This story is part of Focal Point iPhone 2022, CNET’s collection of news, tips and advice around Apple’s most popular product.
With a blood oxygen monitor, the ability to record an ECG from your wrist and plenty of exercise-logging options, the Apple Watch Series 7 is already a capable health tracker. But Apple might expand its wellness ambitions by adding a temperature sensor to the Series 8, according to Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. Apple might even be readying a Pro version of the Apple Watch Series 8 as well, with a possible debut at Apple’s Sept. 7 event.
However, I’m much more excited about the idea of a new Apple Watch SE, which Bloomberg says could be coming in 2022. Apple’s simpler and cheaper device has everything most people want in a smartwatch, from tracking workouts to enabling Apple Pay transactions and displaying iPhone alerts.
Apple’s newer wellness features are a step forward for consumer health monitoring and show promise. There are also plenty of stories indicating the Apple Watch has helped save lives. But the Apple Watch Series 6 and Series 7 already provide more information than I personally know what to do with. A Series 8 with even more health metrics might be too complex for some people.
That’s why I’m more interested in seeing what’s next for Apple’s more wallet-friendly option. The current Apple Watch SE debuted in 2020, and it’s time for an update.
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The Apple Watch SE has most of the Series 7’s best features
The $399 Apple Watch Series 7, compared with the $279 SE, is packed with extra health features and other refinements, such as blood oxygen readings, the ability to take an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) from your wrist, a larger screen and faster charging.
Those qualities make the Series 7 a more comprehensive health tracker, a better communication tool and a more useful sleep tracker. The Series 7’s more spacious screen means it can fit a full QWERTY keyboard for responding to text messages, and the speedier charging makes it easier to top off your watch after a night of sleep tracking.
The Series 8 is expected to take a similar trajectory, and it could include a skin temperature sensor for fertility planning and potentially other applications, according to Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal.
These perks may not be necessary for everyone, hence the SE’s more focused appeal. Those who just want to close their Activity Rings and make sure they don’t miss text messages while away from their phone can probably do without blood oxygen readings, a larger screen and faster charging. The Apple Watch Series 7 and its predecessor feel targeted toward those looking to keep a closer eye on their wellbeing, especially when it comes to cardiac health.
The Apple Watch SE has many of Apple’s most important health and safety features even though it’s not as advanced as its pricier siblings. Although you can’t take an ECG from your wrist using the SE, Apple’s cheaper watch can still deliver high and low heart rate notifications, notice irregular heart rhythms, detect hard falls and provide access to emergency services. If you’re buying a watch for an elderly family member who may be prone to falling, that might be enough.
Newer metrics such as blood oxygen readings don’t always feel helpful. Although Apple says measurements from the Apple Watch’s blood oxygen app can provide you with “insights into your overall wellness,” I’m not sure what to do with these readings. Since the Apple Watch isn’t intended for medical purposes, it’s unclear whether I should be alarmed if my readings are too low.
That’s not to say there isn’t potential. When the Series 6 was unveiled in 2020, Apple announced plans to work with researchers on three separate health studies to examine how blood oxygen readings and other metrics can help with managing asthma and heart rate failure in addition to detecting respiratory conditions like COVID-19. But for now, the blood oxygen reader on the Series 6 and 7 doesn’t feel necessary. Similarly, other wearables such as those from Garmin, Fitbit and Samsung offer blood oxygen readings that rely on the wearer having to interpret them.
While I appreciate the SE’s simpler approach to health tools, I’d like to see Apple add at least one feature that’s currently exclusive to more expensive models: an always-on display. New Apple Watches starting with the Series 5 and later (except for the SE) can keep their screens on even when the watch is idle. This makes the Apple Watch better at its most basic job — telling the time.
It might not seem like a huge deal, but I appreciate being able to glance down at the time and my activity progress on a Series 7 without needing to move my wrist or touch the watch the way you do on the SE. It’s not as exciting or meaningful as health-related updates in the long term, but it’s handy for everyday use, and I’m hoping to see it on the next Apple Watch SE.
Read more: Smartwatches Have Measured Blood Oxygen for Years. But Is This Useful?
The Apple Watch has matured, just like the iPhone
The Apple Watch has evolved to the point where annual upgrades aren’t always a major step forward, much like the iPhone. The Apple Watch Series 7, for example, felt like a more refined version of the Series 6. Aside from blood oxygen measurements, the Series 6 also didn’t feel that different from the Series 5.
That makes the case for cheaper models like the Apple Watch SE all the more compelling, especially as WatchOS updates bring new features to older models. WatchOS 9, which launches this fall, will bring more detailed sleep tracking, a new app for logging medications, fresh watch faces and other updates to the Apple Watch Series 4 and later.
The Apple Watch SE holds its own in terms of performance and feels just as responsive as the latest model when running the same software. You don’t need the most expensive or newest version to get a full experience, which is why Apple has kept the Series 3 in its lineup for so long.
But the Apple Watch Series 3 won’t support WatchOS 9 and has become difficult to update since it doesn’t have much internal storage. With that in mind, it seems like the Apple Watch Series 3’s days are numbered, a prediction analyst Ming-Chi Kuo made back in March. That also makes the Apple Watch SE much more important since it will likely replace the Series 3 as the most affordable Apple Watch option.
Overall, the current SE provides the right middle ground between the Series 3 and Series 7. As Apple’s high-end watches have become more sophisticated health tracking devices, the SE has increasingly felt like the better option for everyday users with tighter budgets. Now that the Apple Watch SE is almost two years old, I’m ready for a new one.