Apple’s Jeff Williams took the stage at Apple’s event this year to introduce the Apple Watch Series 4. The new model is avialable in two larger versions — 40mm and 44mm — which feature displays that are over 30 percent larger in size than all prior Apple Watch models, yet the new versions are actually thinner than the Series 3, resulting in less total volume.
With the new, larger, edge-to-edge display, the entire UI has also been redesigned to take advantage of the extra space and new design, with a new watch face that allows for up to eight complications, along with a new series of complications that even include the ability to put contact photos on the watch face for tap-to-connect calls and messaging, sort of hailing back to the “Circle of Friends” feature from the original Apple Watch. The modular face also gets a redesign that provides more graphical information, courtesy of the larger screen, and features more developer app integrations for the larger complications. The Breathe app is also now available as a watch face, with three variations to choose from, allowing users to start mindful breathing exercises simply by writing their wrist.
Apple also re-engineered the Digital Crown with a haptic feedback engine to provide a more responsive and mechanical feel with more precision movements. The Series 4 also features a speaker that’s 50 percent louder, ideal for phone calls, the new watchOS 5 Walkie-Talkie feature, and Siri.
The back of the Series 4 is also now made entirely from black ceramic and sapphire crystals, which allow radio waves to pass through the front and back for improved cellular reception. An Apple-designed fourth-gen 64-bit dual-core S4 chip offers up to twice the performance of the Series 3 model, and a next-gen accelerometer and gyroscope provides twice the dynamic range, capable of measuring up to 32 g-forces and eight times faster sampling of motion data.
With the new accelerometer and gyroscope, Apple has added the ability for the Apple Watch to detect falls and automatically engage the Emergency SOS feature in the event that the user remains immobile for more than one minute after a fall has been detected. Williams noted that Apple conducted studies with thousands of people over a long time period to capture data on real-world falls, discovering a repeatable motion pattern that can reliability detect slips, trips, and falls.
Perhaps the biggest news for the Apple Watch Series 4 is the addition of a new electrical heart sensor that will allow users to take an electrocardiogram (ECG) right from the Apple Watch, making the Apple Watch Series 4 the first over-the-counter, FDA-approved ECG device. Williams’ noted the new ECG feature will only be available to customers in the U.S. initially, but that Apple is working hard to bring it to users around the world — presumably all Series 4 models will include the necessary hardware, with the feature being unlocked in software as it received regulatory approval in other countries.
The Apple Watch Series 4 will be available in three aluminum finishes — silver, gold, and space gray — as well as in the usual stainless steel collection models, adding a new gold stainless steel version to the mix. Williams also added that despite the new design, all existing bands will fit the Series 4 Apple Watch, so users won’t need to purchase new bands if they’re upgrading from a prior model. The Nike+ app has also been optimized for the Series 4, although there was no mention of an actual Nike+ model, although a Hermès edition will be availalbe, and include new special watch faces specific to the Hermès Series 4. The Series 4 is available in both GPS-only and Cellular models, starting at $399 for the GPS version, and $499 for the Cellular version. The Apple Watch Series 3 will also remain in the lineup, at a reduced price starting at $279. The Series 4 GPS is launching initially in 26 countries, while the Series 4 Cellular will be available in 16 countries at launch, on 34 different carriers — a list that appears to have increased since last year. Pre-orders will open this Friday, Sept. 14, with in-store availabilty on Sept. 21.