Now that Android Wear 2.0 is hitting wrists in an array of smartwatches, the Apple Watch sticks out in a sea of increasingly masculine, analog-informed designs. It stands alone as an iPhone-dependent piece of wrist tech with a distinctly 21st-century look. While the wearable certainly has its merits, we think the Apple Watch is begging for a few key updates.
LTE connectivity – or at least less dependency on the iPhone
Despite the consideration of a slightly increased monthly data bill, it seems the time is right to at least offer an LTE option for the Apple Watch, which so far has been Wi-Fi/Bluetooth-connected exclusively.
With cellular connectivity, smartwatches become standalone devices that you can use completely independently from your phone and Wi-Fi network. This could be very appealing to those who think it's overkill to sport both a smartwatch on the wrist and a smartphone in the pocket.
Since the introduction of Android Wear 2.0, which introduced several features to untether watches from phones, Apple's competitors have a few advantages in this department.
Perhaps most noticeably, Android Wear 2.0 includes an on-watch version of the Google Play Store. We'd appreciate seeing a similar on-watch approach to the App Store. The current method of adding new apps to the Apple Watch – downloading them on your phone, then syncing the phone and watch together – is a bit of a chore. While we're no strangers to screen time, there's something unpleasant and backwards-feeling about needing two devices to make basic Apple Watch updates.
Add an altimeter
The Apple Watch does not have an altimeter, which measures altitude. This sensor may be near-useless to some, but for those who use their smartwatch to map outdoor workouts, it could seem like a glaring omission (especially in the Nike+ running-centric variant of the Apple Watch). It's a necessary bit of tech if you want to quantify the changes in elevation that you've run, biked or hiked.
It's no secret that many smartwatch owners rely on the devices for the fitness-tracking functions, so it would be nice to count on your Apple Watch to record those hard-fought hills.
Furthermore, Apple seems well on its way to elevating the watch's fitness-tracking capabilities into proactive health management and diagnosis tools, according to reports from Bloomberg and reputable analyst Ming-Chi-Kuo via Apple Insider. This would require improvements to both its HealthKit framework and the watch's biometric sensors. The latest Apple Watch is already equipped with a heart-rate sensor and built-in GPS, but it doesn't offer much in the way of proactive data interpretation.
Which rumored advances could we possibly see? The ability to gauge fitness levels by tracking how quickly heart rate rises and falls during and after activity, as well as a built-in sleep analysis app (right now, sleep analysis requires a third-party app).
The Apple Watch is one of the few smartwatches that doesn't offer the "dumb watch" function of viewing time at a glance. While there is a raise-to-wake feature on the Apple Watch that wakes the display when you twist your wrist, it's imperfect and can be distracting.
We'd like to see an always-on display option for when we don't want to constantly wake the watch. After all, the Apple Watch already uses an OLED display, which can support this feature better than other types of display tech.
An updated form factor
We do appreciate that the Apple Watch is offered in two sizes, and that both are fairly streamlined as far as smartwatches go. We hope that Apple sticks with this compact take.
Many of the smaller-wristed, bulk-averse amongst us are disappointed to see that so many well-equipped competitors (like the Samsung Gear S3, LG Watch Sport and Huawei Watch 2) are considerable chunks of gear. We're in no rush to shave millimeters off of already razor-thin smartphones or laptops, but it seems well worth it when it comes to wearables.
The watch case itself would benefit from a design update as well. With its rounded rectangle aluminum frame, curved-edge glass display and minimal chassis, the Apple Watch is a distinctly Apple device – and that's a good thing. The problem is that is looks like an old Apple device, like a chunk from an early iPhone.
Aesthetic updates could take many forms, but we wouldn't mind if they just mimicked basic trends in the rest of the Apple lineup, like thinned-out bezels and larger displays while growing increasingly flat and light. We doubt that Apple will depart from the watch's distinctive rectangular shape, but we would not complain if it made the unlikely leap to a round display, either.
Long shots: Android compatibility, longer lasting battery, a killer app
There are some perks we'd appreciate but don't expect to see. We'd like it if the Apple Watch could pair with Android phones, for instance, but we doubt that Cupertino would grant this concession to let non-Apple devices into its walled courtyard.
We'd also like to see battery life extended to edge out 24 hours – that would make it easier to take advantage of the Apple Watch's sleep tracking and haptic alarm clock features. Right now, it maxes out around 18 hours, and night is often the most convenient time to charge it. However, we realize that's unlikely in light of higher-priority updates.
Lastly, smartwatches aren't flying off the shelves as some people expected them to when they first arrived on the scene. Why not? We suspect, among other reasons, that it's because smartwatches have no "killer app" – there are very few experiences that are more compelling on a watch than on the other devices we already own.
For now, it seems that their most compelling functions are to be notification delivery machines or fitness trackers. The latter is important if you receive many high-priority notifications, but otherwise, it can represent the worst part of the connected age with little of its merits. You're constantly being distracted from the world around you, but your watch doesn't always offer a way to react meaningfully.
We realize asking developers for a revolutionary new smartwatch app is a moonshot – we can't even offer any suggestions, apart from incremental improvements to the app library already available. Nevertheless, there's no doubt that groundbreaking watchOS software or dynamic new app content would give the Apple Watch a significant boost over its competitors.
While we do not expect the Apple Watch Series 3 (or its equivalent) to be released any time soon, Apple patterns do indicate that the next iteration of the watch could include more significant updates than previous generations. Historically, Apple makes appreciable changes to its devices every fourth or fifth generation, and we've already seen the original Apple Watch plus the Apple Watch Series 1 and Series 2. The next in the lineup could be a major departure from its predecessors.