The Apple watchOS 2 software update: Wallet, better Wi-Fi calls and more

Apple has made some big changes to Apple Watch via a spanking-new operating system, though you may have missed it among all of the hoopla about the iPhone 6S and iPad Pro.

Here are a few of the highlights of watchOS 2, the new operating system for the Watch that started rolling out last week.

Wallet:  Apple Pay is now Wallet on watchOS 2.  Apple is trying to take payments to a new level of convenience with the Watch and, based on my experience, it’s largely succeeding.  For example, Wallet works without a hitch at Starbucks and Whole Foods. This makes paying for a $2 bottle of water at Starbucks (after you get over sticker shock) is simply a matter going to the Wallet app, scrolling to your Starbucks card, and tapping to bring up the bar code.  Whole Foods is basically the same.  Scroll through the list of credit cards in Wallet to find the one you want to use and then hold it up to the scanner.

Of course, first you have to set this all up in Wallet on your iPhone. But adding bank cards from major banks is relatively painless and straightforward.

With watchOS 2, you can also add rewards cards from vendors like Walgreens and receive and redeem rewards using Apple Pay.

Wi-Fi calls: the beauty of the Watch from day one was that you could make and take calls on the Watch, which operates as appendage to the iPhone.  While the calls go through the phone, you never have to take the phone out of your pocket. This gets better at home, for example, because you can use the Watch as a phone anywhere inside your home as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection. And though the iPhone is still necessary, you don’t have to be tethered to it, so you can just leave it on your kitchen counter and then roam anywhere in the home (or office) to take calls.

With watchOS 2 some carriers are trying to take the Watch to a new level of independence. AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile now offer (or getting ready to offer) Wi-Fi calling that can operate independently of the iPhone. The idea here is, if you don’t have a usable cellular connection, you can use the Wi-Fi as a fallback.  It’s also a step toward making the Watch more capable as a standalone phone. You can check if you have this feature by going into your phone settings and looking for “Wi-Fi calling” and then enabling it, if it isn’t already enabled.  (Note: though this started rolling out on a trial basis earlier from some carriers, it is expected to accelerate on watchOS 2).

And the Watch can now make and take FaceTime audio calls, in addition to standard calls. And Siri – Apple’s voice-activated intelligent assistant – can place the calls for you.

Email replies: now you can dictate email replies via Siri by tapping Reply at the bottom of a message. Then dictate a response – or send an emoji or choose from a list of preset replies.

Better security: If you have “Find My iPhone” enabled on your iPhone that also enables what Apple calls an Activation Lock that's designed to prevent anyone else from using your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch if it's ever lost or stolen. With watchOS 2, you can use Activation Lock to protect your Apple Watch too. So, your Apple ID and password will be required before anyone can unpair your Apple Watch from your iPhone or Pair and use your Apple Watch with a new iPhone.

You can verify this by going into the “Apple Watch” setting on your iPhone and you’ll see “Mark as Missing” in red.  So, if it’s lost or stolen, you can mark your Apple Watch as missing to prevent anyone from reactivating your device without your permission.

Nighttime mode:  Until now, the Watch has been useless when you take it off at night and charge it. Now if you place it on its side and connect the charger, the Watch will automatically go into Nightstand mode – a digital display that lights up whenever you touch the screen and shows the time, date, and battery status.  And if you set the alarm, you can click the side button to turn it off or the Digital Crown to snooze it.

Faster apps: watchOS 2 lets third-party apps run natively for better performance. A native app runs entirely on the Watch. So they load more quickly and can tap into more powerful features on the Watch. While Apple’s built-in Watch Apps ran natively from day one that wasn’t the case for third-party apps.  Now, those apps can tap into all of the watch’s hardware features, like the accelerometer, Taptic Engine, microphone, and heart rate sensor. This won’t happen right away but expect apps like Facebook and a variety of health-related apps to get better and better over time.