Apple Watch Series 3 investigation: How Apple’s next smartwatch could go solo

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Analysts, developers and others give their thoughts on the rumours

We get it, the Apple Watch Series 3 is on your mind. What if you buy the Series 2 or another smartwatch now then it lands in September and blows everyone’s minds? Elon Musk said the first Apple Watch was a few iterations away from greatness – this could be the one.

In truth, firm details of what we can expect are light on the ground. Apple doesn’t make a habit of leaking key specs or features, so it tends to either leak out from the companies that are tasked with building the wearable, or it doesn’t leak at all.

Apple Watch Series 3 investigation

But that hasn’t stopped us from putting on our sleuthing hats and doing some digging for clues. We’ve rounded up a crack squad of analysts, developers and insiders to give their predictions and thoughts about Cupertino’s next smartwatch and we’ve collected the most likely rumours from around the web.

With WWDC 2017 just around the corner, here’s what we think the Apple Watch Series 3 might just look like…

Apple Watch Series 3: LTE

Apple Watch Series 3 to feature new display technology says report

Christopher Rolland, an analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group, says he believes the next Apple Watch will include a SIM card, which means it’ll have LTE support. And he’s not alone – many of the experts we surveyed pointed to a truly standalone Apple Watch as likely.

“Having an Apple Watch that operates as its own connected device isn’t going to be interesting because you could make phone calls, it will be interesting because of all the cloud-based services you could use anytime, anywhere,” says Patrick Kalaher, VP of technology strategy at Frog. “The majority of wearables connect to the world through a personal area networking technology like Bluetooth, so smartwatches are always essentially peripherals of some other device. It limits many of the possible use cases, because you’ve got to be near your (say) phone to connect to the internet and to cloud services.”

If Apple does go down this route, it’s possible it could follow Android Wear in offering smartwatch app downloads directly from the Apple Watch.

Ariel Vardi, co-founder & CEO of Little Labs, the team behind watch face platform Facer, told us this is on his wishlist: “We’d like to see Apple creating an actual App Store on the watch itself (and ideally include watch faces in that store). Most users today have no idea how to install apps on their watch. Discoverability is critical for any app ecosystem to thrive and this could be addressed relatively easily by Apple with some fairly minor UX changes.”

On the other hand, Paul Reynolds, who was an advisory board member to healthcare platform startup Gliimpse before it was purchased by Apple, isn’t so sure. “I’m not convinced LTE support is needed at this time,” he told us, pointing out that user markets for the Watch and iPhone are “tied” and the technical costs for adding LTE are “significant.”

Apple Watch Series 3: Battery improvements

Apple Watch Series 3 to feature new display technology says report

A bigger battery is likely to balance out any power sucking from an LTE chip, which has reportedly been Apple’s biggest concern in adding standalone connectivity to its smartwatch. For instance, way back before Series 2 was announced Apple was researching low-power cellular chips.

And there are more leaks to back up the research. Back in January this year, Digitimes cited Economic Daily News (EDN), reporting that the new Watch will be manufactured by Quanta Computer and feature “better performance and longer battery life”, according to market watchers.

“Currently, improving battery efficiency is Quanta’s main task for the new Apple Watch and its other hardware will not see much change,” it added. (Incidentally new rumours back up that Quanta Computer info and add Compal as a manufacturer too).

It’s curious that it looks like LTE is forcing Apple to rethink battery even though many smartwatches offer better battery life. Frog’s Kalaher speaks again on why this might be: “Whatever Apple’s design teams have learned about people’s charging preferences is far more likely to drive battery life than anything else. When we’re designing wearables, we think about what the natural recharging intervals might be, and design around them. Battery life beyond (say) one day wouldn’t be much more useful than once a day, since users can easily get used to charging their watches overnight while they sleep.”

Still, battery life could help with something else – the Apple Watch’s blank screen problem. Little Labs’ Ariel Vardi sees this as a priority.

“The most immediate and needed improvement in my mind is the screen which, despite having one of the highest DPIs on the market today, suffers from being completely black 95% of the time,” he told us. “This makes Apple Watch lag significantly behind the Samsung Gear S3 and its beautiful always-on screen – a necessary feature for any modern smartwatch.” Whether Cupertino agrees with him remains to be seen. When it is on, though, it’s bound to be a beaut.

