Apple announced its first major new hardware product in years, Apple Watch, in September 2014. It had three key features: a precise and customizable timepiece, an intimate way to connect and communicate, and a comprehensive health and fitness companion. It has since evolved into the Apple wearable of today centered around health and fitness.
● Swappable bands
● Premium materials
● Integrated heart monitor
● Activity tracking and alerts
● 40mm and 44mm models
● Cellular models
● Siri integration
● Spring 2015 first release
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The Apple Watch launched in the spring of 2015 with three distinct models, several bands, and software that emphasized communication. Only one of those elements, bands, remains a key part of the lineup today. Apple has since evolved the wearable into a device centered around movement, with communication playing a secondary role.
Apple Watch Features
The Apple Watch has seen a few design changes over the years, but all have shared similar design characteristics. The device runs watchOS, an operating system built specifically for the tiny watch screen. The Digital Crown, changeable watch bands, and an OLED screen have persisted throughout each generation.
Bands use a simple hook and sliding mechanism to attach and secure the band in place. Apple offers a range of bands, but third-party manufacturers also make custom bands using Apple's template. Similar to the era of iPod cases, then iPhone cases, watch bands have exploded into their own micro-business.
Every generation has used the same band latches and sizes. This continued even when the device moved to a larger display in the fourth generation because the watch's physical size did not change. Pressing one of the buttons on either side of the casing releases the band.
Apple often introduces new colors and designs for existing watch bands, but it rarely brings about new designs or materials. In 2020, Apple announced a line of "Solo" bands without a fastener. Apple designed these bands to stretch over the hand. Users must therefore order them to size.
The Digital Crown is based on conventional time-setting crowns from analog watches. Apple set out to re-create this type of analog control for the digital era, leading to the Digital Crown. It rests on conductive liquid metal, allowing the crown to turn without the need for more complex wiring for signals.
The Digital Crown acts as a home button and a scroll-wheel for navigation. A long press will invoke Siri, and a double press will switch back to the last app.
Embedded in the flat side of the crown is a conductive plate. It serves as part of the circuit from wrist to finger during an ECG on Apple Watch Series 4 and later. You can perform the measurement using the ECG app that is pre-installed on the device.
An update in watchOS 7.2 made it possible for ECG to detect atrial fibrillation at higher heart rates of up to 150BPM. Previously, the ECG app would not work if the user's heart rate was too high.
Each generation of Apple Watch includes various technologies targeting activity monitoring. The heart-rate sensor and accelerometer both track movement and activity throughout the day. Apple Health's Activity Rings display daily progress for three goals: a target exercise goal, calories burned, and hours where a user has gotten up to move.
Apple Watch allows users to share their activity rings between themselves inside the Activity app. This app gives users medals based on continued habits and closing of rings. It also includes a social aspect, allowing users to challenge each other. One initiative called "Apple Watch Connected" allows gyms to reward their members based on Activity app performance.
Family Setup lets a Family Group organizer set up a cellular Apple Watch for a family member without a dedicated iPhone. Children in the household get their own phone number for each Watch, allowing them to keep in touch even if the kids don't have phones.
Family Setup lets parents specify with which contacts children can communicate. It can give parents automatic location notifications, so they can keep tabs on where their family is. Kids can also use their wearable to track activity.
Schooltime Mode is a feature that helps kids stay focused, limiting available features and activating Do Not Disturb during the school day, while giving them a unique watch face.
Family Setup requires a fourth-generation device with cellular capabilities.
Force Touch Display
Prior to 2020, every generation of the smartwatch had included a Force Touch Display. This allowed users to press "into" the content to open up contextual menus. If this sounds familiar, it's because it was the fore-bearer to the now-deprecated 3D Touch.
Because of its small screen and limited interactions, Force Touch on this device stuck around one year longer than on iPhones. However, watchOS 7 and the 2020 hardware updates removed it.
