Updating an Apple Watch Series 3 is a nightmare in 2021

a hand holding a remote control: Apple Watch © Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge Apple Watch

The 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, an $80 savings compared to the more recent Apple Watch SE. Only, as I’ve recently learned, “still selling” and “supporting in a reasonable manner” are two very different things, and updating an Apple Watch Series 3 in 2021 is a nightmare of infuriating technological hoops to jump through.

Normally, 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 slow process of the update transferring and installing to your smartwatch.

But the non-cellular Apple Watch Series 3 has a tiny 8GB of internal storage, a fair chunk 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 — goes something like this:

  1. Unpair and wipe your Apple Watch to factory settings
  2. Set up the Apple Watch again and restore from backup
  3. Realize you weren’t supposed to restore from your backup yet
  4. Watch an episode or two of Brooklyn Nine-Nine while you wait for the backup to finish restoring
  5. Start from step one again — but as a brand-new Apple Watch, without restoring from an existing backup
  6. Update completely fresh Apple Watch, which now has enough free memory to update
  7. Consider how much you actually want to use this face unlocking feature everyone keeps hyping up in the first place
  8. Unpair and wipe the Apple Watch a third time
  9. Restore from your backup and finally use normally

And the issue seems to apply whether you’ve installed a pile of apps or not. Apple’s support website doesn’t even recommend that Series 3 owners bother trying to clear up space — it just advocates that they go straight to the aforementioned reset cycle.

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Updating an Apple Watch Series 3 is a nightmare in 2021