Apple Watch Series 3: New screen

Apple Watch Series 3 to feature new display technology says report

That’s because one of our first notable Apple Watch Series 3 rumours came courtesy of Digitimes, which claims the third-generation smartwatch will adopt new display technology.

The report references supplier TPK Holding, the panel supplier for current Watch panels, and suggests Apple is switching things up on the screen front, moving from a glass panel to a glass film touch solution.

It also mentions that TPK Holding encountered issues dealing with the curved surface of the Apple Watch, which complicated the manufacturing process of the touch sensors. Those new panels will start shipping in late 2017, which (just about) fits with the most recent Apple Watch Series 3 release date rumours pointing to an autumn 2017 arrival.

Still on the screen front, other rumours point to a more expensive Apple Watch that uses micro LED panels rather than OLED to increase both brightness and efficiency.

We spoke to Joe Santana, CEO of Vector Watch, the smartwatch startup that’s been snapped up by Fitbit. Santana’s predictions appear to support reports that we could be looking at a new display for the Series 3:

“I think when Apple comes with the new product it will be a huge improvement over the current Apple Watch. I hear the new display is coming out – I don’t hear anything about batteries, but the screen is the major improvement. I think the next Apple product will be a success. Some people say the current one is a success, others say it didn’t match expectations, but Apple is not going to drop this.”

So for now, it sound like the screen could be a major talking point when or if Apple unveils the Watch Series 3 later this year.

Quite what that means for the next-gen Watch, we’re not so sure. It’s fair to say that along with Samsung’s Gear S3 and Google’s array of Android Wear watches, Apple managed to produce one of the best smartwatch screens out there. The Series 2’s screen was also its brightest, cranking up the brightness to 1,000 nits – that’s 450 nits more than the first Watch.

Apple Watch Series 3: Slimmer build and accessories

Apple Watch Series 3 to feature new display technology says report

We also have the wonderful world of patents to look to for clues as well, with a recent Apple filing suggesting that the Cupertino company’s next wearable could get significantly more svelte.

Now, we know Apple likes to make its tech slimmer than the previous generation so there are no surprises there, but the filing appears to show us that it could be achieved by moving the haptic motor to the wristband of the Apple Watch to make the body less portly.

New materials, such as titanium and platinum cases could be launched, as according to Apple Insider between one and three new cases will debut. Apple could even be looking into using Liquidmetal. Overall we expect the design to stay pretty similar to the first two watches, though.

There’s also been talk of smartbands and battery bands to further fuel speculation of Apple moving tech out of the watch and into the band to balance out the weight and size. This would be more of a leap for Cupertino.

Apple Watch Series 3: New health features

Apple Watch Series 3 investigation: How Apple's next smartwatch could go solo

Speaking of smart bands, one way that they could be utilised to add more features to Apple’s smartwatch is through health. The Cupertino company has already made a big push on this front over the last few years with ResearchKit and according to recent speculation, health tracking features could be introduced through connected Watch bands.

Apple has apparently been busy building a team of biomedical engineers to develop sensors to monitor blood glucose, which would make the Watch a valuable wearable for diabetes sufferers by offering a non-invasive way to track the health data. Apple CEO Tim Cook, according to CNBC, has been spotted walking around Apple HQ with a prototype continuous glucose monitor attached to his Apple Watch, though it’s unknown if it was non-invasive or not.

There are devices that do offer that non-invasive method (DexCom and GlucoWise), but nothing that takes the form of a smartwatch so this would be a big deal.

Why the strap? Because it’s more likely to provide accurate readings than doing it from any other part of the Apple Watch hardware like the casing. It would also mean freeing up Apple to work on other things that the majority of smartwatch users would want to use.

Almost nailed on is the idea that the next Apple Watch will have native sleep tracking. It’s been missing and Apple’s recent acquisition of sleep monitoring startup Beddit (which had its own Apple Watch app) shows it could finally be getting serious about sleep. If Apple delivers on battery improvements (above), this could work.

Apple Watch Series 3: watchOS 4

Apple Watch Series 3 investigation: How Apple's next smartwatch could go solo

Now, this we should know more about very soon. WWDC 2017 starts on 5 June and we’ll be there to try out Apple’s latest software if/when watchOS 4 makes an appearance.

