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Apple Watch Series 3 Rumors: What Apple’s Planning for its Next Smartwatch

Update Sept. 20: The Apple Watch Series 3 is now for sale, and you can check out our hands-on impressions and review roundup. Also see all the top Apple Watch 3 new features.

Although the smartwatch is still a niche category, it's hard to deny that the Apple Watch rules. In fact, Apple has surpassed Fitibt as the No. 1 maker of wearable devices overall.

Two years after the first Apple smartwatch appeared, we've seen one significant update to the device, along with a bump to the original model. But unlike the heavily hyped iPhone 8, the next Apple Watch has mostly flown under the radar, though recent rumors suggest we could be seeing an update to the smartwach lineup sooner rather than later. If we do, here’s what you can expect from the Apple Watch Series 3.

Apple Watch 3 Rumors at Glance (Updated August 4)

  • Release could be in fall 2017 to coincide with iPhone 8.
  • 4G for staying connected away from your phone.
  • Camera to enable FaceTime calls on the go.
  • Apple has bought sleep-tracking company Beddit, which signals sleep tracking is being added to the watch.
  • Apple is reportedly looking to use microLED technology in all wearables by 2018.
  • Modular wristband for adding features, such as glucose readings for diabetics.
  • Apple's putting an emphasis on other health-tracking features including respiration rates.
  • watchOS 4 will debut in the fall with new watch faces and fitness features.
  • Price to remain in $300 to $500 range.

When will the Apple Watch 3 come out?

Compared with the iPhone, which has received regular yearly updates since its release in 2007, Apple Watch updates come out with less regularity. The Series 2 models arrived in fall 2016, a year and a half after the original model's spring 2015 debut. If that pattern were to continue, it would peg spring 2018 as the most likely release date for a Series 3 model.

MORE: Apple Watch Guide: Tips, Tricks and How-Tos

However, if there's one thing Apple is known for when it comes to product announcements, it's surprise. Depending on the company's strategy and production, there's a reasonable chance of a six-month swing — in either direction — in that release date. A report in China's Economic Daily News, spotted by MacRumors, suggests that a third-generation Watch will ship in 2017, appearing at a fall event that would likely place it alongside the next iPhone. Bloomberg reports something similar, with the new Apple Watch arriving later this year with a very special new feature...

What features will Apple add to the next Apple Watch?

4G: And that new feature would be LTE connectivity. Bloomberg reports that Apple will release a version of its watch equipped with an Intel modem. That will allow the next Apple Watch to connect to cellular networks without having to pair with an iPhone.

Cellular connectivity is one of the biggest missing features from Apple's smartwatch after last year's Series 2 Watch added a few major missing features in the form of GPS and better water resistance. While the current Apple Watch models can work without an iPhone present as long as there's a known Wi-Fi network, you can't take just your Apple Watch with you and expect to have full connectivity. In the meantime, several Android Wear watches — notably the Gear S3 from Samsung — offer LTE connectivity as an option.

Adding 4G to the Apple Watch comes with its own challenges, such as increased size and weight and the need for better battery life, not to mention added cost from a cellular provider. To that last point, Bloomberg says that Apple is in talks with multiple carriers.

Sleep Tracking: In early May Apple acquired Beddit, a company that makes a sleep-tracking app and device. While Apple hasn't revealed its plans for Beddit, speculation suggests the Apple Watch Series 3 could include advanced sleep tracking capabilities. The current Beddit device slips under your sheet and measures things like breaths per minute, heart rate and even snoring to see how restful your sleep was and provide an overall score.

Glucose Monitoring: Apple may be looking at others to expand the watch's health tracking capabilities. CNBC reports that CEO Tim Cook has been spotted on the Apple campus wearing a prototype device that attaches to the Apple Watch to track glucose levels. If that capability appears in the next Apple Watch, it could increase the appeal of the device among people with diabetes who need to manage their blood sugar levels.

Respiration Rate Tracking: This may be a longshot for the next Apple Watch, but Apple has filed for a patent on an improved way to monitor breathing rates by monitoring constriction and dilation of blood vessels. The patent application, seen by Patently Apple, says that the sensors could be "strapped to a user's wrist," which sounds an awful lot like it's describing the Apple Watch.

Credit: USPTO

(Image credit: USPTO)

Camera: Rumors have also abounded since the release of the first Apple Watch that the company would add a camera to the device, largely fueled by an Apple patent from 2016. Such a camera would likely serve several purposes, from holding FaceTime video chats to taking selfies to being used as an input method — scanning bar codes, for example.

While a camera did not materialize for the Apple Watch Series 2, it remains a possibility for Series 3. However, the enthusiasm is somewhat dampened based on the ergonomics of the solution — holding up your arm for long periods  is tiring and uncomfortable — and the security/privacy concerns of adding a camera to a device on your wrist.

Battery Life Improvements: Current speculation has focused on somewhat more mundane updates from the next Apple Watch, including a report that Apple is working to improve the device's battery life — perhaps in advance of adding cellular connectivity — and another that it might update the watch's OLED display technology. This improvement becomes especially important should Apple add that LTE modem as rumored, since cellular connectivity will put a hit on battery life.