Apple Watch History
The world held its breath for an Apple "iWatch," and it never came. Instead, Apple introduced an unexpected naming scheme and the first Apple wearable-tech device. Tim Cook announced the new product with a "one more thing" addendum at the September 2014 iPhone launch event.
The operating system and health features have seen robust upgrades through the years.
The Apple Watch Series 6 comes with a brighter always-on display, a pulse oximeter, and new colors. The faster S6 Apple Silicon processor means everything is faster and more efficient.
The aluminum model has new blue and (Product)Red color options, and the stainless steel case has a new graphite color. Apple has retired ceramic from the sixth generation.
Apple Watch SE
The Apple Watch SE has a modern design with the latest tech, minus a few key features to reduce the price. Apple only sells it in an aluminum build with space gray, silver, and gold color options.
It does not have ECG, blood oxygen detection, or an always-on display. It also falls one generation behind the Series 6 with an S5 processor. These missing features and lesser components allow for a much more affordable entry price. Even the cellular options are cheaper by comparison to other models.
The Apple Watch Series 5 was an incremental upgrade with one long-requested feature – an always-on display.
Until that point, to see what was on the screen, a user would need to either lift their wrist or tap the display to activate it. The always-on feature keeps a dimmed version of the watch face active even when not actively using or looking at the device. It creates a similar effect to a traditional wristwatch.
To accomplish this without sacrificing battery life, Apple used an LTPO display, which uses variable frequencies that slow the screen to as little as 1Hz to prevent inadvertent battery drain. The screen also lowers its brightness while in ambient mode. Among Apple products, the LPTO display is unique to the Apple Watch, though some rumors suggest it could appear in a future iPhone.
Other new features include ambient noise-level monitoring and a built-in compass. The microphone listens to the environment and, if it passes a certain noise threshold, encourages a user to move away from the noise. The compass allows a user to know which direction they are facing at a glance.
The fifth-generation Apple Watch also marked the brief return of ceramic to the lineup and the addition of titanium.
The introduction of the fourth-generation wearable went without the usual bells and whistles. You could consider the Series 4 model to be the equivalent of the iPhone 4S – a device released a few years in, feature-rich and in its stride, providing an iterative update.
The larger screen is immediately apparent. Apple also altered and improved the heart rate sensor on the bottom, allowing for an important new health feature: ECG.
The Series 4 Watch with built-in fall detection and ECG became the must-buy for elderly parents or those relatives with mobility issues. This was a big step in getting the Watch on more people's wrists, as Apple and other companies had made ubiquitous the basic fitness sensors in previous models.
Apple updated the software and watch faces to handle the bigger screens, allowing the device to display more data than before.
Apple found its stride with the third-generation Apple Watch. The new model had vastly improved battery life, models with cellular capabilities, and much faster wireless-transfer speeds. The Apple Watch Edition also gained a new material: gray ceramic. The Apple Watch Series 3 launched in fall 2017, serving as a complete replacement for the previous generation.
Apple chose to differentiate the cellular models with a red Digital Crown. This can help users to know immediately whether a variant is GPS-only or cellular. It may also serve a marketing purpose, allowing status-conscious owners to show off their more expensive variant.
Apple learned a lot from its first year in wearables. The company toned down the initial high-fashion approach and peeled back the curtain on a new generation of its wearable: a new health and fitness companion. The refreshed device came in two variants with a new naming scheme. Apple dubbed them Series 1 and Series 2 at the September 2016 iPhone event.
The second-generation Watch was Apple's course correction for the wearable, presenting it primarily for health and fitness. Users could purchase the updated device in aluminum, stainless steel, or ceramic. Gold was quietly discontinued. However, the Edition naming did stick around for the ceramic watch.
The device had new features including "swimproofing," which Apple declared was safe up to 50 meters submerged. The speaker acts as a water ejection tool when exiting swim mode.
It also included GPS and a brighter screen.
