2024 looks like a big year for Apple Watch. The world’s most popular wearable could get the biggest redesign in its 10-year history in the form of a device potentially called “Apple Watch Series X” or simply “Apple Watch X.”
That’s excellent news, because 2023 was not a great year for Apple Watch. Sure, we got a fresh new look with watchOS 10. But on the hardware side, the updates to Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 seem pretty minor. And then there’s the looming U.S. ban on Apple Watch imports and exports due to a patent dispute.
So, what should we expect from the Apple Watch 2024 lineup?
What does Cupertino have up its sleeve in 2024? Apple Watch X.
Before we get into all the exciting Apple Watch rumors for 2024, let’s address the elephant in the room. Will Cupertino actually be allowed to sell any watches in 2024?
In a plot twist no one saw coming, Apple was briefly forced to stop selling Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Apple Watch Series 9 in the United States at the end of 2023.
The problem stems from a dispute with medical device-maker Masimo, which claims the blood oxygen feature in these models (and older ones, back to Apple Watch Series 6) violate its patents. Apple denies this, and secured a temporary pause to the ban. But that only lasts until January 10, 2024.
So, what happens then?
Apple Watch ban might go back into effect in January 2024
U.S. Apple fans could get a taste of what the rest of the world has always had to put up with — not being allowed to buy the latest Apple gadgets. As a resident of Spain, I don’t know when I’ll be able to buy a Vision Pro headset, because there’s still no official Spanish release date. But if the Apple Watch ban is reintroduced, I’ll be able to stroll into the Apple Store on Plaça de Catalunya and buy an Apple Watch you can’t get in America!
One way or another, this strange state of affairs won’t last for long. At the top of Cupertino’s New Year’s resolution list will be finding a way to keep the Apple Watch on sale in the United States. Currently, Apple is hoping a software fix that changes how blood oxygen levels are calculated will allow it to sidestep the method described in Masimo’s patent. Whether this will be sufficient to appease Masimo’s legal beagles remains to be seen.
Is the blood oxygen sensor really worth all this fuss?
Steve Jobs once said: “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” I suspect Apple CEO Tim Cook is wishing the blood oxygen sensor was something he could be proud of not doing right now. It seems odd for such a minor feature to be causing such a major problem.
Personally, I only ever used it once, to see what all the fuss was about, and haven’t touched it since. It’s not a medical-grade sensor, so unless you’re skiing on a mountain or playing football at Mile High Stadium, and you’re curious to get a rough estimate of how the thin air is affecting your performance, it’s not that interesting. But once a feature like this has been added, regardless of how useful it is, you can’t just remove it. Customers would rightly complain.
Apple Watch Series X: Improving on perfection
Assuming Apple does solve its legal woes in 2024, what’s next for Apple Watch? September will mark the wearable’s 10th anniversary. When the iPhone turned 10, Cupertino gave us the iPhone X. That radical redesign changed fundamental aspects of the iPhone’s user interface, including scrapping the Home button and introducing Face ID.
According to Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, we can expect a similar X-style upgrade for Apple Watch.
Cupertino has been using the letter X in its branding since long before Elon Musk’s ill-advised Twitter makeover. Mac OS X was first to get the Roman numeral treatment, way back in 2001. So, it’s not such a leap to imagine the successor to Apple Watch Series 9 will be dubbed Series X.
A radical redesign coming to Apple Watch in 2024?
The more interesting question is: What exactly would an X-upgrade look like for Apple Watch? According to Gurman, a slimmer design with a larger screen, a new magnetic band connector, and new sensors are all on the cards.
While the Apple Watch’s screen has grown somewhat over the years, the basic form factor of the regular Apple Watch has remained largely unchanged. There have been persistent rumors that it would switch to a flat-sided design, but this never happened.
In the latest round of rumors, Gurman doesn’t mention flat sides. Personally, I was never keen on the flat-sided mockups that made the rounds. They always looked boxy to me — like a geeky gadget rather than a premium watch. But I think a slimmed-down version of the curvaceous Apple Watch form factor would look pretty cool.
