The updates to the latest Apple Watches are especially incremental, so there's little incentive to upgrade if you've already done that in the past couple of years. But if your current Apple timepiece is getting on, or you're the health-conscious type who's otherwise been considering a fitness tracker, you might be pleasantly surprised by what the Series 9 brings to the table.
Price: From $649
Apple, a company that's long sought to associate its brand with youth and creativity, now seems to have resigned itself to making devices – medical devices, some might argue – for people who are getting on in years.
If you were 21 when Apple launched the Macintosh in 1984, you'd now be nudging 60. Even if you were only 21 when the company's spectacular renaissance began in 2001 with the launch of the iPod, you'd still be in your mid-forties by now.
Like almost everybody else in the developed world, Apple's customers are greying. No longer young and immortal, they need to monitor how much sleep and physical activity they're getting and whether their vital organs are functioning as they should be. This is where the Apple Watch Series 9 comes into its own.
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Small but significant changes
The iPhone 15 got most of the publicity, but Apple also released several watches in September 2023. They were the Series 9 and its siblings: the sporty Ultra 2 (from $1399) and the more budget-friendly option, SE (from $399).
Upgrades to Apple products seem to be becoming ever more incremental, and the Series 9 isn't much of an advance on the Series 8 (released in 2022). But if you haven't invested in a new Apple Watch since before the pandemic, you'll likely be pleased with how considered Apple's timepieces have become.
Especially if you're of a certain age.
Ever wondered about the quantity and quality of the sleep you're getting? The Series 9 might save you a visit to a sleep lab.
Less a watch, more a home nurse
A while back, there was a lot of excitement about 'wearables'. That is, technological devices attached to the human body. Around the same time, there was also a lot of interest in 'the quantified self' – using technology to keep track of everything from your daily steps to how many breaths you take in a day.
It's only now that the hype has died down that user-friendly wearables that facilitate comprehensive quantification are hitting the market. Of course, previous Apple Watches also allowed users to keep track of some of their vital signs and record details of their workouts.
But the Series 9 takes things to a whole other level. For example, it will allow you to generate data about:
- how much and what type of sleep you got last night (i.e. REM, core or deep)
- your blood oxygen level and how many breaths you're taking every minute
- your heartbeat and level of cardio fitness
- how much sunlight you're getting
- how your mood changes throughout the day (be warned: this means regularly responding to prompts about your emotional state, which may soon result in feelings of irritation).
As Apple's chief operating officer Jeff Williams recently noted, "Apple Watch is an indispensable companion that helps millions of people with their health, fitness, communications, and safety."
The latest Apple Watch offers not just the now-standard Emergency SOS feature but also a 'Fall Detection' one, which suggests the company is targeting an older demographic. "Apple Watch can call emergency services if it detects a hard fall and you need help," explains the blurb on the watch's face.
Those who spend a lot of time outdoors or who have low vision should benefit from Apple ramping up the maximum brightness of its latest watches. The Series 9 can hit 2000 nits, and the Ultra 2 reaches a retina-scorching 3000 nits.
Given the selection now available, you're almost certain to find a watch face that appeals.
Take a SiP
Apple's latest timepieces come in a variety of sizes – 41mm or 45mm for the Series 9; 40mm or 44mm for the SE; and 49mm for the Ultra 2. Nonetheless, you may struggle to differentiate the Series 9 family from its predecessors at first glance.
Apple's 2023 watches run on watchOS 10 and boast the S9 SiP chip. If it's not too ancient, you should be able to install watchOS 10 on your current Apple Watch. But you won't be able to enjoy all of the features available to owners of the Series 9, Ultra 2 or SE.
All non-nerds need to know about the S9 SiP is that it's powerful and efficient enough to allow for 18 hours of battery life and that it's enabled the addition of new features, such as double tap.
The new chip and operating system also allow users to go full Dick Tracy and conduct phone calls on their watch without having their phone nearby
Possibly due to inexperience, our attempts at double tapping were hit and miss. In theory, you're meant to be able to do things, such as turn off an alarm or end a phone call, by tapping one of your fingers against your thumb twice. (Previously, you'd need to use your other hand to tap on the face or side of the watch.)
Being able to operate your watch one-handed can be useful, especially if you've got your iPhone in your other hand. But it wasn't quite the great technological leap forward we were expecting given Apple's marketing material.
All that being said, the new innards allow the latest Apple Watches to function more independently. Previously, a lot of the grunt work you might have perceived as being done by your smartwatch was actually done by your smartphone.
Most people neither know nor care which device is labouring on their behalf. But having smartwatches, rather than smartphones, do things such as handle enquiries to Siri speeds things up.
The new chip and operating system also allow users to go full Dick Tracy and conduct phone calls on their watch without having their phone nearby. Of course, adults will usually have their mobile within reaching distance, but parents who don't want to give their children a phone but still want to be able to contact them quickly can strap a Series 9, Ultra 2 or SE on their wrist.
Apple has ramped up the maximum brightness of its latest watches, with the Series 9 hitting 2000 nits and the Ultra 2 reaching a retina-scorching 3000 nits.
A carbon-free chronograph
If you're environmentally conscious, you may be pleased to learn that "any aluminium Apple Watch Series 9 paired with any new Sports Loop [watchband] is carbon neutral". Apple claims to have both made its manufacturing process more environmentally friendly and offset the "total product emissions" of that process by buying carbon credits.
Incremental change ain't nothing
It's difficult to get excited about the watches Apple released in September 2023 given how similar they are to the watches released in September 2022 (the Series 8, along with a cheaper SE version).
But if you believe it's time for an upgrade or are interested in collecting more data and generating insights about your physical and mental health, you'll likely find the Series 9 and its offshoots perfectly satisfactory.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.