The Apple Watch is the most popular smartwatch on the market right now, offering a premium experience enhanced by standalone watchOS apps, optional LTE support, a built-in EEG and impressive water resistance. But things can always get better, and while the Apple Watch Series 5 introduced the heavily requested always-on display tech and a built-in compass, there's a lot more that can be added.
In this article we round up everything you need to know about the 2020 edition, which we will logically (but as yet unofficially) refer to as the Apple Watch Series 6. From the release date and price to new features and design, we've got all the latest leaks and rumours.
The latest rumour suggests that the Series 6 will get both sleep tracking - which has been expected for a while - and some form of mental health monitoring. Apple is also reportedly looking at adding light sensors to the Digital Crown - or even removing it entirely.
Release date: When will the Apple Watch Series 6 come out?
The Apple Watch Series 6 will be announced in early September 2020 (very likely 8 or 9 September) and then released a week or so later. At least, that's the strong expectation.
Apple tends to release a new version of the Apple Watch alongside new iPhones at a press event in September every year. There has been one exception - Apple unveiled the original Apple Watch in April 2015 - but every model since then has been released in September.
We're pretty sure, therefore, that the Apple Watch Series 6 will appear alongside the rumoured iPhone 12 - but there are rumours that the iPhone 12 itself may be delayed, following production difficulties caused by the coronavirus. This could leave the autumn releases pushed back by a month or even more.
Price: How much will the Apple Watch Series 6 cost?
The Apple Watch is available in two sizes and several finishes with a large collection of straps to choose from, and the combination you select dictates the price.
The entry-level Apple Watch Series 5 currently costs £399/$399, while the stainless steel variant costs £699/$699. You've also got the option of a titanium finish at £799/$799 and ceramic at £1,499/$1,499, but the latter isn't really aimed at everyday consumers.
While there have been slight fluctuations in the price of the Apple Watch due to local currency fluctuations, new versions of Apple Watch tend to cost the same as their predecessors. We assume that Apple will carry forward the Series 5 pricing for the Series 6 once it's released in late 2020.
Design: What will the Apple Watch Series 6 look like?
Apple has always wanted to push its watch into the luxury end of the market, but in this respect it hasn't succeeded - reports suggest it still isn't beating Rolex, and the most expensive models from the early days were soon retired. Those gold Edition watches were priced in the £8,000-£13,000 range (they started at $10,000 in the US) but were eased out to make way for ceramic and titanium Editions that today start at £799/$799 and top out at £1,399/$1,399.
Other than a shift towards less costly materials, however, the design of the Apple Watch has largely remained unchanged since the original Watch was first introduced in 2015: the only significant exception was the introduction of a bezel-less display with the Series 4. At this point, we think the design is synonymous with the Apple Watch brand and we can't see the company introducing drastic design changes any time soon.
The new Watch may be thinner due to the possible inclusion of a MicroLED display - which we discuss below - but it'll most likely offer the familiar form factor, square body and rounded edges that we've known and loved for the past few years.
It's rumoured that Apple is going to redesign the Digital Crown (the little dial on the side of the device). On a product with very few physical details this stands out as a characteristic part of the design - a little like the Home button on older iPhones and the notch on newer ones - and we'd be surprised to see it disappear entirely, but this is apparently on the table.
Apple is considering the use of light sensors instead of, or as well as, the rotation of the Digital Crown as a navigational control. The company has gone so far as to apply for a patent, which is discussed in depth by AppleInsider.
The patent details the use of clear windows to admit light from objects touching the device, and to learn its size, movement and potentially surface contours (such as fingerprints). In other words you could swipe your finger across a Crown-less edge of the watch - or around the rim of a non- or partially rotating dial, if they choose to keep it - and navigate through menus that way.
Note that patents get applied for all the time and big companies sometimes seem to view them as little more than brainstorming sessions: the ideas may eventually see the light of day, but they might just be things the company doesn't want its rivals to do, or wants people to think it's going to do. So this isn't a nailed-on certainty, and we suspect that, if it does happen, it won't happen on this generation.
Specs and new features
While the Apple Watch Series 5 was light on new features, the rumour mill has been churning and it looks like the Apple Watch Series 6 will offer much more.
Improved performance and water resistance
The Apple Watch Series 6 should feature not only improved performance, but improved water resistance too - if a research note from the infamous Ming-Chi Kuo is to be believed (and given his track record, they generally are!). As first reported by MacRumors, Kuo explains in the note that advancements will be made possible thanks to Apple's switch from polyimide (PI) to Liquid Crystal Polymer (LCP) for the flexible circuit boards.
While all current Series' of Apple Watch feature PI-made circuit boards, the Series 6 will sport an LCP flexible circuit board that'll allegedly provide a bump in performance - something missing from the current Series 5 when compared to the Series 4, with the only real additions being a built-in compass and an always-on display.
