When Apple Watch got a larger screen last year with the Series 7 update, most commentators just yawned. Apparently screen size isn’t everything. It’s what you do with your watch that counts.
So I was surprised to read recent rumors of an Apple Watch Pro with an even bigger screen. Supposedly, this larger model, with its tougher titanium case, will be ideal for extreme sports. But does a bigger screen really help when you’re bungee jumping? And could titanium ever be rugged enough to withstand whitewater rafting?
Something about all this doesn’t add up. Instead, I suspect Cupertino will position the Apple Watch Pro model as a wearable for endurance sports. A bigger watch means a bigger battery. And in endurance sports, you really need that extra juice.
Who really needs a bigger battery?
When Apple Watch launched in 2015, people griped about the battery because it lasted less than 24 hours. Back then, smartwatches like the Pebble, with their low-powered displays and slow processors, could go seven days on a single charge.
In reality, battery life turned out to be a non-issue for most users. Once you get into the habit of charging your Apple Watch on your nightstand, you can forgot all about it. But there was one group of users who had a very big problem with the battery: endurance athletes.
It’s all about endurance
As the name suggests, endurance sports are all about enduring sustained exertion. Think cycling, running marathons or doing an Ironman Triathlon. So, endurance workouts tend to last much longer than other workout types.
I’m a keen distance runner myself. The first time I ever used my Apple Watch for a race was the 2016 New York City Marathon. When I told Apple’s press team I was going test Apple Watch on a marathon, they warned me to put it in Power Saving Mode before I started. Otherwise, they worried the battery wouldn’t last for the entire race.
Power Saving Mode disables all but essential features. It meant I’d get no heart rate readings during the marathon. So I decided to take the risk and leave my watch in normal mode. Fortunately, the battery held out for the full 3 hours and 40 minutes it took me to complete the race. But other runners were not so lucky.
On average, it takes 4 hours and 24 minutes to complete the NYC Marathon. Some runners take more than six hours. But the Apple Watch SE battery can only manage a five-hour workout. Series 7 lasts up to six hours. When you consider that you’ll use up some battery just getting to the starting line, that’s a little tight.
Triathlon support in watchOS 8 provides a clue
Battery life is an even bigger problem for triathletes. The average time it takes to complete a half-Ironman is around six hours. A full Ironman typically takes more than 12 hours. There’s no way today’s Apple Watch battery could last that long.
Which is odd, when you consider that watchOS 9 adds support for logging triathlons with its new Multisport feature. Currently in beta, this update is scheduled to launch this fall, which happens to be at the same time as the rumored Apple Watch Pro. That’s why I suspect the bigger battery in the Pro version (or whatever Cupertino decides to call the new model) will be marketed by Apple as ideal for endurance sports like triathlons.
Just how much bigger would Apple Watch Pro need to be?
To provide serious support for triathlons, Apple Watch Pro would need to have at least twice the battery capacity of Series 7. And that means, roughly speaking, the battery itself would need to be physically twice as large.
If you watch the iFixIt teardown of Series 7, you’ll see the battery is the Apple Watch’s largest single component. It already accounts for around a third of the wearable’s overall volume. There’s no way Cupertino could squeeze a double-size battery in there.
One option would be to make the watch thicker, while keeping the screen and band sizes the same as the 45mm model. But the watch already looks pretty thick. Any thicker and it just wouldn’t look like a premium device. Especially if the rumors of a new flatter-sided design are true. A flat edge wouldn’t hide the Apple Watch’s thickness as well as the current curved design.
The other, more likely, option would be to scale up the entire watch. This would make it slightly larger than the current large model (reportedly 47mm versus the current 45mm). It likely would require its own bands, too. So Apple would be selling bands in three different sizes:
- Small 41mm
- Medium 45mm
- Large (Pro) 47mm
Aren’t endurance sports a little niche for Apple?
At this point, you might be questioning why Apple would introduce a whole new model just for endurance athletes. It’s certainly not the kind of mass-market demo that Cupertino usually targets. Most people have no interest in running a marathon or cycling long distances. Let alone doing an Ironman.
But this misses the point of how watches are marketed. Luxury watchmaker Omega promotes its Speedmaster Professional as being “the first and only model worn on the moon.” It’s true that Buzz Aldrin wore one there once, but unless you work for NASA, the watch’s price will be the only thing that’s astronomical about it.
The reason most people wear sports watches isn’t because they ever plan to complete an Ironman. It’s the idea that they could. It’s aspirational. For a straight dude trying to impress a girl in a bar, a flashy sports watch puts out the vibe he’s the kinda guy who completes Ironmans for fun.
If you’re still not convinced that Apple Watch Pro will be marketed to triathletes, then check out the guest list for next week’s Apple Event. The usual suspects will be there from the big publications, of course. But Apple has also invited noted triathlon tech guru DC Rainmaker. He announced he would be attending on Instagram earlier this week. If the audience is filled with MAMILs, you can bet Apple will be talking endurance sports.
On a personal note, I’m definitely hoping for endurance-friendly battery life. I’m not getting any younger and my marathon times are getting longer. There will definitely come a point where I appreciate the extra juice.
* U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Jason R. William (RELEASED), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons