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Apple explains why it totally redesigned how the Apple Watch works

Users will receive a free update to WatchOS 3 this fall, which is essentially a wholesale redesign of the Apple Watch interface.

For example, Apple has added the ability for Watch apps to be updated in the background, a new control center, and a new “app dock.”

In short: after a year, Apple’s basically totally tossed out its old interface in favor of one that should be a lot more useful and a lot less fiddly.

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president in charge of software, explained why in an interview with longtime Apple writer John Gruber and marketing boss Phil Schiller. Turns out, Apple purposely limited the first version of the Apple Watch software because executives were afraid that its battery life wouldn’t last a full day.

“It turns out that when we first were coming out with watchOS we were being really conservative about understanding how people were going to be using the Watch and trying to make sure we could hit our goal of very solid all-day battery life. So that you could use it all day and charge it at night.

And we found that we actually really overshot the goal, which was an area of just massive focus and paranoia through the release.”

Apple made clear that battery life was a priority for the first version of the Apple Watch, but the fact that Federighi would describe it as an area of “paranoia” is a bit surprising.

Most reviewers — including your author — have found that the Apple Watch battery is solid, if not perfect. It’s certainly good enough to get through the day, so it makes sense that Apple would loosen the reins for some additional functionality.

Federighi continued:

“So, realizing we had this budget, we said, look, we actually have enough to do background updates. We’d overshot enough that we could keep apps both in memory but also keep them up to date throughout the day. So, when you look at them, they’re already there.”

When apps update in the background, that means the information they carry — a weather forecast, or a tweet — will be available as soon as the user raises her wrist. That makes the entire device feel snappier, which is a key focus for Apple:

“The other thing is, as you build something new and different as the watch, you finish, and you live on it, and you figure out what’s really the essence of this thing, and appreciate which problems are the most important to solve, we realized the watch is all about glanceability. It’s useful to the extent that, okay, I can solve my task, I’m done. If I’m up here and I’m waiting and I’m fiddling around, my arm’s getting tired, this is no fun anymore, I’m going to do this a different way. And with that as our obsession for the last year. We’ve taken all of those tasks and said you’ve got to be able to finish the task, end-to-end, in two seconds. Right?”

Of course, issues with device speed and battery life can only be improved so much through software. Bigger improvements will happen later this fall when Apple launches the second hardware version of the Apple Watch.

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