Last updated: 1 month ago
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
The Apple Watch launched in the spring of 2015 with three distinct models, several bands, and software that emphasized communication. Only one of those, 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 Apple Watch runs watchOS, an operating system built specifically for the tiny watch screen and limited interaction capability. The Digital Crown, changeable watch bands, and an OLED screen are present throughout each generation.
The Apple Watch bands use a simple hook and sliding mechanism to attach and secure the band in place. Apple offers a range of bands as a first-party retailer, but third-party manufacturers can 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, even when moving to a larger display in the fourth-generation as it did not change the physical body size. A pair of small buttons on either side of the casing can be depressed to release a band and change it out with ease.
Apple often introduces new colors and designs for existing watch bands, but the company 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 a conventional crown a person uses to set the time on an analog watch. Apple set out to re-create this type of analog control for the digital era, and invented the Digital Crown. It is mounted 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. It also acts as a scroll-wheel for navigation. A long press will invoke Siri, and a double press will open the last app.
Embedded in the flat side of the crown is a conductive plate. This is used to complete 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 installed by default.
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 will give users medals based on continued habits and closing their rings, and it can even let users 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 who does not have 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. Parents can also get automatic location notifications, so they can keep tabs on where their family is. Kids can use their Apple Watch 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 Apple Watch 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 stuck around one year longer for this device, but 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 a new naming scheme and a new product: Apple Watch. Tim Cook announced the new product with a "one more thing" addendum at the September 2014 iPhone keynote.
The operating system and health features have seen robust upgrades through the years. Apple typically takes components and things it learned from producing the tiny wearables and later includes it in cheaper models.
Apple Watch Series 6
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 or blood oxygen detection and falls one generation back of 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.
Apple Watch Series 5
The Apple Watch Series 5 changed the Apple wearables game again. This one came with a long-requested feature – an always-on display.
Until that point, to see what was on the screen, a user would need to lift their wrist to activate the display or tap it awake. 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 to slow the screen to as little as 1Hz to prevent inadvertent battery drain. The screena also lowers its brightness 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.
Apple Watch Series 4
The introduction of the Apple Watch Series 4 went without the usual bells and whistles. The fourth-generation model can be considered the equivalent to 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 fourth-generation 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 forward in getting the Watch on more people's wrists, as Apple and other companies had long since tread over all the basic fitness sensors in previous models.
Apple updated the software and watch faces to handle the bigger screens, allowing for more data than ever to be displayed.
Apple Watch Series 3
Apple finally 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 made an odd design choice with this generation, specifically the cellular models. Apple chose to differentiate cellular versus GPS models by having the Digital Crown colored red on cellular models.
Apple Watch Series 2
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 Apple Watch: a new health and fitness companion. The refreshed device came in two variants with a new naming scheme. Apple dubbed them the "Series 1 and Series 2" at the September 2016 iPhone event.
Apple started by showing us the Apple Watch Series 2, to everyone's confusion, because this was a massive departure from the previous naming scheme and skipped a number entirely. 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 as gold was quietly discontinued. The Apple Watch Edition naming did stick around for the ceramic watch, however.
The Apple Watch 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 and called it the "Series 1." This model acted as a cheaper entry-level model for those who did not want GPS.
Apple Watch "Series 0"
The first-generation Apple Watch went on sale six months after its introduction. Apple did not start calling its Watch models "series" until the second generation. The company released the first-generation 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 making a difference to the user.
Originally avoiding any "Series" monkers, Apple added the "Series 0" suffix to this initial model only after branding its 2016 successors as "Series 1" and "Series 2."
Apple Watch Sport was meant to be the 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 18 karat gold or rose gold options, this ultra-luxury device sold for $10,000 or more.
Common Apple Watch questions
How do you pair Apple Watch with your iPhone?
- Start up the Apple Watch for the first time.
- A pairing screen is displayed with a pattern.
- Your iPhone will show a pop-up asking to pair the Watch.
- Scan the pairing pattern with the iPhone and follow the on-screen instructions.
How do you factory reset the Apple Watch?
- Open the Settings app on the Apple Watch.
- Select General and scroll to the bottom.
- Select reset, then select “erase all content and settings,”
- Enter your passcode and the Watch will reset.
How much does an Apple Watch cost?
You can purchase the Apple Watch SE for $279 with an S5 processor and modern design or an Apple Watch Series 6 with the latest technology and health features for $399 and up. Better materials like stainless steel or titanium add to the price, as well as custom bands from Apple. Apple also still sells the Series 3, with smaller screen and slower processor, starting at $199.
Blood oxygen detection is available on the Apple Watch Series 6 only.
- Open the Apple Watch app on iPhone
- Select “Blood Oxygen”
- Enable Blood Oxygen measurements using the toggle
- Open the Blood Oxygen app on the Apple Watch
- Take a manual reading which takes 15 seconds