Beyond the fanfare of the iPhone X, the quiet star of Apple’s Special Event may have been the latest Apple Watch update

Apple Watch has been steadily growing in prominence since it first launched two years ago, and Tim Cook was all too happy to reveal this week that it has just overtaken Rolex as the most popular watch brand in the world.

It’s amazing that Apple has reached that milestone without adding something they wanted to include from the start. Technical and spatial limitations have now been overcome, though, and the Apple Watch Series 3 has finally become the device critics have been asking for. So what’s the big breakthrough?

Built-in cellular

This is the big one. Apple Watch S3 has its very own cellular connection, which allows it to perform a lot more tasks without an iPhone nearby. Previously, users would need to stay tethered to their phones via Bluetooth in order to take calls or send messages on the Apple Watch. Not anymore.

Now users can leave their iPhones behind to go for a jog, run some errands, or hit the beach – safe in the knowledge they won’t miss a thing. Calls, messages, directions, Siri – all that stuff is now possible without relying on an iPhone being nearby. On top of that, a consistent cellular connection should do wonders for the load speeds of apps that require a data connection.

It’s the same size

Apple’s engineers have managed to cram a cellular connection, virtual SIM card, and a powerful new dual-core processor into a device the same size as the previous models. Competing smart watches with similar features tend to be pretty bulky, so it’s impressive that the S3 can fit all of this in such a small casing.

As ever there are plenty more bands and finishes to choose from this time, including ceramic gray and fancy new designs from Hermes. If you’re planning to upgrade, make sure to look through all the personalization options!

Music streaming

As noted at the reveal presentation, combining the new cellular connection with Apple’s wireless AirPods and Apple Music makes for a great iPhone-free music streaming experience. It might be a small cross-section of users who have all three of the above, but those who really buy into Apple’s ecosystem are in for a treat.

We imagine it’ll be especially useful for people who hit the gym or go running a lot to be able to leave their iPhones behind and still access over 40 million songs.

Activity improvements

Speaking of the gym, you can now simply tap the Apple Watch to many workout machines to sync your metrics. Elsewhere, the heart rate tracking capabilities are a lot more detailed than before and Apple is introducing new heart study in partnership with Stanford Medical to better understand and detect the irregular heart rhythms that can sometimes lead to a stroke.

watchOS 4 brings some improvements to the popular Activities and Workout apps, and the good news for anyone who doesn’t fancy splashing out on a brand new watch is that all existing models are compatible with the new software – they’ll just need to update when it’s revealed on September 19.

Price and availability

The standard Apple Watch S3 starts at $329/£329, while the cellular version starts at $399/£399. Last year’s S2 model is no more, but the original S1 remains as a budget option at $249/£249.

As ever, all models vary in price and can get pretty expensive once you start looking at the different finishes and watch bands. Apple Watch S3 is already available for pre-order, and will start shipping from September 22.