Key TakeawaysRumors point to a ruggedized Apple Watch Explorer Edition later this year.It may be time for Apple to expand the Apple Watch lineup into more specialized models.Hopefully, Apple is done with solid gold Edition models.
Solid gold, sports, dress—what kind of smart watch might Apple make next?
Apple is all set to launch a rugged Apple Watch this year, say reports. That seems like an obvious move. Sports watches are popular not just with sportspersons, but also with people who aspire to outdoorsiness, and with those who just like chunky watches. It's also time for Apple to diversify the Apple Watch lineup.
"Fashion-focused watches are a good choice, though I prefer looking at more practical options," Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review, told Ach5 via email. "I would love to see a watch that takes Apple's proposed "panic attack" monitor and really pushes the idea to create a model of watch that can be used by people who are neurodivergent."
Right now, everyone gets the same Apple Watch, with choices of size, color, and material. Compare that to the iPhone and the Mac, where there are multiple models. And remember the iPod? Apple split that line into all kinds of variants, from the tiny Shuffle and Nano to the iPhone-like Touch.
"Fashion-focused watches are a good choice, though I prefer looking at more practical options."
Apple kind of tried to diversify the Apple Watch lineup early on with a solid gold Edition model that started at $10,000. But that was the exact same Apple Watch as the cheapest model, only with a gold case and bracelet. Digital goods just aren't worth that much (unless you're counting the resale price of the raw gold) because they rely on software, and ever-improved computers inside.
That original gold Apple Watch, launched in 2015, stopped receiving software updates in 2018.
Future differentiation, then, should be based on functionality.
Apple Watch Explorer Edition
The rumored Apple Watch Explorer Edition could be an alternative to smartwatches from Garmin and Casio, and could bring many hardware advantages.
First, it could be much tougher than the regular watch. It could also fit a bigger battery to go for days without charging. And how about better waterproofing? The Apple Watch is fine for swimming, but how about diving? Hardware features like the altimeter and compass could be pushed to the fore, and the unit could have a bigger, more glove-friendly digital crown.
"Apple will have to cover more than the basics here," says Freiberger. "It won't be enough to make the watch durable and able to withstand extreme conditions."
But Apple's biggest advantage is software. Not the Apple Watch's software, which is clunky at best, but Apple's software ecosystem, in which everything syncs. The watch syncs health data to your phone, and receives map instructions and other data. No other manufacturer's watch can ever integrate with your iPhone as well as the Apple Watch, because they're not built by Apple.
Another established watch category is the dress watch, usually something elegant and slim, although sometimes chunky, vulgar, and gold. The problem with making a fancy watch, as we have seen, is that it becomes junk after a few years. Perhaps Apple could push into more colors and finishes. Perhaps there could even be a non-rugged version of the Explorer Edition, kind of like the cheaper Casio G-Shocks.
Norbert Buduczki / Unsplash
It seems unlikely that Apple would make a slimmer dress watch, if only because it's obsessed with making everything as slim and elegant as possible. The way to turn your Apple Watch into a dress watch, then, is to buy a fancy strap. Something like the Milanese loop.
The current Apple Watch has two main purposes: to show notifications from your iPhone, and to track various fitness-related metrics. It can be as simple as counting your steps and reminding you to stand up, and as complex as measuring your maximal oxygen uptake.
Perhaps Apple could make a more fitness-focussed model. This wouldn't need to be rugged, necessarily, but it could have more buttons. These could control all kinds of software features, but the important thing about buttons is you don't have to look at them. You can find and press a button by touch alone, and you can use them when the screen is wet, either from swimming-pool water, or from sweat.
"With iPad, [Apple] found a way to enable you to use it without using the touch screen. They need to do the same with Apple Watch," Graham Bower, developer of fitness app Reps&Sets, told Ach5 via direct message. "So you can start, pause, and end workouts without looking at the screen or even raising your wrist. And you can scroll through metrics during a workout, or mark a segment, without tapping the screen."
Many of these features would be welcome in the standard Apple Watch. It could definitely stand to be thinner, and buttons would definitely be welcome. But by diversifying the product line, Apple could add specialized features, while still letting the plain watch be itself. It's a win-win, and hopefully we'll see the beginnings of such success this year.