watchOS 4.0.1 fixes issues that in rare cases were causing Apple Watch to join unauthenticated (captive) Wi-Fi networks, such as those found in public places like coffee shops and hotels, which direct the user to a webpage before the network can be accessed.
Quite a mouthful. Good on Apple for issuing a quick fix. Even though it seemed like an extremely rare bug, it was still sloppy.
When Apple Watch was announced in 2014, many were complaining the company was late yet again to another emerging market. Fast-forward only three years and Apple Watch is purportedly the top-selling watch in the world by revenue (according to Apple). Yes, the top-selling watch, surpassing even Rolex. Just yesterday, Horace Dediu published fascinating analysis of Apple Watch sales which seems to corroborate Apple’s claim.
As you will glean from my review, Apple Watch Series 3 is the epitome of the original. It accomplishes everything the first one set out to do and takes it one step further with the addition of a cellular radio. Think of Series 3 as a high school graduate. It’s not truly independent from iPhone, but it has moved out of the house and is living above the iPhone’s garage. It still needs the iPhone for the foreseeable future, but just took its first big step towards being a grownup.
One marketing change I noticed is Apple’s downplay of the Watch-as-high-fashion narrative introduced with the original model. Fitness and health gets more of the attention now in terms of features, marketing, and frankly importance. Of course the Apple Watch is still the best-looking smartwatch on the market, but it’s hard to continue hyping the same design for three years. Further proof of this is supported by the disappearance of the solid gold Edition models when Series 2 debuted last year.
That aside, the fitness capabilities of Series 3 are great, if largely the same as previous versions. It now has an altimeter for tracking elevation on its own (i.e. stairs climbed), and the Workout app is highly responsive thanks to the the new S3 System In a Package (SIP for short)
My original Apple Watch was the 42mm Space Black Stainless Steel model. It cost a pretty penny, yes, but that was before I had a daughter. This time, I opted for the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS+LTE) 42mm in Space Grey aluminum much to the happiness of my wallet, I’m sure.1 I’m happy to say the Space Grey model is really nice and I don’t miss the Space Black as much as I thought I would.
The design itself is identical to the original model that started shipping in 2015. That’s not to say it’s a bad design — I quite like it. However, Apple Watch needs to be a fashionable product, and I would have to think Series 4 will see design changes in some larger capacity (not just a new crown color).
The Red Dot Crown
Before I delve into its purpose, I’ll just say that I personally like the red dot crown. Red and grey are my favorite colors, so I have no objections. 2 I see why others may not like it, though. Red can be very polarizing. If the crown were any color besides red, black, white, or grey, I might take personal issue with it.
I said on Fatherboard Episode 003 that Apple differentiating a product by making an arbitrary design change didn’t sound like them. Cases in point: iPhone X has a different design because it follows function with its edge-to-edge screen and notched sensor housing. The same can be said for the the glass back (on iPhones 8 as well). This design change was facilitated by the new wireless charging function. Until now, there was little functional reason to change the design that originated with iPhone 6.
Then, I remembered Apple Watch is still technically a fashion product. Looking at it from this perspective, the addition of the red dot makes complete sense whether you like the color or not. Not that I’m a fashion expert, but three years seems like an awfully long time to use the same design for such a product. Apple needed to distinguish the cellular model from the bunch since there is no outward-facing function to influence the design (like the iPhone examples mentioned above). The crown was the simplest and most subtle place to put this mark, in my opinion. Any other place would have been too distracting.
As for future models, I can see the red dot crown situation going one of two ways. Apple may remove it completely when all models come with cellular or a new series has its own major design changes. Conversely, if this design is going to be around for a while longer, they may continue to use it to differentiate internal upgrades.
That’s quite a few words for a little red dot.
Much to everyone’s surprise, and chagrin of my wife, there is no more aluminum rose gold finish (for either Apple Watch, iPhones 8 or iPhone X as a matter of fact). I was shocked, since I thought rose gold was more popular than plain gold just by observations in public. That said, the gold finish Apple is using now is more vibrant and less tacky-looking than the prior one. Perhaps Apple wanted to reduce the number of SKUs and the new gold seemed like a good middle ground.
The other new finish Series 3 comes in is the Ceramic Gray Edition model. If money were no object, I would opt for this model in a heartbeat. I’ve only seen pictures online, but it looks like a lighter, shiny version of the aluminum Space Gray.
I’m a little surprised Apple didn’t introduce any new casing materials this time around (tungsten or titanium, perhaps?).
Aside from the obvious addition of cellular, this is the most exciting part of the new Apple Watch, and I think Apple should be more vocal about it.
