Home Maybe Apple’s Next Watch Should Do Less, Not More

Maybe Apple’s Next Watch Should Do Less, Not More

Apple supposedly wants to put a FaceTime camera in its next smartwatch, along with more wireless support, 9to5Mac sources say. 

Although its original Apple Watch has only been on the market for a couple of months, the company may have plenty of reason to focus on the next generation device already. Estimates figure sales levels are only approaching 3 million units. (Perhaps tellingly, Apple hasn’t announced official numbers.) 

See also: 11 Things About The Apple Watch That May Surprise You

Apple also supposedly wants to fill the gap between the $1,000 stainless steel model and the $10,000 gold edition. The report claims another premium price tier will fall somewhere above the $1,000 level. There’s a lot of wiggle room between those two points for the company to experiment with different materials. 

If the story pans out, then it would appear that Apple’s push for more features and options could be its way of drumming up more enthusiasm for its watch. However, if that’s the goal, then stuffing potentially battery-draining features into a gadget that already suffers from mediocre battery life may not be the way to go. 

Feature Creep 

When does a watch need to stand alone? (Pictured: Sony Smartwatch 3)

The site’s marquee writer, Mark Gurman, has a track record for delivering solid leaks, so his reports could warrant more attention than most rumors. (Most recently, he leaked several iOS 9 features ahead of their announcement at the last Worldwide Developers Conference.) 

If his sources are correct this time too, then the second-generation Apple Watch will get a camera on its front bezel, as well as more wireless features that could allow for more independence. 

See also: What Developers Have Learned Building Apps For The Apple Watch

Although the watch can do some limited things on its own—like Apple Pay and activity tracking—it requires an iPhone for most functions. Now, the 9to5Mac story explains that “Apple intends to integrate a new and more dynamic wireless chipset into the wearable,” for even more functionality apart from an iPhone. Think checking emails, iMessages, weather forecasts and so on over Wi-Fi. Less need for an iPhone may also set the stage for Android support someday, whether officially or through jailbreaking. 

Smartwatch independence matters most when you don’t want to take your phone with you, while running, cycling and exploring the great outdoors. You could make a case that GPS tracking (recently added to Android Wear) would be much more useful in those scenarios than beefing up Wi-Fi support. 

In any case, increased Wi-Fi usage shouldn’t necessarily hammer the Apple Watch’s power cell too badly—unless it’s often hunting for a network. The signal search can bring even larger devices to their knees. 

The possibility of a FaceTime camera is even more surprising. Samsung already tried putting a camera on a smartwatch with its early Galaxy Gear, and it didn’t go down too well. But the hardware may be less interesting than the premise that Apple would want us video calling from our wrists. 

The first Galaxy Gear smartwatch from Samsung had a goofy, and underwhelming, band-situated camera. 

Consider this: On a color touchscreen device, what really slams the battery is the display. (It’s the reason Pebble chose e-paper screens for its smartwatches.) Holding up your arm long enough for a video chat may be uncomfortable and annoying, but it’s nothing compared to FaceTime drilling holes in your watch’s already meager power bucket. (According to Gurman’s report, watches can end the day with roughly 30% to 40% battery, though with moderate use.)   

Gurman’s source says the new device won’t improve on the first watch’s battery life, despite the changes. But it’s hard to see how that will be possible, given the practical and physical realities of a small device. 

One thing seems clear: If the second Apple Watch can’t improve longevity, then at the very least, it can’t make it worse. Otherwise, version 2 runs a serious risk of flopping when it comes out. 

By The Numbers

No doubt, some people might take advantage of FaceTime on the watch. But in general, the space for that camera component would surely be better used for a larger battery. 

Had the original watch offered longer life, perhaps we wouldn’t see so many unwanted units popping up on Craigslist—though gripes seem to cover more than just battery. Even more could be on the way soon, now that Apple finally carries the wearable on its own store shelves

See also: The Apple Watch Looks Great—But It’s Going To Disappoint Lots Of Users

Apple hasn’t released official sales figures, but consumer market analyst Slice Intelligence puts the total at 2.79 million as of mid-June. 

That seems low, particularly for a company accustomed to high volume launch sales. (Its iPhone 6 phones pulled in 10 million over their first weekend.) Of course, no one, including Apple, expects the watch to come anywhere near iPhone 6 sales. Superficially, the estimate puts the smartwatch roughly on par with the first iPad’s sales back in 2010

That may not be a sign of great things to come. iPad sales have been slumping lately, and for Apple’s long game, a lot more may be riding on the watch. 

As the company’s “most personal” device amid initiatives that seem all-too-personal—from our phones, computers, homes, cars, TVs, health and fitness—Apple needs its watch to become a huge success, as a crucial access point for the whole system. 

Apple may know what its watch is good for, but that doesn’t mean customers do. One of the overarching themes from the past year—for both the Apple Watch and Android wearables—has been that we’re still not sure exactly what to do with this new breed of device. 

Against that backdrop, it’s no surprise to see Apple and others pile on the features. But getting the basics right first would be a better approach in the long run. 

Lead photo and “flower” photo by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite; Apple Watch display photo by Shinya Suzuki; Sony Smartwatch 3 photo courtesy of Sony; Galaxy Gear image courtesy of Samsung

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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