The Apple Watch Series 4 is great, but mostly because the competition sucks

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

Like any new technology showing the faintest sign of promise, wearable devices in general and smartwatches in particular were once hailed as the industry’s “next big thing.” But even though we all grew up dreaming about living in a world filled with James Bond-style gadgets, the real-life utility of wearables was not immediately clear.

As it turns out, not a lot of people wanted to slap on their wrists an (often cumbersome) smart device that did some of the things their phones were already capable of (only worse) and not much else. But while Google enlisted the help of every fashion brand you can think of to make Wear OS products look similar to your classic (read dumb) watches, Apple chose to play the long game.

Instead of fixating on looks and constantly trying to refine the perfect circle, the Apple Watch family largely maintained the same love-or-hate squarish style while improving the things users started truly caring about.


This wasn’t an instant box-office hit, and it still doesn’t rack up sales numbers comparable to iPhones. But three and a half years in, a new Apple Watch release managed to steal a show that’s typically all about iPhone upgrades.

There, I said it - the Apple Watch Series 4 was the real MVP of the company’s big September 12 event, fully deserving its “better than expected” pre-orders.

Why it’s so great


When someone like Jony Ive says “every bone” in his body suggests the Apple Watch Series 4 is “very significant”, you can’t just ignore the potentially groundbreaking new wearable device to drool over the pretty colors of the “affordable” iPhone XR

Granted, the company’s chief design officer has a propensity for hyperbolic language, but let’s consider CEO Tim Cook’s recent statements as well. Technically, Cook was talking about the latest iPhone trio when proclaiming Apple’s objective to “serve everyone.”


But that may actually apply more to the Apple Watch Series 4. This bad boy is both hip and important, offering all the trendy, social features requested by young people, as well as a life-saving ECG monitoring function.

For once, that doesn’t feel like a marketing exaggeration, as FDA approval guarantees the “significance” of the new Apple Watch. Of course, certain warnings and limitations apply, which you'll definitely want to consider before trusting a $399 and up gadget with your life.

Basically, this is nowhere near as accurate and professional as a medical-grade device you’d find in a doctor’s office, but at the same time, the very description of the De Novo classification under which Apple got this thing FDA-certified highlights its innovative aspect. 

The “low- to moderate-risk” product does “not fit into any particular class”, has “no equivalent device that is currently marketed”, or has “not been determined to be substantially equivalent” to anything else on the market. Basically, the Apple Watch Series 4 is a literal trailblazer, and that’s not coming from anyone associated with the company in any capacity.

The groundbreaking technology is obviously far too complex to be explained in a few words, but at the end of the day, what you need to understand is the Apple Watch takes care of you like nothing else in its “class.” The ECG (electrocardiography) monitor can detect irregular heart rhythms without you having to lift a finger, with alerts sent to your wrist and vital information collected in the Health app for rigorous analysis by an authorized physician.


Meanwhile, a “next-generation” accelerometer and gyroscope can detect hard falls, allowing the user to instantly ask for help when in trouble or even initiating an automatic call to emergency services if the situation demands such a response.

This all makes the usual promises of enhanced speed, polished performance, better sound quality, and increased convenience seem trivial. Which they are absolutely not, as the Series 4 apparently delivers “twice the speed” of an already impressive Series 3.

How it could have been even better


Well, for one thing, the disruptive features extensively showcased during last week’s launch event and briefly described above are not actually available right off the bat. The newfangled ECG app is “coming later this year” (only in the US), which is certainly a little inconvenient. But it’s not like Samsung or Huawei have anything remotely similar to release anytime soon.

Apple’s aesthetic vision remains a big pain point for folks seeking perfection on every level. Or at least some semblance of originality. Change for the sake of change is never a good idea, and Cupertino is known for its conservative designs, but considering the expansion, diversification, and modernization of the iPhone family over the past few years, you may have thought the time was finally right for a circular Apple Watch.


That’s obviously not the case, and people with smaller wrists are also unlikely to appreciate this year’s increase in size. That’s nothing compared to the actual increase in screen real estate, but it’s definitely something for those in love with 38 mm cases.

At the end of the day, like most other Apple products, you’ll just have to learn to love this design or... at least respect what it can do as a health “guardian” and “guru.”

What is everybody else doing?


