Apple Watch Series 5: What we know so far about Apple’s next smartwatch

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The Apple Watch Series 4 has been around for a while now, so naturally it’s time to turn our attention to the Series 5, which is being finalised somewhere deep in the halls of Apple’s spaceship campus, and rumored to be appearing at Apple’s 10 September event.

The Series 4 was a big jump forward for Apple, bringing aboard a medical-grade ECG sensor and transitioning its smartwatch into a serious health wearable.

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But what could the Apple Watch 5 have in store? We’ve taken a look at the latest rumblings and also picked out the big features we hope to see.

Apple Watch Series 5: Design

Apple Watch Series 5: What we know so far about Apple's next smartwatch

With the Series 4, Apple made the most dramatic designs changes to the Apple Watch since it launched. Both models jumped up in size, so another major design revamp with the Series 5 seems unlikely from our point of view. Those dreams of a round Apple Watch are long gone.

This is supported by the most recent leak surrounding the next Apple Watch, which seemingly shows an image of a new version. It must be said that the image, put up on Instagram by a French user, looks an awful lot like the Series 4.

Apple Watch Series 5: What we know so far about Apple's next smartwatch

The key new information is on the screen, mainly its model number, A2157, which is one of a series included in official Apple documentation filed with the Eurasian Economic Commission recently. That makes it look a like a new model of some sort, as easy as it is to doctor images nowadays. In light of this, it looks for now like we’re right to not expect much of design update.

However, another recent leak suggests that Apple is at least working on some new casings for an Apple Watch (though we don’t know for sure whether they’ll be new Series 4 options or for the Series 5). The ceramic finish available for Series 2 and 3 is returning, along with a brand-new titanium case option.

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Titanium would mark an entirely new material if it were available for the Series 5, and shows that Apple isn’t sitting still after the success of the Series 4 redesign.

Another significant design update that could be coming down the pike for the Series 5 is an entirely new display. Rumors are flying that Apple is working on a MicroLED display for its watches, which could see an upgrade in fidelity over OLED, the current benchmark. MicroLED displays use much less power, and are brighter, with better contrast ratios. Finally, they’re also thinner, which could mean thinner Apple Watches – an enticing thought.

The rumors have this display update pinned for 2020, but don’t be surprised if it comes more quickly. Could we see a MicroLED screen on the Series 5? After all, Apple apparently had a prototype working as far back as 2017.

Apple Watch Series 5: Potential new features

Apple Watch Series 5: What we know so far about Apple's next smartwatch

The Series 5 could be an iteration that’s all about refinements, notably in the software department. Those improvements usually come courtesy of watchOS, Apple’s smartwatch operating platform. And we finally know what that latest instalment of watchOS will bring.

Apple officially unveiled watchOS 6 at its WWDC developer conference in June, giving us a run down of features that are likely to appear on any new Watch it could decide to show off later this year.

Those features include the addition of an on-device App Store, making it easier to download apps, especially for LTE Apple Watch owners who will be able to do it over a data connection.

Other features include new apps brought over from the iPhone like Voice Memos, women’s health features, new watch faces, an improved Activity app and a whole lot more on top of that.

More recently, a rumor has surfaced that Apple could be adding a ‘School mode’ to its smartwatch line, to encourage parents that their kids could use the Apple Watch without getting distracted all the time. The mode would turn off all complications and app access on the watch until the end of school, making it just a timepiece for the user until they’re on their way home. This is a feature that’s much appreciated on various trackers and smartwatches aimed specifically at kids, so is a sensible addition if Apple is indeed developing it.

Sleep tracking

Apple Watch Series 5: What we know so far about Apple's next smartwatch

Could the Apple Watch finally get native sleep tracking? We certainly hope so. While we’d hoped it would land for the Series 3 after Apple’s acquisition of sleep tracking company Beddit, it never materialised.

A new report from earlier this year fills us with optimism that maybe (maybe) Apple is ready to give us that feature, which has been present on rival smartwatches and fitness trackers for some time now.

