Exclusive mockups: Apple Watch Explorer Edition looks rugged and sporty


A sporty new Apple Watch model could debut this fall
A sporty new Apple Watch model could debut this fall
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

Rumors of an Apple Watch Explorer Edition started last year, when Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that Apple was working on ruggedized smartwatch designed specifically for athletes. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, from TF International Securities, added fuel to the fire last December, claiming that an “extreme sports version” could debut in 2022.

This month at WWDC, Apple’s focus on new fitness features for watchOS 9 lent further credence to these rumors. As a fitness-fanatic myself, all this hype has got me pretty excited. It inspired me to create these Photoshop mockups, exclusively for Cult of Mac, to explore exactly what the Explorer Edition might look like.

Apple Watch Explorer Edition mockups

Apple Watch Explorer Edition mockups: A ruggedized Apple Watch for athletes.
A ruggedized Apple Watch for athletes.
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

What would an Apple Watch Explorer Edition look like?

My starting point for these mockups was to assume that the Explorer Edition would have to use the same version of watchOS as existing models. Which rules out a circular screen, or making changes to the Digital Crown and side button. So the challenge was to come up with something that looks radically different while following the same layout.

My inspiration came from clues in Gurman’s report, which stressed that the new model would be more rugged. According to Apple, Series 7 is the most durable yet, boasting a tougher front crystal, IPX6-certified dust-proofing, and WR50 water resistance. That’s great, but the case remains susceptible to scratches. And, as I discovered last year, if you drop one, the sapphire crystal can still crack.

A rubberized exterior like a Casio G-Shock

To address this, Gurman predicted that the Explorer edition would come with a “rubberized exterior” giving it “extra impact-resistance and protection in the vein of Casio’s G-Shock watches.” Casio makes several different G-Shock models, and most don’t have rubberized exteriors. The G-Shock Move GBA-900 looks closest to what Gurman described.

The G-Shock Move’s impact-absorbing rubber bumpers give it a distinctive, brawny, almost military appearance. An Apple Watch with bumpers like these would look very different from the refined elegance of the wearable we know and love today. And that’s precisely the point. It’s a completely different look for a very different market.

Rubber bumpers like these don’t just provide impact protection. They also surround the Digital Crown and side button, helping to prevent any accidental interaction. And a thin rubber membrane over the speaker would stop it from filling with water. So there would be no need to eject water every time you turn off the Water Lock after a swim.

Existing bands wouldn’t work with this concept

Apple Watch Explorer Edition renders: A rubberized exterior provides extra impact-resistance and protection
A rubberized exterior provides extra impact-resistance and protection.
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

Currently, every Apple Watch model works with every Apple band of the corresponding size. But when I tried to incorporate the current band mechanism into my Explorer Edition designs, they ended up looking exactly the same as the existing Apple Watch.

I realize Apple’s designers are probably far smarter than me. But even supposing they figure out a way to make it work, what’s the point? A chunky Explorer Edition case is never going to look good with an elegant Milanese Loop.

Instead, my design features an integrated molding that incorporates the bumper surrounding the watch with the band in a single piece of rubber. It can be popped off and replaced, enabling you to switch colors with the seasons. The band is segmented, with narrow stretchy link sections, so you can put it on and take it off like the Solo Loop.

A dramatic new design direction for Apple Watch

The design of Apple Watch has evolved over the years, with a larger screen and more refined curves, but it hasn’t strayed far from the distinctive look of the original model that launched in 2015. Back then, Apple Watch targeted the luxury market, with solid gold models sold in fancy department stores.

As a result, Apple Watch has never looked very sporty. Especially when compared to watches from rivals like Garmin.

The Apple Watch Explorer Edition would be less dressy than the original model — more in keeping with the latest Nike sneakers than an Armani suit. It could broaden the appeal of Apple Watch to a whole new audience, while encouraging existing users to buy a second watch for extreme sports.

The case for an extra button

Most sports watches bristle with buttons. But Apple Watch comes with just two. Physical buttons are important on a sports watch because they enable you to operate it without raising your wrist to look at the touchscreen.

I haven’t included extra buttons in these mockups, because I wanted them to look familiar, following the classic Apple Watch layout. But I think it would be a smart idea to add a Workout button to the bottom-left of the Explorer Edition. Pressing it would launch the Workout app. Another press would start the default workout. Further presses would pause or resume a workout.

This is just for fun — Apple will doubtless come up with something way more cool!

Apple Watch sport model: Would you buy a ruggedized Apple Watch?
Would you buy a ruggedized Apple Watch?
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

Back in 2015, I produced mockups of a  Nike+ Apple Watch, a year before it actually launched. The real version looked a bit different. But I did get some important details right, including the color-contrasting band featuring Nike’s trademark Volt color, and the custom watch face design.

I don’t claim to be a product designer. If the Apple Watch Explorer Edition rumors turn out to be true, whatever Cupertino’s experts come up with is sure to be way more cool. But in the meantime, hopefully these mockups provide a tantalizing taste of things to come.


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.