It physically pains me to attempt to answer that rhetorical question. Consider the head start Google, Samsung, LG, Motorola, and even Fitbit got in this challenging market brimming with potential. Where are those so-called Apple rivals now?

Google is probably doing the worst job of all, hiding behind the likes of Skagen, Casio, Diesel, and Fossil to give the illusion of a living, breathing platform when Wear OS is about to run out of life support any day now. No, Google, rebranding exercises won’t make people buy a product that simply doesn’t have enough visibility and support from actual tech companies.


Besides, the fact the search giant still doesn’t consider a “Pixel Watch” a compelling device to launch this year pretty much tells you everything you need to know about Wear OS. That, and Huawei’s hesitation to roll out a Watch 3. Yup, the company that has a notchy phone for every budget doesn’t think a new smartwatch is warranted. No wonder Apple is holding off on that drastic redesign.

It’s obviously not worth remembering the defunct Moto 360 lineup, while the LG Watch Style and Sport were instantly forgettable, and Fitbit... might actually be onto something. But even though the Versa is a smash hit by Fitbit smartwatch standards, it’s still a rudimentary product that needs years of constant improvement and refinement work to catch up. Years during which Apple will not just sit idly by letting that happen, of course.

 
It’s not that the ECG technology is never-before-seen on a commercial wearable device. And we’re guessing the fall detection feature could also be implemented by other smartwatch manufacturers... eventually. It’s that Apple needed very little time to understand how to appeal to the masses with products others aimed at pretty small niches. 

Yes, some folks like fashion. Others are professional athletes with few other interests (I’m looking at you, Garmin). For many, affordability is the key to happiness. But the overwhelming majority of people care about their health, staying connected at all times, and having a little bit of fun from time to time. Until anyone else can strike a decent balance between these things (are you listening, Samsung?), the Apple Watch is left playing in a league of its own.

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63 Comments

1. thxultra

Posts: 450; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

Apple is smart with Application support and complications. I think this is the reason the Apple watch is the one to get right now. Samsung has one up though allowing developers to make their own watch faces.

17. Atechguy0

Posts: 918; Member since: Aug 03, 2018

As far as application support. Android Wear (Wear OS) and Tizen can do a hell of a lot more than any Apple watch running WatchOS. WatchOS is so limiting and restricted in comparison to Wear OS. If Adrian or you thxultra actually looked at the development environments for their respective watch platforms. Then you would know this to be true. WatchOS is so restrictive you don't even have an option to leave the watch face on all the time, or abilities to crate your own watch faces. Apple calls using photos and shared sheets watch faces. Nevermind all the restrictions and limitations WatchOS has in place for developers as well. Adrian I shouldn't be surprised at your trolling in regards to anything related to Android or Tizen. That remark that you stated is really trolling. "Google is probably doing the worst job of all, hiding behind the likes of Skagen, Casio, Diesel, and Fossil to give the illusion of a living, breathing platform when Wear OS is about to run out of life support any day now". The whole idea behind Android Wear (Wear OS). Is to create a watch OS that can be used by any OEM that wants to create their own smartwatch, and will have an ecosystem of apps ready and available to use on any smart watch that is supported. Wear OS supports Android and iOS devices. Something that the Apple watch doesn't do. So what about all the Android smartphones in the world Adrian. There is a lot more Android than iPhones in the world. Or did you forget about that part? What about all the high end watch makers like Tag Heuer, Montblanc, Movado, Louis Vuitton, and many more? Adrian your one of the most biased article writers.

21. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3100; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

Like you troll Apple articles Mr. Sgodsell?

29. sissy246

Posts: 7081; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

If these writes want to bring up Samsung, Google, LG and others in a apple article it is not trolling. By doing so they open it up. That is what they are hoping for anyway, more money for them.

27. thxultra

Posts: 450; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

I don't think that is true that Android wear and Tizen can do more then watch os. Complications for one are huge with the apple watch. I don't know anything like it for Tizen or Wear OS. I like getting my fitness tracking and other app infor right on the watch face. The whole point of a smart watch to me is to give me quick info without having to pull my phone out. I had a gear S3 as well. It was a nice watch but there were no apps for it. Watch faces were cool I will give it that and also the always on display was nice to look at the time. However raising my wrist isn't a big deal to look at the time. As for so called high end watch makers I laugh because they feel the need to get into the smart watch game and still charge crazy high end prices. Do you really think a tag smart watch is any better then one made by fossil? The reason they are making Android watches is because Google licenses the os so they can. Apple has always made their own products and I can get into a long discussion about the pros and cons of this. Apple teamed with Hermes to make a watch for people that have to have (and waste money on) a high end name.

