Apple Watch Series 3 was first released in September 2017, bringing fitness improvements and a faster processor. Nearly four years later, in 2021, Apple is still selling the Series 3 as its entry-level Apple Watch model, starting at $ 199, which is a $ 80 saving compared to the newer Apple Watch SE. Only as I have recently learned, “still sales” and “support in a reasonable way” are two very different things, and updating an Apple Watch Series 3 in 2021 is a nightmare with outrageous technological hangers to jump through.
Usually, updating an Apple Watch is an annoyingly long but straightforward process: you charge your watch up to 50 percent, plug it in, and wait for the update to download and install slowly to your smartwatch.
But the non-cellular Apple Watch Series 3 has a small 8 GB of internal storage, much of which is occupied by the operating system and other critical software. So installing a major update ̵
- Unpair and dry your Apple Watch to factory settings
- Set up Apple Watch again and restore from backup
- Realize that you should not restore from your backup yet
- Watch an episode or two of Brooklyn Nine-Nine while you wait for the backup to complete the restore
- Start from step one again – but like a brand new Apple Watch without restoring from an existing backup
- Update brand new Apple Watch, which now has enough free memory to update
- Consider how much you actually want to use this face lock feature, everyone stops hyping right away
- Remove the pairing and dry the Apple Watch a third time
- Restore from your backup and finally use normally
And the problem seems to apply whether you have installed a bunch of apps or not. Apple’s support site does not even recommend that Series 3 owners bother to try to tidy up the room – it’s just telling them to go straight to the aforementioned reset cycle.
It is clear that the current process is unsustainable.
I am the editor of a technology news site and willing to spend the comic time and energy to cope with this, frustrating as it may be. But if you’re a more casual user – the same one who probably owns an older, outdated watch in the first place – why on earth would you bother with the worst update mechanism since GE’s instructions for resetting a smart bulb? And it’s important to be able to update your hardware software: the just released watchOS 7.4.1 fixes a critical security flaw, for example. But since it is so difficult to install, there is a good chance that many Series 3 owners will not bother.
I know Apple loves to claim support for as many older hardware generations as possible with each new update. It’s one of the biggest appeals to Apple products compared to the lack of pace of updates on competing Android phones (like the just obsolete Galaxy S8).
But the lousy update process for the Series 3 is a strong argument that Apple is a little too generous with what it considers “current” hardware. Holding the Series 3 for so long has always been a money grab, a way for Apple to clean up old inventories and take advantage of mature manufacturing processes that have long gone straight to appeal to users who really can’t afford the extra $ 80 for the significantly better Apple Watch SE. It’s a similar trend to the inexplicably still on sale Apple TV HD, which is almost six years old and costs only $ 30 less than the brand new 4K model. (Like the Series 3, you should not buy a new Apple TV HD in 2021.)
But hopefully, with the announcement of watchOS 8 almost certainly around the corner at WWDC in June, the company takes into account the basic functionality of its hardware when considering what it does and does not offer support for. Because if Apple wants to insist on selling such an old product in the future, it needs to pay much more attention to how it actually handles its software support.