Apple Watch Series 9 brings a faster S9 chip that the company says will boost performance, make Siri more usable, and enable an entirely new “double tap” gesture.
The new Apple Watch, introduced Tuesday during Apple’s “Wonderlust” event alongside the second-gen Apple Watch Ultra, also adds Apple’s updated Ultra Wideband chip, which the company says will make the smartwatch work better with Apple’s Find My network, among other things.
“Apple Watch Series 9 has been redesigned on the inside with the all-new S9 chip, giving it a big boost in performance and capabilities,” said Deidre Caldbeck, director of Apple Watch product marketing. “It’s our most powerful Watch chip yet.”
Aside from the impressive internal updates, the 2023 Apple Watch lineup looks much the same as last year’s models.
Apple Watch Series 9 launch
The original Apple Watch, introduced during a media event in 2014 and released a year later, was the company’s first post-Steve Jobs product. Initially pitched as a fashion-forward wearable, the smartwatch quickly evolved into a fitness-focused device.
While the original Apple Watch came with a heart rate monitor and other features, later versions added other sensors and software for taking electrocardiograms, checking blood oxygen levels and more. Along the way, Apple steadily boosted the size of the small device’s screen, added an always-on display and consistently improved the watchOS software. Nearly a decade on, the Apple Watch now dominates the smartwatch market.
New S9 and Ultra Wideband chips for Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9 and the upcoming watchOS 10 operating system that powers it continue the slow but steady evolution of the world’s most popular smartwatch. The new S9 SiP brings the first substantial processor upgrade since the Apple Watch Series 6.
“The S9 CPU has 5.6 billion transistors — 60% More since Series 8 — and its GPU is 30% faster,” Caldbeck said during the prerecorded presentation. “The new S9 chip makes the animations and effects in watchOS 10 look super-smooth. S9 also has a new four-core Neural Engine that can process machine learning tasks up to twice as fast. This powerful custom silicon is what allows us to maintain all-day, 18-hour battery life while adding new features and system-wide improvements to Series 9.”
New double tap gesture for Apple Watch
The double tap gesture, apparently borrowed from Apple’s upcoming Vision Pro headset, brings entirely new functionality to Apple’s smartwatch. To execute it, the wearer simply taps the thumb and index finger of their Watch hand together twice.
Double tap lets you perform common functions without touching the Apple Watch face.
“Double tap controls the primary button in an app so it can be used to stop a timer, play and pause music, or snooze an alarm,” said Apple in the Apple Watch Series 9 press release. “The gesture can be used to answer and end a phone call, and even to take a photo with the Camera Remote on Apple Watch. Double tap will also open the Smart Stack from the watch face, and another double tap will scroll through widgets in the stack.”
On-device Siri comes to Apple Watch Series 9
Siri also will work much better on the Series 9, Apple said.
“Thanks to the powerful new Neural Engine, Siri requests are now processed on-device making them faster and more secure,” said Caldbeck. “This means that the most common requests, like ‘Siri, start an outdoor walk workout,’ no longer have to go to the cloud, so they can’t be slowed down by a poor Wi-Fi or cellular connection. And because the Neural Engine can run more advanced Transformer model, dictation on Series 9 is up to 25% more accurate than on Series 8.”
Since Siri will work on-device, and is thus more secure, Apple plans to allow Apple Watch wearers to access their sensitive health data through spoken commands. For instance, you might ask Siri on your Apple Watch, “What’s my average walking heart rate?” Plus, users will be able to log health data by voice. Apple plans to launch this feature later this year in English and Mandarin, with more languages to follow.
Second-gen Ultra Wideband chip
The second-generation Ultra Wideband chip will turbocharge what Apple calls a favorite feature — using Apple Watch to locate a misplaced iPhone. (See a demo in Apple’s video, above.)
The new UWB chip will “enable Precision Finding for the iPhone 15 family, which has the same chip,” Apple said. “Precision Finding provides distance and direction, as well as visual, haptic, and audio guidance to a misplaced iPhone, even if it is in a different room.”
The chip also makes Apple Watch play nice with HomePod.
“When an Apple Watch user gets within 4 meters of a HomePod playing audio, Apple Watch Series 9 will launch Now Playing to control the media,” Apple said. “Or if nothing is playing on HomePod, media suggestions will appear at the top of the Smart Stack.”
Brighter, and dimmer, screen
Aside from the S9 and Ultra Wideband chips, a new optical sensor for improved heart rate detection and the double tap functionality, the hardware remains mostly the same aside from a better, brighter display. The Series 9 display can reach 2,000 nits — double the brightness of Series 8 — according to Apple. That will make it easier to see when in bright sunlight.
The display also gets incredibly dim when appropriate. “For dark rooms or early mornings, the display can also lower to just one nit so as not to disturb people close by,” Apple said in the press release.
Now you can order a carbon neutral Apple Watch
This year’s Apple Watch lineup also includes Apple’s “first-ever carbon neutral products,” the company said.
Same sizes, new pink color
Like the last two versions, Apple Watch Series 9 comes in two sizes: 41mm and 45mm. It comes in aluminum and stainless steel versions. And buyers can choose from the following colors: The aluminum Series 9 will come in a new pink case, plus starlight, silver, midnight and Product (Red). The stainless steel cases will come in gold, silver and graphite.
Apple Watch Series 9 starts at $399 for the 41mm version and $429 for the 45mm version for aluminum models. Preorders open today, with the devices hitting store shelves a week later on September 22.
This breaking news story will be updated.