Since its launch five years ago, Apple has worked to provide users with strong additional value in each iteration of its market-leading Apple Watch. While the Apple Watch Series 5 is mostly a carryover from the Series 4 in terms of form factor and features, Apple’s continued focus on health and wellness usability and strong sales momentum will keep the device as the leading new smartwatch on the market. In addition, lowering the price on the older Series 3 model to $199 will put pressure on lower priced competitors.Who makes the shift to Series 5?
2016 ushered in waterproofing and an improved fitness experience with the Apple Watch Series 2. In 2017, the Series 3 brought with it an even more radical shift introducing on-board cellular capabilities, making it a much more independent device. 2018 saw a shift to a slightly larger and smoother form factor with the Series 4, but even more important was the shift towards health and wellness with on-device ECG functionality. As a result, expectations were high for what Apple might deliver in 2019 with the launch of the Series 5. Actual improvements to the Series 5 were much more muted, as there was no new breakthrough hardware based medical features, such as long rumored blood glucose-monitoring capabilities. In fact, the biggest hardware change is a new Retina display that lets the screen remain in a dimmer always-on mode even when the user is not looking at the watch. It can even be argued whether this feature is a real improvement, as it would surely not be convenient to have a digital screen on your wrist powered on inside a movie theater or when going to sleep at night. Other features such as a digital compass and new material choices such as Titanium and white ceramic give the potential buyer more variety, but are not game changers. As a result, while the Series 5 might be a tougher sell for a current Series 4 owner, demand from older Apple Watch owners with the more bulky and smaller form factors of the Series 2 or Series 3 devices will still see some strong reasons to upgrade based on the features, battery life and improved appearance.
Health focus continues with new studies
Despite the lack of hardware changes, the continued shift of the device towards health and wellness is more apparent than ever. According to NPD’s Connected Intelligence Consumers and Wearables survey ‘achieving a healthier lifestyle’ now ranks fourth in terms of the most important reasons to buy a smartwatch, which helps explain Apple’s health and wellness focus beyond pure fitness tracking. Some of the more subtle tracking additions to the Watch OS6 operating system and Apple’s broader plans for more wellness studies show how they are looking to turn the Apple Watch ecosystem into a broad based health platform. For example, one new feature detects and warns users when they are in an environment where hearing could potentially be negatively impacted by noise. Apple is also focusing on women’s health with an app to track menstrual cycles on a long-term basis. With both of these new features, Apple is launching long-term investigative studies (on an opt-in basis) that will track the data gathered over time in hopes of determining the impact of things like continued exposure to loud noise on hearing and potentially the link between conditions like osteoporosis and irregular menstrual cycles. As a result, the increasing number of health related metrics that consumers will be able to track and Apple’s ongoing commitment to track the data over time through studies could help transform the Apple Watch platform into one of the most comprehensive health tracking devices on the market in the next several years.
While the Apple Watch Series 5 might seem underwhelming from a new hardware and feature perspective, it will still appeal to a very wide audience of new buyers and older Apple Watch owners looking to upgrade. The next landmark shift in terms of hardware features is not likely to occur until Apple figures out how to dramatically increase battery life (to better support features like sleep tracking), or introduces another breakthrough medical feature such as wrist based blood glucose tracking. But beneath the surface, the more subtle health tracking additions to Watch OS6 and the commitment of Apple to three important health-tracking studies (Hearing Study, Women’s Health Study, and Heart/Movement Study) shows the vision of transforming the Apple Watch into a leading health and wellness-monitoring platform.