The Apple Watch Series 2 was announced at Apple's event on 7 September 2016, where the new watch brought new features like GPS, a dual-core processor, water-resistance and a brighter display. The Watch Series 2 is a healthy step forward and we're really fond of it. Also see: Apple Watch Deals 2017.
However, there are some features we still would have liked to see, many of which we are hoping will appear in the next version of the Apple Watch - and we may be in luck, as there are a number of Apple patents that suggest Apple is looking into improving these aspects of the watch. In this article we discuss what we would like to see in the Apple Watch Series 3, alongside any rumours about the new features and technologies that will be offered by the next Apple Watch.
So far we have heard rumours that Apple could introduce modular straps that could bring heath monitoring to the Apple Watch - for example, blood sugar monitoring for diabetics. As well as a camera, a better battery, and a brighter more power efficient display that could be 'always on' so that you could at least always see the time.
When will the Apple Watch 3 be released?
We expect the Apple Watch Series 3 to come out in September 2017, a year after the Series 2. However, there was more than a year between the original Apple Watch, which launched in April 2015, and the second version of the Apple Watch, so it is possible that we could be waiting until 2018 for the launch of the next Apple Watch.
It may not matter if a new Watch isn't launched until 2018 as we don't suppose that people update their Watches as often as yearly. That said, anyone looking to purchase a new smartwatch will want the best technology on offer, and if the Apple Watch can't compete with other offerings it may lose out on customers.
And there are a number of new technologies appearing in competitor watches that we think will could make the Apple Watch 2 pale in comparison. So we hope that Apple will update its watch in September.
We aren't the only ones expecting a September launch. A report in China's Economic Daily News predicts a third-quarter release for the next hardware iteration of the Apple Watch.
As, for that matter, does a report in Taiwan's DigiTimes. That report claims that Apple is moving away from a touch-on-lens display to a glass-film touch system. This won't make any appreciable difference to the user, but the interesting element is that the touch panels will begin shipping in the second half of 2017 - just in time for a September release. This is the first solid rumour yet about the Apple Watch 3 supply chain kicking into action. You can read more about the new screen technologies in the Apple Watch 3 below.
However, there is also a rumour that Apple could release a Series 2 'S' sooner than that. The new S version would add extra storage options to the current Apple Watch Series 2 line-up, which has 8GB of storage, but most of that is given to the operating system, leaving just 2GB for photos and 75MB for music. With Apple's focus on music and images we think it's a logical step for them to offer more storage for this. We'd also like to see storage for apps - more on this below.
How much will the Apple Watch 3 cost?
We expect the Watch Series 3 to start from £369 for the 38mm and £399 for the 42mm. These are the current prices of the Series 2 watches.
However, Apple often drops the price of the previous generation of its products, reducing the cost of entry, so we would also expect a price drop of the Series 2 line by around £100 in September 2017, where the Series 1 watches would be then discontinued.
There is also the possibility that there will be the option of an even more expensive Apple Watch with cellular/mobile capabilities. We can see Apple introducing this technology at the top of the line with a price to match. See below for more information about an Apple Watch with cellular capabilities.
What will the Apple Watch 3 look like?
So, will the design of the new Apple Watch change much from what it is currently? Maybe? After all the iPhone has gone through multiple design iterations. We expect that over time the Apple Watch will get thinner, but will the shape change? Read on for more information...
Modular straps or Smart Bands
This is one of the more prominant rumours we are hearing about the new Apple Watch. The idea is that Apple is considering producing new multi-function smart bands that it will sell with the Watch.
By moving some of the technologies from inside the watch face and into these smart bands Apple would be able to add new features without being as limited by the small size of the Watch face. This would enable Apple to add such features as a camera, or a bigger battery.
Smart bands with various features could be purchased separately in the same way as straps are purchased separately currently.
A number of patents have appeared suggesting that Apple has been working on this idea for some time. For example, a patent, originally filed in 2015, shows off the design for a battery band that includes its own battery to keep the device running for longer.
That patent shows how the band would be charged inductively using the same charger as the Watch itself. In addition to a battery the band could also house other components in a modular design, with each link performing a separate function. Users would be able to swap modules out depending on their requirements.
The patent states the following: "In one or more embodiments, a method for utilising functional components of band system for a wearable device may include: receiving identifiers at a wearable device from multiple modular functional band links connected to the wearable device, determining functionality available via the multiple modular functional band links utilising the received identifiers, and communicating with one of the multiple modular functional band links to utilise the determined functionality."
Another patent surfaced in May 2017 and was also filed in 2015. That patent is for "Display Module and System Applications", discovered by Patently Apple, shows an Apple Watch with a continuous display running from the watch face through the band. In the description that accompanies the image the patent states: "A flexible display panel #215, #315 (noted above) may be integrated into the smartwatch so that it spans both the watch face and band." This could suggest that the watch face could extend into the band.
