How Software Updates Can Make Our Wearables Even Better

Devices improve with each update

  • Apple used a software update to fix a bug even before some Apple Watches went on sale.
  • A future watchOS update will add a number of new features to existing Apple Watches later this year.
  • Software updates take wearables that have been on wrists for years and make them better than ever, fixing bugs and adding new features as they go.
Closeup on the arms of a celebrity wearing an apple watch and several bracelets.

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We're accustomed to software updates on our phones, and now they're a vital part of the way smartwatches improve over time as well.

A new watchOS 9.0.1, a software update intended for the new Apple Watch Ultra, improved the user experience on the same day the watch went on sale—a sign of things to come with Apple and other companies using software updates to improve their wearables over time.

"The Apple Watch is a complex computer on your wrist, so it's unsurprising that there are software updates," Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, told Lifewire via email. "Some users might find [day-one updates] annoying, but in some cases, it's not just software patches or security updates [being installed]. Apple can add new functionality which can improve the overall experience."

An Important Fix

Software updates allow companies like Apple to improve products even after they leave the factory, including fixing problems that weren't caught during testing. As wearables gain more sensors and capabilities, updates become just as important as they are for smartphones in terms of ensuring a positive customer experience—especially on launch day.

In the case of watchOS 9.0.1, Apple noted an issue that could cause issues for new Apple Watch Ultra owners specifically. Without the update available, Apple Watch Ultra wearers would have faced telephony issues—unfortunate for a wearable device that prides itself on helping save lives using car crash detection and other features that place calls to emergency services. Unlike previous watchOS updates, no security fixes were confirmed to be in this release, however.

Much More to Come

As vital as bug and security fixes are to any form of computer, what really makes software updates such an important part of the smartwatch-owning experience is the addition of brand-new or improved features.

Using Apple as an example, the recent watchOS 9 release includes support for the Apple Watch Series 4. That’s a device that went on sale in September of 2018, and the update added a slew of features, including an improved Workouts app, new watch faces, and more. Many of the new features offered by watchOS 9 are supported by older watches, something that wouldn’t be possible without the aid of software updates. There’s more to come, too, with Apple promising more new features that will arrive soon.

Apple isn’t the only company improving its wearables through software updates, of course. OnePlus and other OEMs should also be lauded, too.

To some, the idea of buying a traditional watch has become an alien concept, with the argument being that it won’t improve over time, whereas a smartwatch very likely will, thanks to updates.

But some experts warn that software updates can also have a negative impact. A hospital in Leeds, UK, which specializes in helping young people with diabetes, suggested via Twitter that people should not have their phone or smartwatch configured to automatically install software updates without their input—because they could prevent smart blood sugar monitors from working correctly. Instead, they should wait for the green light to confirm compatibility, it said.

Two people wearing smartphones and looking at their wrists.

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“Obviously, it’s quite a contrast to a traditional mechanical watch,” added Wood before noting that “software updates are a fact of life on most consumer electronics devices, and the Apple Watch is no different.” And that’s key for buyers of Apple Watches, new and old. Software updates have added new features to phones, tablets, and computers for decades now. Apple Watches are no different.

With software updates like watchOS 9 and day-one updates for new products like the Apple Watch Ultra, buyers get the benefit of wearables that just keep on getting better and better over years of ownership.

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