Read this: How Apple could beat Fitbit to building the ultimate sleep wearable

That report suggested built-in sleep tracking features for the Watch are incoming, and Apple is already testing out the feature before it rolls it out to its smartwatch. If all goes well with testing, the features will apparently roll out in 2020.

While there are Apple Watch sleep tracker apps available, the Cupertino company is clearly playing catch-up with its rivals in offering native sleep tracking. Here’s hoping that if it does land, it’ll be well worth the wait.

Health monitoring gets accuracy boost

Apple Watch Series 5: What we know so far about Apple's next smartwatch

Patents can often give us an insight into what Apple is thinking about its smartwatch. Some can seem outlandish and feel like they are years away, others can seem more feasible. A recent patent published by the US Patent & Trademark Office, related to Apple smartening up its Watch straps, doesn’t feel impossible.

It suggests that Apple is exploring ways it can monitor health data more reliably from the wrist. It could do that through what is described as a watch band that features a tightness sensor. When coupled with a processing unit, it could provide a strain gauge that is able to indicate the tightness of the band.

The idea is that if the band is not tight enough to take a biometric reading from the skin, the user will be prompted to adjust the band until a reliable reading can be taken. That strain gauge would be positioned in between where the band attaches to the casing and would be able to measure that strain in multiple directions.

The patent doesn’t indicate what health data the patent would be most beneficial for, but we do know that taking heart rate data from an optical heart rate monitor can encounter some accuracy problems. We know health tracking is a big deal for Apple and no doubt it’ll be on the agenda when it’s ready to unveil its next-generation smartwatch.

Apple Watch Series 5: Price and release date

So here’s the thing. While Apple has in recent years mixed up its big reveals for other hardware, it’s operated like clockwork for new Apple Watch reveals. From Series 1 to Series 4, they’ve all been announced in September with a launch rollout following soon after. We fully expect the same for the Series 5 coupled with the launch of its next watchOS software update. Apple has confirmed that it’s holding a major event on 10 September, so we’re expecting to learn more about the Series 5 at that demonstration.

In terms of pricing we can once again look back at how the cost of the Apple Watch has changed over the years. The cheapest Series 4 sat at £399 with the LTE model hitting the £529 mark. If you want the priciest, you can pay £1499 for a Series 4. It’s fair to assume they’re not going to get cheaper and there’s probably a strong chance things will get pricier. Hopefully though, it won’t be too far off what the Series 4 is right now.

The fact that a Series 5 is on the way isn’t the biggest leap, but is made all the more convincing by leaks like Hermès accidentally listing some Apple Watch Series 5 bands on its website for a while recently. It might not be concrete confirmation that the smartwatch is coming, but it sure paints a picture that it might be.

Apple Watch Series 5: What we want to see

So we’ve dealt with the most recent speculation about Apple’s new Watch, but what do we want to see unveiled? We’ve compiled a collection of features we hope Apple is working on that should make it the smartwatch to beat once again.

A new health sensor

Apple Watch Series 5: The features we want to see

The Apple Watch’s ECG sensor was, and still is, a huge deal; by turning the Watch into an FDA-cleared AFib detector, Apple leaped ahead in the race for health wearables. Now it needs to keep leaping. With the Series 5, we’d like to see more health sensors added.

An SpO2 sensor would make sense for its next play, allowing users to track their blood oxygen levels. This can be particularly helpful for sleep – it’s why Fitbit is currently getting the tech cleared for its own wearables – but that’s not an area the Apple Watch is strong on, due to its short battery life. But what if…

Smart Bands

We touched on smart bands earlier, but this is something that has been rumored for a long, long time, and they’ve been backed up with patent after patent. The latest suggests Apple could pack a camera into one. It’s only a matter of waiting until they arrive, and 2019 feels like the optimal time.

These Smart Bands could be used to add features to the Apple Watch, such as a band that could read blood pressure (like the Omron HeartGuide) or something that can register your glucose level. They could even add non-health features.