Compared to the Original Apple Watch
Compared to my original Watch, or ‘Series 0’ as it has been dubbed by the community, this thing is an absolute beast. It has an upgraded dual-core processor in its new S3 SIP which enables the Watch to fly. Everything is faster; launching apps, dictating, Siri, sending messages, navigating the UI, you name it. For a ‘Series 0’ Watch owner, this is the main thing I wanted in the Apple Watch. My ‘Series 0’ had become so slow, I had been using it less and less over the past year. I haven’t stopped using my Series 3 since I got it.
The Watch’s biggest goal is to accomplish iPhone tasks in less time and with more efficiency, while providing a compelling reason to do so. This Apple Watch nails all of this, largely thanks to this big jump in performance.
Compared to Series 1/Series 2
I have my wife’s Series 1 Watch to make this comparison, as Series 1 and 2 share the same S2 SIP with dual-core processor. My Watch is noticeably faster than hers, but I wouldn’t say it’s enough to justify the upgrade from Series 1/2 to Series 3 alone. If you’re on the fence about this decision, take everything else into account before performance.
Battery life has been both phenomenal and Apple Watch’s biggest opportunity for improvement at the same time. Series 3 receives a tiny bump in capacity from Series 2. This pales in comparison from the bump Series 2 received (+30% over ‘Series 0’), but that’s not a bad thing for now.
At the end of the day while mostly tethered to my phone, I’ve been averaging about 60% — 70% remaining battery life. That’s with medium usage, including a 30-minute drumming workout, various texts, driving directions, and notifications. This Watch could last me two days without a charge, which is similar to what I’ve heard about Series 2.
While making phone calls with only the Watch’s built-in cellular radio, battery does drain noticeably faster. Apple only promises one hour of talk time in this scenario, and that seems about right to me. Since our reliance on actual phone calls is on an ever-downward trend, this is probably not a big issue for most. However, with processing performance hitting acceptable levels, battery life now becomes Apple Watch’s largest opportunity for improvement. It’s an opportunity I’m honestly not sure how Apple will address. They have continued to refine chipsets and their software to become more power efficient, but there is a point where you just need more physical space for a battery. I don’t see the Apple Watch’s casing slimming down anytime soon for this reason. More on cellular performance below.
As the Watch is becoming more utilitarian, Apple could theoretically make a Watch band with batteries in it for those that really need the extra juice. It would be akin to a battery case for your iPhone. If you need to use it every day, you lose a little flexibility with your band selection, but I’m sure they would look fashionable in their own right.
On to the tent-pole feature of Apple Watch Series 3. I have seen so many people online question why Apple would add a cellular radio to the Watch, but I always thought it was clear to see this was the next logical progression for this device.
During the pairing process, you will be asked if you want to add the device to your cellular plan. Simply tap “Set Up Cellular” and you will be redirected to complete enrollment via your carrier’s website. This was a breeze for me, though I hear some experienced issues, which would be typical for a new device on launch day. Once done, my Watch activated itself after about a minute.
You can use the Watch without cellular, of course. Simply tap “Skip This Step” instead.
Most US carriers are charging a $10/month fee to use your Watch on your existing data plan. Verizon, my carrier, is offering the first three months for free so that’s cool. The price is pretty high for a device that will only use cellular as a last resort — not to mention if you have multiple Watches on the same account. I had predicted $5/month, but carriers are notoriously greedy so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.
How it Works
Apple Watch’s data connection has always followed a priority that goes like this: iPhone (Bluetooth) > Known Wi-Fi Network.
Adding in the Watch’s own internal cellular radio complicates things a little bit. Here is the new priority: iPhone (Bluetooth) > Known Wi-Fi Network > Internal cellular radio.
In other words, Series 3 tries to utilize its new cellular radio as little as possible. As a matter of fact, it will only use it if your iPhone isn’t around and it can’t connect to a known Wi-Fi network. Once back in range of either of these options, it will switch back over, but not always as quickly as it should.
iOS 11 ditches the dots for signal indication and watchOS inherits them (they fit in much better here). You can view your cellular signal strength one of two ways:
Using the new ‘Explorer’ watch face.
Swiping up from the watch face and looking in the top-left corner.
Note: signal dots will only appear if the radio is actively being used.
I’ve made a few calls directly from my Watch’s cellular radio and they’ve been fantastic. I haven’t experienced any audio quality issues or dropped calls. This feels incredibly futuristic, especially when combined with AirPods. 3
Using cellular data on the Watch is a little complicated.
