While we all knew that the Apple Watch Series 6 was coming this fall, one of the more surprising announcements during today's "Time Flies" event was the unveiling of the Apple Watch SE, a new lower-cost version that's designed to make Apple's newest wearable technology more accessible to the masses.
Surprisingly, the Apple Watch SE defied some expectations that it would simply be a rebranded Apple Watch Series 3, and in fact Apple hasn't discontinued the older S3 model, which remains as the most affordable option in the lineup at a starting price of $199. On the other hand, the Apple Watch SE sports the same basic design as the new Apple Watch Series 6, and at least some of the exact same features.
During today's keynote, Apple naturally put a lot of emphasis on everything that the Apple Watch SE brings to the table for its $279 price tag, but of course the company was also a bit more circumspect about what the new mid-range Apple Watch won't be able to do compared to its newest Apple Watch Series 6. In many ways the Apple Watch SE is a couple of steps both forward and backward. Read on for 6 things that won't be coming to the Apple Watch SE, plus 7 surprising things it will be offering.
No Always-On Display
One of the marquee features of the Apple Watch Series 5 when it launched last year was the addition of an always-on display, allowing you to see basic information such as the time without the need to always flick your wrist upright to light up the display.
In the Series 5, Apple accomplished this magic by dramatically slowing the refresh rate, so that the Apple Watch display updated much less frequently, thereby preserving battery life.
However, while Apple has actually improved the always-on display in the Apple Watch Series 6 — Apple says it's now 2.5 times brighter than the Series 5 — it hasn't brought that technology to the new Apple Watch SE, which looks like it's basically going to have the same display technology as the 2018 Apple Watch Series 4.
It's a surprising omission, as we basically felt that the always-on display was the way forward — how Apple believes that all Apple Watches should now work, rather than a premium or luxury feature — and with the Apple Watch Series 5 now discontinued, it means that if you want an always-on display, you'll ultimately be shelling out for the new Series 6.
No Blood Oxygen Sensor
As unfortunate as the omission of the always-on display was, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the Apple Watch SE won't be getting the new Blood Oxygen sensor that Apple promoted as the marquee feature of the Apple Watch Series 6.
If you thought that the Apple Watch SE was basically just an upgraded Series 4, it may come as a surprise that the electrical heart sensor and accompanying ECG feature is also being omitted here. This actually makes it a step back from the Series 4 when it comes to health monitoring features.
In other words, it basically packs in the same heart sensors as the Apple Watch Series 3, which means you'll get high and low heart rate notifications, and irregular rhythm notifications.
Basic Aluminum Colours Only
Although the Apple Watch SE features the same physical dimensions as the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple is offering it only in the aluminum casing, although it gains the rose gold colour not available on the Apple Watch Series 3, but you won't be able to get it in the new blue and (PRODUCT)RED finishes.
Arguably, this makes things pretty simple for the Apple Watch SE, as it will only be available in a single set of price points, with the only variations being the two sizes and the GPS-only or GPS+Cellular models.
It's perhaps a small thing, but the new Apple Watch Series 6 actually supports dual-band Wi-Fi, offering access to the 5GHz band for faster and more congestion-free connectivity. The Apple Watch SE is limited to 2.4GHz only, although it does still pack in the same Bluetooth 5.0 chipset, which is an improvement over the S3's Bluetooth 4.2.
No U1 Chip
The Apple Watch Series 6 gained the U1 Ultra Wideband chip this year, but sadly that won't be coming to the Apple Watch SE.
Right now this chip isn't used for a whole lot (that we know of), but it's going to be key to powering Find My, AirTags, and new navigation experiences. How that's going to impact Apple Watch users remains to be seen.
More Affordable Cellular
While the Apple Watch Series 6 GPS+Cellular models will carry a $100 price premium over the GPS only models, it seems that Apple is offering up the Apple Watch SE cellular versions for only half that. While $279 will get you an entry-level GPS-only Apple Watch SE, the price for the cellular edition is only $329, which is a full $70 less than the GPS-only Series 6.
Fall Detection and SOS
Despite lacking the ECG feature of the Apple Watch Series 4, the Apple Watch SE does include the Fall Detection features that were introduced with that model, and it appears that these will be in every way just as capable as the new Apple Watch Series 6, including sending Emergency SOS notifications, plus international emergency calling support — all things that the Apple Watch Series 3 can't do.
The Apple Watch SE also still includes the noise monitoring capabilities of the Apple Watch Series 4. Added in the form of a Noise app last year in watchOS 6, the Apple Watch Series 3 was left out of the party on this one, perhaps due to poorer battery efficiency or a slower CPU.
Despite the lack of an always-on display, the Apple Watch SE gains the other main feature from last year's Series 5 in the form of the built-in compass.
This was a hardware change that wasn't available to previous models, but is clearly something that Apple now considers standard equipment.
Perhaps most significantly, the Apple Watch SE is actually getting one brand new feature this year that debuted with the Apple Watch Series 6: the always-on altimeter.
It's a smaller thing — unless you're a hiker, that is — but it does mean that even the Apple Watch SE will be able to keep track of your elevation as you wander through the great outdoors, and you'll be able to see it at a glance.
Same Battery Life
While Apple has promised more power efficiency in the Apple Watch Series 6, it's used that extra efficiency to do things like improve the always-on display. As a result, there's no real battery life increase in the Apple Watch Series 6, and the Apple Watch SE is rated for the same 18-hour battery life as its more expensive sibling, and as the Series 3 that came before it.
The Apple Watch SE will also be the most inexpensive model to support Apple's new Family Setup feature, which allows you to setup additional watches from your iPhone for use by kids or other family members who don't have their own iPhones.
The fact that the Apple Watch Series 3 won't include Family Setup is likely simply a result of Apple only selling it in the GPS version; since Apple has decided that letting kids and family members keep in touch is an important part of Family Setup — which makes sense since users won't have a paired iPhone to stay connected — it requires a cellular Apple Watch to operate.