Apple Watch Series 4 and watchOS 5 rumors: Are third-party watch faces on the way?

The new Apple Watch is also said to have improved health tracking capabilities.

apple watch series 3 explorer
Doug Duvall/IDG

Updated 04/16/18: 9to5Mac is reporting of a hint in the latest watchOS beta that may point to third-party watch faces, but we're skeptical.

Apple has released a new version of the Apple Watch every year since its debut in 2015, and the company seems to show no signs of slowing down. Here we have compiled all the latest rumors, leaks, and reasonably well-informed speculation about Apple Watch Series 4 and the watchOS 5 OS that should come along with it.

We expect them both to be released sometime in the fall of 2018.

The latest: Third-party watch faces may be on the way

We've heard this rumor a few times over the last couple years. Everybody wants app developers to be able to create custom watch faces, as they can on competing smartwatch platforms. Apple has held fast, allowing only Complications to be used in its own built-in watch faces.

9to5Mac is reporting on some code found in the latest best of watchOS 4.3.1 that may hint at custom third-party watch faces in a future version of watchOS. The green log message, "This is where 3rd party face config bundle generation would happen," is what has fueled speculation.

watchos code 9to5Mac

Does the green comment mean third-party watch faces are coming?

Plausible? Don't get too excited just yet. As Steve Troughton-Smith pointed out on Twitter, developers have been able to bundle "watch configurations" with their custom complications for some time. These aren't new watch faces, just a way to show their app's watch complications in different configurations using existing watch faces.

It's hard to get too excited about the verbiage of that one little green log message, when it could just as well refer to that. We find it hard to believe actual third-party watch faces would be implemented in this place, and in this way. Of course, that doesn't mean third-party watch faces are not coming, just that this one reference may not be the proof we're looking for. (And even if they do arrive, consider that Apple may only allow faces through limited partners like Nike or Hermès.)

Series 4 to have slightly larger display, longer battery, better health tracking

This rumor was reported on March 27, 2018.

Reliable industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo from KGI Securities has released a note to investors that claims the Apple Watch Series 4 will launch in the third quarter of the year. The Series 4, he claims, will have a 15 percent larger display, longer battery life, and better health tracking.

The report doesn’t really go into specific details on how any of these things will be achieved. For example, the 15 percent larger display may mean a larger Apple Watch case (for the first time since its debut), or it may simply mean less bezel area between the display and the edges of the case.

The report mentions a higher-capacity battery, but that could be achieved through better battery quality or a larger physical size. A more efficient S-series system-on-chip could provide longer battery life, too.

Unfortunately, Kuo didn't elaborate on what he meant by “enhanced health sensors." We know that Apple is big into health tracking with the Apple Watch, but without more information, the vague description gives us no idea of what to expect. 

Plausible? All of these things make sense. Apple is leaning hard into heath and fitness, and Apple Watch is its best expression of that. After several years, it's time for a better heartrate sensor and Apple has been said to be working on noninvasive continuous glucose monitoring. A new chip fabrication process could improve battery life. And there's enough bezel around the display in an Apple Watch to make the display area 15% larger without actually changing the case size or shape, so all our watch bands will still work.

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