What to expect from the next-generation smartwatch
You know it, we know it, the world knows it: later this year, it’s pretty likely – sorry, pretty much nailed on – we’ll see a new Apple Watch.
Tim Cook and company work like clockwork, and, just like we see with its smartphones, there should be a new smartwatch on the way, too. Whether it’s called the Apple Watch Series 4, Apple Watch 4 or something entirely different, we can start the guessing game now. But, even as sales of the Watch appear to be on a steady rise, the next iteration could be Apple’s most important yet.
Why? Because the new Watch could further cement the company as the number one watch brand in the world, ahead of the likes of Samsung, Garmin and Fitbit, as well as fashion companies like Fossil getting in on the connected timepiece action. And with watchOS 5 now out in beta, which we’ll get into below, we have a bit more of an idea about what we can expect from the fourth generation.
The Cupertino giant has got the art of secrecy down pat at this stage, but we can start to paint a picture based on the upcoming features we already have confirmed, as well as patents, recent acquisitions and industry sources.
Apple Watch Series 4: Design
Get ready for a new look
The rectangular body of the Apple Watch remains divisive; some people love it, others hate it, some have grown to like it. It looks like its time in the sun is over, as reliable industru analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says the Series 4 will bring a new look to the Apple Watch. We’ve already seen the patents that suggested Apple has thought about it, but now we have a better indication it’s coming. And it’s about time, too, after three versions of essentially the same design (plus a red dot).
So, what can you expect? Kuo claims the Series 4 will sport a larger display and longer battery life. The new screen sizes, according to Kuo, are 1.57 inches and 1.78 inches. That’s a sizable upgrade over the current display sizes of 1.32 inches and 1.5 inches.
What we don’t exactly know is how Apple is going to manage that. It’s likely both Apple Watch variations will see reduced bezels, allowing Apple to increase display size while potentially sticking to the 32mm and 42mm case sizes. That would take some impressive engineering and design work, but we’ve seen Apple do it before.
The iPhone X features a display The 5.8-inch iPhone X has a larger display than the 5.5-inch iPhone 8 Plus, yet the X is closer to the size of the regular iPhone 8 than the Plus. What is more of an unknown is whether there’ll be any compatibility problems with Apple Watch bands.
Interestingly, a recently granted patent also indicates that Apple is open to offering a round design of its smartwatch. We’d chalk such a move in the unlikely column, and suspect Apple would, at least through the upcoming generation, offer only a slightly revised version of its square case.
Smarter bands on the horizon
Apple has also looked to improvements in other areas, like a haptic side button and Digital Crown. Apple certainly has the patent for it, and reports indicate it’s likely to happen with the Series 4. Basically, such an inclusion would help reduce the amount of moving parts on the Apple Watch, meaning it’s less likely you’ll head in to an Apple Store to fix a malfunctioning Digital Crown and more likely you’ll be in there perusing bands.
Speaking of bands, the idea of Apple creating smarter bands is something that won’t go away, either. It could be a way to add further smarts without impacting on the Watch’s design and risk making it a chunkier beast to wear. The most recent hint in this area is a patent for what looks like a watch band that can be used to measure blood pressure.
We’ve already seen smart bands from companies like AliveCor’s EXG heart rate monitoring KardiaBand, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Apple perhaps offer some of its own alternatives.
A change in display
Apple’s touchscreen displays are among the best in the industry, and the Apple Watch marked the debut of its foray into OLED displays. Now it looks like Apple could use the Apple Watch to jump into microLED displays, too.
As per a recent Bloomberg report (later corroborated by a Digitimes report, which also hinted at a microLED augmented reality wearable), Apple is set to significantly invest in the display technology over the next few years, with the Watch touted as the first device in its arsenal to receive the microLED action.
The advantages? Well, microLED screens require roughly half the power, while also being brighter and offering higher contrast ratios. Colours, too, are able to be more finely tuned. Perhaps most importantly for Apple, the screens are also thinner, which in turn could lead to slimmer devices. Even better, it may allow Apple to turn its display into a platform.
It would come as a slight surprise to see it all come to fruition as early as this year, but Apple has potentially been building this up since 2014, when it acquired startup LuxVue – a company dedicated to bringing MicroLED tech to mass market devices.
Apple Watch Series 4: Features
Siri improvements and activity smarts in watchOS 5
We’ll speculate on some features that could pop up in the Apple Watch Series 4 further below, but let’s just cover off what we already know is making an appearance thanks to watchOS 5.
The headline of the software improvements? Well, Siri is getting a big upgrade on the wrist, and you won’t be surprised to hear that workouts are also being built upon.
There’s nothing too drastic with regard to Activity, but there are a bunch of welcome and neat features on the docket. Automatic workout detection will sense when you’ve started a workout and send you a notification asking if you’d like to start working out. While it’s the most glitch-ridden feature in the beta we tried, it’s worked really well when it has worked. Plus, there’s now Yoga and Hiking modes – which means your activities will be tracked much more accurately, like adding elevation to your hiking sessions.
Week-long competitions with friends, rolling mile pace and cadence (steps per minute tracking) and more are also going to land alongside the next-generation.
