Apple Watch Ultra: Why it should be great for adventurous Kiwis - and why they may want to wait before getting one

The Apple Watch Ultra was for many the most exciting announcement at the US tech company's recent 'Far Out' event, at which the iPhone 14 range was also revealed.

The device had been speculated on for some time, with the rumour mill generally predicting it would be called the Apple Watch 'Pro' rather than 'Ultra' - but many other guesses turned out to be correct.

I had some hands-on time with it and a demonstration of some of its features in action and I'm excited by what I saw.

It's undeniably an impressive device, with all the benefits of previous Apple Watches and many more, as well as the biggest battery and most durable build yet.

But there's no getting around its high cost - a beefy $1499 in Aotearoa. Why would someone want to invest that much in one of these?

It's definitely not for everyone, but there are some New Zealanders for whom it could be especially useful.

Fitness fanatics who have enjoyed using Apple Watches before will get added new features they'll very likely appreciate.

The Apple Watch Ultra's ability to operate in -20C temperatures may attract those who want to use a smartwatch in snowy and icy conditions.

Divers would likely also appreciate using it to display their current depth - down to 40m - as well as water temperature, duration underwater and max depth reached, among other things.

But there's one particular Kiwi pastime the watch would be great for that I want to focus on after seeing it in action.

Going bush

The Apple Watch Ultra could be an extremely helpful device for Kiwis who like to hunt, fish, camp and hike in remote locations.

During those types of activities in places where there's no cellular coverage and certainly no internet access, if you get lost, the watch could literally be a lifesaver.

But it could also just make trips into the bush easier and more enjoyable.

Smartwatches, including other models from Apple, have a fairly hit and miss success rate with location accuracy in my experience.

But the Ultra appears to be much more precise and has features designed to really exploit that.

It uses dual-frequency GPS that integrates both L1 and the latest frequency, L5. That, along with its new custom positioning algorithms, provides users with the most accurate GPS of any smartwatch on the market, Apple claimed.

The backtrack and waypoints features of the Apple Watch Ultra.
Photo credit: Apple

Unlike other consumer GPS products, this one shouldn't be confused by dense trees or high buildings.

The demonstration I saw showed off the waypoint and backtrack features and it immediately made me think of being out in the untamed New Zealand bush.

Waypoints, first of all, will be very useful for people who go off track. If you've ever tied ribbons to trees to mark your path - which I have - you're instantly going to appreciate how good this feature is.

You can rename those waypoints if you want; think 'rock that looks like lion' or 'big fallen pine'. If you're in a rush or too busy concentrating on what you're seeing in the wilderness, you can also choose to set waypoints by simply pushing the watch's action button.

Hitting the backtrack option gives a super clear path of exactly where you've walked. Using the watch's crown, you can zoom in and out to see how far you've got to go to get back to where you were.

It was striking seeing waypoint and backtrack features used in conjunction. I have only seen them in action in sunny California, but immediately they had me thinking about putting them to use in harsher conditions while exploring Fiordland or Tongariro National Park.

Native New Zealand bush.
Photo credit: Getty Images

Backtrack will also automatically turn on in the background if the watch detects you've gone off the grid. The info is held on-device so no snooping eyes can see it, and you can probably disable this feature if you want.

But having it knowing you might need it - then being able to use it without having turned it on yourself - could be vital for Kiwis who are certain they won't get lost in the great outdoors, but somehow do.

Then there's the siren. Apple is ramping up the safety features in its devices and this isn't the only one designed to help people who get lost or injured in faraway places. The iPhone 14 range has the ability to send emergency and distress messages via satellite when there's no cellular or internet coverage - although not in Aotearoa, for now.

But the Watch Ultra is equipped with an 86-decibel siren to help signal a call for help. As the screen is so bright and can be used as a torch, I imagine it could also be used in darkness to attract attention.

Believe me, the siren is surprisingly loud for such a small speaker. I just hope they're not misused by obnoxious people wanting to annoy others.

Alpine Loop, Trail Loop and Ocean Band for Apple Watch Ultra.
Photo credit: Apple

Buy now, or wait?

Apple has clearly consulted with the types of people they're targeting with this smartwatch and asked them about what they wanted to see in it.

For some of those folks, they'll just want to charge out there and buy one. The price is high, but it's actually reasonable when compared to competitors like some Garmin models, especially when you consider all the benefits you get with any Apple Watch if you also use an iPhone and other Apple products.

But for others the cost will be too steep and they may want to wait and see what happens.

That's also a sound decision. As groundbreaking as some of the features are, they're out there now.

Apple's competitors will be scrambling to offer similar features in their own devices - and probably for cheaper. There's no telling when they'll be able to, but it's something to consider, especially if you use Android over iPhone.

This is also Apple's first go at it. This is a company that takes its time to release new tech and doesn't mind implementing features long after its competitors have, so long as they're up to a very high standard upon release.

Nonetheless, in two or three or four years we'll likely see the Apple Watch Ultra 2. I can't see it being cheaper than this one when it's out, but it'll definitely be even better - and it'll likely mean this first Ultra will drop in price, too.

So if you're a skier, marathon runner, Ironman competitor, hunter, fisher, explorer or anyone else super keen on this watch but just can't stomach the price, biding your time for a few years may pay off - if you can bear the wait.