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The Apple Watch Series 4.

Photo by Apple


Apple Watch Series 4: Bigger Screens, New Faces, and Enhanced Health Monitoring

At its special event on 12 September 2018, Apple led off the announcements by unveiling fourth-generation Apple Watch models that, for the first time, deviate significantly from the size and shape of older models. Though more compact than precursors, the new Apple Watch Series 4 models include bigger screens that go closer to the edges.

There are new model-specific software features, too, including an assortment of watch complications and faces that cram more information onto the gadgets’ compact displays—or just look trippy.

The Series 4 models also incorporate significant new health-monitoring features courtesy of new and improved sensors that can detect if users have experienced falls or are experiencing abnormal heart rhythms.

Hardware: Larger, Faster, and with a “Mechanical and Responsive” Feel

Apple slightly boosted the vertical screen dimensions of the Apple Watch Series 4 to 40mm and 44mm, up from the 38mm and 42mm dimensions that had been standard thus far. The screens are correspondingly a bit wider to preserve their slightly rectangular proportions.

The new models are thinner than the Apple Watch Series 2 and Series 3 models, with less total volume. How much of a difference this really makes is probably a matter of feel, so if size is a concern, we recommend trying one on before buying.

Apple advertises the Series 4 displays as having an “edge-to-edge” design, and while there’s less of a black border than on the previous models, the display doesn’t completely fill the screen. The corners of the displays are curved, too, and the overall viewing area is about 30% larger.

Other core hardware highlights include:

  • A speaker that is 50% louder to optimize phone calls, Siri exchanges, and two-way conversations using the new Walkie-Talkie feature in watchOS 5
  • A microphone that Apple relocated from the left edge to the right edge, just below the Digital Crown, to reduce echo and make audio exchanges clearer
  • A re-engineered Digital Crown that includes haptic feedback with what Apple describes as a more “mechanical and responsive” feel, including the sensation of incremental clicks
  • A redesigned back, which is now made entirely of sapphire crystal and black ceramic to improve cellular reception
  • A next-generation S4 chip with a custom 64-bit dual-core processor that is supposed to deliver twice the speed of the Series 3 while maintaining about 18 hours of overall battery life
  • For athletes, there’s a next-generation accelerometer and gyroscope that can sample motion data up to 8 times faster, along with improved battery performance of up to 6 hours during outdoor workouts
  • Bluetooth 5 support for improved data-transfer speeds and more reliable connections to iPhones over longer distances

Software: New, More Complicated Watch Faces

Apple had previously announced watchOS 5, but the company used the Apple Watch Series 4 announcement to reveal additional software features intended to take advantage of the new, roomier displays. These include:

  • New complications: Apple added more complications, and cooked up an entirely new Series 4–only Infograph watch face that can incorporate an advertised eight complications for maximum utility. One welcome complication provides circular pictures of loved ones for one-tap communication. Other complication options here include health gauges for athletes and multiple time zones for travelers.
  • New faces: These include mesmerizingly animated Fire, Water, Liquid Metal, and Vapor faces. For those who like the Breathe app, there’s a new Breathe face, with three visual flavors along with the app’s functionality. Though these faces are meant to show off the new Series 4 screens, watchOS 5 brings them to older models too.
    New Apple Watch faces.
  • Face lifts: The popular Modular watch face, with its large center complication showing an extended snippet of information, now features more options, including data from Apple’s Activity, Heart Rate, and Stocks apps. It also supports more third-party apps, allowing users to show scores from the MLB At Bat app and flight info from the Qantas app, among others. These changes are available for older models running watchOS 5 too. In its Series 4 version, the Modular face gets a slight name change to Infograph Modular.

Health: Watching for Falls and Abnormal Heart Events

The original Apple Watch struggled a bit to justify its existence, with Apple focusing initially on the fashion market. In subsequent updates, Apple turned its attention to fitness, where the Apple Watch has proved popular. With the Apple Watch Series 4, the company is now concentrating on making the Apple Watch into a health-tracking device.

Accordingly, Apple trotted out some new health-related features to make the Series 4 more of an “intelligent guardian of your health.”

Fall Detection

If a user takes a hard fall, the Apple Watch can now detect that event thanks to that next-generation accelerometer and gyroscope. The fall-detection capability can monitor “repeatable, identifiable patterns” such as wrist trajectory and impact acceleration to determine if a user has fallen, or just slipped or tripped.

What happens after a hard fall depends on the circumstances. The Apple Watch initially displays an alert with an option to contact emergency services for help. If the user doesn’t move within 1 minute, the watch automatically notifies emergency services along with designated emergency contacts. The feature is reportedly on by default only if the user is over 65; younger people will have to turn it on manually.

