We may well get a new Apple Watch this fall — if so, what would you like to see?
Updated April 12, 2017: Apple has a "secret" team tasked with integrating a diabetes monitor into Apple Watch. And soon, according to CNBC.
It's been just about seven months since the release of the Apple Watch Series 2, and as is my wont, I'm already thinking about the next version. What will it look like? What new features will it have that pique my fancy?
Don't get me wrong: I love my current Apple Watch. The Series 2 offered huge battery improvements for both 38mm and 42mm users, and I use it to track my workouts and respond to notifications almost every day. But if I had my druthers, I wouldn't mind seeing an updated Series 3 later this year.
When's the next Apple Watch going to come out?
There's not a ton of speculation out right now, but if we were betting folk, we might lean toward the Fall season, around the same time as the next iPhone. An April report from Digitimes also suggests a Fall 2017 launch for the Series 3 Apple Watch — on par with what we've heard previously. Not only does that give the company the year to perfect new hardware, but it would continue the Watch's release cycle alongside Apple's most popular product, the iPhone, standardized in 2016 with the release of the Series 2. Given that the Apple Watch requires an iPhone to function, it seems logical to pair the two.
What's it going to look like?
Apple still hasn't released official numbers on how well the Watch and its various lines are doing, but I'd expect both the Sport and steel Apple Watch casings to show up in Series 3 — though we might see a new anodized color option in the Sport line. (Perhaps a Product RED Sport?)
We also might see a new Apple Watch Edition, replacing the Ceramic model. (Personally, I'm rooting for meteorite.)
What about a round version?
While I'd love to see some variation on Apple Watch styling, a round Apple Watch would require a round interface; on top of that, to prevent fragmentation, watchOS would have to work on both rounded rectangle and circular Apple Watches. That's a big challenge for the company's software team, and perhaps not one Apple feels up to tackling for 2017.
What sizes will it come in?
Some people like big watches, just like some people like Plus-sized phones, so we won't say never on the prospect of a bigger model; that said, 38mm and 42mm seem to be doing well for the company for now, though, and will probably continue into series 3.
What kind of bands will be available?
Expect new Fall colors for Apple's Sport, Woven Nylon, Classic Buckle, and Modern Buckle, along with a potential new mystery band or two. We might also see new Nike and Hermès colors as well, and perhaps other designers getting into the mix.
As MacRumors noted earlier in 2017, Apple has filed patents for modular bands that could add additional functionality to the watch, including additional battery life, haptics, health sensors, and more, though it's hard to bet on when (if ever) a patented product will see the light of day.
How about the internals?
The S1P and S2 processor powering the Series 1 and 2 Apple Watch gave the original "Series 0" Apple Watch a huge upgrade; though we'd expect a minor boost to speed with S3, I don't think it'll be as noticeable as the jump from Series 0 to 2. That said, the smoother watchOS gets, the better for everyone — I still run into lags here and there, especially on third-party apps.
As with the first- and second-generation Apple Watch, we expect to see Quanta (out of Taiwan) handling its production; a report from supply tracker DigiTimes confirmed this in early January 2017. The Taiwanese outlet also reported that the new Apple Watch may see a new film-on-glass touchscreen replace the previous iteration.
What about battery life?
As with processor, the Series 2 watches both gained big improvements to battery life, with both models now lasting a full 18-hour day — with workouts — without needing a charge. Apple can never stop innovating in this arena, however, especially if it plans to one day allow the watch to sleep tracking (without having to own separate "day" and "night" Apple Watches).
Will Series 3 get cellular data, decoupling it from the iPhone?
Series 2 brought us a GPS antenna, which added more offline functionality to the Apple Watch when running or swimming. But will Series 3 bring us a fully-fleged cellular processor? It's a lovely idea, but I suspect that it would still come at a huge expense to battery life.
Could Apple engineer a watch that was the same size, with all-day battery life and a cellular antenna? Maybe. But unless Apple comes up with a revolutionary new battery by the fall, I'm still of the opinion that it will be too much power for such a small device.
