On August 18, Bloomberg carried a report that Apple has hit roadblocks in making major changes to its next-gen watch, the Apple Watch 2. In particular, plans to bake cellular connectivity into the watch were shelved — the idea was to ensure the upcoming watch could pull off a few cool tricks even when it was not tethered to the phone.
And therein lies the biggest problem with smartwatches — without the phone, most are just glorified watches. Though with the recent crop, manufacturers have tried to tackle this limitation — and come up with a good answer to that existential question, “What is a smartwatch for?” — with watches like the Samsung Gear S, where you can plug in a SIM card and use the device as a stand-alone phone. Or use it as a music player and a fitness tracker.
In fact, fitness is a key focus for the current Apple Watch. It uses four sensors to measure your heart rate, while an onboard accelerometer tracks movement. As a Wall Street Journal report from February 2015 notes, Apple is gunning after the highly lucrative health-care industry and wants the Apple Watch to become a “doctor on your wrist”. So expect the Watch 2 to boast of even more sensors, while Apple will hype up the health-related features and the deeper integration with HealthKit. Besides, when Apple’s formidable marketing team has done its job, you will surely see more than a few doctors sporting the Watch 2!
Meanwhile, Wearable.com expects the new watch will solve a “major grumble” from current owners, by adding a GPS chip and morphing into a “more serious running mate”. Apple might also ramp up the IPX7 ratings and make the follow-up more waterproof. Battery life and performance are likely to go up, largely due to the latest chipset fabrication processes. And yes, the display might be overhauled. Wearable.com quotes Apple analysts Stefan Svartling as saying, “The display on the Apple Watch is terrible and is practically useless in direct sunlight. Apple needs to give it a better display.” That could come in the form of a MicroLED screen made by LuxVue Technology, a display tech company Apple acquired in 2014.
But will these changes be enough to make the second version a bigger hit than Apple’s debut watch? Well, the current Apple Watch has been on a bit of a roller-coaster ride — this Forbes report from February 2016 refers to Canalys’ estimates that Apple shipped 12 million smartwatches in 2015, grabbing two-thirds of the total smartwatches market. But fast-forward to July 2016, and you come across news from IDC that Apple Watch shipments dropped 55 per cent, dragging down the entire smartwatches market with it. An IDC analyst, Jitesh Ubrani, explains, “Consumers have held off on smartwatch purchases since early 2016 in anticipation of a hardware refresh, and improvements in WatchOS are not expected until later this year, effectively stalling existing Apple Watch sales.”
So if Apple wants to see smartwatch sales zip up again, the Watch 2 will need to be a lot more than just a refined update to its predecessor. It would be nice if it could also do the dishes and take out the garbage.