What’s next for Apple Watch? How sleep tracking, cellular, and an always-on display could be major improvements


Apple Watch Series 1 and Series 2 both address a major flaw of the first-generation model with significant speed improvements, and all Apple Watches benefit from a performance boost and a simpler interface with watchOS 3. So what’s next for Apple Watch and watchOS this year? Let’s take a look at some of the next opportunities for Apple Watch (and a few rumors) that may tell us what Apple could be planning.

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Apple sharpened its focus on fitness and health with Apple Watch Series 2 and watchOS 3. Adding a GPS improved outdoor running, cycling, and walking exercise tracking, stronger waterproofing enabled swim tracking, and the display brightness increased which dramatically improved legibility in sunlight.

watchOS 3 also added Activity Sharing to bring a little competition to meeting daily fitness goals, and a new Breathe app introduced the concept of mindful minutes and meditation with Apple Watch.

A supply chain report out of Asia earlier this year claimed Apple is planning to introduce a third-generation Apple Watch later this fall with a focus on improved battery life. Apple Watch Series 2 owners will be quick to tell you battery life has improved since the first-gen model, however, so improving battery efficiency could be used for a number of things other than extending battery life.


Longer use between charge times is still a possibility, of course, as most users including myself charge nightly. Other sports watches and smart watches are less powerful and capable but offer extended use time between charges.

Charging every two or three days is helpful, but I’m more interested personally in what Apple could do with more efficient battery life in general.



Some version of an always-on display is my most wanted feature. Apple Watch looks fine with the display off, but traditional watches are still superior at just presenting the time without delay no matter how precise Apple Watch may be.

Apple’s raise-to-wake wrist detection works well, but showing the static time without animations or the rest of the watch face would both be a cool effect and a practical improvement.


Further emphasizing the health tracking space, built-in sleep tracking remains a major opportunity for Apple Watch today. There are watchOS apps on the App Store like Sleep++ and AutoSleep that enable sleep tracking from Apple Watch and feed data into Apple’s Health app on iPhone, but Apple doesn’t support sleep tracking from Apple Watch with its own app yet (just from the Clock app on iOS).

Sleep tracking with Apple Watch means charging during the day. Charging is pretty quick (roughly two hours from zero to full) and wouldn’t take as long if going from 50% to 100% if battery life was that good. The hardware needs to be right and watchOS 4 would need its own sleep tracking software, but Apple’s new Theater Mode in watchOS 3.2 is already addressing the whole display coming on at night issue for sleep trackers.

Apple has also been rumored to be developing an upgraded heart rate app on watchOS. The new version reportedly analyzes the time it takes to fall from peak to resting heart rate as an additional fitness measure. New Apple Watch features like additional workout tracking could rely on the same sensors we have today and be introduced through watchOS 4.

Apple Watch Series 2

Something that was briefly rumored for Apple Watch Series 2 but didn’t make the cut is cellular connectivity. There are versions of Android Wear watches that already feature LTE radios for cellular connectivity, but Apple is taking its time with introducing the additional radio to its hardware.

How useful cellular may be relies largely on the software running on Apple Watch. If software could rely on cellular data to refresh and run independent of iPhone, apps like Pokémon Go could potentially become standalone games on Apple Watch rather than companion apps that rely on iPhone.  It would also be super useful to be able to stream Apple Music, sync podcasts, and send and receive iMessages and phone calls from Apple Watch without iPhone.


Apple Watch Series 2 adds GPS which is mainly used for mapping outdoor workouts, but you can use it with pre-loaded maps including navigation (in case your iPhone dies). Apple Watch could match what iPhones can do with maps and navigation if cellular were an option.

Cellular is also something that significantly improved battery efficiency could help enable. Android Wear watches can experiment and try different things, but Apple Watch will likely want to at least match its current battery life.

I could see Apple doing both cellular and non-cellular versions of Apple Watch just like today we have Series 1 without GPS and Series 2 with GPS, but a big question mark is how you would be charged for cellular data and if it would be something worth paying for monthly.


Regardless of what new sensors and radios Apple Watch adds this year, I’m willing to bet that Apple introduces new bands and case finishes this year especially if the case design remains mostly unchanged.

Apple Watch Nike+ introduced a unique version of the Sport band and other existing bands saw new color options last year, but Woven Nylon was the only totally new band from Apple. Case finishes were also unchanged aside from Apple Watch Edition dropping gold and rose gold for white ceramic.

Apple could introduce pricier titanium models and cheaper polycarbonate models that create new looks and price points compared to the current lineup of aluminum, stainless steel, and ceramic models.

Apple Watch Series 2 Edition

Finally, something we haven’t heard rumored lately but was once reported is a built-in FaceTime camera. Adding video calling to Apple Watch seems inevitable as a futuristic communication device.

You can already make phone calls and dictate text messages, but video calling could be convenient and personal in certain scenarios. A bigger display is usually better, for example, but I find that I video call more often from my iPhone since it’s with me more often.

Other changes that could come with software include more capable apps, improving music and audio controls, and even third-party watch faces using Apple’s watch hands as a template.

Apple Watch Series 1 and Series 2 debuted alongside the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in September so it’s possible we could see their successors (Apple Watch Series 3?) later this fall around the same time.

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Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.