When I reviewed the new 2018 versions of the iPhone, I noted that this is just an "s" year. There are definitely some nice new features in all of the new iPhones, especially for taking pictures, and if you want a larger screen or a cheaper iPhone X, it is great that Apple has three new models. Nevertheless, this is not as big of an iPhone upgrade as we saw a year ago.
The opposite is true with the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch Series 4 is the first significant upgrade to the Apple Watch hardware since the Apple Watch was first previewed in 2014 and started selling in early 2015. Unlike 2014, when Apple wasn't really sure how the Apple Watch would be used, Apple now has years of experience and knows what people like most about an Apple Watch. And those are precisely the parts of the Apple Watch that Apple improved. I've been using the Apple Watch Series 4 for a week, and I am blown away at how amazing this device is. I use it daily in my law practice, outside of the office for messages and entertainment purposes, when exercising, and pretty much all day long no matter what I'm doing from when I wake up until I go to sleep. This is an incredibly useful device that I recommend highly to any attorney who uses an iPhone.
The iPhone X version of the Apple Watch
Last year, the iPhone X was a huge leap forward in the iPhone world because Apple figured out a way to make the screen go virtually edge-to-edge. Thus, the physical size of the iPhone remained familiar, but the usable screen was larger. You saw much more in the same amount of space. Apple has applied the same design magic to the Series 4 Apple Watch. There are some changes to the physical size of the watch. First, the new watch is slightly thinner. It's not a big change, but it is welcome nevertheless. In these pictures, my Series 2 is on the left and my Series 4 is on the right:
Another physical change is that the face is slightly larger, with 40 mm and 44 mm sizes instead of the former 42 mm and 38 mm sizes. This increase is so minor that you probably won't ever notice it unless you put the new Apple Watch next to an old one. In this picture, my old Apple Watch Series 2 is on the left, and the new Apple Watch Series 4 is on the right:
I've heard some people wonder if the increase from 42 to 44 mm means that a person who previously used a 42 mm should instead get the smaller 40 mm model. Maybe for some folks this makes sense, but I suspect that most folks who have previously used a 42 mm will be perfectly happy with the 44 mm. It's really not a big difference in physical size.
The real change to the size of the Apple Watch is that, much like the iPhone X, Apple has brought the usable screen closer to the edges of the watch. As a result of the improvements, the new screen is now 30% larger.
This is a huge, noticeable improvement. The additional information that you can see is fantastic. For example, I've always been able to look at an email on my Apple Watch, but the size of the watch face severely limits how many words you can see at one time. With the larger screen on the Series 4, I typically see one additional sentence on the screen as compared to the older models. For longer emails, I'll have to use the scroll wheel to scroll down on either watch, but less scrolling is necessary on the Series 4. The same is true for text messages and any other app which puts lots of information on the screen. You see more, and thus you can obtain, and can act upon, the information more quickly.
Other apps simply expand to fill the larger screen so you get a larger watch face, larger controls for music and podcasts, etc. For these tasks, the larger face makes the Apple Watch much easier and more enjoyable to use. Here's a s simple example, but one which matters because I do it every day: typing in my passcode to unlock my Apple Watch is far easier with the larger screen on the Series 4 with the larger buttons.
The larger screen also makes it possible to have new watch faces with many more complications. The following picture uses the new Infograph watch face that Apple keeps showing off in its press pictures. It has eight complications in addition to the time:
I am not sure if I am going to use the Infograph as it seems a little too busy to me, plus I prefer digital time over hands on a watch face, but I love that this is an option.
Note that even with the different screen and sizes, you can still use your old Apple Watch bands with the new Series 4. That's good news for me because I love my Milanese Loop watch band, but it is $150 so I'm glad that I didn't have to buy a new one.
Early models of the Apple Watch were rather slow, which had a negative impact on usability. But with each new generation, the Apple Watch gets faster. The Series 4 is the first Apple Watch to feature a 64-bit processor, which Apple says is twice as fast as the Series 3 — which was 70% faster than the Series 2, and the Series 2 was 50% faster than the original Apple Watch. Thus, if you are upgrading from an earlier version of the Apple Watch, this speed increase should be quite noticeable — especially if you are using something older than a Series 3.
At this point, you may be thinking "ho hum, it's faster, but every new model is faster." Fair enough, but this time, the speed increase has real consequences. With the Series 4, the Apple Watch has crossed over from being a device that operates so slowly that sometimes I just don't bother to use it into a device which operates so quickly that I have no hesitation to use the device to perform tasks.
Let's go back to that email example. On my Series 2, working with emails works fine, but it is somewhat slow. On the Series 4, working with email is lightning fast, just as fast as working with emails on my iPhone. Because of this speed increase, along with the larger screen, I am working with emails on my Apple Watch far more than I ever have before. I can very quickly triage my inbox by deleting the junk mail and mail that doesn't really interest me. I can quickly read emails that do matter to me and then act upon them. Responding to emails is still easier on an iPhone or iPad if I need to type something of substance, but if I just want to send a quick reply, the watch works fine. And of course I can dictate or scribble out the words of a longer reply if I need to do so.
If your law practice is anything like mine, this is huge. I get tons of email every day. When new emails come in, with the Series 4 I can often deal with them faster on my Apple Watch than on my iPhone, in large part because the watch is right their on my wrist whereas I need to dig out the iPhone and then put it away when I'm finished. Plus, when I pick up my iPhone, there is a greater risk that I will be distracted by some other app on the iPhone. When working with emails on my Apple Watch, I get in and out more quickly and then get back to my work. I had no idea before using the Series 4 a week ago that working with emails would be so dramatically improved thanks to the larger screen and the faster watch.
