Last in, first out. That’s kind of how I feel about my Apple Watch: Of all the Apple devices I own, it’s by far the most expendable, which has me wondering what happens when the Apple Watch 2 comes along.
Make no mistake: it’s coming. Maybe not at the one-year anniversary of the original Apple Watch—and I think that’s a good thing—but it’s not like the company’s simply going to shrug their shoulders and walk away from the product.
But that eventual upgrade has me wondering: what’s it going to take to get me to switch to a new version of the Apple Watch?
Placing your trust in the rumor mill is never the best idea, but I find myself a bit despondent over the current rumored feature-du-jour for the next Apple Watch: a camera.
Yes, the camera is a central feature of the iPhone. Yes, people even take pictures with their iPads. Most Macs ship with cameras. So, feature parity, right? The thing is: I’m having trouble coming up with a compelling reason why I’d want a camera on my Apple Watch, and more than a couple compelling reasons why I don’t.
Adding a camera to the Apple Watch would seem to serve two primary, related purposes: selfies and FaceTime. Taking pictures of things other than yourself with a camera on the Apple Watch seems awkward and unnecessary, and, well, rife with the potential for abuse. But taking pictures of yourself doesn’t seem particularly useful either, especially as the angle at which you generally hold your wrist doesn’t provide the most flattering view of your face. More to the point, the likely smaller size of any camera built into the Watch means it’s not going to provide an image any better than your iPhone’s front-facing camera.
An Apple solution would presumably involve some clever engineering, perhaps canting the orientation of the camera to allow for a better picture without having to hold your arm up to eye level. But that’s only half the problem: go ahead, hold your arm up to eye level with your watch perpendicular to your eyes. Now don’t move for a minute. Tiring, right? I’ve had long FaceTime conversations with my iPhone and iPad, and after more than a few minutes, you really want to put the device down somewhere.
Adding a camera could potentially be useful if you wanted it for other reasons, such as an input device, but once again, the angle of use seems un-ergonomic at best. In general, a camera on the Apple Watch would seem to be a solution in desperate search of a problem.
The other improvement being bandied about is a bump to the Apple Watch’s internals. That’s about par for the course for Apple products, which all get regular improvements in speed and processing power. The inclusion of the S1 chip in the Apple Watch would seem to point clearly to an eventual S2.
And that is great. Such an update would hopefully fix my number one complaint about the Apple Watch: that it’s sluggish and slow, especially where apps are involved—enough so that it’s almost always faster to pull out my phone instead.
This fits a sort of pattern. There have definitely been first-generation Apple products that push the envelope perhaps a little too far—the original MacBook Air, for example—and then get course-corrected back to something a little more reasonable. Perhaps the original Apple Watch was more prototype than mass market product, and the second version will deliver on what we expected from its predecessor.
But is that enough to merit an upgrade? Were I to go out and buy a next-generation Apple Watch, it would probably require me to sell my existing Apple Watch—and who’s going to want a slower first-generation model when the “real” one is on its way? (Such are the first-world problems of the early adopter. I know: there’s not a dry eye among you.)
Run for your life
So if not a camera or a processor bump, what’s the compelling argument for a new Apple Watch? I think the key is going to be building on the elements of the Watch that have proved the most successful. The Apple Watch’s built-in sensors and its integrated health and fitness features are great, and more importantly they’re things that you can’t get on your iPhone.
To me, apps have been a sideshow, in large part because of their poor performance, but also because they duplicate features I can get elsewhere. The Apple Watch may be dependent on your phone for its Internet connection, but it still needs to be a compelling device in and of itself—right now, it’s more of an accessory.
It’s a tall order, and the Apple Watch 2 will be even more closely scrutinized than the original model. It has to prove that the device is on an improvement trajectory and it won’t get the same passes that the original did for being a first-generation product. Even more than the first Apple Watch, any new model will have to earn a spot on our wrists.
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Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.