Susquehanna Financial Group semiconductor analyst Christopher Rolland believes otherwise: In a March 2017 report covered by Barron's, he noted:
We understand a model of the next Apple watch will include a SIM card, and therefore is likely to support LTE. We understand some issues remain, including battery life and form factor size, but significant progress has been made. Apple may be employing VOIP and data across a CAT-M1 connection for superior battery life. Apple will tout interoperability with the company's AirPods (now on back order till May) to make and receive phone calls (perhaps a small win for Maxim with amps in each ear bud).
Successful battery life is a pretty big issue in ensuring the watch's success, but who knows? If Apple can figure out how to make a cellular connection work reliably without draining the battery or bulking up the design, it would be a huge perk for potential upgraders and new users alike.
There are also considerations regarding carriers to be made: Would the Apple Watch use data from your iPhone plan, or would it have its own data plan? How would you sign up?
Regardless of whether the new Apple Watch gets a cellular connection, I'd like to see more options from the Apple Watch's Wi-Fi antenna: Given the Apple TV's ability to dictate passwords, the Apple Watch should be able to integrate this feature to connect to any Wi-Fi network, protected or open — even if your iPhone hasn't been there yet.
Any new health sensors?
Health is a huge part of the Apple Watch's message, but right now, the company's somewhat limited in what it can do without FDA approval — and the organization's involvement during development, which could compromise Apple's vaunted security policies.
The current Apple Watch has a pulse oximeter on the rear casing; when pressed against your wrist, it uses a technology called photoplethysmography to measure how fast blood is flowing through your veins. Currently, Apple just uses this sensor for pulse readings, though in theory, the company could also use it to check the oxygen saturation in your blood, or (as suggested by a recent patent uncovered by AppleInsider) identify who's wearing the watch based on your heart patterns.
There are currently third-party apps that do this on the iPhone by having you press your finger up against the rear camera and flash, but they're expressly marked with warnings that disqualify it as "official" testing hardware, and encourage anyone with medical problems to see a doctor. (See my above comment about "FDA-approved and tested.")
The same goes for blood pressure and glucose monitoring. CNBC reported that the blood sugar monitor has made significant progress.
The initiative is far enough along that Apple has been conducting feasibility trials at clinical sites across the Bay Area and has hired consultants to help it figure out the regulatory pathways.
While they would be fantastic statistics for users with blood pressure problems and diabetes, Apple may be better off pairing with third-party Bluetooth devices that are FDA-approved. That's not to say we won't see these sensors in the Series 3 — but if we do, expect to hear about them through the FDA's approval process first.
Additionally, if the company can improve battery life, we may well see the introduction of sleep tracking. There are a few apps (like David Smith's excellent Sleep++) that can do this already on the watch, but they require significant battery use and the ability to charge the timepiece in the morning.
I also wouldn't be surprised to see more information from Apple's chief operating officer and Health spokesperson Jeff Williams on CareKit and ResearchKit; both features have the potential to change patients' lives for the better, and Apple will no doubt be touting the studies — and any new trials — as part of the Watch experience in the Fall.
Will I be able to use my Android phone with the Series 3?
We haven't heard anything to that effect. But if the company wants to make Apple Watch available to the largest group of users, it's a smart move to consider — and there's precedent in Apple Music, iTunes, the iPod, and iPhone. And given that Android Wear watches support the iPhone, there may be a strong business incentive to move in that direction.
Of course, Apple may want to keep the Watch platform-exclusive; depending on the wearable's features, it might be another good way to convert users to iPhone.
Any word on watchOS 4?
A few nibbles here and there, mostly around new sports activities for the Workout app.
What do you want the next Apple Watch to look like? Me, I'm hoping for at least some of the following:
- More health features: An oximeter (to read blood oxygen levels) would be pretty cool, as would a second-generation sensor with better pulse tracking during workouts.
- A slimmer case: I wouldn't trade it for battery life, but if anyone could figure out how to make a thinner watch with the same battery tech, it's Apple.
- Always-on display: Like a slimmer case, this requires Apple to have its battery needs in check; that said, it's one of my only remaining nitpicks with the current generation of Apple Watch.
- Round face: Honestly, I don't know if I actually want this or just want to see Apple's take on it. Either way, round faces are traditionally more flattering to ladies' wrists (though they need to be sized accordingly).
- Decorative bands: I'd love a more eclectic, jewelry-style band from Apple. Why not?