Want to take a look at the Apple Watch Series 9? Look no further than Ultra • CableFree TV

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

With the Ultra, Apple took a page from a now-familiar book on how to expand the appeal of its mobile devices and applied it to its line of watches:

  • Step 1: Implement a solid but not yet fully implemented version 1.0.
  • Step 2: Refine, Refine, Refine.
  • Step 3: Make a “professional” version.

The Ultra is the first truly new variant of the Apple Watch since the first was introduced in 2015, and it takes the place of the “pro”. (I don’t count the SE because it’s basically some old parts redesigned to fill a lower price point.) But the Ultra won’t be the last. How do we know this? Apple playbook does not end at step 3:

  • Step 4: Let some “professional” features trickle down.

Apple did it with the iPhone – two cameras for all! – and iPad Air – pencil support! — but that didn’t happen with the Watch. Before Ultra, when each new series was introduced, the only thing that distinguished each of the new models was their materials. In a new market, this strategy can work well because there is a lot of room for maneuver. But the smartwatch market is far from new right now, and Apple needs a more segmented strategy.

Enter Ultra, Apple’s first attempt at segmenting the market based on features. Some may like its updated GPS or sports features, but the real attraction is the stylish titanium body, large battery, and international orange action button.

Not all of the new Ultra features will make it to lower markets, but I’m guessing the Action button will. Its usefulness and potential are undeniable, as my colleagues Brian and Kirsten found in their review. First, athletes love watches with buttons—whether you’re running, biking, or cross-country skiing, nothing beats a physical interface. Want to start logging a run? You can set up a button to start a running workout. Then, during your workout, you can record a lap with subsequent taps.

As developers begin to explore the action button and develop new uses for it, its appeal outside of endurance sports will almost certainly grow. At the moment, users cannot configure an additional action depending on the application. But if Brian and Kirsten’s wish comes true, things could change.

Since Apple has been hard at work making the watch sportier, the first non-Ultra with an action button is likely to be an aluminum model, as stainless steel is too heavy for a sports-focused watch. The case will likely be redesigned to differentiate it from both the Ultra and regular Apple Watches. It will probably be thinner, more like Timex Ironman compared to G-Shock on Ultra. The extra size will give the new model a battery life advantage over conventional models. After all, that’s how Apple improved the Ultra’s battery life – it was able to cram a larger battery into a larger chassis (49mm vs. 45mm).

Big clocks are certainly not for everyone. That’s why the smaller 41mm (40mm on the SE) still exists. But for outdoor fitness enthusiasts, big watches have become commonplace because they come with extra sensors, bright displays, and long battery life—a compromise that many people with small wrists have accepted.

Together, these new features could give another boost to the Apple Watch lineup. The Ultra stole the show this year, dwarfing the Series 8’s (and iPhone 14’s) worthy but expected upgrades. The Apple Watch, rich in new features, is likely to attract significant attention and sales.

Perhaps with these changes Apple will even bring back the “Sports” moniker, a name that goes back to the original aluminum Apple Watch. In the world of watches, history matters, and after seven years in the Apple Watch market, there is finally something to learn. It also aligns with Apple’s current naming conventions, which are simple and convey product qualities. “Air” is thin and light, “Pro” is faster and sleeker, “Ultra” is extreme. The “Sport” will be, well, sporty, and it will pair well with an aluminum model designed for athletes.

These athletes will not necessarily be those who are served by Ultra. They are more likely to run half marathons than full marathons by doing day hikes rather than hikes. Extremely healthy, but not necessarily extreme in the sport they play. They may also want some Ultra features at no extra cost. Is titanium worth the premium over aluminum? For some people, yes. But for the vast majority, no.

With the return of the Sport to the lineup, Apple may continue to sell regular aluminum and stainless steel models alongside it. Compared to the extroverted Ultra and Sport models, the company can position them as sophisticated and dressy versions. If the action button catches on – and I’m guessing it will – they’ll eventually get it too, but without the bright accent color.

What would that leave for the Apple Watch lineup? If we ignored inflation, it might look like this:

  • Apple Watch SE – $199 (GPS only), $249 (GPS and cellular)
  • Apple Watch (Aluminum) – $299 (GPS), $399 (GPS & Cellular)
  • Apple Watch Sport – $499 (GPS and Cellular)
  • Apple Watch (stainless steel) – $699 (GPS and Cellular)
  • Apple Watch Ultra – $899 (GPS and Cellular)

Apple will keep the Ultra as its flagship. Its large size and extroverted stripes will help it stand out (literally and figuratively) just like the iPhone Pro Max. The larger body will give Apple a chance to experiment with new sensors that might otherwise draw too much power or take up too much space to work in conventional models, at least initially. As the company refines the design of these sensors and manufacturing processes, some of them are likely to appear as well.

Apple has found a solid textbook that it uses to expand its offerings in every market segment it competes in, and there’s no reason to think it won’t do the same for watches. Now that Apple has figured out how to market a watch—a fitness device first and a communications device second—it has every chance of breaking into new niches in this category. The return of the Sport as a more affordable Ultra model could help it conquer another segment of the watch market.

Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org

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