When Apple unveiled the latest version of its flagship smartwatch – the Apple Watch Ultra – in September, the diving world was taken by surprise as it was announced that the smartwatch would also function as a scuba diving computer as well as features for sports enthusiasts and athletes, all in a new rugged exterior.
While the watch has been available since September, it was limited to a simple depth gauge via an Apple-developed app, with the promise of full dive computer functionality via an app made in partnership with Huish Outdoors.
We’ve had access to a pre-release beta version of the Oceanic+ app for the last few weeks to put it through its paces. Read on to see our verdict on diving with the Oceanic+ app.
The New Apple Watch Ultra
The 8th iteration of the Apple Watch was unveiled and included the Apple Watch Ultra. Apple is moving into the market where expensive fitness-focussed smart-watches from companies like Garmin and Suunto.
It’s the first redesign of the watch in years and is the largest Apple Watch to date at 49mm. The body is made from a lightweight aerospace-grade titanium body, a flat sapphire crystal face with an always-on retina display, and a larger Digital Crown designed to be used even when wearing dive gloves (more on that later). There is also an extra physical button on the left side called the Action button. The watersport straps, called Ocean bands, are perfect for diving, with an extended version to go over wetsuits or drysuits available for $49 USD.
The Apple Watch Ultra lasts up to 36 hours on a single charge which is fine if you are charging it every night but wouldn’t last a weekend of diving without an overnight recharge.
It is depth rated to 100m / 328ft, although the onboard sensors only measure down to 40m / 131ft. During briefings, it was unclear whether this is software or hardware limited, as this might lead to the further potential usage of the watch for deeper or more technical diving. The watch is firmly targeted at the recreational Open Water Scuba Diver who wears an Apple Watch.
Oceanic+ App as a Dive Computer
The Oceanic+ Dive computer app is impressive. It does all the usual things you’d expect from a recreational dive computer, including depth, time, and temperature, as well as No Deco Time, max depth, and dive time.
We really loved the slick nature of the pre-dive planning functions on both the watch app and the iPhone app.
Using the iPhone app, you can search for locations, and it gives you a load of data like current water temperature, high/low tides, winds, and weather conditions. Over time the plan is also to add in crowdsource functionalities which will only get better as more and more people go diving with the app.
You also can scroll through the settings to adjust various Scuba settings that adjust how your computer will work. The app is using an unmodified Bühlmann ZHL-16C algorithm which is the same as other dive computers from Garmin and Shearwater and has a number of options to configure the dive computer to your preferences.
You can adjust the Conservatism of the algorithm (from default, to more conservative, to the most conservative), your PPO2 setting, gas mix (air or nitrox), and alarms, including target dive time, target depth, low no deco, and minimum temperature. The notification appears on the bottom half of the screen (notifications appear in yellow, with alerts appearing in red) and a haptic vibration.
We really loved the haptic feedback on triggering an alarm. It’s a very strong vibration that can be felt through a wetsuit. The same haptic will be felt for numerous other alerts the app has, such as safety stop.
There is also an option to change what units are displayed depending on whether you prefer Celcius/Fahrenheit, meters/feet, or pounds/kilos.
Once you’ve got the dive planned and computer setup, you are ready to go diving, and the app displays a screen with “I’m Fit and Ready to Dive” with a prompt to push the Action Button to enable the water-lock, and you go diving.
Snorkeling with the Free Plan
The simplest mode you get for free (without the paid subscription) is a very simple screen that shows your maximum depth, the length of time that your snorkel session has been, the length of your last dive, the number of dives, and the temperature of the water. There is also, by a turn of the crown, a second screen that displays a compass.
It’s a decent set of functionality for snorkelers and will be useful to freedivers even with the free functionality.
Scuba Diving with the Oceanic+ App
The watch’s screen and the app’s UI are fantastic when you get in the water. There are some good-looking computers out there these days, but this has had a lot of attention to detail and a clear, bright screen easily seen underwater. We were blown away by how easy and intuitive it is to use the Oceanic+ App, and a lot of thought has gone into how it is designed.
