The Apple Watch Series 3 was first released in September 2017, bringing fitness improvements and a faster processor. Almost four years later, in 2021, Apple is still selling Series 3 as an entry-level Apple Watch model starting at $ 199, a savings of $ 80 over the more recent Apple Watch SE. Only, as I’ve recently learned, “always sell” and “reasonably support” are two very different things, and updating an Apple Watch Series 3 in 2021 is a nightmare of maddening technological hurdles to overcome. .
Normally, updating an Apple Watch is an extremely long but straightforward process: you charge your watch up to 50%, plug it in, and wait for the slow process of transferring and installing the update on your smartwatch. .
But the non-cellular Apple Watch Series 3 has a tiny 8GB of internal storage, much of which is taken up by the operating system and other critical software. So installing a major update – like the recently released watchOS 7.4 – looks like this:
- Unpair and reset your Apple Watch to factory settings
- Set up Apple Watch again and restore from a backup
- Realize you weren’t supposed to restore from your backup yet
- Watch an episode or two of Brooklyn nine-nine while you wait for the backup restore to complete
- Start over from step one – but as a brand new Apple Watch, without restoring from an existing backup
- Update completely fresh Apple Watch, which now has enough free memory for the update
- Consider how much you really want to use this face unlock feature, everyone keep advertising in the first place
- Unpair and wipe Apple Watch a third time
- Restore from your backup and finally use normally
And the problem seems to apply whether you have installed an app stack or not. Apple’s support website doesn’t even recommend Series 3 owners to try to free up space – it just advocates going straight to the aforementioned reset cycle.
It is clear that the current process is untenable.
I’m a writer for a tech news site and I’m willing to devote some comedic time and energy to dealing with this, frustrating as that may be. But if you’re a more casual user – the same one who is likely to own an older, outdated watch in the first place – why the hell would you bother with the worst update mechanism since GE’s instructions for resetting a smart bulb.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 newly released watchOS 7.4.1, for example, fixes a critical security flaw. But since it’s so difficult to install, there’s a good chance that many 3-Series owners don’t care.
I know Apple loves to claim support for as many older generations of hardware as possible with each new update. This is one of the biggest draws of Apple products, compared to the lackluster pace of updates on competing Android phones (like the barely obsolete Galaxy S8).
But the Series 3’s miserable update process is a strong argument that Apple is a little too generous with what it considers “current” hardware. Keeping the Series 3 for this long has always been a cash grab, a way for Apple to dump old inventory and take advantage of mature manufacturing processes that have long failed in order 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 only costs $ 30 less than the all-new 4K model. (Just like Series 3, don’t buy a new Apple TV HD in 2021 either.)
But hopefully, with the announcement of watchOS 8 almost certainly looming at WWDC in June, the company is considering the core functionality of its hardware when considering what it’s doing and not offering support. Because if Apple is to insist on selling such an old product in the future, it will have to be a lot more aware of how it actually handles its software support.