The big news from Apple's annual roll-out of shiny new things was its move on the ‘gorpcore’ market. The new Apple Watch Ultra is a big, muscular, multi-adventure tool for a generation of consumers suddenly obsessing over Arc'teryx cagoules, Snow Peak firepits, and the Blackbird Spyplane newsletter (even if they never do anything more outdoorsy than beers and a barbie in the local park).
Actual mountaineers, ultra-runners and deep-sea divers will take some convincing that the Ultra is worth the investment. Garmin currently owns the serious sports and adventure watch market – as anybody who has lined up for a half-marathon, triathlon or ultra-run will tell you. And in the rugged outdoors, the Apple Watch Ultra will have to out-pace and out-spec Garmin's flagship Epix and Fenix watches, which is very stiff competition indeed.
Inevitably, the Ultra has it on looks. It has a beautifully tooled 49mm titanium case and a flat sapphire crystal screen. It's also 14.4mm thick, making it far chunkier and more imposing than even the new Apple Watch series 8, which now clocks in with a 45mm case and 10.7mm thickness. (Also see the latest Apple Watch Hermès series 8 for a playful, equestrian twist.)
To ensure you can operate the Ultra while on the go at speed or wearing gloves, Apple has upsized the crown and added a big, orange customisable 'Action' button that means you can start tracking runs or dives without fiddling with the screen. All of which adds to the watch’s air of utilitarian purpose. It will certainly have more appeal to lovers of big, expensive-looking timepieces, who have found previous Apple Watches too demure.
In terms of features, the Ultra offers dual-frequency GPS, an ultra-bright screen (to the tune of 2000 nits, twice as bright as any other Apple Watch), night mode, which reduces everything on the screen to a very readable-in-the dark red, and an improved and redesigned Compass app with wayfinding and backtracking modes. There are also three nifty new activity-specific bands, Trail, Alpine and Ocean – though your 'legacy' Apple Watch bands will still fit.
The Ultra also offers 36-hour battery life (and promises 60 hours in the yet-to-launch low-power mode). Very good for an Apple Watch but nowhere near as good as a Garmin. And in truth, as highly featured as it is, the Ultra is still function-light compared to the Epix or Fenix. Apple has just released WatchOS 9, which adds a lot of the kind of nerdy metrics that committed runners and triathletes obsess over and closes that gap, but there’s a way to go.
The launch of the Ultra, though, isn't about just about eating Garmin's lunch, starter, dessert and all, it's about reinforcing the idea that health, fitness and performance metrics are the ticking heart of all Apple Watches.
Also new: Apple iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max
In terms of Apple’s meat and potato business, all eyes are still on the iPhone. The other big news was the debut of the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max and the rebirth of the much-maligned notch as the ‘Dynamic Island’.
Essentially the notch, or ‘TrueDepth camera array’ as Apple prefers, houses a lot of other clever stuff. It’s a smaller ‘lozenge’ that doubles as a multi-functional widget, displaying key information about incoming calls, messages and other alerts and notifications. As an all-new, dynamic bit of screen real estate, the pressure is now on Apple and third-party app developers to come up with other fun and useful things to do with it.
Available in 6.1inch and 6.7inch models, the 14 Pro also boasts Apple’s first always-on display, something its key competitors have been offering for years. The 14 Pro's main camera now packs 48MP and there are a whole host of other photo and video-making upgrades to ensure that Pro promise delivers.
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