New waterproof series 2 Apple Watches are coming by the end of this month, the company announced at its autumn iPhone 7 launch event in San Francisco.
Apple’s smartwatch line is getting its first hardware update since it was launched in April 2015, gaining improved components including a new, longer-lasting battery and waterproofing to 50m - deeper than most other smartwatches - to track swimming and other water-based sports.
The Watch, which comes in two different sizes across a range of different costs and colours, will gain a built-in GPS chip to remove the need to carry an iPhone to accurately track distance during runs, walks and other sports.
Jeff Williams, chief operating officer for Apple said: “Apple Watch series 2 has been completely re-engineered. Apple Watch series 2 is swim proof, it’ll change how you use the watch.
“You can wear it whether you’re swimming, surfing or just doing the occasional cannon ball.”
Apple has also looked to address one of the most common complaints of the original watch: speed. Its new processor is 50% faster than the old version and has twice the graphics performance, while its new watchOS 3 operating system will be able to do more without being tethered to an iPhone.
The company showed off various new apps, including Pokémon Go for the Apple Watch, which will take eyes off screens and allow users to go about their day and still play. The game will be available by the end of the year.
The outside of the Watch, including the pillow-shaped body, digital crown and square screen remain largely untouched, remaining compatible Apple’s myriad exchangeable straps.
Apple has improved the screen, making twice as bright at 1,000nits, which the company says will make reading the watch outside a lot easier.
Users hoping for a watch that doesn’t need to be paired to their phone for everyday use will be disappointed, as the new device still lacks the GSM radio that would be necessary for connecting to mobile phone networks. The Apple Watch still replies on a Bluetooth connection to the iPhone or Wi-Fi.
The Apple Watch series 2 is available in aluminium, stainless steel and a new white ceramic material that the company says is four times stronger than stainless steel.
Apple has also partnered with Hermès for a special edition, and sports company Nike for the Apple Watch Nike+ aimed at runners. Apple and Nike have had various partnerships over the last decade since the launch of the Nike+ for the iPod.
There was no mention of Apple’s super-expensive “Edition” line of solid gold watches.
The Apple Watch series 2 and Apple Watch Nike+ will cost $369. The original Apple Watch series 1 will be given the new faster processor and be available for $269. They will be available from 9 September.
WatchOS 3 will be available on 13 September.
For users of the Apple Watch old and new, the biggest changes are due to the new software, not new hardware. Apple’s watchOS 3.0 promises a total overhaul of the watch’s features, including the ability to keep certain apps open in the background, removing the need for a confusing distinction between “apps” and “glances”. It also offers a Minnie Mouse watch face.
For Apple, the new Watch is hoped to reignite sales that have tumbled by 55% in the second quarter of this year, according to data from IDC. While Apple has not released sales numbers for the Watch, analysts estimate shipments in the first 12 months to be in the 12m range, making it the biggest selling smartwatch.
But where smartphones killed off competing devices such as PDAs, compact cameras and music players, subsuming their functions, the smartwatch has yet to do the same to fitness trackers and other wearable devices. Shipments of the so-called basic wearables made by Fitbit and others in the second quarter have grown by 49% in the same period smartwatches have fallen by 27%.
Apple’s pitch with the new Apple Watch is broadly the same as the first generation device, focusing on notifications, controls and health and fitness functions – the bread and butter of Fitbits the world over. But the Apple Watch now has competition from traditional watch manufacturers including Michael Korrs, Fossil, Casio, Tag Heuer and others.
Whether the second generation will attract a new group of buyers in significant numbers remains to be seen.