Fresh off news that Apple is slowly but surely crushing other wearable options — growing 38 percent in sales this year while Fitbit’s fallen 22 percent — Apple’s out with a new Watch with a 30 percent larger screen.
The biggest deal, for fitness, is longer battery life while working out, with up to six hours with GPS enabled. That said, Apple didn’t promise longer overall battery life. Meantime, the larger screen of the Series 4 now makes room for more complications, and the new Watch OS 5 enables that.
For instance, you can create a custom screen that shows your friends and family’s photos. Tap on any of these photos and instantly get options to connect to them (call, text, etc.). For fitness, you can also further customize complications to display more about your progress (say, how many calories you’ve burned), wedded with other information such as your resting HR, or using the Streaks app that shows more granular fitness data (and other third-party apps can be added to complications as well). The point is that customizable complications lets you change from a screen for day, say focused on communicating with office mates, to one for your social life, with your friends and family, and one for fitness, with complications focused on your goals. Then from any complications set, the drill down to actionable use is a lot more direct than it was with Watch Series 3.
Two more engineering changes that matter include a newly constructed back for the Series 4 that enable the Cellular version to get better reception. This is a big deal if you run — a use case where bringing your cell phone stinks. Being able to leave your mobile behind but still stay connected was already a feature of the Series 3 Cellular, but stronger cell reception is obviously better, especially for trail or adventure runs.
The new back also enable Apple to add an electrocardiogram (ECG) to the back of the Apple Watch. This is the very first ECG sold to consumers over the counter for on-wrist use and approved by the FDA. And while chest straps work similarly…they’re on your chest, and not approved as FDA quality data suppliers.
Still, the ECG isn’t designed around fitness. You have to touch the digital crown while taking a heart measurement, and the idea is that you’d use the ECG function more frequently to check on heart health. If the test suggests you might have an irregular heart rate you can share the data with your physician (via simple PDF output). This, Apple argues, is superior to getting a single ECG datapoint during your annual physical in your doctor’s office.
Finally, Apple says its new accelerometer and gyroscope are far more accurate and will allow third-party developers to enhance their sensing tech, and (finally!) OS 4 adds auto-workout detection and will prompt you once it senses you’re, say, running, or hiking, etc., and ask you if you want to record the workout (and will back-credit the motion from when you began). These new sensors also allow Apple Watch to detect falls. Take a beater while skiing or mountain biking and the watch face starts a countdown clock. Via a haptic vibration the Watch asks if you want to call 911. And if you’ve been knocked unconscious? After one minute it also sends your location to your emergency contacts and auto-calls 911.
Watch Series 4 will be offered in three aluminum finishes anodized in silver, gold and space gray, plus there’s a gold, stainless steel and black stainless steel models.
And while straps aren’t typically news, the Nike version gets headlight-reflective yarn, which is smart, but we’d love to see Apple expand this tech to all of their fabric watch bands.
Pricing: $399 for the GPS-only Series 4; $499 with cell. Orders start Friday. Series 3 carries over.