At this point, a rugged “Pro” Apple Watch has been virtually officially confirmed. Not only did we start hearing about this device over a year ago, but the rumor mill has also been gaining momentum lately with new details about specs and potential features. The latest is that the Pro could deliver days of battery life on a single charge and showcase the first serious redesign of the Apple Watch… ever. And, if Apple really wants to compete with Garmin and Polar, it will need both.
The latest news comes courtesy of Bloombergby Mark Gurman in his latest To light up newsletter. In it, Gurman argues the Pro model will be “a bit larger than the standard Apple Watch” – to the point that it might only appeal to a “subset of customers”. On top of that, he notes that the device’s new look will be an “evolution of the current rectangular shape.” (Although without the flat edges that were once widely rumored for the Series 7.) Finally, the Pro model can last several days thanks to a larger battery and low-power mode, as well as a titanium type more durable to make it “extra sturdy”.
Apple hasn’t significantly changed the design of the Apple Watch since 2018 with the Series 4 – and even then the changes weren’t a major departure from the Series 3. At the time, Apple said increased the screen size of the Series 4 from 38mm and 42mm to 40mm and 44mm. It also changed the red dot on the digital crown of cell models to a more subtle red ring. Later models also introduced flatter side buttons. So, considering it is what constituted a “redesign” in the past, the changes described by Gurman suggest that a more distinct visual change is on the horizon.
A distinct visual break with the past is necessary if Apple wants a successful multisport smartwatch. From a product perspective, a rugged Apple Watch that looks and functions too much like the standard Series 8 would cloud the issue. Plus, it doesn’t exactly encourage people to spend more when you can already upgrade to more premium materials on the standard models. On the other hand, people who gravitate towards multisport watches As a more outdoor atmosphere. Button guards, large 47-50mm screens, and durable yet lightweight case materials are hallmarks of this category. Adding at least some of these elements would help the Pro model feel like an Apple Watch that could be beaten. Apple should also consider going with multiple buttons, as relying solely on the touchscreen and digital crown isn’t smart for an outdoor watch. Otherwise, there’s no clear reason to go for the Pro over a regular Garmin or Series 8.
Gurman’s comment that the size of the Pro model may only appeal to a subset of people means we’ll probably see the biggest Apple Watch ever – 47mm at the minimum. This is what “standard” Garmin and Polar watches tend to measure and would allow the Pro to house a much larger battery. And design aesthetics aside, multi-day battery life could be the decisive factor in whether a Pro model will actually compete in the multisport watch space.
Guaranteed or not, people have been laughing at Apple Watch battery life since 2015. And no one cares about multi-day battery life more than outdoor athletes. watchOS 9 can add all the running metrics and triathlete support it loves, but there’s no point if an athlete even has to think about stopping to charge in five or six hours of an activity. Even the threat of your watch dying and not fully counting your activity is reason enough to steer clear of Apple in favor of Garmin, Polar or Coros. For multi-day activities or camping, carrying a charger for another device is even less appealing. It’s hard to believe the Pro will go beyond 48 hours, but getting at least 24 hours would go a long way towards credibility.
So far, the Pro model is shaping up to be the most intriguing Apple Watch update in a while. But if Apple doesn’t offer a rugged design and true multi-day battery life, all the advanced metrics and features in the world wouldn’t make it a compelling product. Without these two aspects, Apple would more likely end up repeating the mistake of the Apple Watch Edition – an expensive high-end watch that no one asked for.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge