Apple 2023 report cards: Apple Watch ⌚️

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

This is part 4 in a series I’m doing to close out the year, looking at each of Apple’s big product lines and assessing how they did in 2023 and what I hope to see in 2024. Here’s my previous posts on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

How 2023 started

2022 saw 3 new Apple Watches released:

  1. The Series 8 was a very minor update that mostly brought a temperature sensor
  2. The SE got a processor refresh but not much else
  3. The Ultra was brand new and was pitched as a watch for people with more extreme needs than your average Apple Watch buyer

The Series 8 and SE were very iterative updates and I’m sure sold well, but the Ultra was the true standout in 2022, quickly going from “the watch for marathoners and scuba divers” to “the watch for people who want the best Apple Watch possible, or people who were just hungry for something new in Apple Watch design.” Yes, it’s big and the design isn’t as appealing to me as the stainless steel Series models, but I use an Ultra because I want the doubled battery life, the action button, and the exclusive watch faces that allow for more complications. Based on what I see out in the wild, I’m definitely not the only one who was drawn to the Ultra either.

So we came into 2023 with a very good Apple Watch lineup, both on the consumer and Apple’s financials fronts. Customers had good options at all price points, and Apple was absolutely dominating the watch market (at least here in the US).

2023’s updates

The Apple Watch SE did not get an update this year, so there’s not much to say here. I think much like the iPhone SE, this line isn’t expected to get an update every year.

The Series 9 and Ultra 2 were very mild updates, though. They both got slightly brighter screens and more internal storage, but the two real notable updates were the new system on a chip and the new “double tap” gesture. In my review of the Ultra 2, I said the performance was indistinguishable from the previous model and that double tap was cool, but didn’t feel fully fleshed out yet. Neither of these are bad products by any means, but no one is going to put these in the S-tier in the whole history of Apple Watch models. They’re just slightly better versions of already very good (even great!) products.

And then there’s watchOS 10. I didn’t cover OS updates in the previous posts, but watchOS 10 was a pretty big change to the OS, for better and for worse. I think some of the updates are very good, such as the new page-based app UI that many of Apple’s apps have adopted, and some third parties have jumped on as well. But other changes like making it harder to switch between watch faces and changing the side button behavior have been received generally poorly from what I’ve seen online and from people in my life who have Apple Watches and have complained to me that their watch doesn’t work how they expect it to anymore. At least the watch face swiping issue is getting fixed in a mid-year watchOS update.

Hopes for 2024

Years ago we thought the Apple Watch was almost a peer to the iPhone, iPad, and Mac; it would eventually be its own device that lived in Apple’s ecosystem, but was more independent from the iPhone. Maybe it would be able to be set up without an iPhone, for example. Over the past 5 years or so it’s become quite clear that the Apple Watch is an iPhone accessory, and there is simply no way it’s going to be anything more than that anytime soon. With that in mind, and considering how good the product line is right now, I don’t have wildly ambitious wishes for the hardware this year.

I hope the SE gets a processor bump, and I’d love to see it get an always-on display, but I find it more likely that it will still not get it, in no small part to maintain clear differentiation with the Series line.

For the Series line, I’m predicting this is finally the year we get a notable design change. I think a new health sensor is unlikely, but maybe they’ll expand what the temperature sensor can be used for. There have been rumors for years now that a blood glucose sensor is in the works, and I think that would be amazing if it could be added, but I’m not sure it will be ready this year. Finally, let’s take a swing here and say the name will be Series X.

Which brings us to the Ultra, which I suspect will get updated as well this year, and it will get whatever processor and sensor features the Series X gets. I also think this should be the year they introduce a new color to the line, as I know there are a good number of people who bought an original Ultra who would gladly pay up to get one in dark titanium.

P.S. I started this series calling it a 4 parter, but surprise, there’s one more article coming tomorrow…