Apple on Tuesday unveiled the fifth generation of its smartwatch, dubbed the Apple Watch Series 5.
The updated model will have an always-on display, a new compass app, and new case materials. In addition to aluminum and steel case materials used on last year's models, Apple introduced watches made from ceramic and titanium cases.
With iPhone sales slipping for the second year in a row, Apple is counting more than ever on getting a boost from its wearables, including the new Apple Watch Series 5 and its popular AirPod wireless earbuds. Over the past year, Apple Watch sales surpassed $15 billion, or about the size of a Fortune 200 company, CEO Tim Cook revealed in July.
The new watches will start at $400, the same as last year's Series 4 watches, which also started at $400. Cellular-compatible watches, which can get online even without a linked iPhone, start at $500, also unchanged from last year. The titanium case models start at $800, though Apple isn't selling a titanium band to go with them. Apple also will continue selling its Series 3 model starting at $200. Pre-orders for Series 5 start on Tuesday with deliveries starting Sept. 20.
The always-on display means that, for the first time, an AppleWatch user can peek at the time or other items on the display without raising their wrist. That's great for when "you kind of want to sneak a quick glance at the time," product manager Stan Ng explained at Tuesday's Apple event. The slightly-dimmed display appears to show much more information than similar always-on displays from smartwatch competitors, like Fitbit and Garmin, which offer a pared down, dimmer screen when not raised by the user.
The new compass app shows a user's elevation, longitude, and latitude in addition to the direction that the user is facing. Apple said developers of outside apps could also access the the sensor providing the compass information to integrate into their own products. Cellular versions of the Series 5 model also will be able to make an emergency call for help in 150 countries, Apple said.
Apple is the top-seller of smartwatches, but the revamped Series 5 faces improving competition from Fitbit, Garmin, and a host of fashion brands that are making smartwatches with software from Google. Fitbit last week announced their Versa 2 smartwatch, which has fewer features than Apple's devices but also costs only $200. Garmin has been trying to close the gap with Apple for premium watches aimed at fitness fans and overhauled much of its line up last week, as well.
Apple also said on Tuesday that would participate in three new health studies that would monitor voluntary participants via the Apple Watch. One will use the watch to measure sounds and the impact on hearing, another will focus on women's health cycles, and a third will concern movement and heart health.
A few Apple Watch features touted ahead of the event by the rumor mill failed to show up at the actual event on Tuesday. Apple did not announce a built-in sleep tracking app and did not unveil any new recharging system via an iPhone.
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