The Apple Watch Series 3 delivers solid improvements over its predecessor, including a few updates which make it more useful as a tool for health and fitness tracking. The big news, of course, is the inclusion of cellular connectivity.
What has remained constant, however, is the battery life. You still need to charge it a lot. Perhaps that was to be expected taking into account the bump in specs.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
Nevertheless, the company has sailed past Fitbit and Xiaomi in the final quarter of 2017 to take a commanding lead in global wearables sales. The tech giant has also smashed through an important milestone. Apple is now the largest watchmaker in the world, managing to outpace the entire Swiss watch-making industry!
In each of the last four years, we were treated to a new version of the Apple Watch. Here is what to look forward to in 2018.
Apart from the red dot on the crown, the third generation looks exactly like the previous one. In fact, the design has remained constant since the very beginning. Its still square, the case is still the same size.
A change in size?
The only difference with Series 3 is that the back crystal is slightly extended in the back (0.25 millimeters). This equates to the thickness of around two sheets of paper. We probably wouldn’t have even noticed if Apple hadn’t told us. We are expecting Apple will shave off a few more millimetres with Series 4. Any shrinkage, though, comes at the expense of battery life. So it remains a delicate balancing act.
While a change in size will probably not be on the cards, KGI Securities expects the display to be 15% larger on this year’s Apple Watch. One way of doing this would be to decrease the size of the bezels. So what would this actually look like? Check out the concept mockup put together by Phonearena.
What about a round version?
Some rumours have mentioned the possibility of a circular design. This remains a possibility, albeit a remote one.
The rumours stem from patents Apple filed a while ago, including one on a single continuous flexible display covering both the face and the band. The bezel width surrounding the display would be minimized below 4-5 mm or perhaps even less than 1mm.
Although we would love to this new round design, we sincerely doubt the technology will make its way into Series 4. It would require a complete re-design of the internals as well.
So far, all editions of the watch came with the option of a 42mm version with a 1.65-inch retina screen for larger wrists, and a 38mm one with a 1.5-inch screen for smaller ones. The second and third generation come with a better OLED retina screen, though. This is one of the best displays out there. At 1,000 nits of brightness the graphics are sharp and there is good outdoor visibility.
According to people close to the project, the technology giant is now making sizeable investments into next generation MicroLED screens. These types of displays use totally different light-emitting compounds, which pave the way for slimmer, sharper, tougher and less power-hungry screens. The question is whether the company can develop the technology quickly enough to make it into Series 4.
An always-on screen would also be very nice. Highly unlikely though in 2018 as it would eat into battery life.
More powerful processor
Apple is steadily increasing processing power with each new edition. The third generation watch sports a 70% faster dual-core processor than the second generation. This allows Siri to talk for the first time and not just listen. There is also a W2 chip for Bluetooth and Wifi connectivity which allows for a 85% faster connection while being 50% more efficient.
An S4 system-in-package for Series 4 should provide another boost. When it comes to memory, the Series 3 Apple Watch shipped with 768GB of RAM, so its very possible this could be bumped up to 1GB on the Series 4.
Both the second and third generations are H2O friendly down to 50 metres and can be used for monitoring open and pool water swimming. Unless you are a deep-sea diver, this sort of water-resistance does the job. So no changes expected on this front.
Will Apple finally improve battery life?
Calls for Apple to improve the Apple Watch battery have pretty much remained unanswered over the years. And this remains the biggest obstacle to the timepiece becoming a true 24/7 fitness tracker.
With about a day’s worth of juice, the Apple Watch is far behind its competitors. For example, most Garmin’s fitness tracker‘s and sports watches keep going at least a week between charges, and Fitbit is hovering close to that mark as well.
Battery capacity is progressing with each passing year which gives users more bang for the buck. Here’s hoping Apple finally does something on this front. If not, there is always next year…
In conjunction with your smartphone, the current Apple Watch can be used for remote photo taking. But the company has filed a number of patents for a built-in front-facing camera so it obviously has an interest in this area. In addition to allowing users to take images and place FaceTime video calls, the camera could be used to scan QR codes.
A built-in camera would also enable face scanning. Rather than a comprehensive 3D system such as the one on the iPhone X, its more likely this may take the form of 2D face recognition.
Make no mistake, a built-in camera will come. The only question is whether it will make its debut this year.
Apple has been looking into developing smart bands that add extra features to the company’s smartwatch for a while now. One of its patents talks about building new sensors and processors directly into a single chassis, with smart links adding new functions. This could include batteries, displays, processors, electricity generators, GPS sensors, cameras, thermometers, blood pressure sensors, sweat sensors and speakers. The possibilities are endless.
