On Tuesday, a small crew of Apple executives wearing untucked shirts will reveal a new iPhone, and possibly, a new wearable we believe will be called the iWatch. If revealed, the smartwatch will be the culmination of years of leaks, rumors, ambitious designer mock-ups, and cries from Apple critics for a new category-defining product for consumers to spend oodles of money on–even if it doesn’t formally hit store shelves until next year.
The watch will, in all likelihood, do all sorts of cool stuff, like tracking your sleep patterns and allowing you to pay for things at terminals using NFC technology. While that’s all fine and good, there is one feature that you should pay extra-close attention to when Tim Cook (presumably) slides a smartwatch onto his wrist tomorrow…
The battery life.
According to Jessica Lessin at The Information, Apple employees are actively trying to temper expectations surrounding the watch’s battery life, which could underwhelm. (Or, she posits, Apple could intentionally be lowering the bar for a more dramatic reveal tomorrow. Either way…) In a great piece at Co.Labs, Tyler Hayes argues that any wearable that measures battery life in hours is “too short.” The Jawbones, Pebbles, and Fitbits of the world all measure battery power in days, and Apple will need to be in a similar battery orbit if it wants iWatch sales to endure into next January.
The problem? Any resulting iWatch will probably be something closer akin to the just-released Moto 360, which has a round Gorilla Glass screen that runs on Android Wear. Its features are far more robust than your average fitness tracker, and the display is a remarkable feat of creativity. But while The Verge‘s David Pierce gave the 360 a glowing review, among its major weaknesses is battery life, which lasts less than a day on a single charge.
Less than a day! Now, part of the problem is structural. In vastly oversimplified terms, big batteries provide more power; smaller ones do not. Watches are, by design, no bigger than your wrist, which is why they have done little more than tell time up to this point. They are and always have been an accessory, not a necessity.
And for a new and potentially Earth-shattering product, that’s not going to cut it. Research published by Endeavor Partners earlier this year found that one-third of Americans who already own some sort of wrist-mounted device stop wearing theirs after six months–a statistic that should worry everyone wading into the wearables space. Competitors like Samsung have been aggressively churning out new big and bulky smartwatches over the past two years. Approximately zero of them have caught on with anyone who doesn’t already identify as a tech nerd.
Look, in order for any wearable to be successful it has to disappear from the foreground, and its utility in your life has to far outweigh any small inconvenience. So far, that hasn’t been in the case. If people have to plug the iWatch in every night along with their phone, that’s a problem. Even though Apple has quietly been acquiring companies responsible for power-efficient LEDs and microchips, the murmurs concerning the iWatch’s charge coming from within Cupertino should be worrisome.
As of today, the day before iWatch and iPhone day, no watchmaker has made a compelling case that a wrist-mounted thing with a screen is #thefuture. And in order to even get to a point where something like an iWatch can make a case for its staying power, first it will have to pull off the unremarkable and stay powered on.