The Apple Watch Series 2 was announced on 7 September 2016, bringing new features such as GPS, a dual-core processor, water-resistance and a brighter display. The Series 2 is a healthy step forward and we're really fond of it - check out our comparison of the two Apple Watch models to find out why, and look at our pick of the best Apple Watch deals if you want to grab one for yourself.
However, a few hoped-for features did not materialise, and optimists (supported by some promising Apple patent activity) expect these to appear in the next version of the Apple Watch - most notably the idea that it will feature cellular connectivity and be able to operate independently of an iPhone.
So far we've heard rumours about modular straps for improved heath monitoring - for example, blood sugar monitoring for diabetics. As well as a camera, a better battery and an even brighter, more power-efficient 'always on' display.
In fact, the closer we come to a possible release date, it seems that the Apple Watch Series 3 will boast an all-new form factor.
In this article we sift through the evidence and predict what new features and technologies the Series 3 will offer, as well as discussing what we would like to see next.
We expect the Apple Watch Series 3 to come out in the autumn of 2017 - most likely September 2017, one year after the Series 2.
Taiwan's DigiTimes has repeatedly predicted an autumn launch: in August the site predicted that shipments will begin in Q4 2017, which starts in October, while in February the site claimed that Apple is moving away from a touch-on-lens display to a glass-film touch system, and that these touch panels will begin shipping in the second half of 2017.
September looks the best bet right now, but bear in mind that Apple hasn't yet settled into a regular launch pattern, having released only two generations - and there was more than a year between the original Apple Watch (April 2015) and the second one (Sept 2016). It's possible we could be waiting until 2018.
Would this be a disappointment? Perhaps. Although we don't suppose most people update their watches on a yearly basis or anything like it.
There is a separate rumour that Apple is planning to release a Series 2 'S' in the near term. This would add extra storage options to the current Series 2 line-up, which has 8GB of storage, but after the operating system is taken into account has just 2GB for photos and 75MB for music.
How much will the Apple Watch 3 cost?
We expect the Watch Series 3 to start at £369 in the UK, for the 38mm model, and £399 for the 42mm. These are the current prices of the Series 2 watches. The Apple Watch appears to have sold only moderately well at this point (Strategy Analytics reckons 3.5 million were sold in the second quarter of 2017, compared to an official figure of 50.8 million iPhones) and a significant price rise would be a surprise; equally, Apple is not usually the sort of company to drop its prices in response to soft demand.
However, Apple does tend to drop the price of older generations when new products are launched, thereby reducing the cost of entry. In September 2017 we would expect the original Apple Watch to be discontinued, and for the Series 2 to get a price drop of around £100.
There is also a possibility that Apple will start to offer an even more expensive model 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.
So, will the design of the new Apple Watch change much from what it is currently?
We'd say... 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?
Infamous blogger John Gruber seems to think so. Discussing a Bloomberg report about the upcoming third-generation Apple Watch, Gruber claims that the publication missed out on one detail - a complete redesign of the smartwatch.
"No mention in Businessweek's report, though, of the all-new form factor that I've heard is coming for this year's new watches," Gruber writes. "That tidbit came from an unconfirmed little birdie, though, so I wouldn't bet the house on it."
This lines up with claims made by KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo in April 2016. Before the launch of the Apple Watch Series 2, the analyst claimed that the second-gen device would boast internal upgrades, while those looking for a big redesign would have to wait until 2017.
So, if Apple is planning a major redesign for the third-generation Apple Watch, what could it look like? Carry on reading for all the latest design rumours.
Modular straps or smart bands
This is one of the more prominent rumours we're hearing. 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 a design for a band with its own 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 out modules depending on their requirements.
The patent says: "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 suggests 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 module to "communicate with a wide area network including a cellular data network".
Modular strap could also be useful for health 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 because of concerns about FDA approval, which "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," he teased. "Maybe an app, maybe something else."
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. (On the other hand, the whole watch could end up heavier if you include the pimped-up strap.)
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.
New display 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. If you'd like to have an Apple Watch with a continuous display running from the face through the band, you might be pleased.
(Before you get too excited, though, note that Apple often uses generic images of products to illustrate points in its patent filings.)
New 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.
Now you've got a good idea of what the third-generation Apple Watch will look like, we'll look at possible Apple Watch 3 hardware features.
The hot ticket for the Apple Watch Series 3 is cellular connectivity - a feature that would enable it to operate independently of an iPhone.
It's rumoured that the Watch 3 will have an untethered mode, allowing you to connect to a network (via its own SIM card), directly from the watch itself. 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.
Bloomberg quotes "people familiar with the matter" who say that "equipped with LTE chips, at least some new Apple Watch models, planned for release by the end of , will be able to conduct many tasks without an iPhone in range", and a the Wall Street Journal also suggests the Apple Watch may get cellular connectivity.
CNBC cites "a source with knowledge of the matter" and says: "Apple is gearing up to release a new Apple Watch which will not require tethering to an iPhone for key functions like calls, making it a standalone device."
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, but the concept remains an appealing one for users.
As it stands, the Apple Watch Series 2 supports activity tracking (with GPS), music playback and mobile payments as a standalone device, but many other features including text messaging and email require a paired iPhone. 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.
Not everyone is convinced, of course: the Register has posted a trenchant opinion piece arguing that a 4G Apple Watch would lose more in battery life than it would gain in usefulness. And maybe this is a step that should wait until Apple has solved the power issue. But the future of smartwatches is definitely as standalone devices; it's only a matter of time.
The current Apple Watch can be used as a camera viewfinder so that you can take a remote photograph with your iPhone, but it can't actually take photos itself or make video calls. However, if the rumours about the modular straps are correct, a camera could find its way into the Apple Watch soon.
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 and its use "to capture images of the user". 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 could also see the display brightness improve - although it already increased in generation 2.
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. Some competing smartwatches, such as the Pebble Time Steel, offer a far higher battery life, albeit often with more limited features.
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 sleep-tracking apps such as 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.
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 to 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.
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 watch face 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 roundup: watchOS 4 release date, features and compatibility