What’s Next for the Apple Watch: Bigger Screens But a Similar Look

Author: Mark Gurman Source: Bloomberg
July 7, 2024 at 10:01
Apple Watch Series 9 signage.Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg
Apple Watch Series 9 signage.Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

As the Apple Watch approaches its 10th birthday, the company is preparing a big update. Also: AirPods with cameras make their way back into the news, and Apple gets a board observer seat at OpenAI.

Last week in Power On: Apple’s devices are lasting longer, making its AI strategy even more important




The Starters

Watch Mark Gurman discuss new Apple Watches on Bloomberg Television.


Apple Inc. likes to commemorate product anniversaries when it can. As the iPhone neared its 10th birthday in 2017, the company raced to get the iPhone X out in time. That model was a major upgrade, with a new design featuring an edge-to-edge display. (To make the model number work, Apple skipped the iPhone 9.)

There will be other enhancements under the hood. Both the Series 10 and new Ultra 3 will get a new chip, which could lay the groundwork for some AI enhancements down the road. But if you’re hoping for the device to run Apple Intelligence — the upcoming suite of AI features — you should reset your expectations. For now, that service is only headed to the iPhone, iPad and Mac. Later, it will come to the Vision Pro, but there are no plans to bring the full initiative to the watch.

It’s still not clear whether Apple will brand the upcoming watches as an anniversary model or wait until next year. Given that the Apple Watch was announced in 2014 but not released until 2015, the company could either tout the anniversary this year or have a splashier release in 2025.

Another question is when Apple will add long-anticipated health tools to its watches. The company has been developing technology to detect high blood pressure and sleep apnea that were slated for release this year. But the effort hasn’t gone smoothly. Since making headway on those features last year, Apple has run into some serious snags, I’m told.

The second feature — sleep apnea — is facing even bigger challenges. That functionality is tied to a person’s blood oxygen saturation. And as of now, Apple Watches can’t measure those levels because of an ongoing legal dispute with Masimo Corp.

Either Apple will resolve that issue by September or find a way to work around it (perhaps the company could argue that its oxygen reader can be used for purposes that aren’t directly related to blood oxygen levels). It also could announce the feature but not release it until a later date — or just delay it altogether.

A longer-term goal is to get glucose monitoring into the Apple Watch. Such a feature has been in development for about a decade, and the company hit major milestones in that work, I’ve reported. 

Beyond new features, Apple is also looking at some manufacturing changes. It continues to test and discuss the idea of 3D-printing the chassis for some Apple Watch models. That could speed up production and potentially help the environment by allowing Apple to use less material. 

The company is also working on a new version of its lower-cost Apple Watch SE model, which it last updated in 2022. One idea that the company has tested is swapping out the aluminum shell in favor of rigid plastic. Perhaps it’s looking to get the cost down to something that could better rival Samsung’s cheapest watch, the $199 Galaxy Watch FE. The SE currently starts at $249.


The Bench

Apple Hosts Worldwide Developers Conference
Apple’s developers conference in June.Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg


Apple’s big Siri upgrade should arrive next spring. Siri’s new capabilities are bound to be a highlight of the Apple Intelligence rollout. For the first time, the digital assistant will have precise control over actions inside of Apple’s apps. That means you can ask Siri to, say, edit a photo and then ship it off to a friend. It also will have the ability to understand what you’re looking at on your display, helping Siri determine what you want to do based on the context. But neither of those upgrades will be ready when Apple Intelligence launches this fall, as I’ve previously reported.

Instead, I’m told, Siri features are likely to go into beta testing for developers in January and then debut publicly around the springtime — part of an iOS 18.4 upgrade that’s already in the works. Other Siri features, such as a new design and ChatGPT integration, will be coming later this year. As I wrote last week, Apple Intelligence also will be coming to the Vision Pro, but not until next year. Anyone looking to use the features on Apple’s home devices, meanwhile, is out of luck. They’ll have to wait until the company introduces its AI-powered table-top robot, something I’ve been reporting on for several months.


New Apple Products Go On Sale At Fifth Avenue Store
Apple AirPods.Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg


Apple’s camera-equipped AirPods are back in the news. In February, I reported that Apple is working on souped-up AirPods with built-in cameras. The idea behind this engineering project — codenamed B798 — is that cameras could work with artificial intelligence to provide contextual information to the wearer. For instance, the AirPods could see the neighborhood around users and help them navigate.

The technology could also be used to identify objects and provide information about them — a key selling point for augmented reality devices. At the time, I reported that these supercharged earbuds wouldn’t arrive until 2026 at the earliest. My understanding is that the technology could wind up in the AirPods Pro two generations from now.

The idea of AirPods with cameras came back into the news last week when analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said that such a device may go into production in 2026. That wouldn’t be surprising given what I’ve already reported, but it’s clear that some buzz is building around this concept.


Apple's 27% App Store Fee Plan Gets Skeptical Reception by Judge
Apple’s Phil Schiller.Photographer: Philip Pacheco/Bloomberg


Apple to get a board observer seat at partner OpenAI. Microsoft Corp. did a lot to earn its board observer seat at OpenAI: It made a multibillion-dollar investment, provided its cloud infrastructure to power ChatGPT and helped the company weather a board coup. Apple, on the other hand, simply had to integrate ChatGPT into its software. Later this year, OpenAI will give Apple an observer seat, with longtime executive Phil Schiller being nominated to the role. 

As a board observer, Apple will get to attend meetings but won’t have the standard voting power. With this position, the company will have a better idea of how OpenAI is run and what decisions are being made. Given the controversies surrounding OpenAI — as well as the startup’s convoluted governance structure — Apple probably wanted to make sure it had an up-close view of the situation.


The Schedule

Samsung Store Ahead of Preliminary Figures
Samsung’s foldable devices. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg


July 10: Samsung to launch latest foldable phones, earbuds and smartwatches. As usual, Samsung will beat Apple to the punch in announcing devices for the second half of the year. This time around, the Korean tech giant will be hosting its Unpacked event in Paris, just weeks before the Olympics get going in that city. As for what to expect, the company should showcase new versions of its foldable phones, smartwatches and earbuds. The big thing to watch is how much AI becomes part of the conversation now that Apple has gone all-in on the concept. Don’t forget, Samsung already rolled out AI devices earlier this year featuring Google’s Gemini technology.


Inside The Google I/O Developers Conference
Google Pixel Fold.Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg


Aug. 13: Google to hold an earlier-than-usual launch for new Pixel devices. The Alphabet Inc. company is slated to reveal its annual device upgrades during the heart of the summer, far earlier than its usual October timing. The two likeliest reasons: The company wants to stay well clear of Apple’s launch in September, or it aims to give less time for details of the new products to leak out. The event should feature the Pixel 9 phone, new Pixel Buds, a larger version of the Pixel Watch and potentially an update to the Pixel Fold.

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