Today we visited the Steve Jobs Theater on Apple’s sprawling new Cupertino campus to see the company formally debut the newly designed and re-engineered Apple Watch Series 4 and its most comprehensive set of updates since its first iteration launched in 2015. As widely speculated, the Apple Watch Series 4 is built with a slimmer, albeit wider case, a bigger screen and a new digital crown with haptic feedback. But the real surprise here is an impressive twin-sensor “ECG” electrical heart rate monitor, yielding a depth of fitness tracking, and long-term wellness monitoring capabilities that have not been tapped by any consumer-ready wearable device to date. These updates solidify this fourth generation as far more than a timekeeping or communications device, but one that has the potential to usher in the lifestyle and behavioral changes promised three years ago. Is the term “watch” finally a misnomer? It’s starting to look that way.
In the keynote’s opening statements, Apple CEO Tim Cook reasserted Apple’s mission as one to make products more personal, and create a profound impact on lives. For three product generations, the Apple Watch has loosely followed that mission, but the broad necessity of that impact – comparable to other universally impactful products, like the iPhone – has been subjective at best. Today’s keynote was all about adding features that will prove to be of absolute necessity for many. Thus, it’s important to recognize that the newest changes make it much less of a watch, and more of a genuine wellness management tool – or “an intelligent guardian for your health.”
THE #1 WATCH IN THE WORLD
Yep, Apple was sure to trumpet this boast-worthy feat: the Apple Watch is the top selling watch in the world. In 2015, Apple was 2nd only behind Rolex, but now, with over 33,000,000 Apple Watches sold to date, Apple has taken the first spot with ease. To put things into perspective, the entire Swiss watch industry has exported 24.3 million watches in 2017. If the Apple Watch continues its gain in popularity, in the near future we could see Apple ship more watches than the entire Swiss watch industry – although there is still going to be a considerable difference if not in volume, then in value of shipped products. Another bit of food for thought: Apple is close to having sold its 2 billionth (!) iOS product, and although that includes a wide range of products from iPods through iPads to, of course, the iPhone, one could still argue that there are hundreds of millions of iOS users out there who are yet to be convinced by the prospect of wearing an iOS device on their wrist… And so Apple has been dedicating vast resources to tirelessly improving the Apple Watch, an effort reflected by the hardware and software updates of the Apple Watch Series 4. Let’s see these now.
NEW CASE & SCREEN DESIGN
From a visible standpoint, both sizes of the Apple Watch Series 4 grew to 40mm and 44mm from the 38mm and 42mm sizes of all previous Apple Watch generations. Consequently, the Apple Watch Series 4 now houses a 32% or 35% larger, “edge-to-edge” screen, meaning the wearer can now view and receive more information in maps, photo, calendar or pretty much any other app with more than a few words of text. All this also allowed for a new modular watch face with a maximum of eight “complications,” further adaptable between featuring multiple contact, health/activity, or timekeeping functionalities. Three new dynamic watch faces can also be selected: fire, water, and vapor, for a less overwhelming appearance.
Apple has equipped the new Series 4 case with its new WatchOS5, built atop a 64-bit dual core processor which is twice as fast as the outgoing generation. It’s also fitted with a redesigned speaker that’s 50% louder to make phone calls and other audible interactions more convenient and successful, with the microphone now replaced to the other side to minimize echo and make our voice sound more clear on the other end of the call. Add to this a completely redesigned digital crown that now houses haptic feedback to make navigating between lists and menus that much more reassuring and easy. Yet another refinement that will almost certainly get buried in today’s tsunami of news and releases is the new case-back which is ceramic and sapphire crystal, enabling improved cellular reception for calls and data usage.
Lots of “little things” which in fact must have been a pain to engineer – even for Apple, and yet have been implemented in an effort to make the long-term, real world performance of the Apple Watch that much better. We can’t help but compare all the effort dedicated to all these areas to the majority of established Swiss luxury watch brands who are, let’s be kind, much less eager to improve this many – or even one – aspect of their volume-selling watches. Rolex is still king of the hill with bracelet and case design solutions it had come up with decade(s) ago.
SUPER-DEEP WELLNESS MONITORING
The Apple Watch has always been a tool for everyday connectivity, with fitness and health monitoring each as secondary, albeit much welcome and constantly fine-tuned capabilities. On the Apple Watch Series 4, the latter take center stage, thanks to a pair of electrical heart sensors in the digital crown and sapphire crystal case-back, as well as an accelerometer that analyzes wrist trajectory to detect falls (one of the leading causes of injury worldwide). In case of a detected fall, the Watch pulls up the option to make an SOS call with just one single swipe and if senses no movement for a minute after the fall, it will automatically send out an SOS message including the person’s location. A feature better to have and not need it, than need one and not have it, right?
With that, we have arrived to what is the most important update of them all:
The truly groundbreaking revelation that pushes the Apple Watch Series 4 into persistent, all-important device territory is its new heart rate monitoring, which can send alerts when the heart rate is too low or too high, as well as detect abnormal heart rhythms. The Series 4 also introduces electrocardiogram capability – making it the world’s first ECG product that is offered over-the-counter directly to consumers. It enables the wearer to now perform an ECG anytime, anywhere – simply by starting the ECG app and placing a finger over the digital crown. All the ECG reports can then be saved and shared with the wearer’s doctor for long-term heart health monitoring and analysis. In addition to blessing by the American Heart Association, the Series 4 has been approved by the FDA – another pair of firsts Apple has claimed for a consumer wearable, begging the question – is this a watch? Or a medical device?
MOST CAPABLE WATCH OS YET
Connectivity and capability are the focal points of the new Watch OS, making the Series 4 a more comprehensive fitness and communications device, in addition to the wellness monitoring. Standouts include new apps like Walkie Talkie – a watch-to-watch tool that enables Apple Watch wearers to communicate directly with each other via cellular or WiFi connection, or new workout types like yoga and hiking more accurately track calories burned. Marathon runners will also appreciate the new battery life – now extended to 18 hours, or full GPS tracking up to 6 hours. Siri has also been improved in the Series 4, offering more voice command shortcuts to navigate user-preferred apps, like podcast search and playback.
MORE THAN A WATCH
As the Apple Watch seems to be completing a long-term vision for the platform that asserts itself as a true communications and wellness device, so expect plenty more news on aBlogtoWatch around this new release once we are able to test it. In the meantime, the watch will be available in three aluminum finishes (silver, gold, and space grey), as well as a premium collection in stainless steel. It’s also worth noting for those with a Series 3 strap collection, all straps for the current Series 3 are fully compatible with the Series 4 – with new options from partners Hermes and Nike – the latter of which features reflective nylon yarn. The GPS Apple Watch Series 4 starts at $399, and jumps to $499 for the cellular variant. Those who held out on the Series 3 watch will appreciate that the price has been reduced to $279. Par for the course, the Apple Watch Series 4 can be ordered starting this week on September 14th, and will begin shipping one week later on the 21st. Visit apple.com for more details on the Apple Watch Series 4.