Apple’s Series 5 Watch Will Have Always-on Display, drops price of Series 3 to $199

Like clockwork, today Apple announced the new Apple Watch Series 5, which includes one substantial change, and only a handful of other modest updates. However, perhaps far more important than that is Apple’s official pricing shift on the Series 3 units (with GPS & music)  to $199. Previously these units floated in the $279+ range, with only occasional sales to $199.

This shift in pricing is a massive blow to Fitbit and the new Versa 2, as well as a solid blow to Garmin’s new Venu watch (priced at $399), and even the Vivoactive 4 at $349. Plus others like Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active 2 coming in at $279.  While each of Apple’s competitors compete on more than just price, the reality is that for the average consumer at a Best Buy display counter, those watches at their current respective price points will likely end up with an Apple Watch purchase. At least as long as you’re not an Android user (where Apple still isn’t quite yet compatible, though the gears are clearly turning there too).

First though, let’s do a quick recap of the Series 5 changes. I’ll have a review out later this month, but for now this post will serve as a bit of a placeholder and also as a gathering spot for questions. Also note that all imagery in this post is from Apple’s keynote or website. With Eurobike last week and a new Peanut due any day now, flying to California was not in my list of viable events.

Apple Watch Series 5:

The Series 5 keeps the same general form factor as the previous Apple Watch units, going with that smoothed rectangular look, shunning some rumors of a round Apple Watch. It’s offered in more or less the usual Apple materials/finishes (with a few new finishes as well), but the big change this year is the always-on display. One of the catches of an Apple Watch up until now, as well as most higher-end smart watches with pretty displays, is that the display turned itself off when you weren’t looking at it.

In order for the display to turn on, you had to turn your wrist or press a button. While that was mostly fine for day to day usage, it has always presented itself as a bit of a challenge for sports. In cycling where your wrist is on the handlebars, turning your wrist away from the handlebars was hardly ideal (especially on rougher roads or near traffic). Or in the gym, when doing pushups or any sort of activity where your arms are busy – meant that you couldn’t see the sport-data on the screen unless you managed to trigger it.  With more and more gym & fitness apps giving guided workouts including things like animations for cardio or strength movements, keeping the screen on was important.

With the Series 5, Apple’s going to manage the display automatically via ambient light sensor – just as they did in previous versions. In Apple’s presentation today they also discussed a ‘display driver’ and ‘power management integrated circuit’, which are basically just fancy terms for things that every watch on the market already has.

From a battery standpoint though things aren’t quite as strong. Apple’s claiming – specifically, “All day 18-hour battery life”. That’s far below their competitors in the always-on AMOLED space. On the flip-side, Apple does tend to be fairly conservative with their Watch battery life estimates historically, often only citing single-day battery life when in reality the units usually get about 2 days of battery life (without GPS activities).

For competitive context, Fitbit’s new Versa 2 with always-on display gets roughly 2 days in that mode (with 24×7 HR tracking), while Garmin’s new Venu gets just shy of three days. For example, I’ve been testing always-on display on Venu and started a test Saturday evening at 5PM with 100%, and just got to Tuesday at 9AM with 10% remaining (I needed to charge it before some longer activities today). That’s not just always-on display, but also with live watch faces enabled (so every time I raise my wrist it shows me a colorful time-lapse of NYC). And finally, that’s with an hour’s GPS workout tossed in for good measure, and 24×7 HR at 1-second intervals.

Both Fitbit and Garmin are further tracking sleep, which surprisingly Apple skipped on the Series 5.

Speaking of surprises, Apple added a magnetic compass. I didn’t see this one coming on my list of expected features, though it does poke directly at Garmin. Apple has some native watch faces that take advantage of this compass, such as seen below in one of numerous views:

But far more important than that is opening up the compass to 3rd party apps. Out of the gate that’ll include Wikiloc, GoSUP, and Night Sky

Now while I see the actual usage of native compass bearings pretty minimal, what’s more useful is that Apple’s maps on the watch will now show you the map oriented based on your wrist orientation.

This is handy for those of us that are constantly swearing at the beloved blue dot, not knowing which way to go.

