Time for a new Apple Watch? Today could be the day Apple's Series 6 smartwatch is unveiled

Apple may launch a new smartwatch (or two) at today's virtual launch event. Here are all the rumors about the Series 6.

Vanessa Hand Orellana CNET Senior Editor
As head of wearables at CNET, Vanessa reviews and writes about the latest smartwatches and fitness trackers. She joined the team seven years ago as an on-camera reporter for CNET's Spanish-language site and then moved on to the English side to host and produce some of CNET's videos and YouTube series. When she's not testing out smartwatches or dropping phones, you can catch her on a hike or trail run with her family.
Vanessa Hand Orellana
5 min read
Angela Lang/CNET

Update, 11:44 a.m. PT: Apple on Tuesday announced the Apple Watch Series 6 and a more affordable Apple Watch SE at its September virtual event. The new Apple Watch features a Solo Loop band and an oximeter for blood oxygen tracking. Apple also unveiled a subscription service called Apple Fitness Plus and a feature called Family Setup that allows kids to use an Apple Watch even without an iPhone.

The Apple Store is down and the Apple Watch Series 6 could be among us soon. While rumors of an iPhone 12 delay continue to gain traction, the next Apple Watch (likely dubbed Series 6), is believed to be making its big debut at Apple's Tuesday launch event (here's how to watch the Apple event live) along with new iPads. And though we don't know exactly what Apple has in store for the Series 6 Apple Watch, there are plenty of rumors -- and even a few hidden clues in the latest WatchOS 7 update to unpack in the meantime. 

Longer battery life 

The Apple Watch most likely will be getting a bigger battery this year. Aside from being one of the most requested features, there have been a plenty of rumors fueling backing this up, as well as a few hidden clues in the WatchOS 7 beta. 

Apple's latest WatchOS update will all but remove the 3D Touch feature on the watch that allows you to control the interface based on the amount of force you place on the screen. Removing this feature from the Apple Watch means Apple can forgo the Taptic Engine and make room for a larger battery. Apple did away with the 3D Touch feature in the new iPhone 11s in 2019 and replaced it with a Haptic Touch feature that relies on a long press rather than a hard press to control the interface. 

Read more: Great cheap accessories for your new Apple Watch

Watch this: The Apple Watch Series 6 is coming soon

More robust sleep tracking 

A longer-lasting battery could also enable better sleep tracking features in the Series 6. Apple announced that it will be rolling out a new native sleep-tracking feature to the Apple Watch (Series 3 or above) with the update to WatchOS 7 in the fall. But the feature only tracks the duration of sleep and focuses mostly on establishing a better bedtime routine, which already requires at least a 30% charge before going to bed. With more battery life, the Series 6 could have more sensors running in the background during sleep to provide more insights about heart rate, movement or even oxygen levels (with a new sensor) at the end of each cycle. 

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Pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen levels

Health has been a key growth category for the Apple Watch since its inception, most recently adding native sleep tracking, mobility metrics and hearing health alerts in WatchOS 7. We expect this trend to continue. The big health feature for the Series 6 this year could be SpO2 tracking, or the ability to monitor oxygen saturation in the blood. 

According to 9to5Mac, iOS 14 code snippets suggest the next Apple Watch will be able to detect blood oxygen levels and alert users if it detects levels below what's considered a "healthy" threshold, similar to what the watch already does with the high and low heart-rate alerts. Blood oxygen levels are generally measured using a pulse oximeter on the tip of the finger, and to do this on the wrist, it's very likely Apple would need to add new hardware to the Watch, making it a Series 6 exclusive. 

This would be good timing, because some doctors are recommending pulse oximeter devices to monitor COVID-19 symptoms, and people have begun buying pulse oximeters during the coronavirus pandemic

A recent report from DigiTimes also mentions that Apple has made a deal with ASE Technology, a Taiwanese manufacturer, to bring new biosensors to the Watch that will enable SpO2 tracking during the day and night. Analyzing oxygen variations during sleep could help users spot sleep-related conditions like sleep apnea. 

A kid-friendly Apple Watch 

Code in found in iOS 14 also brings new clues about the Apple Watch and references new tools for parents. Rather than give their kids an iPhone, parents looking to stay connected with their kids could set up a second Apple Watch (completely separate from their own) using their iPhone and Apple ID as the host. This would also give parents the final say on what kind of content their kids can access on the watch, like emergency contacts and music. 

With a feature called SchoolTime, parents could even determine what apps can be used at what times to limit distractions in the classroom. 

This would also mean adapting some of the health features for younger users. According to 9to5Mac, the ring system (used for activity tracking) would be based on different metrics. The red move ring, for example, would track active minutes instead of active calories as it does with adults. The Watch will also encourage kids to keep moving by offering virtual rewards when they take part in sports or outdoor activities. 

Tracking panic attacks and stress

The Apple Watch Series 6 will also reportedly come with several mental health monitoring features, including the ability to detect when the wearer is about to experience a panic attack (another timely feature, if it pans out, during the global pandemic). This rumor was also mentioned in the April 30 leak, which referenced "Mental Health Abnormalities Detection."

A round Apple Watch, but not this year

Rumors of a circular watch face on the Apple Watch have been making the rounds for a few years now, and Apple has even issued a couple of Apple Watch patents that show what a round display could look like. But the existence of a patent doesn't guarantee Apple will use it in a final product, and a change this big would require Apple to rework the hardware and software of the watch, so it could take a few more years to become a reality. 

Instead, this year's Apple Watch will likely look a lot like its predecessors: a squarish body with rounded edges and an OLED screen that curves at the sides. As in previous years, Apple could introduce some minor upgrades like increasing the size of the screen (to show off the new watch faces coming with WatchOS 7), different materials for the frame and a few more watch band options, but so far there's not a lot of evidence of a radical redesign for the Apple Watch -- yet.