Will Apple Watch Series X bands be backward-compatible?
If you’ve built up a big collection of Apple Watch bands over the years, you might be worried by rumors that Series X bands won’t be compatible.
I’m not sure I believe this particular rumor. If Apple planned to change the connector for its watch bands, surely the right time to do that would have been when the Ultra was introduced. If Apple changes the bands for Apple Watch X, its premium Ultra model will be left with an outdated band format.
Arguments against a new band connector
There are three reasons why Apple might change the format of its connector, but none apply in this case.
- Aesthetics: Old formats sometimes look dated. But Apple achieved strikingly different looks for Apple Watch over the years, from the chunky Ultra to the refined Edition. It’s not obvious to me that a change is needed to the connector to keep Apple Watch looking up to date.
- Standards: Switching from proprietary to standard formats improves interoperability. (Think Lightning versus USB-C.) But in the case of bands, there is no standard beyond the connector we already have. So, switching formats would reduce interoperability, not increase it.
- Miniaturization: Thanks to Moore’s Law, as technology advances, it gets smaller. But there’s no technology in a watch band connector. It’s just a metal slide with a couple of magnets. And as the technology in the watch itself miniaturizes, the space taken by the band connector comes at less of a premium. Still, the rumors indicate Apple might be able to save a little space by switching to a magnetic connector.
So, will Cupertino decide to make all previous Apple Watch bands incompatible with its redesigned smartwatch in 2024? It seems more likely that Apple will maintain connector interoperability, while introducing new bands designed specifically to compliment the Apple Watch Series X, just as it did with the Apple Watch Ultra.
Will Apple Watch Series X introduce new health sensors?
After all the hassle caused by the blood oxygen sensor, Apple might be reluctant to add yet more health sensors.
There just aren’t many more features that Apple Watch needs. Apple reportedly began work on noninvasive blood glucose monitoring more than a decade ago, but that remains a distant dream. And there are only so many health metrics you can measure from the back of someone’s wrist anyway.
2024 could bring a blood pressure sensor
There could be at least one more, though. Gurman suggests Apple Watch Series X might come equipped with a blood pressure sensor for identifying and tracking hypertension.
The standard location for measuring blood pressure is the brachial artery, and typically involves wrapping an inflatable cuff around the patient’s upper arm. Blood pressure varies in other parts of the body. So, results measured from the wrist might not be comparable.
Persistent health monitoring for detecting hypertension, sleep apnea
Unless Apple plans to include an inflatable watch band, Apple Watch X would need to estimate blood pressure with its optical sensors, using techniques known as ballistocardiography (BCG) and photoplethysmograph (PPG). This looks at the rate of flow in the blood vessel to estimate blood pressure. It’s not as accurate as using a cuff, but it might be good enough to indicate changes in the general trend of a wearer’s blood pressure.
That’s not fully fledged blood pressure monitoring like you would find in a true medical device. But it could alert users to possible health problems before they become serious. And that sort of persistent health monitoring can prove truly useful for Apple Watch owners.
Apple reportedly might add the capability to detect sleep apnea as well with the 2024 Apple Watch.
Could Apple Watch Series X get microLED before Apple Watch Ultra?
Apple reportedly began working on its own microLED display technology years ago. Not just for Apple Watch, but for all its devices. MicroLED technology is more energy efficient, which is a key consideration for Apple Watch. That could allow Series X to gain a bigger, brighter display while still offering the same all-day battery life of Series 9. The technology also offers a superior contrast ratio, with blacker blacks.
But other rumors suggest that microLED will come to the Apple Watch Ultra first, and that it’s still a way off. Given that the Ultra is the premium Apple Watch, and its larger screen is a key differentiator over its smaller siblings, the idea that Apple Watch Series X will get microLED before Ultra seems unlikely to me.
With so many rumors, what should we believe?
Apple Watch rumors always proved hit and miss over the years. So I would take all these rumors with a grain of salt. But one thing seems clear. Apple will find some special way to mark the occasion of Apple Watch’s 10th anniversary.
I suspect a lot of us will upgrade our Apple Watches in 2024.