As of late 2023, the Apple Watch Series 9 represents the ninth major iteration of Apple’s mega-popular smartwatch product. During the launch of the Apple Watch Series 9 (aBlogtoWatch debut), Apple made it clear (again) that they are now the world’s largest producer of wristwatches by volume. That news is still slightly shocking to many watch industry incumbents, but it is a good sign if you like watches. For one of the world’s most important tech companies to be so actively focused on the modern wristwatch is a very good sign for the timepiece industry in general. That means the watch category will remain relevant enough for there to continue to be a strong enthusiast (traditional watches included) side to the industry. Now nearly 10 years into the Apple Watch that is exactly what has happened. The Apple Watch is no doubt a modern object, but its dedication to traditional wristwatch design and personality is something I never fail to admire and acknowledge.
On my wrist is the 45mm long version (the large size) of the entry-level Apple Watch Series 9 in the aluminum case, here with a “Midnight” blue anodized finish. Apple offers the Series 9 in other anodized aluminum tones as well as the appreciably more expensive steel version that also has a sapphire crystal over the screen. Most likely coming in a future review is my take on the Apple Watch Ultra 2 (debuted on aBlogtoWatch), which is both the largest size Apple Watch and comes in a titanium case. I’ve been wearing the Apple Watch Ultra (aBlogtoWatch review) all of last year since it came out, and I’ve been enamored with it. The larger size and more purposeful-looking case won over the enthusiast in me, and accordingly has been the Apple Watch choice for many people since it came out. The bread and butter of the Apple Watch is still the original shape, which continues to look like a smooth little iPhone on the wrist. Apple calls its standard Apple Watch family the “Series,” while the “Ultra” goes by that moniker.
Putting on the 45mm long Apple Watch again after wearing the larger Apple Watch Ultra was interesting because the Series 9 feels much smaller by comparison. Visually, the Apple Watch Series 9 is very similar to the Series 8, with most of the changes being in the internal hardware, the software, and, according to Apple, the sustainability of the manufacturing practices. Apple now claims that Apple Watches are produced using a carbon-neutral process which means that after all is said and done (including probably carbon offsets), consumers can feel that Apple is accepting a higher standard of corporate responsibility when it comes to their industrial footprint on our planet. The Apple Watch Series 9 itself uses Apple’s new and faster S9 SiP processor chipset and has a screen that is brighter than before but with the same level of battery life.
One of the more interesting new features, which is some blend of software and hardware I believe, is the new date input gesture. The until recently, if you wanted to engage with the Apple watch you could a) touch the screen, b) operate the case pusher(s) or digital crown, or c) speak to it with your voice. Now an additional option exists with a particular gesture that involves tapping your thumb and index finger on the hand that you are wearing the Apple Watch. This gesture more or less results in an “okay” command, but it demonstrates an interesting new direction for how the Apple Watch can listen to tiny details in our bodies. For a long time, the Apple Watch (and the iPhone for that matter) have been able to listen to much more data from our bodies than software engineers really knew what to do with. Now we see some of the interesting potential that exists based on the powerfully sensitive sensors and hardware that are literally touching our bodies all the time when we wear a product like the Apple Watch.
2023 may not be a radical year for the Apple Watch, but the company has not paused when it comes to continually adding new features to the world’s most popular wristwatch. Many of these features are highly practical, which is a good thing because it shows how much Apple wants to keep developing the Apple Watch as a tool, as opposed to a device to simply make money. I say this because, for a while, the iPhone’s new features seemed to be focused on more and more ways to use the device as entertainment. I understand that people spend a lot of time watching movies and playing games on their smartphones, but I don’t get excited about that, mainly because I think most people agree we have enough distractions, and what we need are better tools, not better toys. At its core, the Apple Watch is a tool, and Apple consistently keeps improving that part of the product each year.
With all that said, we know consumers hardly get excited to buy mere tools. In fact, people are more likely to get a fun-looking tool and not use it, than they are to get a boring-looking tool that they might actually use. When Apple first came out with the Apple Watch they made the prescient statement that the Apple Watch was the most personal product they had ever made. That first meant Apple needed to differentiate the look and feel of the Apple Watch so that consumers didn’t all feel as though they were wearing the same thing. More recently that has also meant that the Apple Watch has to be intellectually engaging to both wear and operate. Ironically, part of that has to do with fun. I know that I said the Apple Watch shouldn’t be considered a toy, but there is something to be said about making necessary tasks fun. This leads me to a discussion of my favorite new Apple Watch dial, simply called Snoopy.
