Today in Cupertino, Apple unveiled a bevy of new products, including a new iPhone (the iPhone 11) as well as a brand new smartwatch with the Apple Watch Series 5. I’ve been closely covering the Apple Watch since its debut, and I am very happy to see that my principle concern with the Apple Watch has finally be resolved in the very well-rounded Series 5 collection, which includes an almost dizzying array of options. Since the Apple Watch Series 1, I have been advocating for Apple to design an Apple Watch with an always-on screen. I’ve written at length about why always-on screens are very important from a consumer perspective when it comes to the fashionability and personalization of the smartwatch.
In fact, always-on screens not only help someone’s Apple Watch Series 5 be more expressive as a wearable piece of fashionable technology, but it also helps legibility. This is because users do not need to experience any lag between when they want to read information on their wrist, and when that information pops up. Apple is calling the new always-on state the Apple Watch “Always-On Retina Display,” and while it has its own way of working, Apple’s watch now joins a number of competitor smartwatches that also feature always-on screens. In my opinion, the Apple Watch Series 5 Always-On Retina Display is the most important novelty. Apple enabled the Apple Watch Series 5 to have Always-On capability by now using an LTPO (Low Temperature Polysilicone and Oxide) Retina Display. LTPO allows the Watch to vary the display’s refresh rate, dropping all the way to 1 Hertz in Always-On mode and upping it to 60 Hertz when the owner is interacting with the watch and its screen. So the Always-On mode is far more than just a software tweak — it relies on an entirely new display. It’ll still dim the screen when your wrist isn’t raised, but now it’s possible to check the time without people noticing.
Consumers like options, and the ability to visually distinguish themselves from other wearers, which is why Apple continues to offer so many case finishes, materials, and strap options. To a degree, it is an uphill battle because a lot of consumers tend to want the lowest entry point (price-wise, that is) to get the Apple Watch. That means most Apple Watches out there are the base models with the most accessible straps. Apple is, however, making strides in getting people to invest in the fancier straps/bracelet and Apple Watch versions over time, especially as they proceed to purchase their second, third, and fourth Apple Watches.
The Apple Watch Series 5 comes in so many varieties that it will not be possible to discuss them all in this article. Suffice it to say that the Apple Watch Series 5 comes in both 40mm-long and 44mm-long cases, but not all styles are available on both sizes. The larger 44mm-long case has the most style options. At the entry-point, the Apple Watch Series 5 includes a large assortment of aluminum cases with various finishes, as well as new Apple Watch Nike models. Most of the models Apple will sell will be in aluminum or polished steel.
Things start to get interesting when you go up to the Apple Watch Hermes or the new Apple Watch Edition models. Here we see Apple continue to be inspired by the traditional watch industry by adding titanium as a material, offering black DLC- (diamond-like carbon) coated steel and, once again, white ceramic. It is worth noting that Apple does not offer naked titanium because it wears too easily; they give their titanium a scratch-resistant and fingerprint-resistant coating.
For the most part, Apple has not radically changed anything about the look and feel of the Apple Watch, but the Apple Watch Series 5 is really about increasing consumer choice and visual variety while implementing some new hardware and software features that help up the ante when consumers measure the Apple Watch against the competition. Apple has even made its popular App Store accessible within the Apple Watch and created a brand new online “Apple Watch Studio,” which is a much-improved way of being able to mix and match Apple Watch cases and straps to choose the combination that works for you. This is really important, in my opinion, because choosing an Apple Watch and accompanying band is far and away the most difficult type of selection a consumer has to make across all current Apple products.
What else is new in the Apple Watch Series 5? It features Apple Watch OS 6, a welcome incremental upgrade. I haven’t used it much yet, but the new features, including a compass and a new assortment of watch faces, are sure to please consumers, as well as be fun to play with. Apple also touts the Apple Watch as now having international emergency calling built-in, which is important because the previous generation of Apple Watches had limited features available when traveling internationally out of your home country. This isn’t really an Apple issue, but more related to the complex lattice work of how communication carries work across the globe.
As a traditional watch-lover, I am most interested in the strong fashion and technique statements Apple continues to make with the Apple Watch Hermes and the Apple Watch Edition. Apple Watch Hermes is where Apple has decided to offer the black DLC-coated steel model, along with a selection of very good-looking straps. The Apple Watch Hermes in all sporty black with the matching black strap might easily be the “it” fashionable Apple Watch Series 5 this season.
Apple Watch Edition is really for us enthusiasts and where you’ll find Apple return to white ceramic, as well as titanium. White ceramic is where the Apple Watch Edition Series 5 tops out in price, with the titanium models being a bit less expensive. I think Apple has struggled over the last few Apple Watch generations to really understand what types of consumers are interested in Apple Watch Edition (the first one was in solid gold) and continues to use these lower-volume, higher-priced Apple Watches to experiment and satisfy top-tier enthusiasts (which typically includes traditional watch-lovers). We also see Apple still paying serious homage to the traditional watch industry when it comes to the materials used, the ethos of how straps are designed and, of course, its watch faces. Apple is still the biggest fan of the traditional watch industry when compared to all of the other major smartwatch-makers out there. I am personally very excited to experience the new Apple Watch Series 5 in titanium.
Prices for the Apple Watch Series 5 in aluminum and polished steel remain pretty reasonable at $399 – $429 (difference in price is case size) in aluminum, and $699 – $749 in steel. This is what the majority of consumers will be spending. The Apple Watch Hermes and Apple Watch Edition prices are higher, but not too much for the titanium cases. Apple Watch Hermes prices are between $1,249 – $1,399 for the steel models, depending on the size and strap. Apple Watch Edition Series 5 in titanium is priced between $799 – $899. The Apple Watch Series 5 Ceramic is priced between $1,299 and $1,399 USD. Learn more at the Apple website here.