With today's Apple event bearing the tagline "Time Flies" it was pretty much a given that the new Apple Watch would be headlining the event, and as expected Apple opened with an intro by Apple CEO Tim Cook who jumped right into talking about the Apple Watch and sharing several related success stories and testimonials from people whose lives have been made better by the groundbreaking wearable device.
Following that intro, Apple COO Jeff Williams took the virtual stage to recap the key new features coming to watchOS 7, such as sleep tracking, and automatic handwashing detection that were introduced at WWDC back in June, and then launched into what else in coming in watchOS 7 and not one, but two new Apple Watch models. Read on for everything Apple announced about the Apple Watch during today's event.
New Series 6 Designs
Of course, the big news was the unveiling of the Apple Watch Series 6, which we've known was coming from some time, and in addition to some nice hardware and sensor upgrades (which we'll talk about in a moment), Apple has also made some design refreshes.
Williams called it "the most colourful lineup ever," showing off several new finishes, starting with an electric blue aluminum for the entry-level model. The higher-end stainless steel versions will be gaining one with a classic gold finish and a really slick grey-black "graphite" finish.
We heard rumours earlier this year that Apple was planning on giving the Apple Watch the (PRODUCT)RED treatment, and while those report had suggested it would have been a mid-tier upgrade to the finish, Apple has instead decided to launch a new (PRODUCT)RED version right out of the gate, marking the first time that Apple has done this in several years.
Blood Oxygen Sensor
The most significant upgrade coming to the Apple Watch Series 6 is likely also the least surprising, since we've not only been hearing rumours about it all year, but Fitbit actually beat Apple to the punch here back in January.
We're referring of course to the new Blood Oxygen Sensor, which will measure SPO2 levels to help users get a better understanding of their cardiac and respiratory health. Of course, Apple's implementation of the sensor is considerably more advanced than what its rivals have come up with — Fitbit gained its support as a software upgrade, after all — with a new hardware sensor that uses red and infrared light shone into your wrist to determine the colour of your blood, which in turn is a reflection of SPO2 levels.
According to Apple, this measurement can not only be done on demand in about 15 seconds, but the Apple Watch Series 6 will also capture periodic background readings through the day — and even during the night if you wear your Apple Watch to bed. Like everything else measured by the Apple Watch, you'll be able to view all of this data in the iPhone's Health app.
VO2 Max Levels
While Apple barely mentioned this when it debuted watchOS 7 at WWDC back in June, Williams reiterated that all of the Apple Watch models supported by watchOS 7 will now be able to measure a full range of VO2 Max levels, thanks to more advanced sensor algorithms, bringing another powerful predictor of overall health to the wearable.
VO2 Max is a measurement of oxygen intake during exercise, and it's actually something that the Apple Watch is already capable of recording, even with watchOS 6 and prior versions. It looks like watchOS 7 merely improves the accuracy and range of these measurements, and it also doesn't seem like the Apple Watch Series 6 will do any better in measuring this particular metric, since it's based on sensor algorithms and data that can already be captured by existing sensors.
That said, Williams also added that Apple will be adding support for getting notifications when VO2 Max drops to dangerous levels during exercise, which could suggest the onset of a serious condition. This sounds like it will be coming as part of a watchOS 7.1 or 7.2 update later this year.
New Research Studies
With the new Blood Oxygen Sensor in the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple is also backing three new ResearchKit studies that will help to determine how "longitudinal SPO2 measurements" can be combined with other data from the Apple Watch sensors, such as heart rate, to predict and diagnose various medical and health conditions.
Apple is partnering with the University of California Irvine for a study related to asthma using physiological signals, another study with the University Health Network and the University of Toronto on how SPO2 can be used to manage heart failures, and lastly a COVID-related study by the University of Washington School of Medicine to understand how the novel coronavirus interplays with influenza.
While last year's Apple Watch Series 5 included a new S5 system-on-a-chip (SoC) processor, it didn't really offer any significant boost over the S4 that had come the year before. That's not the case this year, however, with the new S6 chip in the Apple Watch Series 6 featuring a high-performance dual-core design based on the A13 Bionic found in the iPhone 11.
Apple promises that this will deliver performance that's up to 20 percent faster than the previous-generation Apple Watch. Not that we found our Apple Watch slow to begin with, but the important point is that this should offer more power for the various sensors and algorithms to do their work when it comes to health and fitness tracking.
A Better Always-On Display
Apple also says that it's been able to make the Series 6 more energy efficient than prior models, which in turn has allowed it to brighten up the Always-On Display (AOD) introduced on the Series 5 last year.
The AOD will apparently now be 2.5 times brighter than before, making it easier to read when your wrist is down, especially in direct sunlight. However, it's likely that it will still go into a low refresh mode to save power when lowered, which means that you may still need to raise your wrist to see certain complications updated.
