Family Affair

Apple targets kids and senior users for its wearables

This week, Apple executives took to the virtual stage to unveil new products, giving the headline slot to the Apple Watch. The continued disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has led Apple to stagger its announcements through a set of online events, so the launch of its new set of iPhones — which normally get star billing at Apple’s autumn events ― will come later. With Watch at centre stage, Apple took the opportunity to announce two new wearables: the Watch Series 6 and Watch SE.

Apple stressed the healthcare-related features of its latest flagship wearable, the Watch Series 6, including a new sensor for measuring blood oxygen levels and improved fitness monitoring. The ability to measure blood oxygen levels lends further weight to the Watch’s claim to act as a complete health guardian; in fact, Apple kicked off the event sharing stories from people who say their lives had been saved by their Watches providing critical early health warnings. Blood oxygen tracking now sits alongside heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking and electrocardiogram (ECG) measurements on the Series 6. This gives the device, which is priced at $399, specifications that are on a par with those of other premium smartwatches like the Samsung Galaxy Watch3 and Fitbit Sense.

The new Watch SE trades features such as ECG measurement and blood oxygen tracking for a more affordable price (from $279). With the Watch Series 6, Watch SE and the continuation of the Watch Series 3 at $199, Apple now offers a clear “good, better, best” tiering structure for its customers, delivering choice at a range of prices.

In many ways, there was a lack of clear improvement to the Watch Series 6, which was a shame as this was the device’s chance to seize the limelight. Yes, there are some new health-tracking features, as well as new colour schemes and watch straps, but there wasn’t a lot of change announced in areas where I’d expected to see real progress, like battery life.

The bigger announcements were arguably software-related offerings. Apple unveiled Fitness+, a new subscription service that dovetails with its new hardware. It promises a “personalized workout experience”, giving users workout videos that they can view on other Apple devices while the Watch tracks their progress. Fitness+ costs $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year, and is part of Apple’s new wider subscription package called Apple One. The company has an extraordinary track record of building recurring revenue from services, and is hoping to attract early demand for Fitness+ by including three-month subscriptions with new Watches.

Apple also announced a Family Setup option that lets users register their Apple Watch to a second phone number, rather than needing a paired iPhone to function. This essentially opens it up as a device for kids and senior users, emerging segments of the market. Family Setup allows users to make and receive calls and messages, and share their location. Apple has clearly learned from other kids’ smartwatches as Family Setup adds controls for parents such as school-time mode and communication limits.

The cheapest way to access Family Setup on a new Apple Watch is to buy the Watch SE connected model, costing $329. I don’t expect to see a huge number of people queueing up to spend this much money on a watch for their children or elderly relatives. But for people who already own a connected Apple Watch, Family Setup could be an incentive to upgrade and hand down their old device to someone else. It could also spark demand for second-hand connected Apple Watch models that support the feature (Series 4 or newer) and even boost the residual values of second-hand cellular-enabled Apple Watches. So far, the market for kids’ and seniors’ watches has failed to take off in most regions beyond China. Family Setup could offer a much-needed shot in the arm, making more customers aware of the device category.

All told, the updates to the Apple Watch family were evidence of a mature device that’s gradually exploring new opportunities. The hardware still isn’t perfect, and there are clear areas I’d like to see improved in future models; battery life is a good example.

However, for many users, the Apple Watch is a trusted health guardian and everyday companion, and new features in health and fitness tracking should help to solidify this position. The fact that Apple is now extending this trusted experience to kids and elderly users is an exciting development, taking the watch in a bold new direction. I’ll be tracking its progress closely.

Our full analysis of Apple’s launch event, including other new products announced, is available to CCS Insight clients here.