The patent also describes how a "module within the watch includes a processor and memory" and may also include "a communication module", which could be able to "communicate with a wide area network including a cellular data network." An illustration seems to indicate that a number of components could be built into the band itself.
Another thing that could be made possible by a modular strap is the inclusion devices for health-focused monitoring.
Back in 2015, Cook said that while Apple had a keen interest in health-focused products, it decided against adding sensors to the Watch to avoid FDA approval as it "would hold [Apple] back from innovating too much, the cycles are too long", although Cook hinted at an accessory or app that could sit alongside it. "But you can begin to envision other things that might be adjacent to it - maybe an app, maybe something else." he teased.
An interchangeable smart band would allow Apple to add health features to the Apple Watch. One area that the company is said to be interested in developing is glucose monitoring, and this could be offered via one of these smart bands. Smart bands should allow Apple to avoid submitting the Watch for FDA approval, instead only the band would need approval.
So perhaps an Apple Watch of the future could move some components into the strap freeing up the watch face for other technologies.
Thinner & lighter
One of the bonuses of the modular bands described above is that it could free up the watch face, enabling Apple to make that thinner, and lighter (although the whole watch could end up being heavier if you included the pimped up strap).
Will the Apple Watch 3 have a round face?
While we expect the Watch 3 to look and feel like the current Series 2 watches, there could be some changes to the materials used, to the size and shape of the screen, and to the straps.
The idea that Apple would change its philosophy and offer a round faced version of the Apple Watch seems rather too outlandish to us, and we would never have considered it possible had we not seen the following drawing in a patent:
That patent is actually related to a strap design technology, which we will discuss below. But it is definately a good reason to evaluate whether Apple would ever sell a watch with a circular face. One thing is apparent, the company has thought about such things, but we believe that Apple has at some point since that patent was designed, decided that rectangle is the way to go with the Apple Watch face.
Alternatively it could be round because Apple uses generic images for its patent designs to ensure a broad scope, and this doesn't necessarily mean the company is considering a round design.
However, there is a fierce debate over whether Apple is right to stick to rectanguar faces. There are many Android Wear smartwatches that have round faces now making us wonder if people really do prefer circles.
Smartwatches like the Huawei Watch 2, Moto 360 2 and LG G Watch R look like traditional watches with completely digital, circular displays and are extremely popular. (Read our comparison of the Apple Watch 2 and Huawei Watch 2 here).
There are UI issues with a circular display, namely getting the text to fit on screen properly. Ironically, this is an issue that Huawei showcases on its Huawei Watch page. We think this is more due to Android Wear being used by a variety of smartwatches, all with different sized and shaped displays. If Apple were to create a circular display, we think the UI would reflect the decision because it would be designed specifically for that hardware.
What shaped smartwatch do you prefer? Round or square?
New Apple Watch design
Some illustrations in an Apple patent for "Display Module and System Applications," published in May 2017 by the US Patent and Trademark Office, and discovered by Patently Apple, show what looks like it could be a new design for the Apple Watch. Before you get to excited though, Apple often uses generic images of products to illustrate points in its patent filings. If you’d like to have an Apple Watch with a continuous display running from the watch face through the band though then you might be pleased to see such a design popping up in a patent.
New Apple Watch wristband design
There are also patents that relate to the design of the wrist band: first spotted by AppleInsider in 2016, Apple has filed a patent for a Magnetic Wristband. The patent details a wristband for the Apple Watch that would feature a set of magnets embedded into it, allowing the two sides to join together. For consumers, this means that when worn, the magnets would hold the Apple Watch in place (much like Apple's Milanese Loop) - but it's when the watch is taken off that the new band comes into its own.
The strap could be wrapped around the watch, which would suspend the screen in the middle of the straps, ideal for protection when being stored or transported. As well as offering additional protection, the strap could also double up as a stand (ideal for Apple's nightstand mode) as it's been designed to roll up behind the watch, propping it up.
What new features will the Apple Watch 3 offer?
Now you've got a good idea of what the third-generation Apple Watch will look like, next we discuss possible Apple Watch 3 hardware features.
The current Apple Watch can be used as a view finder so that you can take a remote photograph with your iPhone, but it can't actually take photos itself - or for fans of SciFi - you can't make video calls on it. However, if the rumours about the modular straps are correct, a camera could find its way into the Apple Watch soon.
We are hearing a number of rumours about Apple including a camera in the new Apple Watch. Currently the Apple Watch lacks a camera, instead it acts as a view finder for the iPhone camera. However, a future Apple Watch could include FaceTime capabilities, allowing users to make and receive FaceTime calls.
Apple has patents for a wearable device that features a front-facing camera. It was rumoured to appear in the Series 2, but the feature wasn't announced. It's likely we could see this feature being included in the next iteration.
