iOS 11.2.5 may harm the Watch-iPhone relationship

I haven’t written much about my first-generation Apple Watch, because like all good watches, it has just got on with the job. I’ve travelled with it as an alarm clock, worn it most of my waking hours for nearly three years, and each day it keeps me alerted of your likes and comments on this blog. Until a couple of days ago, that is.

I updated my iPhone (a 6 which I must replace shortly) to iOS 11.2.5 within a few hours of its release on 23 January 2018. The following morning, with the Watch still on its charging stand and the iPhone recharging too, I updated it to watchOS 4.2.2. Everything seemed fine, but at the end of that day my Watch had almost exhausted its battery, with a remaining charge of only 25% instead of its usual 50% or more.

Then when I used my Watch the next day, 25 January, no notifications were sent through to it from my iPhone. I fiddled around with them both, and as far as I could tell, the Watch felt it was properly connected, but the iPhone wouldn’t connect to it properly. They were in the sort of limbo that you see miscommunicating couples in – they knew one another was there, but couldn’t understand what the other was up to.

I checked and tested Airplane Mode on each, and confirmed that when the iPhone turned its wireless off, the Watch recognised its absence. But back in normal mode, if I tried to check for software updates for the Watch on the iPhone, it claimed it couldn’t find the Watch.

It was time to resort to the universal panacea for all tech problems: I turned them both off, and back on again. That didn’t help at all: the Watch continued to tick away quite happily, and the iPhone didn’t send it a single notification. Worse, my heart rate and walking data weren’t being sent from the Watch to the iPhone, so Activity wasn’t sure whether I was either dead or loafing.

I decided to leave it until 26 January, to see if another overnight charge and the nightly shutdown of my iPhone might give the couple a chance to settle their differences.

Alas, their discord did not resolve in the slightest: my Watch and iPhone were still standing off. It was time to unpair them, and see if bringing them back into union might resolve their differences.

In contrast to Apple’s documentation of macOS, iOS and watchOS guidance is exemplary, and even better than the free iBooks which are also available. I had been tempted just to unpair the two in the Watch app on my iPhone, but Apple’s advice is to initiate the process on the Watch. Oddly, that involves a tap to Erase All Content and Settings, which is not the label I would have chosen for the action of unpairing the Watch, even though that is what it does.

Those instructions also omit a crucial step needed once the Watch and iPhone are unpaired: you have to turn your Watch off, then back on again. I’m glad that bit of the panacea has to be invoked again.

I then paired them again, following the instructions here. As it’s nearly three years since I last paired my Watch (its one and only pairing, when it was new), I had forgotten how slow and tedious the process is. This time the iPhone invited me to restore its contents from backup, which I did. After around a quarter of an hour, my Watch and iPhone seemed to be properly paired at last, and notifications returned to my wrist.

It appears that this is a common problem after the iOS 11.2.5 and watchOS 4.2.2 updates, which then begs the question as to how Apple continues to release updates which break perfectly standard combinations of its own hardware. I suspect that Apple’s engineers might have known about it all along, but the notifications never got through to their Watches, because of the bug.