Catalyst began taking preorders for its waterproof Apple Watch case in August, but our colleagues at the IFA Consumer Electronics Fair in Berlin just got to see one in person. It’s not the most attractive, since it fully covers the watch’s sides, including the button and the digital crown, and totally replaces the Apple Watch’s strap. Since the case covers the attachment points for compatible Apple Watch straps, you’ll have to use the included nylon strap instead. So far Catalyst is only offering the case for 42mm watches, with a preorder price of $60.
While the sides of your Apple Watch are totally covered, the back is left open so you can still charge the Apple Watch without removing the case, and the heart rate sensor should still work. The screen is left uncovered too.
That means your Apple Watch will remain fully functional while it’s being protected from water and dust, but capacative touchscreens don’t actually work when submerged in water, and in swimming tests done with an uncased Apple Watch, triathelete Ray Maker found that the watch’s heart rate data wasn’t the most accurate during a swimming workout either.
Catalyst says its case has a waterproof rating of IP68, which according to this chart, should protect completely against dust, as well as against water when immersed beyond 1 meter. Reps for Catalyst told our colleagues at IFA that the case would stay waterproof to at least 5 meters for 30 minutes, and that they weren’t sure how deep it could go.
But do you even need a waterproof case for your Apple Watch? Out of the box, its waterproof rating is IPX7, which means it should “withstand incidental exposure to water of up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes.” That is generally understood to mean you can wash your hands, get caught in a rain shower, even shower with your Apple Watch and it’ll probably be fine. Swimming isn’t recommended by Apple—but people have worn it swimming with no ill effect.
Ray Maker’s tests, mentioned above, included swimming laps in a pool, jumping off diving platforms, and even using a waterproof testing chamber to automate a test to 40 meters—and the Apple Watch Sport survived it all. Craig Hockenberry thoroughly tested his Apple Watch Sport when swimming in pools and the ocean, and his watch wasn’t damaged, but he ran into the same issues starting and stopping workouts since the touchscreen and Force Touch don’t work in the water. (He also recommends rinsing the watch with clean water after every swim, to avoid corrosion of the plastic gaskets that seal up the watch’s button and Digital Crown.)
Active in Time is actually working on a swimming app for Apple Watch, ported over from the more waterproof Pebble, but the developer admits that using it may void your warranty. The app won’t be out until after watchOS 2 allows for apps to run natively on the watch hardware, although Apple would still have to approve it as well. Active in Time’s blog post even fears Apple might not approve the app until the Apple Watch 2, assuming that one is even more water resistant than the first generation.
And maybe that’s where Catalyst’s case comes in. Hockenberry calls out the standard Workout app for not being easy to use in the water or even with wet hands, and wonders if Apple recommends against swimming not because the hardware isn’t rugged enough but because the software interactions get so wonky. If a developer like Active in Time can write an app you can interact with using only the Digital Crown (which works just fine underwater), and Catalyst’s $60 waterproof case helps swimmers breathe easier without worrying that water could creep in after enough laps in the pool, the Apple Watch could wind up being the best swimming tool since goggles.
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