Improved Health Monitoring

The Apple Watch has helped many people track their health through its ability to measure such things as calories burned, resting heart rate, and abnormally high heart rates via an optical heart sensor. Apple is now building on these capabilities with additional health-monitoring features.

Most notably, Series 4 users will soon be able to record an electrocardiogram (ECG) with Apple’s new ECG app. An ECG can help determine if your heart is beating normally, or if it’s showing signs of atrial fibrillation (AFib), a condition that can lead to significant health complications such as strokes.

To take an ECG reading, you’ll touch the Digital Crown for about 30 seconds to receive a heart-rhythm classification courtesy of a new electrical-heart sensor with electrodes built into the dial and back crystal. Apple’s Health app stores those readings, and you can share them with doctors. (This capability was previously available via a $200 add-on product called Kardiaband.)

In addition, the Apple Watch can intermittently analyze heart rhythms in the background and send a notification if an irregular heart rhythm—such as AFib—is detected. It can also alert you if your heart rate is too high or too low, which is potentially a sign of something serious. These features also are made possible by the optical heart sensor.

The ECG app along with irregular-rhythm notifications are due later this year.

The Apple Watch’s new health-monitoring features are getting nods from the American Heart Association and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, giving the smartwatches increased credibility as health devices.

The Apple Watch Lineup

The Apple Watch Series 4 starts at $399 for GPS-only models and $499 for cellular-capable models (cellular connectivity requires an additional monthly cell plan). The Apple Watch Series 3 previously started at $329 for the basic model and $399 for the cellular model, making the new models pricier propositions.

For those who don’t want to spend so much and aren’t in need of the new capabilities of the Series 4, Apple is continuing to sell the Apple Watch Series 3, with a new starting price of $279 for the GPS-only model and $379 for the cellular model.

Along with the three aluminum finishes anodized in silver, gold, and space gray, the Apple Watch Series 4 is available in a gold-colored stainless steel with a matching Milanese band, joining stainless steel models in silver and space black.

The new watches became available for pre-order on 14 September 2018 and will ship 21 September 2018.

Notably missing from the announced lineup is the ceramic Apple Watch Edition, which is no more. It turned out that people didn’t want to spend up to $17,000 for a gold Apple Watch Edition at the device’s initial launch, and they apparently aren’t interested in spending more than $1,000 for a ceramic Apple Watch Edition either.

Apple is, as usual, trotting out new watch bands, but the company emphasizes that all existing bands will work just fine with the new, bigger watches and vice versa. Similarly, the niche Nike+ and Hermès versions of the Apple Watch come with new bands and matching watch faces. Notably, there’s a Nike+ Sport Loop with reflective yarn for safer outdoor, low-light workouts.

With the release of the Apple Watch Series 4, the buying decision becomes more difficult. The new health-monitoring features are particularly compelling, particularly for older folks who are concerned about falls or heart health, but they’re accompanied by increasingly steep price tags. If the price is a problem, the Series 3 remains available, but without some of the attractive new features.

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Comments About Apple Watch Series 4: Bigger Screens, New Faces, and Enhanced Health Monitoring

Notable Replies

  1. This was the biggest announcement this week. The one thing that excited me. Perhaps a measure also of my health concerns but still genuinely good work here on Apple’s part.

  2. After viewing today’s presentation…I’m thinking that the Series 4 is finally useful enough to make it worth the money. One question I have though…is regarding GPS only or GPS/Cellular.

    I believe that the only additional feature the GPS/Cellular model gives you over the GPS only model is that you can leave your iPhone at home…and that if you have both the watch and your iPhone on your person…I’m not likely to go anywhere without my phone…then the two models are then essentially equivalent in features since anything the watch needs data for it just gets from the phone.

    Is that correct…or is there another good reason to get the cellular model? From a relatively quick google it appears that the price to have the cellular on AT&T is about $13/month total…and at least a couple of examples I noticed the data usage was something like 5 MB per month in practice.

  3. If you have your phone with you always (I do as well, even when I am running), the GPS version will be fine. The few examples I can think of where the cellular is worth having: your phone runs out of battery and you are in a situation where you need to make an emergency call or text. You are in a vehicle accident and the phone is destroyed and you want to make an emergency call. (In the case of making an emergency call, you can buy the Cellular version of the watch, but never activate it with a carrier; 911 calling will still work, even without a carrier plan.)

    Or, if you want a stainless steel watch. The GPS only watch comes only in aluminum.

    Last year’s Cellular S3 had additional storage for music (16 GB vs. 8 GB, but music on the 8 GB version was only 2 GB, so the 16 GB version allowed up to 10 GB, IIRC), but even the Series 4 GPS version has 16 GB this year.

    But, the watch is an additional $100 with cellular and, as you say, and additional $13-$15/month for the plan from your carrier. That’s a lot for a small use case. (Unless, of course, you reach a point where you truly do want to go out an about with the iPhone.)