MicroLED Screen: Back in February, a DigiTimes repport spotted by 9to5Mac claimed that Apple could turn to a glass-film touch display to reduce the thickness and weight of its watch. A move to microLED technology could provide thinner, lighter and brighter screens, but it's yet to be put into mass production, which means it wouldn't be ready for a 2017 release. Still, a Nikkei report now says that Apple plans to use microLED in all future wearable products potentially by 2018.

Is a modular wristband on the way?

Apple might not only change t just the style of its watchbands in the next version of the wearable, but make them smarter, too. That would likely be accomplished by adding more tech inside the bands themselves, whether that means something like extra battery cells, additional sensors, a camera, a second display or more. Much of this theory is also based on an Apple patent for modular technology in a wristband from earlier this year.

One thing a modular wristband could include is an additional health sensor for glucose monitoring. A report from CNBC says that Apple has an engineering team working on a noninvasive method of measuring blood sugar, which could be a huge boon to diabetics. The technology is said to be far enough along to have reached the clinical trial-stage, though it would still need regulatory approval.

What can we expect from the next watchOS update?

While the Apple Watch's hardware gets a lot of attention, Apple's watchOS software does most of the heavy lifting in terms of the watch's usefulness and capabilities. The watchOS 2 and 3 have greatly refined the experience of the Watch, and from what we've seen of watchOS 4, you can expect more of the same this fall when that update arrives.

Top features in watchOS 4 include new faces, of course, including a Siri Watch Face that will serve up relevant information such as reminders, news updates and appointments depending on the time of day and location. Apple's also fine-tuning the fitness tracking features, updating the Workout app to include auto-sets for lap swimming and new algorithms for High Intensity Interval Training. A new multiple workouts feature should appeal to anyone training for a triathlon.

The addition of GymKit means that you may able to pair your watch directly with equipment like treadmills, indoor bikes and more. (Apple announced partnerships with several equipment makers.) The Activity app will also feature intelligent coaching that's tailored more to individual users.

Other changes in watchOS 4 include a new Music watch face that syncs instantly with Air Pods wireless headphones offers playlist support. The watchOS update also adds the same person-to-person Apple Pay payments that iOS 11 is introducing this fall.

While these features will be available to existing Apple Watches, you have to figure that watchOS will be front and center on any new wearable Apple unveils this year.

How much will the Apple Watch 3 cost?

Apple products traditionally target the higher end of a price range, and both the original and Series 2 versions of the Apple Watch definitely fall into that category. We've seen the base versions of the watch hover in the $300-$500 range, and a Series 3 Apple Watch would be likely no different.

The big question is how many editions of the Series 3 Apple will create. The original Apple Watch had three models — the aluminum Sport, the standard stainless-steel Apple Watch and the pricey gold Edition — while the Series 2 changed it up by offering the Apple Watch in either aluminum or steel, special co-branded Nike and Hermès versions and the top-end ceramic Edition. Expect the Series 3 to follow the Series 2 pattern; the multi-thousand-dollar Edition models made a splash, but Apple has seemed to move away from aiming for the truly luxury market.

What we want to see from the Apple Watch 3

Like most Apple products, the Apple Watch is a marriage of hardware and software. So, regarding improvements to the overall device, there are several things we'd like to see in both arenas that could lead to a better Apple Watch.

Regarding hardware, improvements to battery life and connectivity are certainly at the top of the chart. Being able to use the Apple Watch in more situations and for longer periods  would go a long way to integrating the device more into our daily lives. Improved battery efficiency could also enable long-awaited features, like an always-on display.

A thinner and lighter Watch wouldn't go amiss, either, and it could even be interesting to see Apple toy with the idea of a round display, a feature  rivals have tried, with mixed results. And, as ever, faster performance would be at the top of the list for many users who still find the Apple Watch sluggish at times.

But there's far more opportunity for improvement with the watchOS software. Some elements of the original Apple Watch design have not aged well — the honeycomb home screen, for example — and could use revisiting in a future watchOS update. Likewise, opening up watch faces to third-party developers could give users even more personalization and customization options than what Apple provides. Native apps for Notes and the recently rebranded Apple Podcasts would be welcome additions, too; though, let's not go crazy: no need for iBooks on the Watch — not yet, anyway.

Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide

Dan Moren is the author of multiple sci-fi books including The Caledonian Gamibt and The Aleph Extraction. He's also a long-time Mac writer, having worked for Macworld and contributed to the Six Colors blog, where he writes about all things Apple. His work has also appeared in Popular Science, Fast Company, and more

  • RJKinsman
    I would love to see touch ID on the Apple Watch. I love love love using the watch for Apple Pay, but that comes at a price of having to enter my PIN every time I take the watch off, which is annoying.
  • mickblu
    As long as you have unlocked your phone at least once after donning the watch, the PIN is unnecessary (assuming you've enabled that feature)!