By Stephen Hackett
September 3, 2020 10:00 AM PT
The Hackett File: It’s time to expand the Apple Watch line
Since first introducing the Apple Watch, Apple has worked hard to clarify the product, steering it to where most users found it the most useful — notifications and activity tracking. The fanciful dream of the Apple Watch taking over every single task once managed by the iPhone is mostly dead and gone.
This change has happened in both hardware and software.
At first, Apple positioned the stainless steel model as the default Apple Watch, with the cheaper aluminum “sport” model as somewhat of a step down. Unsurprisingly, it seems that the vast majority of Apple Watches sold are of the aluminum variant, and Apple has shifted, putting a larger focus on those models—leaving fancier finishes on sale, but maybe a little on the back burner.
watchOS has changed drastically over its short lifespan. I’m hard pressed to think what other operating system and platform has seen so much fundamental change in just five years. Watch apps can now run natively on device, have access to things like LTE and can even sync directly with web servers, bypassing the iPhone. They can even be installed directly via the Apple Watch App Store.
All of this has been successful. While Apple doesn’t publish sales figures, the company’s wearables division continues to rake in the cash, and market research shows that the Apple Watch is by far the most popular smartwatch, and even beats out simpler devices like Fitbits.
All of this has me thinking about where the Apple Watch could go next. When the iPod came out in 2001, it was just a single model. Less than three years later, the wildly popular iPod mini showed up, followed by the iPod shuffle in January 2005 and the iPod nano that fall. Each time a new model was added to the lineup, Apple was clear that it was going after other markets that existed downstream of its original 5 GB player.
I think the Apple Watch could take a similar path, and there’s one possibility that I am very interested in: an Apple Watch without a screen.
For the last several years, I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with my Apple Watch. There are times where I don’t want notifications pinging my wrist and would rather wear a traditional watch. In those seasons, I often only wear my Apple Watch when I exercise, as I prefer Apple’s features to those of other fitness trackers.
I would love to be able to split the difference by wearing a screen-less bracelet that communicated with the Fitness (neè Activity) app on my iPhone. There, I could see my daily progress, deal with workouts and more. This would be even easier in the widget-filled world of iOS 14.
This class of device could get bonkers-good battery life, look less techy than an Apple Watch and would probably prove less fragile in the instance of, say, a bicycle crash.
It would also allow Apple to move down-market, taking on more traditional Fitbit models, which start at $100. I don’t imagine Apple going that low, but a $149 screen-less Apple fitness tracker could be very tempting for consumers who don’t want the full-blown Apple Watch experience.