to start a workout within my hiking app so that I could test this integration and using the secondary action within the app. What I was surprised to discover, however, was that this meant that pushing the Action button would now instantly end whatever workout I was already doing and immediately start a workout within my app. This swap over occurs without any user confirmation. I believe the hem of my glove pushed into the action button while I was hiking and that triggered the early end of my workout and the start of the workout in the other app.

For me this meant that rather than having the super fun, and personally meaningful 26.2 mile workout in my history…I instead have a split workout, broken into a number of shorter segments.


I never was able to observe the automatic tracking in action, even though I was far away from civilization for very long stretches of time during my trip. I’d check in the Compass app periodically and it was never laying down a track. Either I don’t understand this feature or the automatic trigger doesn’t work reliably, which is a bit concerning for a feature that potentially has a safety use.

Mark Ellis:

Today, I’m going to reveal ten things that only Apple Watch Ultra owners know.

Matt Birchler:

But I personally didn’t prefer it to the Series 7, largely due to a few things:

  • I greatly prefer the curved screen
  • I prefer the smaller size
  • Steel looks better than titanium
  • I prefer not having a crown guard

But here I am after the review, still wearing the Ultra day-to-day. Why?

I think it’s simply because it’s new and novel.

David Smith:

The reason I needed to work out the round rect math is because I realized that the bezel shape on the Ultra isn’t as I first thought a Superellipse, instead it looks to actually follow a continuous round rect. So I can make my border marks better track the corners if I switched.

M.G. Siegler:

As it turns out, the Apple Watch Ultra is not “Ultra” in the ways the name and initial framing suggest. Instead, it’s just “Ultra” in that it’s clearly the best version of the Apple Watch.


Now, your mileage will absolutely vary here. It basically boils down to how large your wrists are.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

If it just had a third-party watch face API, even one not offered to apps on the App Store, I would be so into this model. Without, I feel Apple Watch as a product is dead to me 🙁

3 Comments RSS · Twitter

Bring Apple Watch with NO dependency on iPhone. Add camera and Safari to read QR codes. Then I am sold.

It's going to be very interesting to see what the for people I know with Garmin watches will buy the next time they get a fitness watch.

Wouldn't surprise me if it's an apple watch ultra 3.

So I decided to trade in my S6 on store launch day and pick this up. I'm interested in the battery capacity and better speakers and mics. Sure, it's possible I've got more money than sense, but it doesn't hurt to try it this once and see.

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