Should we wait for Apple Watch 2? Nik Rawlinson looks at Apple’s past and present to estimate what it needs to do in the future.
Numerous early adopters have already got their hands on an Apple Watch, but the sit-back-and-wait brigade, often the most savvy tech buyers, will already be wondering what might arrive with Apple Watch 2.
Apple Watch 2 won’t be that much Smarter
Watch operates by delegating tasks to your iPhone. The latest update to iOS pushed an Apple Watch app onto the iPhone home screen, allowing Watch to offload tasks such as maps and navigation to the device in your pocket.
Thats no bad thing; keeping all of that tech on your wrist would bloat the Watch at a time when every other Apple product is focused on stripping the fat. So it’s difficult to imagine Watch 2 gaining new functions that would cause it to increase in size, or adversely affect its battery life.
It’s likely Watch 2 will offer a similar amount of functionality to the original, because both are a gateway to functionality already offered by the device in your pocket.
Let’s also not forget that Apple’s main business is mobile phones. The iPhone generated 68 per cent of the company’s most recent earnings (Mac sales were up, too, but still earned just one dollar for every seven returned by the iPhone).
Risking that by giving Watch 2 extra features that work independently of iPhone might be reckless.
Don’t expect battery life to increase much
Generally, Apple Watch needs docking once every 18 hours or so. Apple isn’t afraid to re-invent the battery, as the terraced cells in the new MacBook prove, but the effort involved in re-engineering these for the wrist is huge, and could well send the price of the already expensive device skyrocketing. There’s a chance the next Watch will either feature a very minor improvement in battery life, or a sizeable one that represents a huge price jump.
The original vision for Watch was for a device that could monitor heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels based on conductivity of the skin. However the sensors it tested simply weren’t reliable enough.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple Watch became known as a black hole within the company, as it sucked Apple’s resources for four years, as various failures occurred during testing. It instead put a health-focused watch on the back burner, instead opting to create an iPhone companion with integrated pulse monitor and pedometer.
What most of us want from Apple Watch 2 is a device with improved sensors and better functionality, but whether Apple will be able to deliver such a product after years of apparent failure is still up for debate.
Rival Pebble is exploring interchangeable smart straps to satisfy such demands, and the Blocks smartwatch takes the idea one step further with swappable parts, but that doesn’t gel with Apple’s sealed-box aesthetic. Cupertino will want to put those features on the inside.
Size is everything
Apple’s rivals seem all too happy to solve their watch issues by building bigger devices. Samsung’s Tizen-based Gear S looks great, but moving so many components onboard has bulked it up to the point where the Korean colossus can give it a 2-inch display without overhanging the chassis.
We’re not convinced Apple would tread the same path, so its best hope lies in miniaturisation, both to reduce the battery drain and give it some room for those fabled new sensors, something in which it has an impressive track record.
The iPad 1’s system on a chip was built using a 45nm process; four years on and the A8X in the iPad Air 2 is down to 20nm. Details on the S1 chip inside Watch remain sketchy, but Digitimes talks of a 28nm process, with the second generation likely to trim it by 10nm or more.
That should make it more responsive but that points to a Watch 1S rather than Watch 2. To warrant a full-digit rebrand it really needs those extra sensors, especially if it wants to justify the price premium over health bands from Fitbit, Microsoft and others. At launch, Watch will do a good job of step and pulse counting, but it can’t measure fat, muscle or glucose, the latter of which is a rumoured add-on for the Galaxy S6.
These could be must-have features in next-gen devices, with analysts at Swiss Re already predicting that if you’re not wearing a fitness tracker five to 10 years from now you might find it nearly impossible to buy life insurance.
Apple’s biggest dilemma lies not in the hardware, but how the Watch behaves in the wider digital world. If Apple is smart – and it is – it’ll use it to drive further sales of the iPhone, and open Watch to Android Wear, too. This seems unlikely in the short term, but might make good sense in the long term.
Making Watch Android-compatible could well cost Apple some iOS sales, but keeping it within a walled garden might kill the timepiece altogether. Apple went down that road with the iPod, the first of which was Mac-only, perhaps to drive Mac sales, but it wasn’t until it was firmly cross-platform that it captured the public imagination.
Watch is chasing the pack right now. If it’s going to lead, then aside from adding new sensors, Apple needs to do one of two things: work out how it can stand alone or – if the batteries just can’t hack it – open up to rival platforms.