Last up on the new Series 5 features is international emergency calling for the LTE/cellular versions. This functionality is leveraged within the suite of emergency related functions that Apple has, such as fall detection. With the new international emergency calling it can automatically connect to the network in whatever country you’re in and place that emergency call.

At first glance this might not seem significant in the grand scheme of things technologically (obviously it is medically). But in reality – this is a big deal. Up until this point when you travelled between regions of the Apple Watch, you weren’t likely to get international services. For example, a US-based Apple Watch LTE/cellular edition was completely useless in Europe. This wasn’t a carrier limitation, but a connectivity one. It simply didn’t have the right hardware to roam in Europe. And vice versa was true.

So whatever capabilities Apple has quietly added into Series 5 may be setting the stage for future connectivity here. However, at present that’s not yet the case for regular data/phone access on the LTE/cellular editions. However, if you compare the band support for both Series 5 and Series 3, you’ll notice Series 5 has significantly more bands supported than Series 3 did (for the US models, and the same is true for other region models).


From a pricing and availability standpoint, Apple’s top-end Series 5 remains the same price at a $399 starting point (bucking the recent trend of increasing the prices further). The cellular/LTE edition starts at $499. Availability for them is Sept 20th, and ordering starts today. The Series 4 units will be discontinued (Series 5 replaces them).

Finally, there’s a few other tidbits that Apple noted during the keynote. First is the introduction of a new medical research and studies app.

This allows you to enroll easily into various medical research studies that organizations are performing using the Apple Watch. Apple’s previously done similar large-scale studies before, but this seems to be solidifying the entry process a bit. Within that framework there will be three new studies they’re conducting this fall:

– Apple Hearing Study with the World Health Organization & the University of Michigan
– Women’s Health with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences & Harvard School of Public Health
– Apple Heart & Movement Study with the American Heart Association & Brigham and Women’s Hospital

I find these studies fascinating, not just from a topical standpoint but from just a scale standpoint. Never before in medical research (or really any research) can organizations get the kind of scale and data that’s being provided via this entry point. As usual, the Apple mantra on privacy applies here in that you control your data and can end participation any time.

There’s also the slew of WatchOS6 related features that come to all Apple Watches, including a redesigned Health App with highlights and summary sections, and also the new audio streaming API in WatchOS 6, you’ll start to see more apps take advantage of live audio versus just recorded content. I covered all of this though back in June as part of my post then.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that in some ways we may not know all the actual new stuff until units start shipping. Many things don’t make the cut of the keynote, and other things further don’t make the cut in media briefings. For example, when Apple revamped the optical HR sensor last year in the Series 4, it was noted the optical HR sensor was revamped – but it wasn’t said just how much more accurate it was than years past (spoiler: crazy more accurate). So it’s those sorts of things I’ll be looking for in a full review of the Series 5. Top of my list? Will they have finally fixed the long famed Apple ‘swooshing’ of GPS tracks around corners to make them look prettier? Only time, and some runs, will tell.

Going Forward:

As I noted at the beginning, while the always-on display news of the Series 5 is a big deal for the Apple Watch in general – I think the headliner news here should really be the $199 price point for the Series 3. It’s something I’ve been talking about as a likely scenario for months, and the impacts can’t be overstated here. Undoubtedly companies like Fitbit and Garmin would counter that they have unique value props for their consumers that Apple doesn’t have. And that’s definitely true.

In the case of Fitbit, they’ve got the social/motivational aspects that are largely unbeaten in the segment, despite competitors (including Apple) adding in friend competition type features. Fitbit also has sleep analytics that Apple lacks entirely, something Fitbit is doubling down on this year. And finally, while I question how successful Fitbit’s premium offerings will be, they are an option – whereas Apple simply doesn’t have anything remotely like it from a sport/fitness standpoint.

Meanwhile, in the case of Garmin they’ve got all the sport-focused bits around training and recovery that Apple doesn’t have unless you extend into 3rd party apps (of which there are many, but none at the base watch level). Garmin also has a significant edge with respect to music streaming services and offline capabilities, including Spotify and Amazon. While I suspect we’ll see Spotify offline access come to Apple sometime this year, it’s not yet there today. And like Fitbit, Garmin also has cross-phone compatibility – so the ability to use a Garmin watch with iOS or Android (or no phone at all if you really want). Apple is iOS only.

