This year's launch cycle may have been thrown for a loop, but the next Apple Watch is still on track for a fall debut. The next Apple Watch (likely dubbed Series 6), is expected to launch alongside the new iPhones at a virtual launch event in September or October. And though we don't know exactly what Apple has in store for the watch, there are plenty of rumors, and even a few hidden clues in the latest WatchOS 7 update to unpack in the meantime.
Design: A round Apple Watch, but not this year
Chances are, this year's Apple Watch will look a lot like its predecessors: a squarish body with rounded edges and an OLED screen that curves at the sides. As in previous years, Apple could introduce some minor upgrades like increasing the size of the screen (to show off the new watch faces coming with WatchOS 7), different materials for the frame and a few more watch band options, but so far there's not a lot of evidence of a radical redesign for the Apple Watch -- yet.
Rumors of a circular watch face on the Apple Watch have been making the rounds for a few years now, and Apple has even issued a couple of Apple Watch patents that show what a round display could look like. But the existence of a patent doesn't guarantee Apple will use it in a final product, and a change this big would require Apple to rework the hardware and software of the watch, so it could take a few more years to become a reality.
Pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen levels
Health has been a key growth category for the Apple Watch since its inception, most recently adding native sleep tracking, mobility metrics and hearing health alerts in WatchOS 7. We expect this trend to continue. The big health feature for the Series 6 this year could be SpO2 tracking, or the ability to monitor oxygen saturation in the blood.
According to 9to5Mac, iOS 14 code snippets suggest the next Apple Watch will be able to detect blood oxygen levels and alert users if it detects levels below what's considered a "healthy" threshold, similar to what the watch already does with the high and low heart-rate alerts. Blood oxygen levels are generally measured using a pulse oximeter on the tip of the finger, and to do this on the wrist, it's very likely Apple would need to add new hardware to the Watch, making it a Series 6 exclusive.
A recent report from DigiTimes also mentions that Apple has made a deal with ASE Technology, a Taiwanese manufacturer, to bring new biosensors to the Watch that will enable SpO2 tracking during the day and night.
This would be good timing, because some doctors are recommending pulse oximeter devices to monitor COVID-19 symptoms, and people have begun buying pulse oximeters during the coronavirus pandemic.
More robust sleep tracking
The Apple Watch (Series 3 and higher) will finally get native sleep tracking with the update to WatchOS 7 in the fall, but the Series 6 could make sleep tracking more robust by improving battery life and tracking blood oxygen levels at night.
Unlike some sleep apps as well as some Apple Watch competitors that give a breakdown of the quality and stages of sleep, the Apple Watch mainly focuses on the time you spend asleep. If the Series 6 has SpO2 tracking, it may also be able to look at estimated oxygen variations at night and help users spot sleep-related conditions like sleep apnea.
A kid-friendly Apple Watch
The leaked iOS 14 code reportedly also references new tools for parents. Rather than give their kids an iPhone, parents looking to stay connected with their kids could set up a second Apple Watch (completely separate from their own) using their iPhone and Apple ID as the host. This would also give parents the final say on what kind of content their kids can access on the watch, like emergency contacts and music.
With a feature called SchoolTime, parents could even determine what apps can be used at what times to limit distractions in the classroom.
This would also mean adapting some of the health features for younger users. According to 9to5Mac, the ring system (used for activity tracking) would be based on different metrics. The red move ring, for example, would track active minutes instead of active calories as it does with adults. The Watch will also encourage kids to keep moving by offering virtual rewards when they take part in sports or outdoor activities.
Tracking panic attacks and stress
The Apple Watch Series 6 will also reportedly come with several mental health monitoring features, including the ability to detect when the wearer is about to experience a panic attack (another timely feature, if it pans out, during the global pandemic). This rumor was also mentioned in the April 30 leak, which referenced "Mental Health Abnormalities Detection."
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