Apple Watch in 2021: Hype, some disappointment, and a pretty great Series 7

Apple Watch Series 7
Apple Watch Series 7 (Image credit: Stephen Warwick / iMore)

We're in the twilight of 2021, and it's time to look back at what Apple accomplished these past twelve months — specifically with the Apple Watch. Of course, we only had one new model this year, the Apple Watch Series 7, but don't forget that watchOS is a big part of what makes an Apple Watch, well, an Apple Watch.

So, as we prepare to ring in 2022, let's look back at what happened with the Apple Watch this year.

watchOS 8 preview at WWDC

Apple Watch SE using Reflect in watchOS 8 (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

The first major stop for the Apple Watch in 2021 came at WWDC with the introduction of watchOS 8. I jumped on the developer beta right away and started tinkering around with the new update. My first impressions of the new software were pretty mild, and there was no real stand-out feature in watchOS 8 that really wowed most people, or me for that matter.

First impressions are important, but as I used watchOS 8 more and more, I understood what Apple was going for with watchOS 8. You see, it wasn't an update that was meant to wow anybody, but rather a solid quality of life update that lets you do more from your Apple Watch.

Messaging is easier thanks to the ability to use Scribble, Dictation, and emoji all in the same message. Focus lets you set your customized Do Not Disturb mode across all your devices with the tap of a button. Sharing photos from your Apple Watch is now possible and quite simple. And, the Home app got a huge update making it way easier to control all your HomeKit accessories.

It's all about being able to do more and have more control on your wrist, so even though the Mindfulness app with the new Reflect feature is a little lackluster, all the little improvements make your Apple Watch better. And, if that isn't a successful update to watchOS, I'm not sure what would be.

Rumor has it...

Apple Watch Series 7 (Image credit: Stephen Warwick / iMore)

Before we get into talking about the best Apple Watch Apple puts out every year, we have to address the elephant in the room: rumors.

There were a ton of rumors surrounding the Apple Watch Series 7 before it came out, most notably, that the Apple Watch was getting a redesign, including flatter edges and a more squared-edged design. Of course, all these rumors took off, and people were really hyped, myself included, and when the Apple Watch Series 7 launched, lots of people were disappointed.

It sucks because the Apple Watch Series 7 is a great Apple Watch, but it was needlessly marred by many expectations of people whose expectations became too high based on some rumors. I'm including myself in this group as well.

The hype machine is very real, and as someone who covers Apple tech day in and day out, it was a good reminder that all rumors, no matter how credible the source has been in the past, shouldn't influence any expectations.

Don't sleep on the Apple Watch Series 7

Apple Watch Series 7 Workout (Image credit: iMore)

With that out of the way, let's talk about the Apple Watch Series 7, which this year became bigger than ever before.

Well, there was no total redesign. The Apple Watch Series 7 did make the case bigger by a fraction — the Series 7 comes in 41mm and 45mm cases instead of the 40mm and 44mm we've seen in the last few years. That's not a lot, but the screen also gets bigger when you combine that with the smaller bezels.

The screen feels super present on your wrist now, and it makes using the Apple Watch better — especially for people with eyesight issues or mobility problems. The entire UI feels a little less cramped and easier to read and access. From a usability perspective, it's low-key the best update to the Apple Watch in years, and I don't think it gets enough credit.

Now, that isn't to say that there isn't some valid criticism of the Apple Watch Series 7. The battery life is the same as last year's Series 6 (although it does charge faster, which is nice), the processor isn't upgraded, and there are no new health sensors either. I still wouldn't recommend that anyone upgrade from a Series 6 to a Series 7. There's nothing about the Apple Watch Series 7 that makes it a "must-have" device, but you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time.

Bottom line: the Apple Watch Series 7 is great and probably didn't quite get a fair shake due to all the hype leading up to its release. It doesn't do anything flashy and new, but it does have everything we've come to love about Apple Watch.

Excited for the future

The Apple Watch in 2021 may not have been the most exciting year the device has seen, but all the improvements in watchOS 8and the Apple Watch Series 7 still showed us that the Apple Watch remains a powerful extension of the Apple ecosystem. I'm going into 2022 with a lot of hope that the Apple Watch will have another good year, but certainly trying to keep my expectations in check in the future.

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.