And this entirely ignores the challenge for Samsung with their just launched Galaxy Active Watch 2 priced at $279 (it was $199 last year, a great price point), or the slew of Fossil watches at a range of price points. It also ignores Polar with their recent Ignite series watch, which targets a slightly more sporty individual – but at a $229 price point (without an always-on display).

Still, while I can articulate all of those nuances back and forth – your average Best Buy counter employee or mainstream media review can’t. They’re going to highlight the Apple Watch with GPS & streaming music at $199 (plus the entire Apple app store ecosystem). And competitors equal and above that price point without a hugely significant and unique value prop aren’t even going to be part of that conversation. It’ll be interesting to see where things go from here for sure.

With that – thanks for reading, and stay tuned for a full review later this month!

DC Rainmaker:

View Comments (130)

  • Can someone please tell me more about the mentioned app “GoSUP”? Is it something new and upcoming, or an existing one?
    I was not able to find anything about it on Google or AppStore :(

    • Looks to be basic SUP tracking, similar to native SUP activity tracking in many Garmin wearables.

      Distance, stroke cadence, avg distance per stroke, GPS track

      Wildly different approach versus classic fitness tri watches. Marry a patchwork collection of 3P activity tracking apps vs. having all activity types listed in one place, with custom data screens.

      Every year I find myself on a SUP and realize -- oh, I can track this, and see in Connect with all other activities.

    • Hej Nikolay
      I’m the developer of GoSUP! It is a watchos only app and I will release it along with watchos 6! Maybe a few days later due to some problems on submitting the app.. I hope to fulfill your expectations ;-)

  • Why do you think Spotify offline will appear?

    The feature request has been lingering on Spotify forums with millions of comments for years now, no apparent process although watchOS enabled it already last year.

    I cancelled for that very reason.

  • The "swooshing" of the GPS got fixed a few minor releases ago. I think that it's using the accelerometer to detect when you turn sharply. In my experience it only works with a sharp turn and still has difficulty with slower, gradual turns. Here's an image of a parkrun with a Series 2 (watch only, no iPhone). You can see sharp turns in the middle and at the top. Accuracy on this course was good too, 5.06 km (where before with the rounded corners it was often 4.8 km). This track was recorded on watchOS 5 (latest release), not the newer beta watchOS 6.

    • It's better in recent firmware versions, but is still there. I did a run a few weeks ago with it, and while it swooshed less, it was definitely still there.

      On your track above, did you run the same route twice? Surprised in that middle portion (of the map) to see it so far apart as you go between the lakes.

    • Part of the course is run twice. Two loops around the two lakes and the bottom lake part is through fairly thick forest where there is a fair bit of GPS drift. The start and end kilometer are run along the river on the right. The start and end have tall trees and a big wall which probably interferes with GPS too.

  • With the new Always On display feature, will Workout apps like iSmoothrun, Stryd, Starva be able to have the metrics display always on when in use? This would be a great feature and would entice me to move back from Garmin to Apple.

  • I am surprised that Apple has done so little with their fitness software on the watch. If they spent a little effort they could really decimate the competition, at least for non endurance athletes. They have done nothing to improve the actual workout interface since the original AW. They could easily add BT sensor integration, more advanced data metrics and display layouts, even just creating an activity for transitions and a way to preset the sport changes would make them an effective multi sport solution. They need an iCloud solution for pure sports statistics and tracks (vs the health stats which are only on the phone). Heck, they could just put the Activity App on iCloud with a web or iPad/MacOS app. Their mapping capabilities with added watch based navigation for running/biking, would equal or surpass any other device makers; the Compass and Always On capabilities are a step in the right direction. One of the easiest things they could do is open up the Workout app, so others could add 3rd party workouts into their list as long as they followed their UI guidelines, rather than having a separate “App”. Things like Running Power, ought to be in Apples wheelhouse.
    Instead of trying to be the best non-endurance fitness device they seem to want to be in the medical device business. Not sure these are incompatible, but I sure wish they would spend some time on their Workout app. They supposedly have a huge department dedicated to it. Consumers/athletes base their fitness watch buying decision, for the most part, on what is provided out of the box by the manufacturer, not on add-on Apps or ConnectIQ although their availability is important. Time for Apple to step it up, then maybe Garmin won’t keep raising their prices. Although I do think Garmin needs to respond to AW3 at $199 (or even more interesting, AW3 with Cellular for $299) buy lowering the price of the Venu/Vivoactive 4 by at least $100.

