Bloomberg last week reported that Apple is planning to launch an LTE version of the Apple Watch last year. John Gruber then suggested that a new form factor was also in the works – though he later added a sentence somewhat walking back the idea.
That tidbit came from an unconfirmed little birdie, though, so I wouldn’t bet the house on it.
But assuming there is actually a new form factor on the way, the natural assumption would be that it would be that we’re discussing the same model. A new top-of-the-range Watch with both LTE functionality and a new design. That is the most likely bet, but I could see a second possibility here …
Mobile data uses more power than Bluetooth Low Energy. Unless Apple is willing to reduce the usable battery-life of the Watch – which some already consider borderline – it must have found some way to make the LTE model eek out its power. This could be more energy-efficient components or, perhaps more likely, a more efficient battery.
So let’s imagine the LTE version keeps the same form factor and offers the same battery-life. If Apple introduced the same power-saving functionality to a non-LTE version it would then be able to do one of two things.
Option one would be to offer better battery life. This would please those who find the battery life too short.
Option two would be to reduce the size of the battery and make the watch thinner. This would please those who find the watch too thick, and perhaps increase its appeal to those who haven’t yet bought for that reason.
Given Apple’s historical prioritization of slimness over battery-life, my money would be on option 2.
The argument against this whole idea, of course, is that the flagship Watch – the one with the greatest functionality – wouldn’t offer the same slim design as a cheaper one. But I’d argue there’s precedent here: the iPhone 7 Plus.
If you want the the best features available in today’s iPhones, you need the 7 Plus with the Portrait Mode made possible by the dual-camera setup. But the price you pay for that – beyond the extra $100 – is a less portable device. More trivially, MacBook Pro models are less portable than the less powerful 12-inch MacBook. So it’s not like it’s unheard of to offer a choice between the smallest possible form factor and the best functionality.
There’s also the fact that I see the LTE model as a bit of a niche product. Who actually benefits from a Watch that can operate without an iPhone in range? You could argue people who don’t own an iPhone, but I don’t really see that – if you’re dipping a toe into the Apple waters, you’d almost certainly get an iPhone before a Watch.
Who goes out wearing their Apple Watch but without their iPhone? To me, only two situations spring immediately to mind. Joggers, who would appreciate having an emergency means of contact without having to carry a phone, and maybe gym users who don’t want to carry a phone from device to device. Everyone else is going to have their iPhone in their pocket or purse.
Maybe there are other occasions when it would be handy, but given that an LTE Watch is going to either require a separate data contract or an add-on device fee of maybe $10/month, I’d say you need a good reason to want one.
So I could see the LTE Apple Watch as the sports product, while a slimmer non-LTE one is the more fashion-focused everyday product.
What do you think? Does the idea of a slimmer Apple Watch Series 3 and a separate sports-focused LTE Apple Watch make sense? Do you think the top-end features have to go with the top-end design? Or will there be no new form factor at all? As ever, please share your thoughts in the comments.