Every 5 to 10 years, Apple makes a decision it knows will upset a lot of people, and generates a lot of negative PR – but the company also knows that the fuss generally dies down, and everyone then forgets all about it. It looks like the Apple Watch X is set to be the next example.
Mark Gurman reported over the weekend that while this year’s Apple Watch upgrade will be the usual modest annual bump, we can expect a major redesign in 2024 or 2025 – with the name suggesting as big an update as from the iPhone 7 to iPhone X …
Apple’s history of upsetting people
Probably the oldest example was selling people an exceedingly expensive LISA computer in 1983, only to quickly replace it with the much more affordable and compact Macintosh a year later. The LISA was effectively obsoleted, and literally buried.
Apple’s switch from the iPhone’s 30-pin connector to the then-new Lightning port was incredibly controversial at the time. Many people pointed out that they had invested heavily in the 30-pin connector, with devices ranging from charging docks to expensive speaker systems, and those devices were going to be rendered useless by the shiny new iPhone 5.
There was similar outrage when Apple decided to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone, as of the iPhone 7. Some were upset at the fact that wireless audio couldn’t match the quality of a wired connection, but the issue for more people was that Apple had effectively rendered their expensive wired headphones obsolete for mobile use.
Next up was Apple going all-in on USB-C for the MacBook Pro – though the company was eventually forced to backtrack on that one, later reintroducing some older ports, as well as a new version of MagSafe.
This year, of course, the Lightning port will be replaced by a USB-C port in the iPhone 15 lineup, with people already grumbling about the expense of having to replace cables and charging docks.
And now it looks like the next example will be the loss of band compatibility with the upcoming launch of an Apple Watch X …
The Apple Watch X
Gurman’s report over the weekend suggested that we can expect a major redesign of the Apple Watch in either 2024 or 2025, with the new model referred to as the Apple Watch X.
Apple is planning a “Watch X” model to mark the device’s 10-year anniversary, and it promises to be the biggest overhaul yet.
Gurman doesn’t have many details, but did note that it is likely to be significantly thinner than current models. However, the X model branding was last used by Apple when it replaced the iPhone 7 line-up with the iPhone X – which represented a dramatic redesign.
So far, so good – but then there’s the bit likely to upset a lot of people:
Apple designers are working on a thinner watch case and have explored changing the way bands are attached to the device […] the company has explored a new magnetic band attachment system.
Gurman does hedge his bets, saying it’s not certain that this will be part of the redesign, and it does seem to fit.
Starting with the original Apple Watch, bands have slid into the sides of the chassis and attached with a locking mechanism. Keeping that design the same let the bands stay compatible with old and new models, but it has downsides. People involved in the development of new Apple Watches say the system takes up a considerable amount of space that could be better filled with a bigger battery or other components.
Or – more likely, for Apple – significantly reduced the depth of the watch.
The loss of band compatibility would be a big deal
When Apple first launched the Apple Watch, it pitched it as a fashion product as much as a tech one. The company hired a number of big names from the fashion business prior to launch, and invited the fashion press to the event itself.
The solid gold Edition model was, of course, a big flop, and was rapidly abandoned. But there’s no doubt that Apple did succeed in creating a fashion product, and the wide range of Apple Watch bands played a key role.
Swapping out bands is an easy way to change up the look of the Watch, and some have gone as far as having a whole collection of bands they use to coordinate with different outfits.
And bands aren’t cheap! The Hermès range runs as high as $539 each, the Space Black Link Bracelet comes in at $449, and there’s a wide range of bands coming in at $99+. Fashion-forward types could easily have four figures invested in even a modest number of bands, and there will be those whose outlay is significantly higher.
But even for more everyday Apple Watch owners, it’s not unusual to have three or four bands totaling $400-$500.
Having to discard those in order to upgrade to a new model is going to be rather painful.
But it’s also inevitable
The Apple Watch hasn’t really matched the pace of development of some product categories. We’ve seen some modest design improvements, and some worthwhile but still unspectacular new features, but most people hang onto their Watches for quite some years.
If Apple wants to persuade a lot of Watch owners to upgrade, as well as make switching more appealing to owners of competing smartwatch brands, it needs to come up with something compelling.
My colleague Zac Hall argued that the then-rumored Apple Watch Ultra would effectively do this job, which proved true for some but not all.
It’s hard to imagine anything quite as revolutionary as the change from the iPhone 8 to the iPhone X – but a substantially slimmer device would probably be key. Given that battery-life is currently adequate rather than generous, the only realistic way to make a notably slimmer Apple Watch is to claim the space from elsewhere.
Things are very tightly packed inside, so you only have to look at an Apple Watch side on to see that the slots for the band lugs is the most obvious opportunity to recover space.
Extend the battery out into that space, and you can make it a lot slimmer without losing capacity.
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I'd actually to know how many people buy real Apple Watch band vs 3rd party ones. The only Apple I have is the one that came with it. The rest are from Amazon that are significantly cheaper and work great. I think the most expensive one I have cost $15.
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So Apple will do what it (almost) always does in these situations: make the change anyway, ride out the storm, and wait for people to forget that things were any other way.
Would you upgrade anyway?
As for me personally, I still adore my ceramic Series 5, and nothing since has tempted me to swap it out for a newer model. A notably slimmer model would be tempting for sure; a notably slimmer ceramic model irresistible.
While I have in the past swapped out bands regularly, to change up the look, the white Solo Loop (a color Apple no longer sells!) has been the only one I’ve ever worn with this watch, because in my eyes the all-white look is unbeatable.
How about you? Could a slimmer Apple Watch X persuade you to upgrade, even if it meant losing compatibility with all your existing bands? Please take our poll, and share your thoughts in the comments.
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