As well as new features like sleep tracking (above) and third party watch faces (below), we’ve compiled our wishlist of what else we’d like to see. That includes a revamp of complications on watch faces, auto-tracking in the Workouts app, health and lifestyle coaching and – please, please – a simpler way to handle music on the Watch.

These features will land on the existing watches but some software updates could give us a clue as to what to expect from the hardware later this year.

Apple Watch Series 3: Third party watch faces

Apple Watch Series 3 to feature new display technology says report

More of a request than a rumour but if you think about it, Apple seems to be missing a trick here with Michael Kors and co leading the way in making switching watch faces into a fashion statement.

As you might expect, Facer’s Ariel Vardi makes this case pretty strongly: “As developers, we’re hoping to see Apple open up the watch face ecosystem to third-party developers – it’s today BY FAR the most popular vertical in the content space on all other smartwatches. Allowing developers to create faces for Apple Watch would definitely create a massive new market with high revenue potential.”

Brian Mueller, creator of the popular Apple Watch app Carrot Weather, puts greater customisation of complications at the top of his list for the new Series 3 software. “I’d love to see them offer APIs to let developers customise their complications,” he told Wareable. Currently, you can’t have two versions of the same complication in similar spots.

“There’s no way to tell the difference between two small complication slots,” said Mueller. “So there’s no way for me to show wind speed in one small complication and precipitation in the other small complication. I can only have different complications in the large and the small slots. So if Apple makes that more robust, that would be fantastic.”

Mueller added: “I think it’s definitely something Apple would be interested in, because it’s spent all this time and effort on letting users customise their watch faces and make it more personally theirs.”

Apple Watch Series 3: The AirPods factor

Apple Watch Series 3 to feature new display technology says report

We’ve pondered on the possibility that Apple might bring the AirPods and Apple Watch closer together, and we could see this happen with Series 3 as it’s possible Apple will also use the big autumn event to launch the next generation of its wireless earbuds.

As well as predicting LTE, Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Christopher Rolland has touted better interoperability between the Watch and AirPods, which would make a lot of sense. We’ve established that LTE would open up an untethered highway to data for apps, but when it comes to making and receiving calls on the Watch, it’s still a bit of an – okay, incredibly – awkward experience. Now with the AirPods on the scene, it’s plausible we’ll see them work more closely with Watch Series 3.

Apple Watch Series 3: Release date

When can you expect to spend your hard-earned money on an Apple Watch Series 3? The original Apple Watch launched in April 2015, while the Series 2 launched alongside the iPhone in September 2016. That means there’s no established pattern yet, which makes it difficult to guess.

We couldn’t dig up any evidence confirming it. But most of the rumours suggest that the Apple Watch Series 3 will launch this autumn – for instance, a report from Digitimes, which tends to be good at reporting supply chain and part stuff, though less good at other predictions. In this case, Digitimes has based its report off the fact that the Apple Watch will gain a new supplier, Compal Electronics, and will start shipping this autumn.

This timeframe matches an earlier report from China’s Economic Daily News, which claimed the Series 3 would launch this autumn. For the time being, Apple still sees the Apple Watch as an accessory to the iPhone, so it makes sense that the company would want to launch it alongside its new smartphones, no doubt in September.

Apple Watch Series 3: Initial predictions

Apple Watch Series 3 to feature new display technology says report

A few final thoughts from our industry experts:

Ariel Vardi: “The number of Apple Watches we see in the wild on people’s wrists is dramatically increasing – it’s by far the largest smartwatch market from a unit standpoint, but sadly not one that developers can fully address today until some of the limitations previously mentioned are solved.”

It feels unlikely that Apple will change the design of the watch drastically, or introduce any new advanced health sensors, while it’s busy trying to balance battery life for an LTE-enhanced Apple Watch.

Paul Reynolds certainly doesn’t see the Series 3 introducing any game changers, with Apple instead opting for “constant and relentless improvement that over time amounts to major progress.” He’s talking “thinner, lighter, lower power displays.” Any and every way Apple can “remove friction” from use. “These things often involve significant work to improve but are invisible to the user.”

If Apple pushes anything on the hardware, Reynolds thinks it’ll be integration with AirPods. Most of the big improvements are likely to come from software, including “more health apps” and “sleep monitoring”.

Thus far it sounds like the Series 3 could be a modest upgrade, sporting a fast processor and better battery efficiency, with a standalone connection as the major new feature.




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