Opinions differ on whether this is intended to cater for FaceTime or selfies (or both), and whether it will offer video or just stills photography. The new camera would be integrated into the top bezel of the watch.
This feature does sound interesting, though we're not too sure how many people would actively FaceTime via a watch. It would be painful holding up the wrist for more than a few minutes, for one thing.
Still, Apple has already made its watch partially FaceTime-ready: watchOS 2 brought support for FaceTime audio calls. Does that indicate that it'll soon move on to video calls? Perhaps.
Patently Apple, meanwhile, has spotted an Apple patent that appears to support the inclusion of a selfie camera - a front-facing stills camera, in other words; not necessarily one that's capable of FaceTime video - in an Apple Watch in the future.
Patent 20160174025, which pertains in seemingly broad terms to methods for 'facilitating access to location-specific information using wireless devices', but actually focuses on wearables, contains a reference to digital photography:
"Camera 229 can include, e.g., a compact digital camera that includes an image sensor such as a CMOS sensor and optical components (e.g. lenses) arranged to focus an image onto the image sensor, along with control logic operable to use the imaging components to capture and store still and/or video images. Images can be stored, e.g., in storage subsystem 204 and/or transmitted by wearable device 200 to other devices for storage.
"Depending on implementation, the optical components can provide fixed focal distance or variable focal distance; in the latter case, autofocus can be provided. In some embodiments, camera 229 can be disposed along an edge of face member 104 of FIG. 1, e.g., the top edge, and oriented to allow a user to capture images of nearby objects in the environment such as a bar code or QR code. In other embodiments, camera 229 can be disposed on the front surface of face member 104, e.g., to capture images of the user. Zero, one, or more cameras can be provided, depending on implementation." Also see: How to write apps for the Apple Watch.
New brighter display
The new Apple Watch could have a micro-LED screen. By replacing the current OLED screen on the Apple Watch with a micro-LED display the Watch 3 could be brighter and more power-efficient, according to reports.
The new Micro LED panels are lighter, thinner, do not require backlighting like the current LCD panels, have a better brightness and are capable of higher resolutions.
There are also reports claiming that Apple could change the glass panel technology it uses in the Watch. According to a DigiTimes sources at TPK Holding, Apple is abandoning its current glass panel technology: "Apple will adopt G/F (glass-film) touch solution in place of TOL for new Apple Watch and have Taiwan-based General Interface Solution or Hong Kong-based Biel Crystal Manufactory produce the G/F touch panels, with shipments to begin in the second half of 2017."
According to the report, the curved glass display of the Apple Watch caused major headaches for TPK in the manufacturing process, and that the company reported a loss due to the difficulties.
The resolution of the Apple Watch may also improve. Currently it is 390 x 312 pixels, but this is fewer ppi than some of the competition with other watches having higher resolutions.We expect this to be an area Apple will seek to improve, although it possibly considers it a Retina display. Apple defines a Retina display as something over 300 pixels per inch, and says that people can't see more pixels than that when holding a device a foot from their eyes. Read: What is a Retina Display?
In another change we could see the display brightness improve - although it already increased in generation 2 of the Apple Watch.
This is backed up by another report from Business Korea that claims Samsung and LG are concerned with Apple's plans to replace OLED with micro-LED in not only the Apple Watch, but the iPhone too. The company has apparently been working with LuxVue (which it acquired back in 2014) to develop micro-LED displays to use in future iOS products, meaning the introduction of OLED on the iPhone 8 will be a temporary move.
Better battery life
Calls for the Apple Watch battery to improve were answered with the release of the Apple Watch 2, which features a battery that should last two days between charges (the original Apple Watch needed charging every day).
However, despite the improvements to battery life in the Apple Watch 2, Apple still has some way to go. There are competing smartwatches, like the Pebble Time Steel, with a battery life of around 10 days, making the Apple Watch battery seem a bit disappointing in comparison.
Better battery life also opens up more functionality in the Apple Watch, mainly with regards to sleep tracking. One problem with the Apple Watch battery is that the necessity of charging it at night means that people can't use it for sleep tracking. With a longer battery life, users could wear the Apple Watch to bed and get accurate stats about their sleep - information that's pretty popular, judging by the success of apps like Sleep Cycle.
Fortunately, it looks like Apple may be taking note. According to Economic Daily News Apple's focus with the Watch 3 is battery life, as per a January 2017 report on 9to5Mac.
Canalys and IDC have stated that wearables are set to rise in popularity within the next couple of years. In Canalys analysis, the firm predicted a total 7.5 million smart watches to feature cellular connectivity.
This number does depend on Apple's inclusion of cellular connectivity in their watch product line, but it seems that the analyst firm is confident that the feature will be included soon. It wasn't in the new Series 2 watch, but we did see the inclusion of GPS, a step in the right direction.
