Apple announced its Apple Watch Series 3 today, the first to include LTE connectivity. This means that you can now stream music, make phone calls, and send texts without being tethered to your phone.
Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, calls the new device "the ultimate expression of Apple Watch." Aside from the LTE watch, Apple CEO Tim Cook also declared the Apple Watch the "number one watch in the world" (likely in terms of revenue), beating out Rolex, Fossil, and Omega. Cook also said the device experienced 50 percent year-over-year growth, though Apple was characteristically cagey about sharing unit sales numbers.
The new Apple Watch Series 3 costs $399 with cellular connectivity, and $329 without it. It's available in either 33mm or 42mm case sizes. Orders start on September 15th, but the watch will be available on September 22nd. You can check on carrier availability here. The Series 1 now starts at $249. The company didn't mention the Series 2, which is likely being replaced by the non-LTE Series 3.
All models of the Series 3 include a new dual-core processor that Apple says is 70 percent faster, thereby allowing Siri to actually talk. This new W2 chip is said to deliver 85 percent faster Wi-Fi while also being 50 percent more power efficient, which will prove important because of cellular connectivity depleting battery more rapidly. (Apple says the Watch should have up to 18 hours of battery life.)
Williams says that the Apple Watch team had to rethink how it builds its Watch to accommodate LTE. Instead of a conventional antenna, the display itself serves as the antenna, and although users need a SIM, the Series 3 features a smaller, electronic SIM. Still, even with the cellular connectivity, the Series 3 is the same size as the Series 2, although the back is expanded by 0.25mm.
The Series 3 Watch comes in gold, silver, or space gray and is being launched with new band colors and styles, including an updated woven nylon. The cellular version features a red digital crown and an exclusive "explorer" watchface that'll display cellular connection. Hermès and Apple are launching unique models, too, that'll feature designer bands and a watchface inspired by the brand. They start at $1,149.
There have always been workarounds to LTE. You can, for example, store music locally on an Apple Watch (earlier models had 8GB of internal storage with 2GB allocated for music) and play music that way. The Series 2 Watch also had built-in GPS, which means you didn’t need to have your phone with you to get an accurate reading on workout distances.
However, this is the first smartwatch from Apple that features true connectivity independent of the phone, which presents some existential questions about smartwatches that we can’t answer until we use the device.
Apple also isn't the first smartwatch maker to include an LTE modem in its device. Samsung’s Gear S3 smartwatch has both GPS and LTE, as does the LG Watch Urbane (second edition). Generally, either style or battery life (or both) suffer when hardware companies try to cram all of these parts into small devices that live on our wrists. We’ll have to give the “18-hour” battery life claim a run once we’re able to get our hands on the LTE Apple Watch Series 3.