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News for nerds

After over a year of rumors, Apple has finally announced the Apple Watch Ultra — a rugged, premium smartwatch that now sits atop Apple’s smartwatch lineup. The watch introduces a new design with a bigger display as well as a new design for exploration and outdoor activities.

There’s a new button guard on the side, with a 49mm titanium case, redesigned digital crown, and a new Action button. The Action button can be customized for various purposes, including workouts, compass waypoints, and a new backtrack feature. The display has sapphire crystal as well as 2,000 nits of brightness. The buttons and crowns are also designed to work with gloves, which is a big concern for outdoor athletes. There are three built-in microphones to improve sound quality as well as reduce ambient noise like wind.

The Ultra watch has cellular capability and should get up to 36 hours on a single charge. It also has an extended battery life of 60 hours when using a new low-power setting. That mode still allows you to measure heart rate and GPS. Apple says that the Ultra has enough battery life for most users to complete a long-course triathlon, which involves a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a full 26.2-mile marathon.

The Ultra also has improved multiband GPS, which includes the new L5 frequency. It’s something you only see on fitness watches like Garmins and Coros these days. It also has a trackback feature, which helps you retrace your steps in case you accidentally go off the grid. There’s a new Compass app in watchOS 9, which adds Compass Waypoints so you can mark points of interest on a map. Meanwhile, for triathletes, the Action button also lets you transition from one leg of a race to the next (i.e., switching from swimming to running). There’ll also be auto-detect for when athletes arrive at tracks later this year. And it has an 86-decibel siren to help others locate you.

For water sports, it can handle kiteboarding and has WR 100 water resistance. It automatically launches a new depth app when you’re underwater to show time, depth, and temperature. It’s also certified to EN 13319 for scuba divers, with a diving depth of up to 40m. It also has a new Oceanic Plus app for recreational and scuba divers.

There are also three new bands: Alpine, Trail, and Ocean. They cater to different environments and are meant to endure “long runs, hard falls, and rippling currents.” The Trail loop is designed for runners and is made of a lightweight textile with a tab to help adjust fit easily. The Alpine Loop has two layers made of high-strength yarn to provide adjustability and security via a G-hook fastener. Meanwhile, the Ocean band is designed for water sports since it stretches and uses tubular geometry for a better fit.

The Apple Watch Ultra marks a new chapter in Apple’s smartwatch journey. So far, Apple Watches have been more general use devices with great connectivity, smart features, and advanced health alerts. But the Ultra is an explicitly fitness-first device that’s meant to compete with the likes of Garmin and Polar.

It also comes at a time when the Android landscape is shifting — Google is launching its first-ever smartwatch, Samsung also just came out with a pro watch, and certain Wear OS 2 watches are slated for an upgrade to Wear OS 3 this fall. When you consider that, it feels like kismet that Apple is also embarking on something new in the wearables space now.

The Apple Watch Ultra will be available starting September 23rd for $799.