The Iterative Update History of the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch isn’t a product that most people can justify upgrading on a yearly basis. The annual list of new features doesn’t justify it.

With the debut of the Apple Watch Series 9 just around the corner, I thought it would be worth taking a look at what those annual updates are. What progress have we really seen in the last five years?

For simplicity, I will leave the Apple Watch SE and the Apple Watch Ultra to one side and instead start with the watch that kicked off a new era of Apple Watches, the Series 4.

Apple Watch Series 4 (2018)

The Series 4 marked a notable turning point for the Apple Watch.

For instance, it was the first time that the Apple Watch grew in size. The Series 4 introduced the new 40mm and 44mm sizes.

It featured a new 64-bit S4 processor and was the first Apple Watch model to be offered with a cellular data connection. It came equipped with LTE, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 5.0.

There was a new ECG app that enabled electrocardiogram readings, and the much-lauded fall detection was also introduced with this model. The digital crown gained haptic feedback when you scrolled through your apps, and the onboard storage was increased from 8GB to 16GB.

This was a big year for the Apple Watch. It had many significant updates when compared to the Series 3.

However, it was arguably the last big year for Apple Watch updates.

Apple Watch Series 5 (2019)

The Series 5 didn’t see as many updates as the Series 4, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad year to buy an Apple Watch.

The headline feature was the new always-on display. With the Series 5, you could check the time with a glance instead of raising your wrist like a Luddite.

There was also a new S5 processor, the ability to make international emergency calls, and storage was increased to 32GB.

But that was about it. Everything else was largely the same.

Apple Watch Series 6 (2020)

The Series 6 did not fair much better.

Yes, there was a new S6 processor to help speed things up. It came bundled with the U1 ultra wideband chip for improved spatial awareness.

Oh, and this was the year a Blood Oxygen sensor was added.

Everything else was basically the same as the Series 5, except for the always-on altimeter that few of us will actually use.

Apple Watch Series 7 (2021)

The Series 7 marked another increase in dimensions. The bezels were shrunk to make the screen 20% larger, and the new default case sizes grew to 41mm and 45mm.

Fast charging was another nice upgrade, while the always-on display was now 50% brighter when in standby mode.

Apple talked up the new S7 processor, but as we later found out, it was really just an S6 processor with a new name.

Apple Watch Series 8 (2022)

The Series 8 added temperature sensors to help those who want to track their menstrual cycles. It also inherited Crash Detection and the Emergency SOS features from the iPhone 14.

A new low-power mode was available to Series 8 users. Bluetooth 5.3 and IP6X dust resistance were also included.

The processor in the Series 8 was the same one that Apple used in the Series 6 and 7 watches. So, no change there.

Are Hardware Updates Important?

Many of the big updates to the Apple Watch come in the form of software updates, not hardware updates.

In fact, the new WatchOS 10 that is scheduled to be released this Fall will work with watches as old as the Series 4 from 2018.

I wear an Apple Watch Series 6. It works really well for me. The battery is fine, it runs all the apps I need, and I have yet to see a compelling reason for me to buy a newer watch.

Perhaps the Series 9 will change my mind, but if the latest rumors are to be believed, I might be better off waiting for the Series 10.

What about you? Is software or hardware more important for you? Are you looking to upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 9 in the Fall, and if so, why?

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