  4. Neil Laubenthal wrote: “After viewing today’s presentation…I’m thinking that the Series 4 is finally useful enough to make it worth the money. One question I have though…is regarding GPS only or GPS/Cellular.”

    Yeah, it’s even better than I’d hoped. From a comment Cook made last year, I expected that the EKG would be on a special band, not built right in, and maybe not this year. It easily justifies the price increase for me. I wonder if the fall detection can also detect being hit by a car? I’m also pleased that the more breathable sports loop bands are available stock instead of as a way overpriced add-on (though maybe the lack of them when I looked yesterday was an artifact of the imminent new model.)

    I’m sure there are use cases for cellular, such as not-quite-ultralight backpackers and doing frequent water sports, but it’s a hefty continuing price to pay if having the phone around isn’t irksome.

  5. Yeah, it’s even better than I’d hoped. From a comment Cook made last year, I expected that the EKG would be on a special band, not built right in, and maybe not this year. It easily justifies the price increase for me. I wonder if the fall detection can also detect being hit by a car? I’m also pleased that the more breathable sports loop bands are available stock instead of as a way overpriced add-on (though maybe the lack of them when I looked yesterday was an artifact of the imminent new model.)

    Garmin (and others, I think) have various devices that have “crash detection” that send a message to a contact (through a paired phone) if you have an “incident". From what I’ve read, most everyone winds up turning it off because of false positives alarming said contacts when nothing bad has actually happened. I’d worry much more about false positives than anything else, especially if they’re trying to detect “falls”.

  6. That was my worry too. In fact, I fell over yesterday on my ElliptiGO on loose gravel on our driveway, a few hours before the presentation. Sprained my wrist a bit and tore a flap of skin on my palm—hurt like hell at first, and I would have been even more furious if I’d had to deal with calling off emergency services while I was dealing with the pain from what was really a fairly minor scrape.

  7. For me the fall detection is as big a reason to get the new Apple Watch as any other single feature. Based on the presentation, I don’t think false positives are an issue. As I understood it, if it detects a fall, it presents the dialogue to call someone in your SOS list. It does not automatically make that call unless no movement is detected for 60 seconds.

  8. Yeah, the question will be what happens with the movement. If it stands down on the call after detecting any movement, that’s fine.

  9. Fall detection:

    I think the 60 second time period may be too short. In hard falls, you spend some time stunned, and if you do a self test in case of back injury, that means more time being still (unless the watch detects isometric muscle contractions?) without it necessarily being an emergency. I doubt that my first thoughts would be to reassure my watch. (Once upon a time I used to play with, and all too often fall off of, horses…)

    Maybe there should be a choice between 1 minute and 5 minutes depending on personal risk factors?

    It occurs to me that between the heart sensor and fall sensor, they could be able to diagnose heart failure and tell that to the responders. I expect that’s a lot harder to get through the FDA process though.

    That tricorder is just around the corner now…

  10. Amusingly, when I’ve fallen while trail running, my first knee jerk (finger jerk?) response is almost always to shut off my watch. Since that’s what you do when you stop. :slight_smile: But with my Garmin, that’s a blind push on the top-right button, so I don’t have to look at the face.

  11. Nice to hear that Apple put more thought into this feature. I’ve long wondered what percentage of calls to 911 were inadvertently triggered from iPhones and Apple Watches since Apple made it so easy to call.

  12. Guilty. I was simply retelling the story of how I was rescued by my Apple Watch when I passed out and could not stand again in the shower, and, oops, sorry 911 operator!

  13. So according to the specs on the Apple site:
    “Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS + Cellular) requires an iPhone 6 or later with iOS 12 or later. Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS) requires an iPhone 5s or later with iOS 12 or later.”

    I presume that means I can use an iPhone SE as it was introduced after the iPhone 6?

  14. Yes, that’s right. The same goes for the cellular S3 by the way.

  15. I was thinking: since the FDA has approved the Watch 4 as a medical device due to its EKG capability, and with blood glucose monitoring being added in a future version, perhaps I can have Medicare and TriCare partially cover my next Watch purchase? Even a $300 limit would help.

  16. Some insurance companies are already doing this, with either free or discounted Apple Watches. I think it makes a ton of sense if it can reduce the number of health events that cost vast amounts of money.

  17. Interesting. The new Medicare booklet for 2019 is coming out soon so I’ll have to see if it says anything under the medical devices section.

  18. After finally loading iOS watchOS 5 on my series 3, it did not deliver quite as much improvement as I had hoped to pacify my reality field distortion resistance. I went ahead and ordered a series for, but it’s ship date is mid October so I have some time to regain my sanity. But the fall detection is what really Is driving this overall due to my medical conditions and living alone. But I won’t be upset by the bigger screen and greater readability and information density that will come with it.

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