On a basic level, this new animated dial series features Snoopy and Woodstock from the Peanuts universe. It follows the trend of dials featuring famed cartoon characters, which Apple did previously with various Disney characters, including Apple’s own animated avatar figures. Snoopy has also been a popular character on some traditional watches all the way from coveted limited-edition luxury Omega Speedmaster watches to more humble analog watches produced by Timex. Now Apple is in on the game, and you can never claim that their designers are not keenly paying attention to what is important to traditional watch enthusiasts. I am pretty sure that the Apple Watch design team includes traditional watch enthusiasts.
What makes the Apple Watch Snoopy dial a bit different is how deeply dynamic it is. On a basic level, there are some things you can adjust about it such as background colors and how the watch face looks. You cannot however add any “complications” to the dial other than the displayed time. This is because the Snoopy watch face needs all of its visual room for the many animations it offers. This brings me back to my first review of the Apple Watch where I talked about the types of animated dials I hoped Apple would make available for the Apple Watch. I mentioned that the platform begged for highly interesting animated dials which potentially looked different each time you glanced at the dial. I said that the high-resolution screen, combined with the powerful software and hardware could allow for an extremely broad spectrum of animated dials that could keep user interest in a way that a static dial never could. Now nine years into the Apple Watch, Apple has remained extremely conservative with the watch dials in my opinion. Certainly, some of them are more original than others, but for the most part, Apple seems to prefer to create animated versions of dials that look as though they could be on traditional watch dials (most of the time that is). That’s great for a lot of users, but the futurist in me begs for more novel approaches to watch dials that incorporate complex animations and scenes as a way to spruce up and make more fun the otherwise straight-forward task of glancing at your watch dial to learn the time or some other routine piece of data.
The goal of the Snoopy dial is to make you smile each time you look at your wrist. I don’t know the number of different animations, but depending on the orientation of the hands, and the time of day, the Snoopy watch face offers a different animation of Snoopy and Woodstock. These animations lightly interact with the hands and hour markers making them feel integrated into the display as opposed to mere background fluff. The result is excellent in my opinion, and I’ve had a lot of fun using the Snoopy dial as an alternative to the Modular watch faces I typically use that are designed to prioritize the display of as much information as possible. Now I just want more dials like this.
Apple doesn’t charge for additional watch faces, and they may never. In 2014, I suggested that they might, or they might even open up their watch faces to third-party developers. As of right now Apple neither charges for watch faces nor do they allow third parties to create them (though third parties can create complications which can be inserted into many of the official Apple Watch faces). Instead, with each new operating system Apple offers a scant few new watch faces that add to their now longish list of options. That list of course is a fraction of the downloadable watch faces for competitor devices from companies such as Garmin or smartwatches that use the Google Wear OS operating system. For probably good reasons, Apple has remained rather conservative with their watch faces and it has taken nearly a decade for them to do something that I (and probably others) noticed would be a good idea when the Apple Watch first came out. So while the Snoopy dial and its accompanying animations and personality are excellent, it could be a while before we see more of these. That’s a shame for all the consumers out there who would love to see more animated Apple Watch faces that feature their favorite characters. That said, better late than never, and it is great to see watch faces like Snoopy for the Apple Watch Series 9 and other Apple Watches that are upgraded to the most recent Apple Watch OS operating system.
For mainstream use (if you use an iPhone) the Apple Watch remains the smartwatch to beat. It does so many things, and so many of those things well, that competitors tend to only be able to compete with Apple on things like price. Of course, if you are a specialized user, athlete, and so on, there could be other better-suited products on the market. With that said, I can see easily over 90% of users being happy with at least one version of the Apple Watch. The company continues to make its smartwatch more personal by adding new colors and materials to its straps, which is a subuniverse of products unto itself. Attached to this watch is the new Apple Watch Nike Sport Band, which is speckled with bits of recycled material. This adds a series of accent colors to the base layer making these new Nike Sport Bands among the most fashionable sport straps available for the Apple Watch to date. I think anyone moving from a solid-colored strap to one with a more organic or mottled texture will appreciate that the latter ones are often more visually interesting.
The Series 9 steel and Ultra 2 versions of the Apple Watch top out in price at around $800 USD (prior to getting any extra fancy straps/bracelets that can cost a few hundred dollars apiece). These aluminum models are much more affordable by comparison, and this 45mm long model starts at $429 USD — a comparatively great value. Learn more about the Apple Watch.