The dive screen on the app is clear and easy to navigate, showing you current depth, no-deco time (including a little green line when in no deco and yellow when approaching your no-deco limit), dive time, minutes to surface, and water temperature.
You can use the crown to scroll to the next screen, which replaces the bottom half of the screen with maximum depth, ascent rate, and battery percent. Another turn of the crown shows your digital compass, and a final turn shows your gradient factors, air/nitrox setting, and your max PPO2 level.
Turning the crown was sometimes a little fiddly, especially with dive gloves on, which meant we sometimes missed the screen we wanted and had to continue scrolling. A minor annoyance in an otherwise excellent feature.
The alarms and safety stop notifications are excellent, with a very clear yellow notification taking up the bottom half of the screen, which then reduces in size after a few seconds or minimized by tapping the action button.
You get red alerts if you ascend too fast or when you hit the maximum operating depth. Again the strong vibrations of the haptic feedback can be felt and audible alarms.
The operating limit of the watch is 40m / 131ft, and it won’t work as a dive computer below that limit. That’s been the topic of intense debate online since it was announced. For the watch and app market – namely, the recreational Open Water diver – this limit is something they will never come up against. I recently spent a week diving in Egypt, and the Apple Watch Ultra and the Oceanic+ App would have been perfect as my deepest depth over 20+ dives was 36m / 118ft.
Diving solely with the Apple Watch Ultra and Oceanic+ app is not advisable so having a backup device in case of the watch fails or the app crashes is good common sense and something all experienced instructors will advocate.
Logging Your Dives
Immediately after your dive has ended, the watch transfers your dive profile and data to the iPhone app and is ready to be logged in to the iPhone app.
The app has a lovely UI and is one of the best we’ve seen in terms of design and ease of use.
When you open the app after the dive, it shows graphs for depth, temperature, ascent speeds, and no-deco time. You can also leave notes in the iPhone app about visibility, surface conditions, currents, gear used, dive buddies, and more.
Another point that has been debated extensively online since launch is that the Scuba Diving features of the Oceanic+ app are only unlocked on subscription.
At $79.99 per year (although there are also daily and monthly options), in addition to the $799, the watch can make it seem expensive. The world has moved into a subscription-based model for almost everything we do. Hence, it was inevitable that this would eventually make its way into the diving computer world.
This can be economical for the recreational diver who loves their Apple Watch and dives a few times a year, especially as you control how long/much you spend on the subscription. In the meantime, you get access to the ongoing research and development going into the app but the team at Huish.
The Apple Watch Ultra is a fantastic piece of engineering, as we’d expect from Apple. Combined with the Oceanic+ app, it’s slick UI, haptic feedback, and ease of use make it a very compelling offering for the recreational Scuba Diver. The ongoing development of the app and subsequent releases of the Apple Watch Ultra will see this only go from strength to strength.
The bold move to a subscription will turn some people off wanting to convert to using this as their dive computer. The dive computer app is robust but not as fully featured as other popular dive computers. A fairly limited battery life compared to some other dive computers on the market is another area that will concern people.
Overall, this is a groundbreaking development for the recreational diving community and having such big brands as Apple and Huish collaborate is exciting. The Apple Watch is insanely popular, they sell over 38 million a year, so this can only help bring Scuba Diving to new heights.
Key Specs – Apple Watch Ultra
- 49mm case size
- Sensors gauge maximum 40 meters (130 feet)
- Tested to MIL-STD 810H7 (100 meters max depth)
- Up to 2000 nits of brightness
- Sapphire Front Crystal Display
- Certified IP6X dust?resistant6
Key Specs – Oceanic+ App
- Snorkeling/Scuba Dive modes
- Unmodified Bühlmann ZHL-16C algorithm
- Maximum depth 40m / 131ft
- Dive planner