30. Atechguy0

Posts: 918; Member since: Aug 03, 2018

Wear OS has complications as well. So clearly you don't know what Wear OS can do. Oh, and yes Wear OS can do a lot more than Apples Watch is, by miles. You just have to look into actual watch development for both platforms, and you will come to the same conclusion that Wear OS can do a hell of a lot more, and it's definitely not as restricted as WatchOS.

47. thxultra

Posts: 450; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

I had a LG Ubane back in the day never got to use wear os 2.0. Also has a Gear S3. My problem with both was neither had any app support. Doesn't matter is the os has more potential or not if no one writes apps for it. Beta was much better then VHS but VHS sold. Apple has always had a more restrictive ecosystem the flip slide to that is it is more stable because things are locked down. Ever notice how slow android gets from certain apps? It is a give and take.

53. ColinW

Posts: 412; Member since: Jun 04, 2014

You need to get your facts straight. The Gear range has been able to many things the Apple Watch could not do for ages. Apple may have given, in typical fashion, a fancy marketing name for screen customizations, but the gear range has had this for years, Apple is just copying. here are plenty of Apps too, I can get everything I need, what is far more important is watch faces and they just suck big time on the Apple watch. Apple needs to get the basics right before introducing features like fall detectioion, like an always on display and better battery life.

54. Ninetysix

Posts: 2962; Member since: Oct 08, 2012

Yet Apple shipped 41% vs Samsung's 2% last quarter. Maybe buyers aren't that interested in watch faces? https://www.phonearena.com/news/apple-watch-series-1-global-smartwatch-market-leader-q2-2018_id108349

56. thxultra

Posts: 450; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

I had a S3 it had pretty much no apps. It was a nice watch but not even close to the apple watch. The faces were nice but many were full of glitches also. No quality control at all. The battery life on the new gear is way over stated. Look it up people are lucky to get two days out of it. Guess they rated it with everything disabled and the person never using it. I can get 2 days out of my Series 3 no problem. The tech that is used for fall detection can have many other uses btw. Samsung's sensors aren't even close to apples. That was the whole point of that demo. Samsung should go to wear OS instead of trying to use their own in house. That is my biggest gripe with the gear watched.

32. apple-rulz

Posts: 2026; Member since: Dec 27, 2016

Seriously? The Apple watch can help detect falls, help detect heart problems, etc, etc, and you're hung up on third party watch faces?!?!? You sir, are pathetic.

44. Atechguy0

Posts: 918; Member since: Aug 03, 2018

Detecting falls is embedded as part of WatchOS. No one has access to that, except Apple. Besides it's not just watch faces. Wear OS itself can do a lot more, especially when developers have access to more APIs and resources with Wear OS, than WatchOS.

48. thxultra

Posts: 450; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

What use would that be in a app? Are you going to do fall logging? Developers do have access to the gyro and accelerometer. What can Wear OS actually do besides watch faces that watchos can't that people will use?

55. Nine1Sickness

Posts: 896; Member since: Jan 30, 2011

No one reads 20 page essays in the comment section. Be concise please.

60. strategic_developer

Posts: 1627; Member since: Jul 17, 2018

Yes on paper Wear may be better than Watch, but Apple is doing a bit more vs Wear devs. Can you should me watch face on Wear or Tizen that offers what Watch is offering on their new face? No. It I'd obvious Wear can do more because it's just Android, but dev's are not pushing the limits. I love every Gear watch I've owned, but they are all boring. I refuse to buy another. My GS3 died from the overheating while charging, and it was out of warranty. Sammie wants $80 to fix. I said screw that. It wasnt even my fault it broke. Out of warranty or not, it was their fault. Wear OS is failing due to dev laziness. Apple has pushed Watch OS better as far as what it offers. I just refused to pay what they ask. My Gear does what I need. But if the Watch 4 was the same price, I would probably get one. I may next year get an XS and the Watch 4 after prices fall. But not before that. What you are missing is that dev's on Android are lazy vs when they do work on iOS or Watch OS. Samsung may allow faces, but the Gear doesnt have more than 4 complications on a screen at any one time. Yes more could fit, but no one is pushing for it.