For instance, some carriers prevent sending SMS texts from the Watch over cellular. It’s not exactly clear at this point whether this is a bug or policy. iMessage still works no matter what, so if most of the people you text have blue bubbles, you’re all set.
Also, not all third-party apps have been updated to take advantage of the new cellular radio. These are still dependent on the iPhone to function in some capacity. For instance, the TuneIn Radio app won’t stream content without being tethered to an iPhone.
Switching between Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Cellular
Apple needs to work on this part, as evidenced by the captive portal hotspot issue caught by a few journalists last week. I haven’t experienced this issue myself, but I typically never use open Wi-Fi networks with captive portals.
That said, I did experience some delays when the Apple Watch was trying to switch between radios. Here’s a couple scenarios in which this happened.
My iPhone was in the bedroom and I was in the living room with my Watch (about 60 feet apart in a straight line). I tried to issue a command via Siri and it wasn’t responding. I got the dreaded “Hold on…” message from Siri. 4 In my opinion, the Watch should have switched directly to my home Wi-Fi network instead of hanging on to the iPhone via a low Bluetooth signal.
In fact, the Watch should always connect to known Wi-Fi networks even if your phone is around, but that may come at cost of battery life. I would love to see this happen eventually, as it would surely make for a more cosistent connection.
The truth is this isn’t new to Series 3, but something that has occurred since ‘Series 0’. It’s an underlying problem that’s tough to get right.
I left my iPhone in the car while I ran into the drug store. The Watch took a couple minutes to activate its cellular radio, and when it did, I was unable to dictate an iMessage (no transcription appeared as I spoke). I had to use the Scribble feature to write my text, but it did send (odd).
Both of these scenarios left me shaking my head a little bit, as it’s something that should have been worked out in software. Apple has promised to fix the captive portal issue in a future update, but I they need to address radio switching as a whole to improve the experience. Also worth noting: as with all previous versions, you can’t toggle Wi-Fi on and off with Series 3.
Siri now talks on Series 3 thanks to its upgraded processor. This is something I didn’t think I’d care for, but it has actually proven really nice to have voice feedback in most cases. A good example is when controlling your HomeKit devices. I can raise my wrist, tell Siri to unlock the door, and just drop my hand. A couple seconds later, I hear an audible “That’s done.” from thin air. It’s such a small thing, but it has a big impact. It makes the Watch feel more powerful and alive.
Siri is super fast now, too. I view it as the primary way to engage with the Watch, and Apple is increasingly positioning it at the forefront of their ecosystem. Siri is the voice of Apple devices, so to see how much better it works on the new Watch compared to the older models is highly encouraging. It’s almost as fast as yelling at Alexa on my Echo Dot to accomplish the same task. Because of these improvements, Alexa and I haven’t been on speaking terms much.
Apple Music Streaming
Coming this Fall, you will be able to stream Apple Music directly to your Watch over cellular. This effectively will make the Watch an always-connected iPod Nano. Just imagine going on a run with your Watch and AirPods while streaming any song on command. How amazing is that? Apple hasn’t given a hard date for this functionality, but I’m looking forward to testing it out once available.
With Apple checking off the cellular box for Apple Watch, one wonders what upgrades a Series 4 (and beyond) model will see. Here’s a few things I can think of.
As I mentioned above, I think this is the Watch’s greatest opportunity for improvement. So many new features will be dependent on a better battery. Apple needs to push the envelope on battery technology like they have done with terraced cells in the MacBook. There could still be potential to make the battery bigger as miniaturization marches on, but that’s only part of the puzzle. Further optimization and new battery (or even charging) technology will drive major changes to the Apple Watch in the future.
Always-On Watch Face
I think this will happen in time, but is highly dependent on battery improvements. Raise-To-Wake works well, but there are times you can’t raise your wrist (e.g. when carrying something). Being able to glance the time simply by looking would be great. 5
New Finishes and Design Changes
Low-hanging fruit to spice up the product line is needed before the design starts to become stale.
Apple Watch as Keys
Tim Cook wants Apple Watch to replace our keys, but there hasn’t been much traction in this area. Sure, we can use it to unlock our Mac, but that’s within Apple’s own ecosystem.
I use it as such to unlock my smart deadbolt, but it would be even more amazing if it could also unlock my car. This is probably more on the software and automaker partnership side, but this would be a perfect use case for Apple Watch. I mean, who likes carrying keys?
There’s not much left to be said.
Series 3 proves the Watch is not a novelty, but a product coming into its own. I speculated it could be the ‘iPhone 4’ of its line, and I stand by those remarks after using it. One day, the Watch will move out of the iPhone’s garage and into its own apartment as it becomes more of a must-have device just like the iPod.
