The big news from Apple’s event yesterday was no doubt the announcement of the high-end iPhone X alongside the iPhone 8, but Apple had a bit to say about the Apple Watch, too. Funny enough, right alongside the most expensive, advanced iPhone ever was a smartwatch that doesn’t need it — the new Apple Watch Series 3 has cellular connectivity, allowing users to make calls and use apps without needing an iPhone around.
If you were looking for a total redesign, that definitely didn’t happen. The Apple Watch Series 3 looks the same as its predecessors from the outside — the same rounded rectangle with the large rotating crown. But, there’s something positive to say for staying the same. Despite adding a number of new sensors and the LTE hardware, the Apple Watch Series 3 is the same size as the Apple Watch Series 2, so at least it’s not going to look bulkier on the wrist. One of the ways they managed to do that was pretty clever — they simply included the cellular antenna in the display to save space.
Speaking of cellular, LTE connectivity is going to make the Apple Watch a lot more useful. We’ve seen a handful of Android Wear and Samsung watches add this, so we know what to expect — you’ll be able to make calls, use Siri to do voice searches (she can actually speak results from the Watch now), and use Apple Maps for navigation without needing the iPhone. In fact, Apple is encouraging users to make use of all of their services — they were keen to point out that Apple Music can now be streamed directly to the watch, which is feasible now that all of the major carriers have gone back to unlimited data plans. The addition of streaming music to LTE and GPS means that runners can easily leave their phones at home and just use the watch to track routes.
While you’ll need to add the Apple Watch Series 3 to your wireless plan as a separate device to take advantage of LTE connectivity, Apple has made that process a bit more convenient. The Apple Watch uses a small eSIM, an electronic SIM card that can’t be removed. One benefit of that is that it’ll allow you to use the same phone number for your iPhone and your Apple Watch. The downside is that the eSIM can’t be removed, and it’s not universally supported — you might not be able to use the Watch’s cellular connectivity while abroad, depending on the country.
Apple has also added a more powerful processor and a W2 wireless chip, which improves wireless connectivity while using less power. The Watch also has a barometer and an altimeter, and they’re promising that third party developers will soon put that new data to good use in skiing and snowboarding tracking apps. Like before, it’ll be water and dust resistant, so it’ll perform just fine in those snowy conditions.
One rumor that proved to be wishful thinking was a non-invasive glucose monitor — while the Watch can connect to plenty of other monitors to track data, the Watch still doesn’t have a monitor itself. Health was still a big part of the announcement, though. Apple is using heart rate data to try to tackle a couple heart health issues. Once the WatchOS 4 update arrives, anyone with an Apple Watch will get notifications if they’ve got an elevated heart rate while not active. Their heart rate monitor will also check for irregular heartbeats — they’re introducing a program called the Apple Heart Study, in which they’ll ask for user data to try to figure out how to accurately detect atrial fibrillation, which can lead to strokes if undetected.
Apple says to expect 18 hours of battery life using a mix of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and LTE — given that LTE demands a lot of power and that the Apple Watch has never been known for great battery life, we’ll have to count ourselves as a little skeptical of that claim for now.
Apple plans to open preorders for the Apple Watch Series 3 on September 15, with units shipping out on September 22. The Series 3 will replace the Series 2 and will start at $330 without LTE connectivity and an awfully pricey $400 with LTE. Apple will keep the Series 1 around, selling that for $250. You’ll be able to get the Series 3 in gold, silver, and space grey, and Apple teased a new dark grey ceramic option during the announcement. They’ll also have loads more strap options available, from sporty to fashionable, including a stretchy, moisture-wicking Sport Loop band. If you’re not planning to upgrade to a new Watch, your old Apple Watch will learn some new tricks when the WatchOS 4 update arrives on September 19.