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Apple Watch Series 9 First Look: Double Tap Gesture, Faster Performance

The Apple Watch Series 9's new S9 chip plays a big role in the watch's new features.

Lisa Eadicicco Senior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
Expertise Apple, Samsung, Google, smartphones, smartwatches, wearables, fitness trackers
Lisa Eadicicco
4 min read
The Apple Watch Series 9 on wrist.

The Apple Watch Series 9.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Apple announced the Apple Watch Series 9 at its Wonderlust event on Tuesday, bringing faster performance, on-device Siri processing and a new gesture called Double Tap. The Series 9 starts at $399 (£399, AU$649) and is available for preorder immediately, ahead of its Sept. 22 launch.

These changes should make interacting with the watch feel faster and more instantaneous, continuing a theme Apple introduced with its WatchOS 10 update in June. The new processor usually takes a backseat to other new Apple Watch features, like the Series 6's blood oxygen sensor, the Series 7's larger screen or the Series 8's temperature sensors. But the new S9 chip plays a big role in the Series 9's most notable changes, like Double Tap and on-device Siri processing. 

Watch this: Apple Watch Series 9 Gets New S9 Chip

Double Tap is a new gesture for manipulating the watch without touching its screen. Using your watch hand, simply tap your index finger and thumb together twice -- without having to touch the Apple Watch's display -- and you'll be able to perform tasks like answering a call. The idea behind the new gesture is to make it easier to use the watch without having to use your other hand. It's very similar to the double pinch gesture available as part of the Apple Watch's existing accessibility mode called AssistiveTouch.

The gesture is made possible "by the faster Neural Engine in Apple Watch Series 9, which processes data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and optical heart sensor with a new machine learning algorithm," Apple says. "The algorithm detects the unique signature of tiny wrist movements and changes in blood flow when the index finger and thumb perform a double tap." 

The company said the gesture will be available in an October software update.

In my brief time with the Series 9, I used Double Tap to scroll through widgets, answer a phone call, start a timer and toggle the flashlight. It usually worked accurately, but there were times when I had to perform the gesture more than once to get the watch to respond. Haptic feedback and a tiny symbol at the top of the screen let you know Double Tap is working. It may not be a game-changer, but Double Tap could be useful for dismissing alarms and answering calls when your hands are full. 

The Apple Watch Series 9 on a wrist

The Apple Watch Series 9 has a new feature called Double Tap. 

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Since the Apple Watch Series 9 can process data on the device itself, Siri should perform faster because it doesn't have to send requests to the cloud. More importantly, you'll be able to ask Siri health-related questions, such as how much you slept last night. That's important given the Apple Watch's popularity as a health and fitness tracker. Processing data on the device itself is more secure than sending it to the cloud, which is crucial for health-oriented requests. 

There are also new integrations between the Apple Watch and HomePod that make it possible to see media playing on your device from your wrist. Precision Finding -- which should make it easier pinpoint your iPhone 15 using a newer ultra wideband chip compared to previous models -- is also coming to the Series 9.

The aluminum version of the Series 9 will be available in pink, starlight (white), silver, midnight (black) and Product Red, the special-edition color that contributes to the Global Fund's fight against AIDS and COVID-19. The stainless steel edition will come in gold, silver and graphite. 

Apple is also highlighting another aspect of the Apple Watch's design: sustainability. The Series 9 is Apple's first carbon neutral product, and Apple is also using 100% recycled cobalt in the battery for the first time.

The Series 9's faster Siri performance and new Double Tap feature show that Apple is looking for new ways to upgrade the experience of actually using the watch. That's significant because Apple has primarily focused on new health and fitness features, like the Series 8's temperature sensor, to differentiate its new watches from previous models.

Usability is an important theme across the Apple Watch in 2023, in terms of both hardware and software updates. That became clear back in June when Apple announced its new WatchOS 10 software, which brings widgets to the watch. These widgets surface contextual information as needed, making it easier to find bits of information without jumping between apps and watch faces.  

Over the past three years, Apple has released new models alongside its primary smartwatch in an effort to appeal to new audiences, such as avid runners and those shopping on a lower budget. In 2022, for example, it introduced the Apple Watch Ultra, a high-end watch with extra features geared toward outdoor enthusiasts. It also launched its first cheaper smartwatch in 2020, called the Apple Watch SE, and released a new version of that device in 2022.

Apple leads the global smartwatch market, with 22% of shipments in the second quarter of 2023, according to market research firm Counterpoint. But the flagship Apple Watch hasn't seen dramatic changes in recent years, aside from the addition of a temperature sensor in 2022 and a larger screen in 2021. Apple is rumored to be working on a more significant overhaul to its watch in 2024 to mark the device's 10th anniversary, according to Bloomberg, which could be called the Apple Watch X. 

In the meantime, though, the Series 9 brings changes that should make Apple's smartwatch feel snappier, smoother and easier to use.