April 24, 2015. That's the day I received my Apple Watch or, as it would become known, Apple Watch Series 0. That day also happens to be exactly five years ago and a lot has changed in that time. Not only does Apple Watch look different, but it's a different animal as well. The way Apple markets it is markedly different from day one, too.
I'm not going to go into the Apple Watch in huge globs of detail - Hodinkee has already done that way better than I can – but I do want to call out a fifth birthday that comes at a time where Apple Watch is better than ever.
Apple wasn't the first to the smartwatch game five years ago. It wasn't the first to the smartphone market – with iPhone – in 2007, either. But similarly, it soon proved everyone wrong, ignoring the side-eye looks from the Swiss watch world to become the smartwatch. Sure, there are others. But how many do you see in the real world? I think I've seen one. Ever.
RIM and Palm mocked Apple's entry into the phone market and both saw their worlds crumble before them. Similarly, the Swiss watch market is struggling with some companies even trying their hand at smartwatches. You have to wonder what traditional car companies will say if Project Titan ever comes to fruition. Probably just before they slip into the red, bordering on the irrelevant.
Over the years we've seen Apple change the way it markets Apple Watch. At first, we were told it would be the place we'd go for notifications and to open our garage doors or see what our baby is doing via a camera. We still have notifications in 2020, but gone are the ads and presentations showing complicated workflows on a watch.
Now it's all about Siri and health, two things the watch excels at – the latter more than the former, admittedly. Apple Watch is a literal lifesaver and Apple has leaned into that with its heart rate monitoring and ECG features. It'll likely continue that later this year with watchOS 7 and Apple Watch Series 6 as well.
Bringing it back to that Apple Watch Series 0, we can all probably agree five years later that it wasn't a good smartwatch. I still have mine and it's almost unusable. Normally I'd put that down to progress making it feel slow but, really, it wasn't quick on day one either.
If there's one improvement that's made a huge difference in recent Apple Watch releases, it's the way watchOS now feels so much snappier. So much more responsive. Yes, apps still have their moments and if you haven't force closed an app once a week – or day – are you even wearing an Apple Watch? Even Apple Watch Series 5 and watchOS 6 aren't perfect. But they're very good. Lightyears ahead of older Apple Watches, most definitely.
Apple Watch Series 1 improved matters, although it wasn't a new product. By taking the Series 0 and giving it a beefier processor it was able to make it more usable. But it was still second best to Apple Watch Series 2. Series 1 was only available in aluminum but it was cheap(er). Series 2 was the watch to get if you didn't mind spending the money.
In 2016 Serenity Caldwell called Apple Watch Series 2 "the best small smartwatch in the world". And she was right. The Series 2 got a better battery, better processor, better everything. It didn't look much different beyond altered audio grills on the side. But it was the Apple Watch growing up, if you will.
Apple Watch Series 2 was sold alongside the Series 1 which was just a Series 0 in a wig and comedy mustache. Series 2 was the better watch.
Next came Apple Watch Series 3 and the arrival of LTE connectivity to Apple's smartwatch for the first time. That was a game-changer for anyone tired of being tethered to their iPhone.
Runners, in particular, enjoyed the ability to leave their watch at home and still listen to music or podcasts while roaming the streets. Again, the whole thing got faster which is never a bad thing. Some might say Apple Watch Series 3 the first time the Apple Watch was something to be recommended. They might be right. But it didn't really come of age for another couple of years yet.
Rene Ritchie called the Apple Watch Series 4 the "most important Apple Watch to date," and as usual, he was right. Sleeker, bigger screens arrived while doing away with the large bezels associated with previous models. Speed was again improved, making the Apple Watch more eager to launch apps – and switch between them – than ever before.
Series 4 was a watershed moment for Apple Watch – with its new watch faces and complications we had a smartwatch that could look as traditional as a mechanical watch, all while still having the smarts required to set it apart. We also saw ECG support for the first time, giving Apple Watch another string to its already lifesaving bow.
This all brings us to Apple Watch Series 5. Rene claimed in his review that it was the "world's best watch" when he reviewed it last year. I'm not going to argue with him, but it's a bold claim to make. I know plenty of mechanical watch lovers who would disagree.
But why was Rene so confident? One. Big. Feature. Say hello to an always-on screen. #Finally, etc.
That changed how the Apple Watch functions at the most fundamental level. We already know that Apple Watch was the best smartwatch on the planet. Few would argue that point. But the best watch? Until Series 5, it wasn't even the best watch in my house. Because it sucked at doing what a watch needs to do – show the time every single time you want to see it.
As good as Apple's accelerometer tech is there were still times that raising a wrist didn't mean the watch face appeared. That lead to some odd arm gestures just to see the time which is just...weird. A $10 watch can tell the time every time you look at it. A $400+ one should do it, too. And Series 5 does.
I've wanted always-on since day one. In hindsight, I wouldn't have traded any of the other features Apple front loaded first, like cellular or the edge-to-edge display. But I'm incredibly glad always-on is here and I'm even happier with how it's finally arrived.
And he's absolutely right, again. Apple Watch needed to go from 0 through 5 to get to where it is. All of those features arrived one after the other and now we have an Apple Watch that stands on its own two feet with fewer caveats and compromises. Is it the best watch on the planet, period? I'm not sure about that. But I couldn't live without mine right now after upgrading from an old Series 0 to a Series 5.
And if you'd told me that five years ago, I'd have laughed at you.
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