Apple Watch Series 3 Adds LTE, Built-In Cellular — But What’s It Missing?


Apple Watch Series 3 was announced today, and if you missed the Keynote, here’s a cheat sheet on what was and was not added to the world’s most in-demand wearable.

The big news is that the Series 3 watch gets its own SIM card that works with your phone number, allowing you to make phone calls and stream music — Apple Music, that is — without having your phone anywhere nearby. Don’t like those clumsy fanny packs or arm bands you have to wear if you want to carry your phone while you’re out on a run? Well, you may no longer have to deal with all that. 

But there’s a longer-burn takeaway for fitness fans: app makers are going to love this. Yes, right now you can go for a run using Strava on your phone, but you can imagine the “live” capabilities of apps bouncing info to your wrist and the potential crowd-sourcing of shared info. So that’s not just your own live metrics on your wrist, but surfacing live data about the most recent fastest five miles run on your route, or maybe even there’s a “rabbit” ahead of you who you may try to catch, because your monthly goal is to improve your 10k time. Or, because Apple also announced that its new GymKit ecosystem can pair with about 80 percent of the planet’s fitness equipment, maybe an app maker wants to liven up the competition in the gym with live leaderboards throughout that environment. 

Also, battery life. We want to test this, but Apple says not only will its new W2 chip improve response times of native apps by up to 70 percent, but that Bluetooth and wireless connectivity are both more power efficient. This is absolutely critical: once you add LTE, Apple had to find a way to make their tiny wrist-puter less power hungry.

Speaking of size, the Watch Series 3 is barely thicker than existing models, among the smallest fully functional smartwatches on the market.

Besides packing in the new SIM, Apple also added water resistance up to 50 meters and added a barometric altimeter. This is important for very slight variations in altitude, and it will help Apple (and apps that run on your wrist) more accurately calculate effort during stair-climbing or outdoor workouts like, say, hill-run repeats, where map data alone might not yield the granularity you need.

Apple also put one toe in the medical device pool. They’d been working with Stanford University on more accurate data around their heart rate sensor, so not only is there a new heart rate complication on the Watch face, but Apple will now follow its competition by calculating resting heart rate and recovery. Sounds fancy, but recovery metrics have been part of Polar, Suunto, and Garmin wearables for a few years now. The key to getting it right is that Apple’s on-wrist HR (vs. a chest strap) has actually proven very accurate. Note that resting HR is a very good indicator of overall cardiac health, and recovery (how quickly your HR falls, say between intervals), is a good measure of how hard you should or shouldn’t push yourself, both during a workout and in planning what to do with the rest of the week — rest, do a light workout, go hard in 48 hours, etc.

One safety feature they’re adding, and this is very much a “watch-this-space” trend in wearables, is sensing of an elevated heart rate when you’re not working out. Apple will need FDA approval to push further into this space but it’s very likely, because Apple (and Fitbit and peers) see health monitoring not only as potentially life-saving—but also lucrative.

What’s Missing?

While Apple changed AirPods slightly, note that these already featured onboard accelerometers. We’re expecting Apple to harness that tech eventually, as everyone from Bragi to Wahoo already have, to yield much greater accuracy, especially for form diagnostics. That could be critical for everything from a deadlift to a change in your gait at mile 10 of your marathon training.

And there’s one final watch-this-space we expect may come to the newest Watch, even without an entirely new product release, and that’s other forms of Apple-branded sensing tech. Note that the new Watch has a new kind of Bluetooth that should enable, say, “live “ hydration monitoring via a sweat-sensing patch (companies like BSX are already testing this). That would be very useful for knowing exact dosage during event training or competition, and the handy merger between fitness and health is right up Apple’s alley. 

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