Expected health and fitness features
The first generation of the watch was a little pricey to buy purely for its activity monitoring features and this was a very big problem when viewing it as a fitness device. It was far too basic, and too expensive, to be considered as a rival to some of the dedicated fitness trackers on the market.
Fast forward to the third generation and things are starting to change. This time around we have the addition of an altimeter for tracking floors climbed and estimating altitude. Other changes are to do with the heart rate sensor. You are now able to see your current heart rate just by raising your wrist, there is a “recovering heart rate”, the watch will alert you when it detects an abnormal spike in your readings and you’ll get your resting heart rate in the morning.
Its clear that Apple is steadily closing the gap on the likes of Fitbit and Garmin. However, despite all these upgrades, the Apple Watch still sits somewhat uncomfortably between an all purpose smartwatch and a sports-watch/fitness tracker.
So what can we expect from Series 4?
Yes, its 2018 and your Apple Watch still doesn’t have a native app for sleep tracking. The main problem here is battery life. Its kind of pointless providing a sleep tracking feature for something that you need to recharge practically every day.
There are third-party solutions you can opt for instead, such as the excellent Sleep++. But it would be the next logical step for Series 4 to include a native sleep tracking app along, of course, with a boost to battery life.
WatchOS4 features an app called Breathe which prompts you to take a minute to relax, focus and meditate. It guides you through a series of deep breaths, and reminds you to take time to relax every day. You choose how long you want to breathe, then let the animation and gentle taps help you focus.
But other companies have taken stress tracking to the next level. Most Garmin devices now tap into heart-rate variability readings to calculate and measure stress levels. This is done 24/7 so you have a timeline of your stress readings available in the smartphone app.
A 24/7 stress tracking feature on Series 4 would not surprise us at all. Particularly taking into consideration the Apple Watch optical heart rate sensor is one of the best performing on the market.
Built-in EKG reader
There is a good possibility the next Apple Watch will have a built-in EKG reader. The sensor would allow for on-demand EKG readings which could pave the way for the watch to detect heart abnormalities such as atrial fibrilation. The user would be required to squeeze the Watch’s frame with two fingers from the hand that is not wearing the device. The device would then pass an imperceptible current across the person’s chest to track electrical signals in the heart.
Its not entirely clear whether such functionality would require FDA clearance. The Cupertino company has avoided involving regulators in the past, but the company is participating in a pilot program that speeds up approval of digital health tools.
Non-invasive glucose monitoring
Its been rumoured for some time that Apple is working on sensors that non-invasively and continuously monitor blood sugar levels. The Cupertino outfit has even hired hired a team of around 200 PhDs as part of its effort on this front.
But according to a recent article in the New York Times, the feature won’t be shipping anytime soon. So don’t wait for it. People close to the project say the research is on-going but the technology is still several years off.
Built-in blood pressure monitor
A recent patent filed by Apple describes a clever way of using existing technology in its smartwatch to calculate blood pressure. The basic idea is to use something called pulse transit time (PTT) to calculate on-demand readings of your blood pressure. This is a way of taking measurements by timing how long the pulse travels from a person’s heart to their wrist.
Users would place their watch against their chest so that the accelerometer detects the user’s heartbeat. The heart-rate sensor in the device would then calculate the PTT by detecting when the blood pressure pulse arrives at the wrist. How precise such a method would be remains to be seen, but if accurate it could be a game-changer.
Any other sensors?
Few people know that Apple’s heart rate monitor is actually a plethysmograph. Which means it can function as a pulse oximeter to monitor the oxygen saturation in your blood. There is always the possibility Apple will enable the feature. Why it has not done so up to now is not clear. Perhaps something to do FDA regulations.
Other sensors that could be on the cards include a UV monitor, galvanic skin response sensor and skin temperature sensor to name a few. We’ve seen them on other devices so the technology to make them a part of the Apple Watch already exists.
Expected release date
This is a no brainer. To date, three generations and four series of Apple Watch have been released. Apart from the original device which debuted in April, each subsequent series came out in September.
- Apple Watch (1st generation): 24 April 2015
- Apple Watch Series 1 & Series 2: 16 September 2016
- Apple Watch Series 3: 22 September 2017
We expect the pattern to continue so are looking for Series 4 to debut alongside the new iPhone this Fall. Given that the watch needs the iPhone to function, it makes perfect sense to pair the two. Of course, this will be accompanied by WatchOS5.
Look for Series 4 to launch in September 2018 and land in stores a couple of weeks later.
Unless Apple produces something radically different, we’d expect pricing to remain the same or almost the same when the new model is released. If you decided to skip Series 3 because it was way too expensive for you, prepare to be disappointed. This is a high-end smartwatch after all. On the bright side, expect the previous generations to get a juicy price cut.
So what do you think? What would you like to see on the Apple Watch Series 4?
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