Two months after the initial launch of the Apple Watch, and only a day following the device’s debut at Apple Stores, sources have revealed Apple’s intentions for the 2016 release of a second-generation model. According to multiple sources familiar with Apple’s plans, the Apple Watch 2 is set to gain a video camera, a new wireless system for greater iPhone independence, and new premium-priced models. Interestingly, it will also feature similar battery life to its predecessor…
FaceTime Video Camera
Apple’s current plans call for a video camera to be integrated into the top bezel of the Apple Watch 2, enabling users to make and receive FaceTime calls on the move via their wrists. The company telegraphed its interest in increasing Apple Watch FaceTime functionality during the rollout of watchOS 2.0 at the Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this month. For the first time, the new software allows users to answer FaceTime Audio calls from the Apple Watch, as well as route FaceTime video calls to either be answered on an iPhone or rejected.
More iPhone Independence
Under an initiative internally called “tether-less,” Apple plans for the second-generation Watch to have more functionality when used independently from an iPhone. Currently, the Apple Watch’s activity tracking, mobile payment, and music playback functionality work substantially without a connected iPhone, but many other features that could normally function solely under a Wi-Fi connection do not function completely, including text messaging, emailing, and receiving updated weather data.
In order to make the next-generation Apple Watch more capable without a connected iPhone, Apple intends to integrate a new and more dynamic wireless chipset into the wearable. Although the Apple Watch 2 will likely continue to require an iPhone for heavy data transfers, including software upgrades and the synchronization of media files, basic communication tasks could be handled without iPhone assistance. The new Wi-Fi chip will also enable the Find my Watch feature we reported on earlier this year, as Apple will be able to track Apple Watches using Wi-Fi router triangulation technology instead of GPS.
While Apple and consumers were both concerned about the Apple Watch’s real-world battery life prior to the product’s April release, Apple has conducted market research since then, and has concluded that the majority of current customers are satisfied with charging their Apple Watches nightly. According to a source, Apple’s research indicates that average consumers finish each day with between 30% and 40% charge remaining on their Apple Watches, enabling the company’s engineers to change their hardware priorities for future Apple Watch models.
While Apple might otherwise have considered focusing on major battery life improvements for the next Apple Watch, it now believes that it can satisfy customers by keeping, or slightly improving, the existing battery life while adding more advanced hardware features. Indeed, Apple’s addition of a Nightstand charging mode to the Apple Watch (rather than, say, sleep tracking) implies that the nightly charging requirement will not be going away in the near term. This strategy would follow Apple’s annual iPad hardware strategy, which has brought new features to the product annually without shifting away from the 2010 promise of 10 hour battery life.
Apple is currently exploring a wider portfolio of Apple Watch models beyond today’s Sport, Steel, and Edition tiers. Interestingly, the company is said to be focusing on introducing new models that will sit between the highest-end stainless steel Apple Watch and the entry-level 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition. The company is looking at ways to attract customers at price points between $1,000 and $10,000, but it is unclear if this will result in lower-priced gold Apple Watch variations, higher-priced steel models with more advanced bands, or versions with new materials. It is possible that Apple could introduce Apple Watch 2 variations made with titanium, tungsten, palladium, or as has been previously suggested, platinum.
While minor hardware upgrades for this holiday season have been hinted at in analyst reports over the past several months, it is most likely that Apple will wait until 2016 to release a full next-generation Apple Watch device. Sources did warn that Apple prototypes several variations of future hardware products before release, so the plans for a camera-equipped model could ultimately be saved for another generation either due to roadmap changes or component availability. To hold off Apple Watch customers until a new model, Apple will release watchOS 2.0 this fall with new Nightstand functionality, a trio of new watch faces, improved email functionality, and new “Digital Touch” messaging features.