Apple also released a modified version of the original Sport model with an improved processor. Apple called this the "Series 1" and retroactively named the first-generation model as "Series 0." Series 1 acted as a cheaper entry-level model for those who did not want Series 2's higher-end features.
First Generation/Series 0
The first-generation Apple Watch went on sale six months after its introduction. The company released this initial model in a three-tier set, since it was supposed to be a fashion object: Sport, Watch, and Edition. Each model housed identical internals with only the case material differentiating each pricing tier.
Apple sold the Sport model as an entry-level watch, purchased by athletes and those with an active lifestyle. Made from aluminum, it was available in space gray, silver, and rose gold, mimicking the iPhone colors of the time.
Apple crafted the next tier from stainless steel, available in space gray and silver color options. The company priced it as high as a mid-tier iPhone yet positioned it as the primary choice for consumers. However, the cheaper Sport model proved more popular over time.
The Apple Watch Edition was Apple's, and more likely Jony Ive's, foray into luxury timepieces. Coming in 18K gold or rose gold options, this ultra-luxury device sold for $10,000 or more. Whether through product-placement deals or on their own accord, numerous celebrities wore their Edition models on red carpets or posted about them on social media. These included Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Drake.
Originally avoiding any "Series" monikers, Apple added the Series 0 suffix to this initial model only after branding its 2016 successors as Series 1 and Series 2.
Apple Watch Review
In AppleInsider's Series 6 review, we gave the device a 4.5 out of 5 rating, praising its blood-oxygen sensor, faster processor, and new band options:
"The=Series 6 is an outstanding smartwatch, surprising nobody. Apple continues to fill in weak spots with the massive watchOS 7 update, new features, new sensors, and new colors. Anyone who is looking for an Apple Watch will be thrilled with Apple's latest wearable.
"Where it falls short is in motivating Series 5 owners to upgrade. Motivating features are few and far between for those who picked up a watch a year ago or maybe even two years ago. But that doesn't change just how good Apple's wrist-worn computer is.
"We can't say enough good things about it — from its gorgeous colors, to its well-implemented ( and long-overdue) sleep tracking, to its impressive speed and smoothness. Apple's smartwatch continues to pull our eyes away from our iPhones and is becoming more and more a necessity for daily use.
"Apple even updated its band lineup this year with not one, but three new styles. This is huge because we don't need yet another sports band, so we got to bundle our watch with the new Braided Solo Loop. A new Leather Link and Solo Loop are also available to pair.
"The only reason we'd say not to buy the Series 6 is if you instead prefer to opt for the lower-priced Apple Watch SE. It drops the SpO2 sensor, always-on display, and trade the Series 6 for the Series 5, but is otherwise fully capable. We're sure many will go for this cheaper version, which just increases the number of people with Apple's wearable on their wrist. But if you want the best-of-the-best with the most features, the Series 6 is where it's at."
Apple Watch SE
Our review of the cheaper 2020 smartwatch also netted 4.5 stars. We viewed it as an affordable upgrade for first-time buyers and those who have been hanging onto an older version:
"As Apple has stated, the SE is designed to appeal to first-time buyers or those looking for a modestly priced upgrade.
"It's a great 'kid's first' model, too. Because it can be paired with a caretaker's iPhone, Apple's wearable is an excellent alternative to a cellphone for young kids or those who may not want to deal with the hassle of owning a smartphone phone.
"If you're upgrading from Series 3 or earlier, chances are, you'll find the SE a worthwhile investment. If you're a first-time buyer looking for a reliable model that you don't need to drop $400 on, but will still be supported for years to come, it may be the one for you.
"Suppose you've got kids or relatives who you want to add to your Family Setup. In that case, the SE with LTE edges out the Series 3 with LTE, if you can find the older model. The SE with LTE boasts better battery life, a newer processor, and will likely be supported by Apple for a longer time.
"Still, we wouldn't recommend upgrading just yet for anyone who uses the Series 4 or Series 5 — you'll lose some features — like the ability to do ECGs or an always-on display — that you've come to enjoy."