The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is (almost) exactly what I wanted

A promotional image of the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Apple

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 announcement from Apple’s iPhone 15 event needs some thinking about before it makes sense. Why? At first, it looked like a product barely deserving of the name due to a disappointing list of upgrades, the addition of only a few new features, and the fact that it has exactly the same look as last year’s model.

This is all factually correct, but I’m about to explain why it was to be expected — and why it doesn’t matter at all.

It’s not for Apple Watch Ultra owners

The Apple Watch Ultra on a man's wrist in a pocket.
Apple Watch Ultra Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The biggest thing to consider here is that the Apple Watch Ultra 2 isn’t for people who already wear an Apple Watch Ultra. The only real reason to upgrade is the even brighter screen, but it’s not like the original Ultra’s screen is powered by a candle. Yes, the new S9 chipset is likely to be faster, and the Double Tap gesture is cool. But, really, anyone who owns the Apple Watch Ultra will have lived without these features for a year already — and such is the Ultra’s performance and ability that they can undoubtedly carry on for a few more years free of concern.

When looking at the updates and feeling just that little bit disappointed, I was reminded that I gave the Apple Watch Ultra a perfect 10/10 score when I reviewed it. Just a few weeks ago, I returned to the Apple Watch Series 8 to find it was even better than I remembered it being the last time I used it. It has been a couple of months since I personally wore the Apple Watch Ultra, but both Digital Trends’ Mobile Editor Joe Maring and staff writer Christine Romero-Chan have been converted to its joy recently, leaving me with no doubt that it has stayed a 10/10 product.

Apple pulled off something really special with the Apple Watch Ultra. The unique shape, high-quality materials, and extensive list of abilities work together in unison, forming a fantastic product that initially seemed too big and bulky to be taken seriously. Once it was on your wrist, and you marveled at the cool look and the long battery life, it made just as much sense as an everyday smartwatch as it did one for explorers. When a product works like the Apple Watch Ultra, it doesn’t require or benefit from a massive annual upgrade by the company or from being casually swapped out by owners every year either.

We should have expected this

A person wearing the Apple Watch Series 8.
Apple Watch Series 8 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Anyone thinking the Apple Watch Ultra 2 was going to be anything other than a modest update hasn’t been paying attention over the years. You only need to look at the Apple Watch “Series” to see Apple’s modus operandi when it comes to overhauling its smartwatch line. The last massive, meaningful update was the Apple Watch Series 7, and before that, it was the Apple Watch Series 4. Both these models significantly changed the hardware and design, while the models in-between didn’t stray far from the formula.

There was no need to dramatically change the specification or design of the Apple Watch Ultra for the Apple Watch Ultra 2 just to bring it into line with the Series 9’s updated tech so it remains current. Attempting to replace or entirely reimagine a 10/10 product in a single year is a messy, poorly thought-out disaster waiting to happen. I’m extremely pleased such actions aren’t in Apple’s playbook.

When you see the Apple Watch Series 0 today, it’s still completely recognizable as an Apple Watch even when put next to the Apple Watch Series 9, as radical change is not the approach Apple (rightly) takes with its smartwatch. Apple was as likely to make the Apple Watch Ultra 2’s case round and sparkly as it was to install Android on the iPhone 15. It doesn’t need to do anything drastic when the formula is so right from the beginning, and it’s why I’m fine with the Apple Watch Ultra 2.

Am I happy with the Apple Watch Ultra 2?

Apple Watch Ultra watchOS 10.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 Apple

I’m also very happy that Apple hasn’t abandoned the Apple Watch Ultra. Who knew if it was a sales success worthy of a sequel or if it was a niche product loved by a few and ignored by the masses? It could have been treated like the Apple Watch SE 2 or the iPhone SE (2022), which will probably be ignored until they are on their last legs, but the arrival of a sequel tells us what we need to know about the Ultra’s appeal.

However, I’d have really liked to have seen two things on the Apple Watch Ultra 2: a new case color or finish and a new Ultra-exclusive band. The iPhone 15 Pro is made of titanium and comes in several different colors, so it’s a shame the same expertise wasn’t used to give the Apple Watch Ultra 2 a new lick of paint. The new colors for the existing bands are very attractive, but given how successful the Ultra is as an everyday smartwatch, an “Urban” band for use in the city would have been a fun addition to the lineup. These would also have separated the Apple Ultra 2 from the Apple Watch Ultra 1 — and encouraged those who perhaps wanted to upgrade, but couldn’t see much point in actually doing so, to take the plunge.

These things aside, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is just about right. It’s really the smartwatch for all those who didn’t buy the Apple Watch Ultra in 2022. Now, there’s no excuse, and you’re going to love it when it arrives. For everyone wearing the brilliant original and still hankering after something new, my advice is to wait and see what Apple has planned for 2024 and 2025, as that’s when we should expect to see more reasons to replace that superb, 10/10 smartwatch on our wrists.

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