While Kuo doesn't explain the reasons behind the claim, he has also predicted that the Apple Watch Series 6 will offer improved water resistance. Considering the Apple Watch is already water-resistant to a depth of 50m, what more could Apple add? One option is to add support for intense water activities such as scuba diving and water skiing, but this is purely speculation.
It's been rumoured for quite some time, but Apple could finally be gearing up to release an Apple Watch with built-in sleep tracking - no need for any third-party app or additional hardware, as is the case right now. Finally, the Apple acquisition of Beddit back in 2017 starts to make sense.
As first picked up by 9to5Mac, the functionality is referred to as "Time in Bed tracking" within iOS 13's source code, and features a note describing the functionality. "You can also track your sleep and get woken up silently by wearing your watch to bed," it reads, specifically mentioning the use of an Apple Watch.
At the end of April 2020 a Twitter user named Nikias Molina gave his backing to the sleep-tracking rumour for the Series 6, and if that name isn't familiar on the Apple rumours circuit the name of Jon Prosser is - and Prosser confirmed Molina's statement.
This is all in line with a Bloomberg report claiming that Apple was testing sleep tracking on the Apple Watch way back in February 2019, with Mark Gurman stating that Apple planned to roll the feature out by 2020 if the testing was deemed successful. There's also evidence for a sleep tracking-focused Watch face after the discovery of a "ClickFaces-Burrito" string, with Burrito being Apple's internal codename for the sleep-tracking functionality.
While there's a possibility that it'll be pushed out to Apple Watch Series 5 owners via a software update in 2020, we think Apple will wait until it releases the Series 6 with (we assume) improved battery life to offer tracking all day and all night too.
The OLED display of the Apple Watch is a power drain, and that's partly why Apple is rumoured to be ditching OLED tech in the next-gen Apple Watch. Citing sources with knowledge of Apple's supply chain plans, Chinese site Economic Daily News claims the Apple Watch Series 6 will feature a microLED display.
The main difference between the two display types comes down to the light-emitting compounds - microLED displays are thinner, brighter and less power-hungry than OLED displays, which could allow Apple to create an Apple Watch with longer battery life and slimmer form factor.
It's worth noting that Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reports a slightly different timeline, claiming that it'll appear in 2020 at the earliest with full adoption across the Apple Watch and iPhone planned for the next two-to-four years, so take this one with a pinch of salt for now.
In the tweet linked above, Nikias Molina - backed by Jon Prosser - said we should expect the Series 6 to offer anxiety monitoring (or "Mental Health Abnormalities Detection", to use Molina's exact phrasing).
We're not sure how this would work, since mental health is far harder to monitor electronically than, say blood glucose levels. Would there be an app, similar to Breathe, that checks in with the user's state of mind once or twice a day, perhaps? We'll have to wait and see.
In-screen Touch ID
The next Apple Watch could feature upgraded security in the form of Touch ID, but unlike the iPad and Mac, it'll be built directly into the display itself.
As it stands, the Apple Watch is secured by a four-digit PIN which the wearer taps into the display. It'll stay unlocked as long as the Watch can detect a heartbeat, allowing you to read notifications, unlock your Mac, make contactless payments and everything else you can do on the Apple Watch.
Unlocking is admittedly a quick process, but it can be a bit fiddly on the small display, and it's certainly not as slick as Face ID or Touch ID.
The rumoured Touch ID upgrade comes via a patent published in November 2019. It suggests Apple is making progress on under-display fingerprint reader technology similar to that used on 2019 flagships including the Samsung Galaxy S10, OnePlus 7T and Huawei P30 Pro.
The patent states how the display could "provide an input surface for one or more input devices such as touch sensing device, force-sensing device, temperature sensing device, and/or a fingerprint sensor".
Of course, and as discussed above in relation to the Digital Crown light sensor patent, it's important to note that while Apple files a lot of patents covering a broad range of future tech on a regular basis, it doesn't mean that the technology will arrive in the near future - or ever - so don't get too excited just yet.
The Apple Watch Series 6 will come with watchOS 7 pre-installed. Most other Apple Watches currently in use will be able to get it as a free upgrade, although it's rumoured that the Series 2 will miss out this year.
watchOS 7 will be key to the new sleep and mental health features expected in the Series 6; we also expect it to allow users to extensively customise a watch face and then share that configuration with someone else. Finally, it's believed that Apple will introduce parental controls in the next version of watchOS, as more and more owners choose to pass on their old watches to their kids.
That's all the Apple Watch Series 6 rumours that are fit to print. But we've got plenty more articles for fans of Apple's wearable.
For more on the current Watch range, for example, take a look at our Apple Watch buying guide and our selection of the best Apple Watch deals. If you're looking to get more out of the device you've got, you should head over to How to use the Apple Watch.