Here's another example where the speed has a direct effect on usability. I have lots of lights in my house which are controlled by HomeKit, It is handy to use my Apple Watch to turn lights on and off, sometimes by speaking to Siri, other times by tapping a button in the Home app on the watch. On my Series 2, sometimes this feature worked OK, and other times it was so slow that it was painful. With my Series 4 watch, HomeKit devices respond to my Apple Watch commands right away — as quickly as commands coming from an iPhone. The speed increase means that I no longer hesitate to use my Apple Watch with HomeKit devices, and thus it is almost like HomeKit performance is an additional feature of the Series 4.
Apple added cellular support to the Apple Watch Series 3, but I never owned a Series 3 so I've been using cellular on my Apple Watch for the first time this week. Thanks to a new ceramic back, which reduces interference with radio waves, Apple says that cellular activity is works even better on the Series 4.
Before last week, I didn't think that this would be that significant for me. After all, don't I carry my iPhone pretty much all the time? But it has been been a nicer feature than I expected, especially when I've walked or jogged in a park to try to close my activity circles. There often isn't really a good place to put an iPhone in exercise clothes, and with the Series 4, I don't have to. I pair my AirPods with my Apple Watch, and then I'm off. I've tested receiving and sending emails, receiving and sending text messages, and placing and picking up phone calls when my Apple Watch is using cellular. It all just works. It is so nice to know that I'm connected to the outside world in case someone needs me or I need to contact someone else – even though I'm not carrying around a heavy iPhone. Indeed, I don't even feel the weight of an Apple Watch on my arm or AirPods in my ears, so I get all of this without feeling ANY extra weight at all.
As part of the redesign, Apple made the Digital Crown on the side smaller. I don't notice the difference in normal usage. Apple also added haptic feedback when spinning the Digital Crown, and the clicks make a big difference. It makes spinning the crown feel far more precise because you feel a click as each item is passed on the scrolling list. If you haven't tried a Series 4 yet this might not sound like a very big deal, but in normal usage it is really nice.
In addition to monitoring your heart beats, the Series 4 adds the ability to check your heart activity by running a simple EKG test (sometimes called an ECG). Just put your finger on the digital crown, start the test, and you'll get results in 30 seconds. I'm a lawyer not a doctor, but from what I've been reading for the last few days, this feature can help to save lives.
For example, here is a post on Reddit by a doctor explaining that the new Apple Watch can help to detect Atrial Fibrillation, which is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, and something that is experienced by up to 25% of people over 40 years old.
Note that this EKG feature requires a special app, which Apple says it will release later this year. And for many folks, this feature will be unimportant. But for some folks, especially those working with a heart doctor, this feature could be literally life changing.
The new speaker in the Apple Watch is 50% louder. And the microphone was moved to the right side of the Apple Watch (the opposite side as the speaker) to reduce interference. If you are using your Apple Watch to make phone calls or to use the new Walkie-Talkie feature, the improved speaker should help. I usually keep sounds turned off on my Apple Watch, so this feature doesn't matter so much to me.
The Series 4 Apple Watch includes a more advanced accelerometer and gyroscope which can detect if you fall. And if you fall down and then don't move for 60 seconds, the Apple Watch can even call 911 and your emergency contacts. For folks above a certain age — or for anyone who can be clumsy — this looks like a feature that you hope to never use, but that you will very much appreciate if you need it.
There is a lot more that is packed into the Apple Watch Series 4, including new watch faces, Bluetooth 5.0 (which I hope will improve communications between the Apple Watch and the iPhone), increased battery life for outdoor workouts when you are using GPS, and more.
This is the first version of the Apple Watch that does not come in a more expensive Special Edition version made of high-end materials (gold in the first Apple Watch, ceramic in later models). However, there is now a new gold stainless steel version of the watch. You can also select the Nike+ version or the Hermès versions, which include different watch bands and a special watch face.
Apple no longer calls the aluminum version of the Apple Watch the "sport" model. You just get an Apple Watch, and you choose whether you want aluminum and stainless steel, with stainless steel costing $300 more. I prefer the look and feel of the stainless steel over aluminum, and I also like that the stainless steel version has a more durable screen — a sapphire crystal face, instead of Ion-X glass. Even though I have hit the face of my Series 2 Apple Watch on countless objects over the yaars, I have never gotten a scratch. My wife is far more poised and less clumsy than me, but her Series 2 aluminum Apple Watch does have some small scratches.
I was really excited about the iPhone X when it came out a year ago, and I absolutely loved using it for the past year. I feel the same way about the Apple Watch Series 4. The larger screen and the increase in speed make everything better. Indeed, some features are so much better than I am using them far more than ever before. The Apple Watch Series 4 is a huge leap forward. If you have been thinking about getting an Apple Watch but were waiting for the right time, that time is now. If you have an older Apple Watch and you already know that it is a useful device for you, upgrading to a Series 4 will be a huge improvement to what you already love.
This article won the BlawgWorld Pick of the Week award on October 1, 2018. The editors of BlawgWorld, a free weekly email newsletter for lawyers and law firm administrators, give this award to one article every week that they feel is a must-read for this audience.