Shh… little does it know iPhone X pre-orders are next. ↩︎
Plus, you know, the obvious HAL9000 connotations and all that. ↩︎
Side note: Apple really should remove this particular message. Siri telling me to hold on makes me feel like my time isn’t valuable. Her existing “One sec…” or “I’ll tap you when I’m ready.” messages seem more appropriate. ↩︎
Apple Watch Series 3 reviews are in from around the web. While largely positive, an embarrassing bug affecting the Watch’s data connection has been discovered and acknowledged by Apple. I know I’ve been saying Apple Watch Series 3 could be the ‘iPhone 4’ of its line, but I also wrote that I hope it would come without the controversy (antennagate). Oops. At least it didn’t get lost in a bar?
Siri sounds great on the watch, too: crisp and clear. The hardware performance improvements surely help here — the S3 dual core CPU is “up to 70 percent” faster, and the new W2 chip for wireless improves Wi-Fi performance “up to 85 percent”. (The W2 also makes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth more energy efficient, and, it seems obvious, is one of the reasons that cellular networking is possible at all.) The effect of these performance improvements isn’t that it makes Apple Watch Series 3 feel fast, but that it makes it feel not slow. When you dictate a text message to Siri and it just works, without delay, it just feels like it should.
I am SO excited about this. I try to use Siri as much as possible on my original Apple Watch, but it’s way too damn slow.
If your phone’s nearby, your Watch connects to it through Bluetooth and uses the phone as a modem. If you’re away from your phone, it looks for Wi-Fi, and as a last resort, jumps on LTE. I never noticed a difference between LTE and Wi-Fi, and in a week of testing didn’t experience any issues switching around. Others had a much harder time, though, and Apple has fessed up to problems switching to unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks without connectivity.” So proceed with caution.
This is exactly how I figured they’d do it, as discussed on Fatherboard Episode 002. The Watch only uses its built-in LTE radio when there is no other option. This makes sense to conserve battery life, but as is being discovered, Apple bungled a distinct aspect of connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
Although I think most people can skip buying the cellular model, the Apple Watch Series 3 is the first smart watch I can confidently recommend that people buy. While I don’t personally find it attractive enough to replace my wristwatch, the new Apple Watch is a well-designed, durable and easy-to-use fitness tracker for people who want analytics on their workouts and general health (R.I.P., Fitbit).
Important features like the stopwatch, calendar and Siri work quickly and reliably. And unlike its predecessors, the watch has impressive battery life — on average, I had more than 40 percent battery remaining after a full day of use.
So the final verdict? The Apple Watch Series 3 is the first sign that wearable computers are maturing and may eventually become a staple in consumer electronics.
Where do I start with the connectivity issues with this Watch? It became apparent after my first full day using the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE that something wasn’t right. My review Watch was paired with an iPhone 8 and was on an AT&T wireless plan. In one of my initial tests, I went for a walk with the phone on airplane mode, and tried to send text messages and use Siri to initiate phone calls through the Watch. Those didn’t work. I tried asking Siri basic questions. That didn’t work. Siri also wasn’t “talking back” to me, something that’s supposed to be a new feature on the Series 3 Watch.
Sadly, Lauren experienced so many issues that she couldn’t even experience the Watch’s full potential. While most reviewers didn’t experience the issue described by Lauren, Serenity Caldwell may have figured out the underlying cause.
Essentially, the Series 3 GPS + Cellular watch tries to save battery life at all times by using your iPhone’s connection, or failing that, a Wi-Fi network. What’s happening here is that the watch is attempting to jump on a so-called “captive” network — a public network with an interstitial login prompt or terms and conditions agreement. (You’ve probably seen these at a Starbucks, McDonalds, or Panera.)
In theory, the Apple Watch shouldn’t be allowed to connect to captive networks at all, because there’s no way for it to get through that interstitial layer. Unfortunately, watchOS 4 has a bug where captive networks are being recognized identically to normal saved Wi-Fi networks — so while you’re technically “connected” to a network, you won’t be able to connect to the internet; nor will you be able to go to cellular, because the Watch’s auto-switching prevents you from connecting.
This makes perfect sense, and I would hope it’s really a bug versus Apple not taking captive portals into account at all. Either way, it’s incredibly sloppy. I would expect this kind of launch bug from Samsung or others, but not Apple.
