I have always argued against buying a smartwatch, let alone one that costs more than twice the average price of a smartphone. Yet the covid-19 pandemic accelerated the demand for these devices. More individuals started taking exercise and well-being more seriously and multiple home-grown brands took this opportunity to offer health features through Apple Watch’s design—often at a minuscule fraction of its price. Today, especially in urban circles, you will find most individuals wearing a smartwatch—and, in upmarket circles, you may struggle to find anyone not wearing an Apple Watch. In such a market, the Apple Watch Series 9 looks and feels exactly like some of its older editions. Yet, somehow, it is in many ways a better product than you may think.
At the price of the Apple Watch Series 9— ₹54,900 for this unit—you can buy a range of exquisite wristwatches and chronographs. Some of the choicest options include the Balmain Madrigal, Frederique Constant Classic, Tissot Carson, or Victorinox Maverick. Each will last an eternity, lend definition and personality to your character, and will eventually become an heirloom. The Apple Watch, or absolutely any smartwatch today, will last you five years at the most and give no unique identity to your wrist-wear.
But the foundational argument in favour of smartwatches is standardisation of technology. Smartwatches have become ubiquitous in the way they work, and their overall feature set. In their journey to popularity, they have had a subliminal effect on gamifying exercise and popularising wellness tracking in various ways.
There is, therefore, an innate value in owning a smartwatch. As a result, many consumers may argue that if they are spending any amount for a wrist accessory, they would benefit from having the additional features.
Of the multiple smartwatches in the market today, the Apple Watch, much like most other Apple products, ticks the checkbox for being a premium wrist accessory—while offering all the smarts of a smartwatch. Yes, the ubiquity of its design would go against it with those who prefer an analogue chronograph, but those who would rather buy an analogue wristwatch will still do so as a luxury expense.
What the Apple Watch gets right is seamless integration in the overall Apple ecosystem. So, if you own a Mac, an Apple Watch ensures your Mac will unlock via the Watch—no password or biometrics needed. This makes a big difference in everyday usage. The seamless notifications sync is nifty in that you don’t always need to switch tabs when you receive new emails, WhatsApp texts or SMS/iMessages, and all of it does work well thanks to Apple’s vast developer ecosystem.
If you have owned an Apple Watch in the past three-four years, you won’t find the Watch Series 9 a major upgrade. The latest version of Apple’s non-Ultra Watch line-up’s new features list is iterative. These include a new custom processor, new algorithms for the heart rate sensor, a brighter display with more granular brightness control, new HomePod playback support, a new ultra-wideband chip for more precise sync with your iPhone, and the headlining new feature—Double Tap—projected to roll out sometime this month.
Having used the Watch Series 7 for around six months, I could see how these features make a difference. The new S9 processor makes the Watch feel slick and fast. The smoothness befits the price tag (starting at ₹41,900), making it feel like the most premium smartwatch you can buy today.
The chip also enables more on-device voice command processing of Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, so expect faster, real-time processing of voice responses to messages. I am not sure of the difference that the new algorithms behind the heart rate sensor make, but then I am not sure I am qualified to notice heart rate tracking fluctuations.
What I can say is that the brighter display, which can also become far dimmer than older Watches, makes a big difference. No longer does your Watch feel intrusively bright in dark theatre halls, yet it’s bright enough for the screen to be legible under harsh, direct sunshine.
While I didn’t need to use the new UWB chip’s precise phone tracking, I did try it once, and it worked like Apple says it should. It won’t make a huge difference to you every day but it can be a big boon when you need it.
Finally, Double Tap. watchOS’ previous accessibility hand gesture features, which seem to work fairly well, somewhat emulate how Double Tap would work. In some cases, this does make sense. However, I couldn’t envision using Double Tap too frequently—although, as with most user experience overhauls, the actual difference will only be felt once it is rolled out.
The Watch Series 7 came at a price similar to the new Watch Series 9. Given the overall pricing, it is difficult to recommend an instant upgrade for those using Apple Watches that are two-three years old. But the upgrades do come together to make the new Apple Watch feel substantially better than Apple’s 2020 and 2021 Watches. Apple also claims carbon neutrality through the entire life cycle of usage of the new Watch Series 9, which will make a difference to an increasingly larger number of people.
All things taken together, the Apple Watch Series 9 is a very good smartwatch for the first-time Apple smartwatch buyer, even for those who prefer analogue watches. Somehow, it begins to make sense even as an upgrade if you are already invested in the Apple ecosystem.