Photo Source: 9to5Mac
Over the last week, 9to5Mac has let us know that the coming Apple Watch Series 4 will have both a little larger screen and a higher resolution. The new model’s screen is expected to be edge to edge and the resolution will jump significantly from 312 x 390 to 384 x 480. Both of these improvements will allow users to see more information at a glance (the watch face above is an excellent example), and should give developers more flexibility to create more useful apps for the platform.
While this is a very welcome upgrade to the Apple Watch, is it all we will get? I know I sound greedy, but there is another area that we haven’t heard anything about recently. Last year, Apple added a cellular radio to the Watch, which brought a small measure of independence to the device. However, as anyone who owns a Series 3 can tell you, that capability only goes so far.
I do appreciate that I am able to go on a walk or head to the Farmer’s Market and take calls, respond to text messages, and even return emails without having to take my iPhone with me. This is definitely a step in the right direction. However, if you try to push things a little further, you will quickly bump into limitations.
First of all, many third party apps are not set up to work with the cellular radio, and become completely useless when you part with your phone. You can’t set up your Apple Watch without an iPhone. You can’t load new apps, or more realistically, even update apps that are already installed. I think the biggest missed opportunity is that there’s no fallback capability that will allow the Watch to use cellular data when the Bluetooth connection to the phone connection isn’t cutting it and approved WiFi isn’t available. Data on the Watch is still handled in a very rigid, all or nothing way.
So the Apple Watch’s independence thanks to its cellular radio has its limits. We didn’t hear about any specific improvements to this situation in watchOS 5 when it was announced at WWDC, either. However, that doesn’t mean that the book is closed for this year. Apple often includes new, device-specific features with new hardware releases. Look no further than the Apple Watch Series 3 announcement last year, with its aforementioned addition of a cellular radio, which came after the announcement of watchOS 4. Could the Series 4 get some specific enhancements that allow it to become a little less subordinate to the iPhone?
Unfortunately, while I still hold out a little hope for the short term, I have to think the answer is no for now. Apple has likely spent its time and effort for the Series 4 on the bigger screen, and optimizing battery management to power it without losing any of the battery life we are used to. A bigger screen means greater demand on the battery than before. Surely Apple also had to upgrade their apps and Watch Faces for the Series 4’s new resolution, as well. With all of that on their plate, I doubt that device independence was high on the priority list this year.
I am still excited about the Apple Watch Series 4. The bigger screen and higher resolution could really make a big difference in everyday usefulness. Watch Faces will convey more information at a glance and this could finally be the point when apps get their footing on the platform. Maybe we will starting getting news of cool apps coming to Apple Watch, rather than pulling them for various reasons. This is all good news.
However, the main thing that still holds the Watch back from reaching its fullest potential is its subordinate relationship to the iPhone. I don’t expect much more freedom to come right away, but I am looking forward to the day when the accessory on my wrist becomes a full-blown computing device. I think this is inevitable in the long term, but for now, the Apple Watch getting bigger doesn’t mean it’s all grown up quite yet.