  • AW isnt an option for none iOS user. Apples market share is around 10% and shrinking. I have an iPhone and Samsung but i hestitate to go any further in to Apples ridicoulus expensive ecosystem. I had AW3 but sold it because its HR and GPS was so bad. Price dont important then. And then AW has a battery that is truly bad.

    Customer that buy a AW3 from a salesperson without knowledge is going to be mostly disappointed i think. If you are invested in Apples ecosystem i think AW5 is a much better value for money.

    • Using smartphone global market share is and always will be a bad way to look at metrics for devices like the Apple Watch. People on budget Android phones in the far reaches of China or India aren't the target market for Apple, Garmin, or Fitbit.

      If you look at the target market, it floats in the 60% range iOS share. As a good example of the perfect target market, are the stats for here. For August 2019, the mobile OS share is 59.15% iOS, 40.1% Android, and then a handful (0.66%) of Blackberry and Windows phone users followed by like 7 other random things.

      It holds remarkably consistent month after month and year after year, and within Western Europe and North America it remains surprisingly consistent as well from country to country.

      Obviously that's because this site attracts those that have more expendable income, but that's the exact same group of people that are the target market here for these devices.

      Alternatively, we can just look at the Apple Watch sales numbers. They dominate and completely crush the competition, and are growing YoY. Don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward to seeing Apple add Android support, and I fully expect that by next September we'll see that. There's just too many quiet shifts Apple is making on Apple Watch to make it non-phone dependent. And Apple has done this with other services as well, such as Apple Music on Android.

    • iOS browsers includes both iPad and iPhone users, right? Are android users more likely to browse the web on a desktop/laptop/iPad as there are no good Android tablets while ios users are fine browsing on a tablet as its basically the same as a laptop/desktop? Assuming android users are just as likely to browse a site on their android device as an iOS user on their iOS device seems like a bad assumption.

    • Possibly. But Ray's site shows completely differently on an iPad (even my iPad mini) and an iPhone. On an iPad it looks like the site you get on a desktop, while the look on an iPhone is completely different. So the browsers are identifying themselves differently, and in principle you could separate them.

      Personally I do very little browsing on my iPad. I actually do more on my iPhone, and when I hit Ray's site, if it's not from a Mac it's from my iPhone. My iPad is used mostly for video consumption and as a Kindle substitute.

    • The above stats were specifically for mobile, of which Google Analytics does not count tablets. That's a separate category.

      Ultimately, my stats match what I hear from companies in the segment when they talk about their split between iOS/Android, roughly 1/3rd Android, 2/3rd iOS. It continues to be remarkably consistent year after year.

    • Android user here.

      We mostly use Amazon tablets (forked Android OS) for media consumption separate from our phones, but also use Chromebooks, especially now that the kids are of school ages where Chromebooks are used and issued at school (we also have our own).
      Chromebooks completely dominate school touch-screen/convertible category.

      You couldn't pay me to use an Apple product.
      Pretentious, over-priced, walled garden, high repair and hidden costs.

    • You know who complains about Apple products?
      Android users.
      Over 95% of Apple users are happy with their phones, way more than other manufacturers. (And their repair rate is also lower.)

    • BTW, I don’t mean to start a flame war. If you like your phone/tablet/chromebook, that’s great! And Apple products are kind of pretentious ;)

  • Hi Ray,

    Do you think the AW5 will be able to broadcast HR data to, say, a Garmin Edge head unit any time in the near future? And, conversely, do you think power info from, say, Garmin Vector pedals will be able to be read by and displayed on the AW5 in the near future?

    Thanks for everything you do.