And they’ll be joined, as we say, by a smarter Siri. You’ll now be able to access Shortcuts for important apps, and, thankfully, you’ll no longer need to shout “Hey Siri” when you raise your wrist. And remember the Siri watch faces unveiled through watchOS 4 last year? Well, those same faces now support third-party apps and provide info for the likes of maps, heart rate and, you know, how badly your favourite basketball team is getting beat.
Now, while they’re the two main improvements we know of so far, there’s also a couple of smaller features also being added. Podcasts are finally coming to the wrist independent of your smartphone, Walkie Talkie will allow for quick, back-and-forth conversations and limited web access is also coming. If you’re looking for the full details on these confirmed new features, jump over to our watchOS 5 story – otherwise, forge on below for everything else Apple may be withholding. Come on, forge on.
Sleep tracking finally arriving?
When Apple snapped up sleep tracking company Beddit back in May 2017, our first reaction was that it had to mean the Apple Watch was going to get sleep tracking. While Apple’s smartwatch works as a pretty formidable fitness tracker, it does lack a built-in option to monitor your bed time – meaning there’s still a legitimate reason to opt for a Fitbit smartwatch, instead.
There are a bunch of sleep tracking apps for the Apple Watch, but this acquisition should open the door for an in-house option that should hopefully make it better integrated with Apple’s own Health software. It could also bode well for Apple’s health tracking ambitions (more on that below) and offer more insightful heart rate data metrics.
One of the more likely reasons Apple hasn’t factored in sleep tracking just yet is to do with battery life. But, as we’ve seen with the Series 3, things are improving on that front, and rumours suggest the Series 4 will have longer battery life, so it could well be time for the feature to finally come to its smartwatches.
One thing that could potentially make sleep tracking more likely is the new low-power mode that Apple patented. This would essentially jump into action when you’re running low on juice and only display time and date information on your screen. Maybe Apple could adjust this slightly to extend life while you’re sleeping to track your Zzs.
Stepping up sports tracking
After shifting the focus from fashion to fitness, we’ve seen the Apple Watch turn itself into a genuine sports watch alternative. We’ve had speedy built-in GPS, a waterproof design that has unlocked some of the best swim tracking we’ve tried on a smartwatch, and now Apple GymKit is even helping it play nice with the equipment in your local gym.
But there’s definitely room to make improvements both on the software and the hardware fronts. Apple’s own Workout app still feels a bit like a work in progress, and we’d still like to see better support for activites like strength training. We’re sure these are things that Apple is working on, but it seems unlikely we’ll see these until watchOS 6.
Patents do serve as glimpses into what Apple is thinking about for its Watch, and one recent filing suggests it could be prepping to improve its swim tracking skills in the open water. The folks at Patently Apple have come across an application that suggests Apple is working on a radio navigation system for its smartwatch using frequency signals to estimate your location. So, it’s clear this is one smartwatch maker that is not resting on its laurels as far as its sports tracking skills are concerned.
One thing we do know, courtesy of Ming-Chi Kuo (again), is that Apple is working on enhanced heart rate detection for the Series 4. Now, we don’t exactly know how improved this will be, or whether it’ll mean more or better metrics or additional features, but it’s a good step regardless.
The need for speed
Apple’s smartwatches are no slouches in terms of performance, but it appears changes are afoot in the components department.
That’s according to Kuo, who reports that Apple is planning to introduce new circuit boards across its product range in 2018 – and that will include the company’s next smartwatch.
While it might not sound like the most exciting reveal, it will allow the folks at Cupertino to ramp up performance speed and save on internal space, which could free up room for more interesting sensors and other technologies to deliver a more feature-packed Watch.
Serious health monitoring
We said this was going to be a big deal in our Wareable 50 predictions for 2018, and we firmly believe that Apple will be a big player in this push to make its smartwatch better for health tracking. And we’ve already seen evidence to suggest Apple’s next Watch will have a strong health focus, through the study it recently announced in collaboration with Stanford University that will use the Apple Watch heart rate sensor to help detect irregular heart rhythms to notify users if they might be suffering from atrial fibrillation.
According to sources that Bloomberg has spoken to, the next Apple Watch will feature an electrocardiogram (or ECG) heart rate monitor, a method of reading the biometric information that is more common in the medical industry – and is considered the gold standard. The ECG monitor would be activated by squeezing the Watch’s frame with two fingers, sending a current to the wearer’s heart and checking for any abnormalities. Oh, and don’t forget the possibility of smart bands that could double as upgraded health sensors.
Kuo reports that the Series 4 will include upgraded health sensors, but it’s unclear what those are. It could be that upgraded heart rate sensor, or it could be the previously mentioned ECG sensor.
Either way, it’s a good thing Apple is looking to upgrade the sensors currently inside the Apple Watch. While they’re good enough to help detect serious health conditions, the idea of adding even more reliable tech would go some way to reducing the possibility of data inaccuracy.
When will the Apple Watch Series 4 officially launch?
Apple tends to work like clockwork. The Watch Series 3 was announced in September last year, while the Series 2 landed and launched in the same month back in 2016. So, it’s realistic to think the same autumn launch will happen for the Series 4.
As we’ve detailed, we already know some of what’s coming thanks to the improvements through watchOS 5, but it’s fair to assume that Apple will save the most interesting changes for the official Series 4 announcement.
Swim tracking was the killer feature for the Series 2 and LTE in the Series 3, so what will they be talking about for the Series 4? There’ll be plenty of speculation ahead of the big unveil next year, that’s for sure.