Apple has promised a fix in ‘a future update’, but that doesn’t sound nearly urgent enough. I hope they can fix the bug accurately for release this Friday, or a ton of people may be in for a surprise. Come to think of it, a lot of Apple Stores are in malls, usually surrounded by a few captive portals…
iPhone 4 was arguably when the iPhone became the modern iPhone. It was a huge leap from the 3GS. It was really fast, had a sexy glass sandwich design, introduced the Retina display, external antenna system, and more. It even had huge controversies from being lost in a bar and published by Gizmodo to antennagate. Along the same lines, I think Apple Watch Series 3 has the potential to be the ‘iPhone 4’ of its line in terms of performance and adoption (hopefully without the controversies).
I remember being extremely excited for the original Apple Watch’s (delayed) launch back in early 2015, more than any Apple product since the original iPhone. A close match was the AirPods, but that was a different kind of excitement. Now, with Fall quickly approaching, we are seemingly on track to receive another Watch update.
See, it’s all about experiences when it comes to technology. Apple Watch does a subset of things the iPhone does, but the experience it offers is visceral, compelling, and strikingly different than the iPhone. For instance, I’m more compelled to archive email from the Watch because it’s right there on my wrist. Same goes for quickly replying to a message or controlling music playback. These quick use cases and the experience factor make pulling the iPhone out of my pocket seem like a major drag. Using the Watch makes me feel like I’m accomplishing things with the speed of a ninja.
I still have my original 42mm Apple Watch.1 While I love it, it’s an absolute dog when it comes to doing tasks not already loaded in memory. I recently upgraded my wife’s original Watch to a Series 1 and am on the verge of stealing it insanely jealous of the dual-core processor within. I tested hers by asking Siri to unlock the front door; a task that normally takes my Watch around 25 seconds to complete. Hers did it in less than 10. Considering this, I am impressed with myself for holding out for the Series 3, since it is highly unlike me to not upgrade (mostly) every Apple device upon its new release, but I digress.
Before Series 2 was announced, I thought all I wanted was a faster watch. The more I thought about it, though, the more I decided to wait for Series 3.2 While I knew Series 2 would be faster, I’m holding out for a major increase in speed, as I shouldn’t have to wait for my Watch to catch up to my commands. With that said, here’s what I’d like to see in Apple Watch Series 3.
Series 3 Wishlist
Faster processor and more RAM, of course. This is arguably the most important and obvious upgrade. Apple is typically not concerned with feeds and speeds, but for such a small device, it’s particularly important. I’m expecting their silicon team to wow us this year.
Better battery life. The Series 2 does better on battery, but Apple needs to keep pushing in this space to improve the experience for heavy Watch users. Things like less battery intensive chips are key to ensuring this.
Always-on Watch Face. This is dependent on a better battery. Notifications and Hey Siri could still be activated like they are now (raising the Watch first).
Smaller bezels. A big trend this year with smartphones, and rumored for the iPhone 8. Reduced bezels on the Watch would allow for potentially bigger screens.
Cellular radio. This is a big, heavily requested one. Series 2 checked off the GPS box for runners, so this seems like the next logical step. A cellular radio would enable the Watch to be more independent in most regards. I would think you’d still pair it to an iPhone, but you’d be free to completely leave the phone behind when you need to. It shouldn’t use a lot of data, so hopefully Apple works out some nice kind of deal with the carriers to facilitate an inexpensive connection to your existing plan.
Improved Taptic Engine. Series 2 is better, but I think the Taptic Engine could still be more powerful and precise to really get your attention.
Space Black variants of Watch bands. Maybe not for all bands, but it would be nice to have more first-party bands that pair well with the Space Black Watch. I’m mostly referring to the silver hardware on the classic leather band, for instance. Let’s get some Space Black hardware on that bad boy!
FaceTime Camera. This has been rumored before, but I really don’t think Apple would do this. Terrible ergonomics alone are reason enough not to.
Smart Watch Bands. A few days ago, Chaim Gartenberg from The Verge suggested smart bands as the future of the smartwatch. While they very well could be, I think the band should be all about form, not function. Having to choose between form and function in a band would be too much.
Announcements from WWDC had virtually no leaks, and we were bombarded with awesome updates. I think we’re in for a similar surprise with Apple Watch this fall.
My other bet is on Apple Watch playing a bigger role in Apple’s ecosystem down the line, potentially involving AR. Imagine the Watch’s motion data being used as a input mechanism for future Apple AR glasses or similar. Sounds cool, right? Let’s get that future here as fast as possible. Bring on Series 3!
Space Black Stainless Steel, if you were wondering. ↩︎
I just didn’t care enough about the GPS and swimproof features. ↩︎