You’re not alone if you think recent Apple Watch releases have been a bit disappointing. While Apple adds plenty of quality-of-life improvements to its wearable every year — and the new Series 8 is no exception — over the past few releases, there’s little that compels current owners to upgrade to a newer model.
That’s probably reasonable, considering the Apple Watch, and wearables in general, are still a growing market. Today, almost everyone already owns a smartphone, so the majority of Apple’s iPhone customers are either from older models or moving from Android handsets.
However, with the Apple Watch, there is a large and untapped market of people who have never tried a smartwatch. With each new generation of Apple Watch, it’s more about convincing people to take the plunge into this brave new world of wearable technology. Apple is presumably hoping that with every small improvement, more of those on the fence will decide it’s time to jump in.
In other words, if you’re already wearing a recent Apple Watch model, the Apple Watch Series 8 isn’t necessarily for you. While Apple is happy to take your money if you want to upgrade your Series 7, the Apple Watch Series 8 is designed to make Apple’s smartwatch attractive to a wider audience.
The last major Apple Watch feature
The Apple Watch Series 5 is arguably the most attractive upgrade Apple has offered in recent years, thanks to its always-on display. Unlike more recent Apple Watch releases, this was a feature that would improve the life of any Apple Watch owner rather than targeting more specific users.
To be fair, the larger screen on the Apple Watch Series 7 was also a nice overall improvement, but I don’t think it was nearly as important as the always-on screen. More screen space is always nice, but the always-on screen made the Apple Watch much more practical to use like a real one watch.
If you’ve ever spilled coffee on yourself while trying to check the time on your Apple Watch, you know exactly what I’m talking about. With the Apple Watch Series 5, you can glance at your watch face without having to move your wrist or tap the watch face.
This is something that people with traditional watches have taken for granted for years (unless, of course, you’re still wearing an 80s digital watch with a red LED display). It’s also one of the two biggest complaints I’ve ever heard from those considering an Apple Watch, second only to the need to charge the device every night.
The Apple Watch Series 5 was the last time I was excited about upgrading to a new Apple Watch. I had skipped the Series 4 the year before, and the Series 5 made me glad I waited, as I would have even upgraded that year-old model to get the always-on screen.
The era of the series 6 to 8
Since then, no new Apple Watch has given me that same “must have” feeling — at least not with the standard Apple Watch Series models; the Apple Watch Ultra is very exciting, but it also appeals to a niche that I don’t fit into. My idea of an outdoor adventure is a walk to my local Starbucks, and an extreme sports watch seems a little crazy as I wander the streets of Toronto.
The Apple Watch Series 6 was arguably the first model to show that Apple’s annual refresh cycle was more about iterative improvements to attract new customers. The only significant new feature at launch was a blood oxygen (SpO2) sensor that was not medically certified; Unlike the ECG feature introduced on the Apple Watch Series 4, Apple made it clear that the SpO2 sensor feature is “designed for general fitness and wellness purposes only” and is “not intended for medical use.”
It also didn’t help that in the weeks following the Series 6’s release, many discovered that the SpO2 sensor wasn’t ready for primetime yet. In a scathing report in the Washington Post, technology columnist Geoffrey Fowler declared it “mostly useless,” while ZDNet’s David Gerwitz recommended buying a $20 pulse oximeter from Amazon rather than dropping $400 on the new Apple Watch just for the new sensor.
That’s not to say the new SpO2 sensor didn’t offer a value. A cheap drugstore pulse oximeter won’t record your blood oxygen readings, nor can it record them during your normal day. A new Apple Watch user would get this for free along with all the other great features of the Apple Watch. Still, it wasn’t enough to warrant an upgrade for people who already wore a nearly identical Series 4 or Series 5.
The Apple Watch Series 6 is packed with other small features, including the U1 chip that would eventually be used to power Apple’s Car Key technology. Nevertheless, with only a handful of the very latest BMW models and a few high-end Genesis and Kia vehicles supporting the Ultra Wideband version of Apple’s Car Key, it’s fair to say this is even more of a niche feature.
Last year’s Series 7 was the most exciting upgrade since the Series 5. While it (thankfully) didn’t come with the massive design changes the rumor mill had mispredicted, it did offer a bigger screen. It also marked the first full QWERTY keyboard on an Apple Watch.
This redesign was also accompanied by faster charging – a very nice upgrade for people who like to wear their watch to bed, but not necessary for those who leave their wearable on a charger overnight.
Other than those two changes, the specs of the Apple Watch Series 7 were virtually identical to those of the 2020 Series 6. Even the chip inside didn’t change significantly; Apple called the new chip the S7, but it ended up just being a repackaged S6.
The same has reportedly happened with the Apple Watch Series 8. While we won’t know for sure until the latest model gets our hands on it, the S8 chip is once again just rumored to be a repackaged S7.
Why buy the Apple Watch Series 8?
That’s not much of a problem. After all, how fast does the processor on an Apple Watch really need to be? I’ve never had any reason to complain that my Apple Watch was too slow, and unlike the iPhone, it doesn’t need to power features like computer photography.
Processor specs aside, the Apple Watch Series 8 otherwise follows the same playbook from the past few years. The latest Apple Watch offers only two major upgrades over the Series 7: car accident detection and a temperature sensor with relatively limited use.
Crash detection is a great safety feature that we sincerely hope you will never need. However, like Emergency SOS via satellite on the iPhone 14, it offers some peace of mind. The iPhone 14 also has the same crash-detection feature, which might lead you to conclude that having it on the Apple Watch Series 8 if you always travel with your iPhone is a bit redundant. However, the Apple Watch on your wrist could be more accessible for communicating with emergency services after a serious accident.
Unlike last year’s Series 7, which didn’t add any new sensors, the Apple Watch Series 8 will get a temperature sensor, but it’s only there for one thing: menstrual cycle tracking. The new temperature sensor ties into the Cycle Tracking app that Apple added in the 2019 WatchOS 6 update to help people get a retrospective estimate of when they most likely ovulated.
It’s typical of Apple to introduce new hardware technology only when there’s a practical application for it, and it’s in stark contrast to Samsung, which this year added a body temperature sensor to the Galaxy Watch 5 that still doesn’t do anything. Instead, Samsung is waiting for app developers to take advantage of it. It’s commendable that Apple has a working body temperature sensor, even if it’s something male Apple Watch wearers can’t take advantage of.
Ironically, this feature could encourage some people to buy the Apple Watch Series 8 for their partners rather than for themselves. Sure, I can see how it’s something I would have done 10 years ago when my wife and I were trying to have a second child without much success. It’s one area where the Apple Watch Series 8 can really be life-changing, but it’s also another niche feature that will only appeal to a relatively small segment of the market.
I’m still very happy with my Apple Watch Series 5, but if you’re looking for a bigger screen or an amalgam of the other features introduced in recent years, the Series 8 won’t disappoint. As a technology writer, I only consider it to keep up. Still, as a consumer — even someone who likes to stay ahead of the curve on technology — it’s hard to spend money on an Apple Watch Series 8 for what it offers compared to my Series 5.