If you ever wondered what the Apple Watch is really for, that's no longer a question—at least, not for Apple.
The new Apple Watch Series 4, revealed by Apple earlier today, underscores that some of the watch's most important features are its health and fitness-tracking functions. The new watch is one of the first over-the-counter devices in the US to offer electrocardiogram, or ECG, readings. On top of that, the Apple Watch has received FDA clearance—both for the ECG feature and another new feature that detects atrial fibrillation.1
The new Apple Watch starts at $399 for a Series 4 model with GPS, and $499 with cellular. The Series 3 Watch gets a price drop and now costs just $279. The new watches go on sale this Friday, September 14, and they become available on September 21.
Apple's new Series 4 smartwatch includes some notable hardware updates: it has a new edge-to-edge display that's more than 30 percent larger than the display on previous models. It has a redesigned crown, which was leaked beforehand; the bold red dot has been ditched for a thin, red outline. The crown also gives haptic feedback.
It has a new system-on-a-chip, which includes a 64-bit dual-core processor (Apple claims this makes the watch two times faster than earlier models.) The watch's speaker is also louder, to accommodate a new walkie-talkie feature that will launch with the newest version of the software. Battery life is, unfortunately, unchanged—Apple says it will last about one day.
But some of the biggest updates ushered in with this new smartwatch are a combination of hardware-and-software features. One of the watch's new faces is an incredibly dense, health-focused face, that shows your activity levels, heart rate, workout shortcuts, a shortcut to music, and more. Another watch face is comprised entirely of Apple's "Breathe" app, an app that reminds you to, well, breathe.
The Watch also now detects when someone falls and uses Siri to initiate an emergency call if the wearer hasn't moved after a fall. (Although, I still might not be entirely confident in Siri getting the job done here.)
But by far the most significant announcement is that the Series 4 watch, which has improved heart rate sensors, is transitioning into a more serious role as a clinical health tracker. Ivor Benjamin, the president of the American Heart Association, made a brief appearance on stage to vouch for this. The Series 4 watch will send a notification if your heart rate is too low, and if it detects instances of atrial fibrillation. And it allows wearers to take an electrocardiogram, as mentioned earlier. The latter two features are possible because of Apple Watch's new status as an FDA cleared device, the company says.
According to the CDC, between 2.7 and 6.1 million people in the US have atrial fibrillation. And as the US population ages, that number is expected to increase.
"Fitness is at the core of Apple Watch," Apple COO Jeff Williams said today at the hardware event. "And while you could always check your heart rate … it's become an intelligent guardian for your health."
Watch This Space
Apple has launched five versions of its smartwatch since 2015: The original watch, a Series 1, 2, and 3, and now, this one. When Apple first launched the watch, it was positioned as a product with multiple value propositions. It recorded workouts and had built-in heart rate sensors, so it was a health tracker…but it didn't have GPS, and its heart rate sensing was fairly basic. It paired with the iPhone, but it wasn't supposed to replace your iPhone; instead, it showed you iMessages when you couldn't look at your phone. And with the launch of the smartwatch came the launch of a new platform for micro-apps. For awhile it seemed like people really would use the watch to track their Uber, or to read snippets of news.
Those use cases still exist, but the watch didn't become the app platform Apple said it would. Instead, it became known for its notifications and its health tracking. Now, Apple is doubling down on health tracking.
That doesn't mean it hasn't been successful for Apple, however. While Apple has never broken out smartwatch unit sales in its quarterly earnings report, CEO Tim Cook said earlier this year that the Apple Watch was part of a product category that's "now the size of a Fortune 300 company." On stage at the hardware event today, Cook said it was the "number one watch in the world." According to research firm IDC, Apple is currently the global leader in the connected wearables market, shipping an estimated 4.7 million units in the second quarter of this year. Chinese company Xiaomi, which takes a low-cost/high-volume approach to wearables, is close behind Apple in the number two spot.
1Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Apple Watch Series 4 was the first over-the-counter device to record ECG.