2022 was an Ultra year for Apple Watch — but Series 9 needs big changes for 2023

Apple Watch Ultra hiking workout
(Image credit: Joe Wituschek)

This entire year should have been all about the Apple Watch Ultra, but Apple snuck in some other interesting releases.

When I think back on this year and what the Apple Watch and watchOS has brought our way, it really feels like the rest of the Apple Watch lineup was an afterthought compared to everything that Apple unveiled, hardware and software-wise, with the Apple Watch Ultra.

That isn’t to say that nothing happened with the other Apple Watches. The second-generation Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 8 both received some notable updates, mostly from the new features released with watchOS 9. However, compared to the Apple Watch Ultra, it looked like, for anyone who has lived through several iPhone generations, an “S” year.

In fact, this year’s Apple Watch, when comparing the new Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 8 to the Apple Watch Ultra, feels a lot like the how people tended to compare the iPhone 14 to the iPhone 14 Pro. It’s not that the iPhone 14, Apple Watch SE, or Apple Watch Series 8 are bad — it’s just that they aren’t nearly as exciting as their “pro” (or “ultra’) bigger sibling.

Underneath all of that hardware is a pretty modest — but foundation-setting — software release that likely doesn’t get enough credit for all of the health features it is enabling across a wide swathe of new and older Apple Watches. watchOS 9 is definitely, even more than the Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 8, the unsung hero of the world of Apple Watch this year.

So, let’s dive into the biggest things that Apple brought this year with the Apple Watch and watchOS.

Apple Watch Ultra is the standout

Apple Watch Ultra in snow

(Image credit: Apple)

The Apple Watch Ultra, unsurprisingly, is the standout for Apple in the world of Apple Watch this year. The new, rugged design and the breakthrough features it enables has created the non-pro/pro relationship we have become accustomed to with the iPhone — but this time, for the Apple Watch.

I’ve been using the Apple Watch Ultra for a few months now and, like I said in my review with iMore’s Bryan Wolfe, it finally meets what I have been throwing at the Apple Watch for years. The watch is truly a beast that can and has, for me, taken a beating. From running, hiking, biking, traveling, Airsoft, and the regular bumps and bruises a watch runs into during the day to day, the Ultra has eaten everything without a scratch.

With the Ultra, Apple is getting into a new territory of smartwatches — specifically Garmin’s territory, and has created a compelling offering in their first go at it. The only thing I wish my Ultra did was pack in Apple’s new Emergency SOS via satellite feature for the iPhone 14, but I know we’re still years away from such a technology breakthrough. Maybe not? We’ll have to wait and see where the Ultra goes next.

Apple Watch Series 8 is boring but meaningful

Apple Watch series 8

(Image credit: Future / iMore)

The Apple Watch Series 8 didn’t get much this year, leaving Apple and open goal for an exciting Series 9 follow up. But the two things it did get mean a lot.

The first thing the latest generation of the standard Apple Watch received in 2022 was a new temperature sensor. While men may not notice this feature much, as it cannot provide reliable temperature readings like a thermometer, it does provide a new health feature for women: retrospective ovulation estimates. Apple says that the temperature sensor also improves period predictions.

One feature that anyone will appreciate with the Apple Watch Series 8 is Crash Detection, Apple’s new safety feature that will automatically detect certain accidents and call emergency services for users. The feature was also launched in the iPhone 14 models, but the company was able to bring it to the watch as well, an impressive feat.

Besides those two, there’s not much to say about the Apple Watch Series 8. While it’s understandably a snore for some, the features that have been added will mean a lot for those who need them.

Apple Watch SE 2 is the sleeper this year

Apple Watch SE 2

(Image credit: Apple)

While most of the attention has certainly, and deservedly, gone to the Apple Watch Ultra this year, the second-generation Apple Watch SE might be the sleeper hit this year — partly for the features and mostly for the price.

While the Apple Watch SE 2 goes without many of the nice-to-have features of its bigger siblings, it really does delivery on what Apple calls the “core” Apple Watch experience — especially in the area of health and safety. 

The SE 2, despite costing almost half the price of the Apple Watch Series 8, still comes packed with high and low heart rate notifications, irregular rhythm notifications, and cardio fitness notifications, and cycle tracking. In addition to all of the heart and health monitoring, the Apple Watch SE 2 also features a ton of safety features including Emergency SOS, Fall Detection, and Crash Detection.

All of that comes in at a new starting price of $249, making the Apple Watch SE a fantastic value for an entry-level Apple Watch. Seriously, that starting price is crazy for what you are getting now. Fitbits cost more than that. FITBITS.

watchOS 9 gets some modest updates

watchOS 9 hero

(Image credit: Apple)

While watchOS 9 could seem small this year, especially since a lot of the new features skewed towards hardcore runners and fitness enthusiasts, there were still some meaningful updates that all users can appreciate.

One of those new features is the new Medications app, which allows users to keep track of the amount and timing of medications they currently take. The app also works if you share that information with family members, so you can make sure someone takes their medication, no matter where you are.

watchOS 9 also added the ability to track sleep stages for those who use the watch to track their sleep. It's an extra level of detail that helps you understand the quality of sleep you are getting.

It also adds a new feature for those with A-Fib and a redesign to the Compass app. Outside of that, there's not much to watchOS this year. Not that Apple needs to do a ton — watchOS is already the most jam-packed smartwatch operating system right now.

There was more than meets the eye (or wrist) this year

Looking back on the Apple Watch and watchOS this year, I was surprised to find more advancements than I anticipated — especially outside of the Apple Watch Ultra. While the Ultra definitely took the cake this year, there was a lot that went unappreciated across the Apple Watch Series 8 and especially the Apple Watch SE 2.

Now on to the Apple Watch Ultra 2, Apple Watch Series 9, Apple Watch SE 3, and watchOS 10!

Joe Wituschek

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.