While Apple's future iPhones have been getting most of the attention lately — especially with all of the buzz around Apple and Qualcomm's new peace accord — it's almost certain that we're going to also see an update to Apple's flagship wearable this fall — the Apple Watch Series 5.
While we may also learn a bit more when watchOS 6 gets unveiled at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June, there are still a lot of hardware features that Apple keeps under wraps until the very last minute. For instance, watchOS 5 last year provided almost no evidence of the ECG monitoring feature that made its debut on the Apple Watch Series 4.
That said, there are more than a few rumours already making the rounds, so read on to see what we know so far about what we can expect to see in the next-generation Apple Watch.
The Return of Ceramic
Physically, the Apple Watch Series 5 is expected to look pretty much the same as the current Series 4. While Apple surprised us last year by making its first-ever design changes to the Apple Watch, increasing the screen sizes to 40mm and 44mm for its new Series 4 version, we're expecting that Apple will stay the course on this design for at least another year.
That said, one possible minor change that may be in store is the comeback of the ceramic-encased Apple Watch Edition. While the very first Apple Watch Edition was 18-karat gold, by the time Apple released the Apple Watch Series 2 in 2016, it had dropped the ostentatious $10K+ gold version, replacing it instead with a white ceramic body and a $1,299 price tag. This continued through to the Series 3 in 2017, but for whatever reason was dropped from last year's Series 4 lineup.
However, well-connected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who is more often right about these things than not, made the prediction in February that a "new ceramic casing design" will be added, although he had little more to say on the subject, so it's unclear what it will look like or which models will be included.
Recent rumours also point to Apple working on sleep tracking for a future Apple Watch model, although it's unclear whether it's going to be ready in time for this year's Apple Watch; at least some predictions are pegging it for the 2020 Series 6.
However, Apple has been working on the technology for about two years now, ever since it acquired Beddit back in 2017, and while it looks like Apple is preparing to reintroduce an updated version of that product, as well as some other possible innovations, adding it to the Apple Watch seems like an obvious move.
Of course, there are already some third-party sleep tracking app available on the App Store, so it will be interesting to see what Apple's approach will be. However, there's also more to sleep tracking than simply the tracking itself; as the Apple Watch currently stands, it needs to be charged every night, so Apple will presumably need to innovate in power management as well.
New Air Quality Sensors
Multiple reports have been appearing recently that Apple is working on some form of gas chromatographic or air quality sensors for the Apple Watch. This could take the form of a Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector for general health and safety purposes — saving lives by letting users know when they're walking into a potentially dangerous environment, or even when the air they're breathing may be less than ideal for optimal health, especially during high-intensity workouts.
A more recent patent discovery, however, suggests that Apple is also considering this as a way to have the Apple Watch detect blood sugar levels by "smelling" a user's sweat — something that would be more directly in line with Apple's health ambitions, as the company has been working on non-invasive glucose monitoring since before the original Apple Watch even came out.
Of course, these are only patents at this point, and there's been no additional evidence that the features themselves are in development, but it's certainly possible that Apple could have these new sensors ready in some form for this year's Apple Watch.
Battery and Charging Improvements
If Apple is going to try and tackle sleep tracking and other fitness goals, it's going to have to create an Apple Watch that can be worn 23 hours a day. Apple has made improvements in battery life year-over-year, usually as a result of improved power management in its chip designs rather than larger batteries, since there's only so much battery that you can cram into a watch.
While multi-day battery life is likely still a pipe dream, Apple could add faster charging technology to allow users to juice up the Apple Watch Series 5 more quickly. This would allow users to wear the Apple Watch to bed and then drop it on the charger while they're in the shower to have it ready to go for the day. A low-power mode could also help in this regard, especially if it could be used for sleep tracking.
It also looks like this year's iPhone model will offer its own charging innovation to accompany the Apple Watch — the ability to wirelessly charge an Apple Watch directly from the iPhone itself.
New OLED Display
Unlike the iPhone, the Apple Watch has used OLED displays from the very beginning, but has always sourced them from LG Display. A recent report from Reuters, however, notes that Apple plans to shift to Japan Display for screens for its newest Apple Watch units.
Whether this results in any significant changes remains to be seen, however. Japan Display has a long and solid track record at making LCD displays — in fact it's where Apple gets the Liquid Retina Displays for the iPhone XR — but this will be its first big foray into OLED.
Apple's normally high standards for quality suggest that this isn't likely to be a bad thing, but whether we'll see any display improvements as as result of this is still anybody's guess.