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Tim Cook's Apple

The Apple Watch 2: Everything We Know So Far

New reports indicate that the Apple Watch 2 will show up later this year with basic upgrades and a GPS radio, but no cellular connection.

The Apple Watch 2: Everything We Know So Far

[Photo: courtesy of Apple]

Sometimes I have to take a deep breath and remember that Apple isn’t in business to entertain me. It's in the business of selling devices that look cool and work well, to as many people around the world as possible. It won't always seem magical.

Sometimes Apple products will follow perfectly reasonable roadmaps responding to legitimate market demands with perfectly reasonable sets of incremental improvements. Yes, perfectly rational—and kinda boring.

If reports about the forthcoming Apple Watch 2 are correct, this may be one of those times.

When Apple gets the press and analysts together early next month for its fall wingding, we'll see a couple of new phones and the second iteration of the Apple Watch. The new phones—probably called the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus—will look a whole lot like the iPhone 6s, with some spec upgrades and a better camera.

The other marquee announcement that day, the Watch 2, will look like the same kind of (incremental) upgrade. In fact, the go-to supply chain source for this stuff—KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo—likens the "Apple Watch 2" to the "S" generation phones Apple releases between major, numbered, iPhone generations. These "S" series devices have some spec upgrades, but usually no major new feature or design innovations.

Kuo, who is usually accurate, cites supply chain sources to say that the new Watch will be roughly the same shape and size as the first Apple Watch, but will add a faster chip, a barometer (to measure elevation climbed), a GPS radio (for tracking runs), and some kind of waterproofing rating. The current Apple Watch comes in two sizes—42mm and 38mm. It remains to be seen if Apple keeps those sizes, but we've seen nothing that suggests it won't.

As any first-generation Watch wearer will tell you, the battery must be charged up every day. This will likely be true of the Apple Watch 2. That's because Apple will probably wring some better battery efficiency from the device, but that will be canceled out by the addition of the GPS radio, which is a bit of a power-sucker.

The battery is perhaps the greatest limiting factor for smartwatches today. New features—like GPS radios—increase the amount of power required from the battery. And the bigger the power requirement, the larger the battery must be, which presents a serious design challenge to Apple, which loves to keep making products that are thinner and smaller.

But Kuo doesn't believe Apple intends to add to the Watch 2 the one feature that could finally free it from the paired smartphone and give it a life of its own: the long hoped-for cellular radio. Kuo believes Apple will wait until 2017 to build an LTE chip into the Watch.

And there are good reasons for not doing it now, as Technalysis Research founder and analyst Bob O'Donnell points out. "There’s the cost, and anytime you add an additional radio to a device, it’s a hit on the battery, so they’d have to deal with those issues," O’Donnell says.

Creative Strategies’ analyst Ben Bajarin believes Apple wants to build its own LTE chip, instead of sourcing one from Qualcomm or Intel. Bajarin says Apple may want to tightly integrate the LTE chip with the Watch’s processor (also made by Apple). If true, that could tack on even more time.

Kuo expects the Watch 2 to show up late this year, presumably in time for the holiday season.

The analyst adds that Apple will continue selling the first version of the Watch, but with a faster processor inside and no GPS radio. He says Apple will probably cut the price of the original Apple Watch by as much as $100, which would drive down the cost of the low-end Sports model to under $200.

If it sounds like I'm giving a bad review to a product that hasn't even been released yet, I am. But Kuo's inside information about the Watch 2 is consistent with voices we've heard within the Watch ecosystem, and it sounds truthy. It sounds downright rational. It sounds like Apple.

At any rate, Fast Company will be on hand at the press event early next month. We will have news coverage and commentary about the Watch 2, and eventually a full product review.

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