2. baldilocks

Posts: 1494; Member since: Dec 14, 2008

Won't buy an Apple watch until they make one with a round face. Period. Also want an always on display.

3. thxultra

Posts: 450; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

I think for applications the square display is better. I do wish they would get a always on display though.

5. baldilocks

Posts: 1494; Member since: Dec 14, 2008

Maybe, but a round watch just looks more like a watch.

49. phonedroid

Posts: 23; Member since: Dec 15, 2017

I own both round and square analog watches. Most of my g shocks are squarish also.

36. Leo_MC

Posts: 7214; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Every time the watch I wear (which is mechanical) has the face hidden, I wonder if the hands are there or they dance around like crazy, using more energy than required, so I have to wear it all day in order to recharge. Why do you care about how is the screen when you're not looking at it?!

45. Atechguy0

Posts: 918; Member since: Aug 03, 2018

Watch faces are part of the actual watch Aesthetics. That's the largest part of any watch or smart watch. Plus if the watch face is on all the time then it doesn't look like a smart watch. It help it look inconspicuous. But I guess since you want to show off to everyone that you have the same Apple sheeple watch. Then I can understand where you are coming from Leo_MC. You want to fell like one of the herd.

57. shiv179

Posts: 152; Member since: Aug 08, 2012

Apple Watch, Smart Watch - the clue is there! It needs to be a watch first! :P

4. w1000i

Posts: 242; Member since: Jul 22, 2015

The fitbit versa do the basic fitness tracking with battery up to 6-7 days. they call it smart but it is not a real smart and that good for most people

6. phljcnth

Posts: 553; Member since: Apr 30, 2012

Hey Adrian, what's that decent balance between health, connectivity, and fun that you have to call out Samsung for it? I wanna know what you think (or even know) about the Galaxy Watch.

7. Cat97

Posts: 1863; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

Absolutely spot on article. Competition really sucks for Apple Watch. The Wear OS is horrible at handling everyday tasks like notifications (and NO, not everybody uses their watch for fitness and the useless Google Assistant - maybe like 20% of users. The rest use it for notifications and accessing useful information). Tizen is much better but Samsung makes horrible design choices. The number one issue for everyone, including Apple ? The lack of an always-on screen on most smartwatches (and the reason I am using a Pebble 2). And sadly we won't see this on Samsung and others until Apple decides it's time for it. As for the hardware, LG had a great watch, the Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE, with a big, round OLED screen, hexagonal 560mAh battery, nano-SIM and 3-4 days of battery life, but they decided to follow it with a bland abomination.

9. phljcnth

Posts: 553; Member since: Apr 30, 2012

You do know the always-on screen has been in the Samsung Gear S2, right?

11. Cat97

Posts: 1863; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

Always-on screen does not mean just displaying some information while decimating battery life. It must be a well thought out feature at that is at the center of the smartwatch. Current OLED screens are not good at this, even though poorly-educated people think that OLED does not consume power for black pixels the truth is that a large part of the power is taken up by the display driver circuit which must turn on when at least one pixel is non-black.

14. phljcnth

Posts: 553; Member since: Apr 30, 2012

Point is you said that always-on display is inexistent and only Apple gets to decide when to introduce it to the market, which is a false and biased statement.

42. Nionx

Posts: 197; Member since: Oct 30, 2017

My Gear S3 has AOD and MST. Aside from fall detection and the ECG, I'd say my gear S3 is the overall better device. Not harping on what Apple has done, (honestly I think the Apple watches new tech was the only worthwhile announcement they made) Its simply not something I'd base my purchase on. The Gear S line has always been my go to smart watch. It offered innovation that actually resonated with me as a consumer. The Apple watch, not so much

50. phonedroid

Posts: 23; Member since: Dec 15, 2017

I have all three and until now I would say the s3 was my favorite, the mst putting it over apple and android wear for me. Only thing I don't like about the s3 was lack of water resistance for swimming and how samsung health app killed my pixel 2xl battery. The new galaxy watch is a down grade to me so far, its off with heart rate, step count and lacks mst. Without mst might as well get android wear for better integration with phone.

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