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The Apple Watch Series 3’s fourth birthday is just around the corner. If you were like me and were enticed by its sports tracking capabilities and deep integration with the iPhone, you may be surprised to see that Apple is still selling that very watch alongside the budget-focused, yet slightly more expensive, Apple Watch SE.

What isn’t surprising is Apple’s commitment to provide software and security updates to their devices – the almost 8-year-old iPhone 5s received a security update earlier this year. But I didn’t expect the process of updating this watch to be so painful, requiring a lot of jumping through hoops and time to do a simple software update.


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An overview

The Apple Watch Series 3 was available in a few different models upon its initial release, such as the Nike+, Hermès and Edition models. Storage options would vary depending on whether you purchased a cellular or non-cellular version of the watch, with the pricier cellular versions including 16GB storage and the non-cellular version shipping with only 8GB.

Screenshot of Apple Watch Series 3 product page, highlighting storage capacity differences.
The cellular version of the Apple Watch Series 3 featured a higher storage capacity.

If you have a cellular version of the Series 3 it’s probable that you’ve never run into this issue, so you may be wondering “what on earth is he on about?”. However, if you own a non-cellular Series 3 or plan to buy one, the frustrating process of needing to do a specific routine to update the watch is a big turn-off.

The updating issue

With only 8GB storage, the Series 3 does not have a lot of room to play with when it comes to downloading an update, so you’ll likely be told that you do not have enough free space on your Apple Watch to update, this has happened to me multiple times in the last year.

The small 8GB storage capacity means the watch does not have enough free space to update.

At this point, Apple doesn’t even recommend users try to free up existing space on users’ devices and instead just go straight ahead and factory reset the watch to update – which is not at all a fast process.

Apple’s guidance is as follows:

  1. Unpair the Apple Watch from the phone
  2. Choose to set up the Watch as a new device.
  3. Finish setting up the Watch.
  4. “Finally” (Apple’s wording), update the Watch.

But then, if you want to get all your previous settings back, you’ll need to all of this and reset the Watch again to restore it from a backup in the set-up process.

This process can take a couple of hours to see through, particularly if you want to restore your Watch to how it was and unfortunately it can’t be done unattended as you have to be present to do the required steps.

A resolution

If you’re a tech enthusiast like myself, I can see myself sitting through the process to get the update done – if the added features are worth it. But if you’re a general consumer, I can’t see many people that are going to want to dedicate a few hours to ensure their smartwatch is running the latest software version.

I personally love my Apple Watch and use it every day to track my health and fitness, but at this point, I would recommend you steer away from purchasing a Series 3 if you’re a prospective customer and spend £70 extra for the Apple Watch SE or look towards the flagship models. To see Apple selling the still selling Series 3 with 8GB built-in storage is very disappointing considering that they know that the updating process is going to go the way it does, and that experience is not something that I would expect from Apple.

So, what can Apple do about this? We’ll have to wait and see if Apple will continue to support the Apple Watch Series 3 with watchOS 8, but they should be more conscious of how they handle the software updating process, not just providing software updates. I’d like to see if Apple could optimise watchOS updates for Series 3 owners, so the updating process is more seamless and work how it should.

All of this is likely a sign that Apple should wrap it up with the Series 3 and take it off store shelves. At times I have thought about upgrading to a newer model of the Apple Watch just to put this updating issue behind me – and maybe, that’s what Apple wants.

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