Apple Watch Ultra is impressive, but can’t replace my dive watch just yet


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The Apple Watch Ultra is capable of acting as a dive computer, and while that’s undeniably impressive, it won’t — and can’t — replace my dedicated dive computer just yet.

The recently introduced Apple Watch Ultra is packed with impressive specifications. It can operate in extreme temperatures, is made of lightweight yet durable titanium, and has the longest battery life of any Apple Watch.

One of the more niche aspects is the Apple Watch Ultra’s ability to function as a dive computer. I’m excited to test this out for myself – but it’s already clear that I’ll be sticking with my dedicated dive computer for a while yet.

A more than capable diving watch

Apple Watch Ultra has several features for divers – hardware and software. When you buy the Apple Watch Ultra, you can choose the Ocean band made of a flexible rubber that can fit over your wetsuit.

It has twice the water resistance of the standard Apple Watch Series 8, WR100. This means it is water resistant to 100m, equivalent to around 10 atmospheres or 330 feet. Apple says it should only be used for diving to 40m.

This is still plenty for your typical recreational diving. A standard PADI certification limits divers to only 18 meters. An Advanced Open Water certification increases this to a maximum of 30. You will only reach this limit if you are a PADI Master Diver with the Deep Diver specialty certificate, which will limit you to a depth of 40 meters.

I was just over 100 feet down on my deepest dives, bumping up against the 40M limit. I would feel very comfortable with the Apple Watch Ultra on my wrist, and the vast majority of rec divers would too – so that’s not the problem.

Supply of several diving supplies

But the problem is that the Apple Watch Ultra is limited in its diving capabilities. The most it boasts is the depth gauge app that automatically starts when you enter the sea and shows your current depth while swimming, snorkeling or diving.

Apple just isn’t a diving company, so for the Apple Watch Ultra it partnered with a massive name in the industry to bolster its capabilities. That company is Huish Outdoors, the parent company behind Oceanic, Zeagle, Suunto and others.

I currently use a Zeagle BCD and I’ve used my fair share of Suunto dive watches and computers. I was excited to see the Oceanic+ app for the Apple Watch.

Oceanic app on Apple Watch Ultra

Oceanic+ app on Apple Watch Ultra

The Oceanic+ app takes all the smarts of a dedicated dive watch and puts it into the Apple Watch Ultra. Everything you need for a safe and successful dive is here, such as your depth, dive time and no decompression limit.

It relies on the Buhlmann decompression algorithm to monitor your dive parameters. As you ascend during your dive, it will automatically track your ascent speed and will warn you if you are going too fast.

If the app detects that you’ve been on a long enough dive or gone deep enough to require a decompression stop, the app will alert you when you hit 15 feet and count you down.

You don’t use the touch screen, but the Digital Crown to move between different screens when diving, which is possible even if you’re wearing gloves.

Oceanic app on iPhone

Oceanic app on iPhone

I love that when you get out of the water and the watch syncs with the included iPhone app, you can track all your dives. The Oceanic+ iPhone app can show your dive’s entry and exit points – recorded by the Apple Watch Ultra – and an overview including duration, depth and water temperature.

Where the Apple Watch Ultra falls short

There’s another big way the Apple Watch falls short. It cannot be integrated with an air meter.

For some—SCUBA divers and freedivers alike—this won’t be a deal-breaker, but it’s a notable differentiator between the Apple Watch and other dive computers.

Most good dive watches can be connected to a transmitter that screws into the top of your air tank. It then sends a real-time reading of the remaining air PSI to your wrist.

The problem with the Apple Watch Ultra is that it has no ability to connect to a transmitter. Bluetooth is used for countless accessories, but is not feasible for underwater use because it cannot reliably travel through water.

Aqualung, Suunto, Mares and Scubapro all use RF, while Garmin developed its own Subwave sonar system that is even more reliable. Neither of these options will work with the existing Apple Watch Ultra.

Apple's diving band

Apple’s Ocean diving band

Most divers monitor their air pressure via a tank-connected gauge that clips to the side of the BCD. It works, but requires you to pay attention and constantly monitor your remaining air pressure.

When the air is integrated into your dive computer, you can easily see visual warnings or be tapped on your wrist when it starts to drop to lower thresholds. It is both safer and more convenient.

It reminds me a lot of when I started using my Dexcom sensor with my Apple Watch. It used to connect to a dedicated receiver that I had to carry around but wouldn’t always check.

Once I had my glucose levels in near real time on my watch, it made a huge difference. I kept a much closer eye on it, preventing more ups and downs and enjoying the convenience.

An exciting beginning

Here’s the exciting part though. The Apple Watch Ultra and the Oceanic+ app are just the beginning for divers.

This first Oceanic+ app may be the first diving app, but it won’t be the last. Its only advantage is getting started with the app before the release of the Apple Watch Ultra. Additional third-party developers will be able to try their hand at creating capable diving apps.

By integrating the dive computer into the Apple Watch Ultra, it makes dive computers more affordable and accessible to a much larger audience than existed today. Dive computers are expensive and confusing, and the Apple Watch Ultra solves that problem.

If more people get access to a dive computer, they will have safer and more enjoyable dives – even without air integration, and that can only be a good thing.

William

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