Apple Watch 6: The 5 upgrades we really want to see

Apple Watch 6 concept
(Image credit: Concepts iPhone)

The Apple Watch 6 is arriving soon to replace the Apple Watch Series 5. For almost a year, we’ve all wondered what kind of upgrades Series 6 would hold. Incremental improvements? Sweeping changes? A bit of both?

Now that the Apple Watch is no longer the only smartwatch with FDA-approved ECG readings (we see you, Samsung Galaxy Watch 3), the Apple Watch 6 needs to up the ante if it expects to hold its reign over the best smartwatches this year.

Plus, with upcoming wearables like the stress-detecting Fitbit Sense and tone-analyzing Amazon Halo gaining interest, we can only hope Apple is ready to respond with standout features of its own.

These are the five things — some more likely to materialize than others — that we want to see arrive on the Apple Watch 6.

1. Longer battery life 

Sure, the Apple Watch may tell time, but can it tell it’s time for a battery boost? I’m bored of comparing its meager 18-hours to the multi-day capabilities of almost every other wearable I review or write about.

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The Apple Watch is a powerful little wrist computer, which is how it’s gotten away with being the best smartwatch with the worst battery life for multiple years now. Regardless, we want to see that improve with the Apple Watch 6, whether it's through a new S6 chip or larger battery.

We’ve seen a leak that points to at least one Apple Watch 6 model having a battery capacity of 303.8 mAh. The Apple Watch 5's capacity is 296 mAh, while the Apple Watch Series 3's battery is 279 mAh, so this could be how the Series 6 tacks on a few more hours to its stamina.

2. Blood oxygen monitoring (SpO2 sensor)

Perhaps the most significant and realistic rumored upgrade for the Apple Watch 6 is the addition of an SpO2 sensor for blood oxygen monitoring. SpO2 measures the oxygen saturation level of your blood for insight on your quality of exercise, or whether you should ease up before you injure yourself.

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SpO2 monitoring could be used to inform Apple Watch sleep tracking (which is included in watchOS 7), and even detect signs of sleep apnea, too. If an Apple Watch can pick up on breathing disturbances overnight you didn’t know about, you might learn more about why you don’t feel rested in the morning. 

SpO2 sensors have been available in a number of smartwatches from Garmin and others, so it’s about time Apple added this feature.

3. An affordable alternative, or Apple Watch ‘SE’

A big question I, and I’m sure many others, have is how Apple plans to restructure its smartwatch tiers with the Apple Watch Series 3 ageing out of the budget category. It could revive the Apple Watch Series 4 with a $200 starting price, or it could release an entirely new kind of low-cost Apple Watch — the Apple Watch SE, if you will.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Like the iPhone SE (2020), an Apple Watch SE could sport the design and materials of older models, but offer the latest S6 chip and other internal upgrades over the Apple Watch Series 3.

Sources familiar with Apple’s product launch plans told Bloomberg that this budget take on the Apple Watch is coming. If this proves true, it could be one of the best cheap smartwatches ever.

4. Price cut for Cellular (LTE) models

While I worked on my Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs. Apple Watch Series 5 face-off, I realized that Apple charges $50 more than Samsung to add LTE support to their smartwatch. Both the Galaxy Watch 3 and Apple Watch 5 have a starting price of $399, but LTE on the former starts at $449, while LTE on the latter starts at $499.

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This is by no means a dealbreaker, however, it’d be nice to see Apple be more competitive with its cellular pricing. But I also understand how the company might be deterred from making cellular models more affordable, as it could encourage people to need their iPhones less.

5. Mental health initiatives

I can only speak for myself here, but as I’m realizing our pandemic routines will be the norm for a while, mental health awareness is only growing more important. It’s great that my Apple Watch reminds me to breathe a few minutes every day, but I’d like a few more mindfulness tools on my wrist.

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The Fitbit Sense promises the features I’d want on Apple Watch 6. As the first smartwatch with an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor, the Fitbit Sense can detect emotional arousal and even help you calm down through bouts of heightened stress.

Similar features are rumored for the Apple Watch in coming years, although I’m sure many would find them useful right now. Apple may hold a steady lead in life-saving features, but mental health tools are life-saving in their own right. It would be awesome to see some sort of related initiative announced during the Watch 6’s launch. 

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.