As it stands, the Apple Watch Series 2 supports activity tracking (with GPS), music playback and mobile payments without a paired iPhone, with many other features including text messaging, emailing and using third-party apps impossible without an iPhone for the Apple Watch to communicate with. The release of watchOS 2 (and later watchOS 3) brought the ability for third-party apps to run natively on the Watch, but the apps still require an iPhone to send and receive data.
We would like to see the Series 3 add a new wireless chipset and cellular connectivity, to make it less reliant on the iPhone. While it probably won't be able to handle data-heavy requests (such as software updates), other tasks could be handled without the assistance of an iPhone.
Some are suggesting that the Watch 3 will be able to run on its own, allowing it to run independently from an iPhone. In this respect, it's rumoured that the Watch 3 will have an untethered mode, allowing you to directly connect your Apple Watch 3 to a network (through its own SIM card), directly from the watch itself. We don't think Apple will allow this, due to the battery impact it will have on the device.
The rumour ties in in part to another report from the Wall Street Journal that claims the Apple Watch may get cellular connectivity. We've seen smartwatches from Samsung and Huawei that ship with 4G connectivity, and allow users to make and receive calls without their phone. It complicates things slightly for mobile operators as Apple will have to make it clear how the user is billed for cellular usage over two devices.
However, potential cellular connectivity for Apple Watch 3 is exciting, as severing the tie between the Watch and iPhone is an important technological step to the Watch being the all day every day personal assistant Apple is clearly dreaming of. Being able to bring up native apps over a network connection without your phone might unlock new possibilities for watchOS developers. Also see: Apple Watch rivals compared
New health sensors
Ahead of its original launch back in April 2015, there was a lot of talk regarding Apple's plans for the wearable and specifically that it'd be loaded with health sensors. So far that's not proven to be the case, with heart-rate and activity tracking offering a standard level of fitness tracking, but nothing more. There were reports at the time of launch suggesting that the sensors available at the time just weren't accurate enough - and no risks can be taken when it comes ot health monitoring.
In an interview with The Telegraph in November 2015, Tim Cook hinted that the company may make a medically approved device, but it wouldn't be the Apple Watch. Cook explained that the disruption that FDA accreditation would cause to the product release cycle ultimately put him off having the Apple Watch vetted for full-blown health use. Although with this being said, it hasn't completely put him off the idea of building a product for use in the medical world:
"We don't want to put the watch through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) process. I wouldn't mind putting something adjacent to the watch through it, but not the watch, because it would hold us back from innovating too much, the cycles are too long. But you can begin to envision other things that might be adjacent to it - maybe an app, maybe something else."
As we discussed earlier in this piece, the company may have found a way around the need for FDA approval, by placing these health related sensors in interchangeable straps that can be worn with the Watch.
There company is certainly showing interest in health. In December 2015 and January 2016, Apple posted two listings looking for biomedical engineers with a background in "medical, health, wellness and/or fitness sensors, devices and applications". Although there is no mention of the Apple Watch in the listings, it's widely assumed that the roles are related to the listing for a fitness software engineering manager, which went up in November and is specifically for the Apple Watch.
BuzzFeed News also reported that over the last three months, Apple has stolen employees from all over the medical field. An example given by the news outlet is Anne Shelchuk, who has a doctorate in biomedical engineering. Shelchuk left the ultrasound software company ZONARE Medical Systems back in November to work with Apple's health technology team, according to her LinkedIn.
Along with Shelchuk, Apple has reportedly snapped up medical engineer Craig Slyfield, system design engineer Nathan Clark, who has a patent for a device that separates cells, Jay Mung, who worked on sensor algorithms for Medtronic’s continuous glucose monitoring systems and Jennifer Hillier, a former exercise physiologist at the University of California.
The company is said to have been investigating ways in which the Watch would be able to "non-invasively monitoring blood glucose", according to a CNBC report, and the company is said to have hired 200 health PhDs to help it innovate in this area. Reports suggest that the next Apple Watch could offer blood sugar monitoring.
What software will the Apple Watch 3 feature?
Whatever design and features the third-generation Apple Watch sports, we assume it'll boast watchOS 4. watchOS 4 was first announced at WWDC 2017, and is due to be released later on this year - in fact, it's due to launch at around the same time as the rumoured Apple Watch 3 in September 2017.
watchOS 4 brings a number of changes to the Apple Watch, making it simpler to use with a more personal flavour. It boasts new features including a Siri watchface that'll offer information and complications based on time and location, based on your habits. It stretches much beyond that though, offering personalised Activity goals and encouragement if you're near a streak, a huge improvement over the boilerplate Activity notifications provided in watchOS 3.
For more information on what to expect with watchOS 4, take a look at our rumour hub: watchOS 4 release date, features and compatibility