Image source: Apple

Apple Watch Series 9: The truth behind the hyped gesture control

The Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 were launched yesterday with much fanfare. Among the features that Apple highlighted was the new gesture control functionality. This feature was presented as a groundbreaking innovation that would redefine user interaction with the device. However, upon closer scrutiny, it appears that this “new” feature may not be as novel as it was made out to be.

A familiar functionality

At the unveiling, Apple extensively highlighted the gesture control functionality, which supersedes the primary button control across all apps and features. By simply bringing their thumb and forefinger into contact, users can execute a range of actions, such as accepting or declining calls and halting exercise sessions. The feature employs machine learning algorithms that scrutinize data from the heart rate monitor, blood flow sensors, and gyroscope to accurately identify the gesture.

Apple gesture control

The company claims that this new functionality will offer users an unprecedented level of interaction with their Apple Watches. The feature is being touted as a game-changer, promising to make the user experience more intuitive and engaging.

But how new is this feature, really?

The technicalities: Is new hardware required?

For those who have been using Apple Watches for a while, the gesture control feature may seem eerily familiar. That’s because similar functionalities have been available in previous versions of the device, albeit under different settings.

Specifically, older Apple Watch models have offered gesture-based controls through their accessibility settings. These controls allow users to perform various actions, such as dismissing alerts, by using specific hand movements.

Apple has stated that the new gesture control feature is made possible by advancements in hardware, particularly the neural engine and the heart rate sensor. However, users of older Apple Watch models have been able to use gesture controls without the need for a neural engine or an advanced heart rate sensor. So is new hardware genuinely required for this feature, or is this just a marketing ploy?

According to Apple, the heart rate sensor measures the taps by changes in blood flow. However, this explanation has been met with skepticism. If the heart rate sensor were continuously monitoring blood flow to detect double taps, it would imply that the sensor is always on. This is not the case, at least not with older models, where the heart sensor activates only at intervals or during specific activities. Therefore, the necessity of the heart rate sensor in this context remains questionable.

The question of innovation

What Apple is basically doing, it is bringing double tap out of to the accessibility settings and integrating it with the UI. With improved reliability because of the S9 chip, the double tap can be better relied on to become a part of how you regularly interact with the watch. 

Apple’s approach of repackaging existing features as new innovations is not unique to the tech industry. However, it does raise concerns about the company’s ability to bring genuinely new and groundbreaking features to the market. Is Apple running out of innovative ideas, or is this a calculated move to boost sales by offering a “new” feature that could have been easily implemented in older models?

Essential readingTop fitness trackers and health gadgets

While the gesture control feature in the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 may offer more precision and reliability, it is not a groundbreaking innovation. It appears to be a repackaged version of a feature that has been available in previous models. Whether this is a strategic marketing move or a sign of dwindling innovation is open to interpretation. However, one thing is clear: the “new” gesture control feature is not as new as Apple would like us to believe.

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Marko Maslakovic

Marko founded Gadgets & Wearables in 2014, having worked for more than 15 years in the City of London’s financial district. Since then, he has led the company’s charge to become a leading information source on health and fitness gadgets and wearables.

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