Thanks to the new power efficiency improvements, a new always-on altimeter has also been added that Apple says will provide continuous elevation readings throughout the day.
This will be particularly great for hikers, as it means that you'll be able to get real-time elevation information, whether you're climbing winding trails or scaling a mountain.
New Watch Faces
Apple also showed off some of the new Watch Faces that will be coming to the Apple Watch Series 6 and watchOS 7, although they weren't particularly clear on whether some of these will be exclusive to the new Apple Watch.
The new faces include a GMT face, a count-up face that will help track elapsed time, and several new special artistic faces, along with the Chronograph Pro and Typograph faces already shown off with watchOS 7 earlier this year.
Apple added that watchOS 7 will also provide new tools for developers to create specialized watch faces for different tasks and pursuits, such as tying into an app that lets users check surf conditions at a glance, track photography conditions, or even watch faces customized for health professionals.
Before you get too excited, however, it seems that these are just a function of the custom complication setups on the predefined watch faces, which Apple already announced at WWDC, rather than custom faces built from the ground up.
New Watch Bands
With the new Apple Watch, Apple is also unveiling a whole new collection of watch bands to go along with it, although of course they'll remain compatible with every older Apple Watch model as well.
The most prominent among these is Apple's new one-piece Solo Loop, which has no buckle and no separation at all, but is rather stretchable to allow you to simply slip your Apple Watch on over your hand. It will be available in seven colours and a range of sizes for different hands and wrists.
A Braided Solo Loop is also available, adding a bit of style to the same single-piece design, which will be available in five colours. There are also several new Apple Watch Nike Bands and a special new band for the Apple Watch Hermès.
Apple is finally untethering the Apple Watch from the iPhone... sort of.
While you've always been able to pair multiple Apple Watches with a single iPhone, these all had to be associated with a single user, and in the case of cellular Apple Watches, a single phone number. Now, however, it will be possible for multiple people to use Apple Watches all paired with a single iPhone.
The primary objective here seems to be to allow kids to have an Apple Watch of their own without necessarily having an iPhone. This would allow for them to enjoy the fitness features, but they'll also get their own phone number for making calls and sending and receiving texts, basically giving parents a way to stay in touch with their kids and also keep track of them through the standard iOS and watchOS location services features like Find My.
A full set of parental control features will be included as well, including the ability to restrict kids' contacts, similar to how the iOS Screen Time feature currently works, as well as a "School Time" mode to limit distractions during class time by doing things such as enforcing Do Not Disturb and restricting other interactions. A distinct Watch face will also be displayed in this mode so teachers and parents can easily know when it's enabled.
Kids will also be able to create Memojis directly on their watch and share them via stickers and Messages, and there's also a new Memoji watch face too.
Unfortunately, this feature will be limited to cellular Apple Watch models, and the need for the watch to have a separate phone number also means it's launching only on select carriers in a few regions. Right now that list includes AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile in the U.S., along with carriers in mainland China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, and the U.K., although of course Apple promises that more will be coming.
Apple Watch SE and Series 3
This year saw the debut of an additional new Apple Watch model as Apple brought the wearable into the Special Edition fold with the new Apple Watch SE.
Far more than just the rebranded Apple Watch Series 3 that many had expected, the Apple Watch SE is a brand new device in its own right, and actually has far more in common with the Apple Watch Series 6 than it does with the 2017-era Series 3.
Specifically, it will feature elements of the Series 6 design, including the larger display — it will come in the 40mm and 44mm sizes — and also sport the S5 chip from last year's Apple Watch Series 5. Cellular models will be available, making it great for the new Family Setup feature.
Apple also notes that it will feature the same accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, and always-on altimeter features as the S6, making it great for workouts, and it will even include Fall Detection. However, as much as Apple talked about what the Apple Watch SE can do, it was a bit more circumspect about what the new model wouldn't be able to do.
Notably, Apple is also not discontinuing the Apple Watch Series 3, so that suggests that there will still be room for the older model in the lineup as well, in the very least as an extremely affordable entry-level option, although it's also still a great choice for those who want a smaller watch. Sadly, however, the Apple Watch Series 3 won't be getting Family Sharing support, which means that you'll be shelling out a minimum of $329 for an Apple Watch for your kid.
Pricing and Availability
The Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE will start at $279 and $399, respectively for the 40mm GPS-only models, and $329 and $499 for the 40mm cellular models, with the prices increasing from there for the stainless steel models and those with higher-end watch bands, which are exclusive to the Series 6.
While the Apple Watch Series 6 remains available in the Apple Watch Edition, it's only in titanium; Apple appears to have discontinued the ceramic version this year.
All models are available for pre-order now. They're expected to be in stores this Friday. Apple Card financing will also be available for the Apple Watch SE starting at $12/month.