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Apple announces Apple Watch Series 6 with ability to measure blood oxygen levels

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Including a Product (RED) model for the first time

Apple has announced the Apple Watch Series 6, the latest in its line of popular smartwatches. The Series 6 model maintains the same overall design introduced with the Apple Watch Series 4 and continued with the Series 5, but it adds a variety of new sensors to allow for things like blood oxygen monitoring and better sleep tracking.

Apple says the Series 6 can measure blood oxygen levels in about 15 seconds, using both red and infrared light. The company says it’s partnering with health networks to start large-scale studies using the new blood oxygen measurement feature, including testing to see if it can detect if a person is infected with COVID-19.

The Series 6 can measure blood oxygen levels in about 15 seconds.
GIF: Apple

The Series 6 also comes with the new S6 processor, which promises up to 20 percent faster performance. It’s based on Apple’s in-house A13 chip and brings the first major update to the Apple Watch’s performance since the Series 4, given that last year’s Series 5 model used the same S4 CPU (rebranded as the S5 with other additions like a compass and a new display controller). Apple says it provides this improved performance while maintaining the 18 hours of battery life of the prior model. The Series 6 can recharge faster, though, going from zero to full in about 1.5 hours.

The always-on display is said to be 2.5 times brighter than the one on the Series 5, so it’s easier to read when your arm is on a desk or when outdoors. It’s also now possible to access notifications, Control Center, change watchfaces, or tap on complications without fully waking the screen.

Another new sensor is the always-on altimeter, which provides real-time elevation information. Apple says it is accurate down to a foot of measurement. Lastly, Apple says the Series 6 has the same U1 ultrawideband chip that first debuted in the iPhone 11 line, but it did not elaborate on how it would be used by the Apple Watch, other than to “support new experiences, such as next-generation digital car keys.”

A Product (RED) version of the Apple Watch Series 6.
The Apple Watch Series 6 is powered by the new S6 processor.

You’ll be able to get the Series 6 in gray, silver, gold, or blue aluminum finishes or a new Product (RED) version that has a striking red finish on it. The stainless steel model is available in either graphite, yellow gold, or silver. The top-end Edition model is available in natural or black titanium, but no ceramic options this year.

Apple says the aluminum models are made of 100 percent recycled aluminum, much like the newer MacBook Pro models. In addition, Apple is announcing a new strap called the “Solo Loop” that is made from one piece of silicone, without any buckles or adjustments. It is available in a range of styles and seven different colors. There is also a braided Solo Loop made from yarn that’s available in five colors. Finally, Apple is releasing a new leather link strap.

The new Solo Loop strap has no buckles or clasps.
The braided Solo Loop is made from yarn.

The Series 6 will run watchOS 7, which Apple revealed at WWDC earlier this year. The software update — available for all models dating back to the Series 3 — adds native sleep tracking support, but the Series 6 will take that feature even further thanks to dedicated sensors. Other major updates coming in watchOS 7 include a rebranded Fitness app with new workouts, a hand-washing feature tailored for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, richer complications, and the ability to share watchfaces with others.

In addition, Apple is debuting a new feature called Family Setup, which allows parents to set up managed Apple Watches for their kids who don’t have iPhones of their own. Parents will be able to manage who the child can message or call from the watch, set up location alerts, and add do not disturb modes for school time. A new watchface will inform teachers that the watch is in DND mode from a glance. Family Setup requires a cellular Apple Watch model and will be available through a handful of carriers at launch.

Family Setup allows parents to remotely manage a child’s Apple Watch.

Apple is also debuting a new service for the Apple Watch called Fitness Plus, a subscription service for virtual workouts and improved fitness tracking features. It costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. Fitness Plus can also be purchased in a bundle, called Apple One, with Apple’s other subscription services, such as Apple Music, News Plus, and TV Plus.

The Apple Watch Series 6 will be available starting at $399 for a 40mm model, the same price as the outgoing Series 5. Cellular models start at $499. The Series 6 is available to order starting today, September 15th, and will start shipping on Friday, September 18th. As part of its efforts to reduce waste, Apple says it will not be including a USB power adapter in the box with the Series 6 watch, just the charging cable.

Alongside the Series 6, Apple has also announced the Apple Watch SE, a lower-cost model that has the features of last year’s Series 5.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the silver stainless steel option is no longer available. That is incorrect — the Series 6 stainless steel model is available in graphite, yellow gold, or silver. We regret the error.