    • It can't today, due to lack of broadcasting BT heart rate (recent Garmin devices can connect to both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart sensors). There's some apps that can pass through HR to their own other apps, such as Zwift's companion app. But I'm not aware of anything that re-broadcasts it via BT smart openly.

      Inversely, there's only one app I'm aware of that can connect to power meters on an Apple Watch, and it's part of a monthly training log platform subscription service, super expensive.

    • not sure if you are referring to but in any case our Apple Watch app (Train2PEAK) does connect to power meters and is free to use, meaning you can use the AW app (connected to power meters) without having to subscribe to a training plan. you can also create very detailed structured workouts on the iPhone app and send them to your AW (or your Garmin) where you get audio (and of course visual) guidance, including siri commands for start/pause with gloves or wet fingers etc.
      again, free to use.

    • Ahh, sweat, I thought when I tried it last fall it had required a subscription beyond the free trial?

      Noted, will add it to my list to include in the review. Does it export out a .FIT file when all is said and done, and will that include HR/cadence data too?


    • the Train2PEAK Apple Watch app is for you to keep also after the expired trial.

      thank you! we export in json for our own needs (its easier to read the data) but HealthFit exports it to .fit
      the data includes HR, apple estimated Kcal and elevation. cadence will be added soon.
      data fields can be configured on the fly and include rolling km/mile speed, pace, HR or power

    • Thanks.

      And sorry, since I didn't bring home an Apple Watch tonight, does that export via HealthFit include power then? Just trying to understand how someone can get power files out (to export to wherever) that includes all the basics:

      A) GPS positional data
      B) Power
      C) Cadence
      D) HR (optical or chest strap)
      E) Elevation

      Note: I think people would be more than willing to pay for that (think = know) as a one-time app fee, just not another recurring monthly fee.

    • good question. i had to go look... and it appears that HealthFit exports A, C, D (we support pairing BT chest straps ) and E.
      so i need to talk to Stéphane and find out what it would take to add power support on his side or then see if we can justify converting to .fit on our side.

      thanks for the encouragement, the thing is we are in the business of providing precise individual training plans that fit people's life's and then adapt.
      the app is "just" a conduit to it.

    • Cool, I'll let you and Stéphane hash it out.

      As for the app being a conduit - yup, totally understand. I think there's an opportunity for someone to offer a standalone app at perhaps a bit of premium (like $9.99 or something) and probably make good money from it, that does the A-E I listed above. Nothing fancy, just simple recording and spitting it out to .FIT that services can leverage.

    • got it. we'll take a hard look at it
      is the "spitting it out" part good enough if it's exported by email or would it need to hit the API's of the all usual suspects?

    • Spitting out a .FIT file via e-mail is totally fine by me, though I expect some folks would want integration to core platform services (Strava/TP/etc..). I'd guess that's where HealthFit doing it's thing is so solid.

    • I've been told previously (not in technical terms) that one reason the Apple Watch can't "talk" to other devices is because it lives as a captive client of the iPhone. Of course, another is that it doesn't "speak" ANT+.

      However, that's no longer the case. The watch is no longer a client of the phone for making/receiving phone calls (although not in the Netherlands, apparently). It's also not a dedicated client of the iPhone in the Apple ecosystem, because it can be used to unlock the screen of ANY macOS computer that's logged in to the same AppleID.

      So, one issue is whether another hardware refresh would be necessary for the Apple watch to transmit heart rate to Garmin devices over BT (and, of course, whether Garmin would welcome or try to block that).

      I'm about to spring for my own Apple Watch Series 5, but wish that it could replace my other HRM (although the Scosche arm strap is a welcome replacement for the chest straps I've always hated).

      And, "one more thing" (to quote Steve Jobs, who's no longer around even in spirit, it seems). Steve obsessed with user interface perfection, to the point that he woke up one morning a few weeks before the first iPhone release, realized some little thing wasn't quite right, so forced manufacturing to scrap the first million or so that had already been manufactured. He obsessed equally over his Gulfstream jet (wouldn't accept it because it had an "open" AND a "close" button between two compartments, and he pointed out that if the door was open, you wouldn't NEED an "open" button, and if the door was closed, there'd be no need for a "close" button, so he made them change that tiny interface element (I have no idea whether that attracted attention from the FAA). Similarly, when the main building was erected at Pixar, Steve ordered 150% of the wood they'd need so that he personally could select which panels to mate to its neighbors. So, imagine my surprise, when I selected the "Milanese Loop" band to mate with my aluminum case Series 5 watch to read, at the end of the web interface for ordering, in small point size type "some Apple Watch Bands contain magnets, which could possibly interfere with the operation of the compass on Apple Watch Series 5."

