The one device that really needs Apple Intelligence isn’t getting it

Apple Intelligence, which was announced at WWDC 2024 last week, isn’t a feature exclusive to a single product, or even a single line of products. It’s a platform-agnostic raft of features that will be common to the newest editions of the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. As such, it stands to have a major impact across great swathes of Apple’s ecosystem. In short, it’s the future of everything,

But there’s one important part of the ecosystem that won’t be affected, at least not in the first wave of implementation: the Apple Watch. The watchOS 11 announcement covered customizable Photos faces, updated fitness metrics, a smarter Smart Stack, and a new Vitals app, but Apple Intelligence will be kept off the wrist for now.

There are reasons why Apple may have felt obliged to make this decision, including the watch’s generally weaker specs and connectivity, and its lesser ability to handle the processing tasks involved. But it still strikes me as a shame, because the Apple Watch is where real intelligence would be most valuable.

Take Siri, for example. On the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, Siri is a handy option that saves you some typing or a few clicks; but on the Apple Watch, it’s a lifesaver because all of the watch’s controls are fiddly and accessed via a small screen or a couple of tiny buttons. On a laptop, desktop, or tablet, a voice assistant is a luxury, and even Apple’s smartphones are roomy enough these days to manage without. It’s on the devices with tiny screens (or no usable screen at all, such as the HomePod) where Siri becomes a near-necessity, and where its lamentable performance up to now is felt most keenly.

A greater ability to understand natural speech patterns, awareness of context, a more forgiving approach to errors and mispronounced words… all of these things promised by Apple Intelligence would make Siri on the Apple Watch a better experience. And the Apple Watch could really do with the improvement; certainly more so than the Mac, many of whose users don’t use Siri at all.

I’ve referred to Siri as an assistant, but the Apple Watch itself is ideally placed to be a portable virtual assistant. Take a look at the (mostly disastrous) single-use devices currently being marketed as pocket AIs, such as the Humane AI Pin or the Rabbit R1: what they have in common is a push to make them small, light, robust, and always conveniently to hand. An Apple Watch with Apple Intelligence would check all of these boxes, while also being a multi-use device and thereby avoiding many of the pitfalls.


Walking around and suddenly need to know the length of a blue whale, or what that building over there is, or when the Starbucks on Main Street closes, who’s going to win the general election or any of the million other idle questions which AI companions are so useful for? Our smarterwatch would be perfectly placed to help out. You wouldn’t need to take it out of a pocket or do any typing: just raise your wrist and speak. But that’s not going to be a reality, at least this year.

The same applies to Apple Intelligence’s messaging chops, which promise much. Built-in writing tools will be able to use contextual clues to create replies for you in a specified style. On iPhone, again, that’s an appealing option when you’re in a hurry. But on an Apple Watch it would save you from having to go through the nightmare of watchOS’s tiny keyboard, the slow progress of scrawling what you want to say letter by letter, or the unreliability of dictation.

The odd thing is that AI is part of watchOS 11, in the form of that upgraded Smart Stacks feature I mentioned up top. From any watch face, you can use the Digital Crown to call up a vertically scrolling queue of widgets, whose controls and info will vary according to context and the AI’s assessment of what you need right now. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what AI can achieve, but it shows that Apple does understand how useful this kind of assistance can be for a small-screened wearable. If only the company took that insight a step further and implemented Apple Intelligence throughout.

Source : Macworld