As for how it would work, you only need to look at the iPad’s Smart Connector, which can provide power to accessories while also syncing small amounts of data. It’s entirely possible that Apple has learned how to shrink that tech, sticking it in the Apple Watch where bands fit in – in fact, some recently-filed patents suggest the Cupertino geniuses are working on such bands right now.

The patents show designs for a few Apple Watch bands. One houses a sleek notification indicator, while another has a self-tightening mechanism to determine the band’s fit. The most interesting contains a biometric scanner that could unlock your watch or Apple devices by scanning the skin patterns and hair density on your wrist as authentication.

Naturally, Smart Bands would connect to the Smart Connector and draw power and transfer data – no need for extra charging, battery replacing or Bluetooth (as on the ECG-reading KardiaBand).

Longer battery life

Apple Watch Series 5: The features we want to see

Look, we say this every year and we probably won’t stop saying it for a long time to come, but if Apple can get that battery life to the 2-3 day mark, the Watch could become a viable sleep tracker. Apple is definitely interested in sleep tech, but it knows its meagre battery life is keeping it on the back foot.

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Improving the battery life could mean sleep tracking, which could mean making use of new health sensors and finally taking on Fitbit in the land of nod. Reports indicate that Apple is testing out the feature, with an aim to launch by 2020. So if it doesn’t make it this round, maybe Series 6.

One way to achieve better battery life could be Micro LED, which is a display technology that’s more power efficient than the OLED display Apple currently uses in the Apple Watch. Good news is Apple has been interested in Micro LED tech.

In the meantime, it looks like Apple may let you charge the Series 5 with your iPhone or other smartwatch. Now that AirPower is officially dead, Apple may open up the Apple Watch to better work with other Qi-powered charging mats, which could include the iPhone or other smartphones that have the option of reversible wireless charging.

New health features aside, the battery life on the Apple Watch is behind all the major rivals bar Wear OS. Apple could even sell a battery-extending smart band accessory that gives the Watch a boost.

More uses for NFC

Apple Watch Series 5: The features we want to see

The Apple Watch has NFC, but it’s only used for Apple Pay and GymKit. Compare that to an iPhone, which gained the ability to use NFC for much more in iOS 12, like opening up your hotel room, using transit tickets and more.

It’s called Background Tag Reading, and on a technical level it just means you only need to unlock your phone to use NFC. No need to open up separate apps. Why not extend this to the Apple Watch?

The Apple Watch doesn’t exactly lend itself to opening apps up all the time, so NFC that was a little more instant and easier to use would be extremely helpful. A quick tap of your wrist could get you into your hotel room, onto your train and more.

More purchasing partnerships

Healthcare providers and insurance companies are super into wearables because they can keep customers healthier, which is a win-win for everyone. A lot of them, like John Hancock, have even started programs where you can get a subsidised Apple Watch (or Fitbit, or other wearable) if you maintain your fitness goals.

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It’s a great idea, but it’s one that Apple needs to actively court. Imagine if Apple struck deals with healthcare providers like Kaiser Permanente or gyms like 24-Hour Fitness, where members got subsidised Apple Watches as long as they hit their goals?

Apple would sell a buttload of Apple Watches, and it would be easier than ever to get one. Apple is already talking to Medicare providers to bring Apple Watch to at-risk seniors, so why not go big for everyone? The company is increasingly focusing on Apple Watch’s health features, and this would be the next big step.

Android support

Apple Watch Series 5: The features we want to see

Even a year ago this might have sounded absurd, but hear us out: What if Apple let its smartwatch work with Android phones? The last few months have seen Cupertino open its walled garden more than ever: Apple Music on Amazon Echo speakers, AirPlay 2 and HomeKit on third-party smart TVs; even iTunes has found its way onto Samsung TVs. And Apple already gives Android users access to Apple Music through an app. What if it did the same for the Apple Watch?

There are some obstacles here, iMessage being a big one, Siri being another. It would probably mean a cut-down experience for Android phone users, but it would be a small price to pay for access to one of the best smartwatches, and might even encourage Google to push harder on Wear OS.

All we’re saying is, think about it.

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