      If Buddhist Steve Jobs isn't reincarnated as an underpaid Chinese laborer on an iPhone assembly line (a great cartoon, which you've probably seen), he's probably rolling over in his grave that the company he founded would permit such a gross loss of obsession with perfection.

    • It's still a mistake to think of the Apple Watch as a wrist iPhone. I have a 3LTE, and my 5LTE arrives Friday. The Watch always prefers using the iPhone to its own capabilities. If the iPhone is nearby, than calls, etc., are made through the phone, not independently. Similarly, I hear GPS works that way as well (the watch can do it but won't if the phone is available). It's more independent of the iPhone than the series 0 I used to use, but it's not cut loose yet. Rumors are that it will be independent in the future, with the WatchOS app store being a big part of the independence drive.

      As to why it can't transmit heart rate, that's entirely on Apple. It transmits to the iPhone, after all (just look in the iPhone Health app). It's just not doing it in a way that 3rd party devices can use. It has Bluetooth, so it's just a matter of software.

    • done! you can now get your .fit emailed to you and import it wherever you want. direct upload to strava will follow soon and depending on demand and relative API we'll add other destinations...
      so far still all for free, but we are thinking of changing that.... ;)
      BTW, next app version will have meticulous management ans storage of sensor data (such as HR and GPS) from the first second on.

  • Every year I expect Apple will allow connection to at least <> cycling sensors. Speed, cadence, power meter.

    How hard would that be, technologically speaking? I s'pose just shows Apple aren't focused on athletes above the couch to 5K crowd.

    • As a AW4 owner, I tend to agree. Apple need to find an employee who actually does the sport, and ask them what they'd do to improve in the fitness app. Cycling for example, not only doesn't support any sensors (other than HR), but also doesn't do any sort of stop detection (outside of the usual "are you still working out" thing that comes up a few minutes after you obviously are stopped). In addition I've found that cycling distance almost never matches Strava or what my ELEMNT records.

      My wife complains bitterly about how useless the AW is for Crossfit as well. Really the AW is very basic in this regard. I also am somewhat annoyed by the fact that some AW apps like Strava are little more than remote controls for the iPhone app, which doesn't work if you don't bring your phone with you, despite the fact that AW is capable of recording GPS tracks without a phone present.

    • I actually went from Fenix 5x to AW because Fenix 5x was useless for me in Crossfit. Wristbased HR with the AW4 is just day and night better than the 5X. I get accurate HR readings and workout data with AW4.

      If Fenix 6 had equal quality wrist rate HR then I would switch back in a flash.

    • I agree on the optical heart rate. I've owned all series of apple watches (well, not the 5 yet!), and the Series 4 made a Massive improvement to optical heart rate readings. It actually fared better than my Garmins (935 at that time) for CrossFit workouts. The always-on display is a huge add, IMO. Garmins are still the king for running and cycling though.

  • The lack of significant updates to the workouts app, and lack of structured workouts, is what's causing me to take a much deeper look into Garmin.

    But I did come up with a hack/ workaround to get structured workouts from TP over to intervals pro on the watch (using the Shortcuts App).

    • Would you care to share your hack/workaround, if able to do so? I love my AW in general, but the lack of structured workouts/sending them to the watch is something I dearly miss from my earlier Garmins!

    • If you have a Stryd footpod, the Stryd app can automatically fetch structured workouts from TrainingPeaks to Apple Watch. Works well for me. As an added bonus, VO2Max is calculated in Apple Health even for treadmill runs with this setup.

    • Good to know! I do not own a Stryd footpod, so that's a fairly expensive solution - although I've looked at Stryd a bit further and darn it if you don't have me seriously considering buying one!! :)

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