Apple Watch 2: Rumours, leaks and release date

Jul 21, 2016

OLED technology may be swiftly replaced by a Micro LED screen – but could come at a price

Apple's smartwatch sold 1.7 million units in the last quarter and estimates suggest the company has shifted more than 12 million units since its introduction in 2015 to become the market leader.

It's a device that Alphr says is a "brilliant, highly capable smartwatch" - but critics say there are little niggles letting the Apple Watch down.

In particular, the wearable's over-reliance on the iPhone makes it a pointless buy if you don't have a fifth-generation handset and even then you have to keep the watch mated to it to access the killer features.

Despite being the most popular smartwatch, some say Apple hasn't quite nailed the format yet and the next generation device needs new, independent features to flourish. It's something the company could deliver on quite soon – critics believe a new Apple Watch will launch this year.

Speculation is brewing alongside rumours and leaks, leading to a picture of the Apple Watch 2 slowly emerging. Here's what's being said.

Design

MacRumors has previously picked up two reports regarding the Apple Watch 2's design, both with very different ideas.

The first note, issued by Apple analyst Brian White, of Wall Street firm Drexel Hamilton, makes for the most exciting reading. He believes the next wearable could be "20 per cent to 40 per cent thinner".

However, a contrasting report by Ming Chi-Kuo, who is renowned for his accuracy, says fans should not expect a big design overhaul.

The watch will adopt the same upgrade cycle as the iPhone, he says, with "S" models simply featuring hardware updates released in alternate years to the major developments. As such, he believes the Apple Watch 2 will come with very minor design changes, but will boast brand new specs underneath.

Hardware and new features

One of the biggest hardware additions could be the inclusion of a FaceTime camera, a rumour that has been peddled as far back as last June. 9 to 5 Mac says a small camera capable of recording video could be embedded into the top bezel, allowing wearers to answer calls from their wrists.

Pocket Lint cites rumours that the watch will get a faster wi-fi chipset to handle more data transfer and make for more accurate location services. A bigger battery made possible through a thinner display could also be on the cards.

However, one of the biggest rumoured features is cellular connectivity, with improved functions when the watch isn't paired to an iPhone. MacRumors picks up an article published in the New York Times claiming buyers will be able to choose models with 3G or 4G connectivity.

Users would have to pay for a data plan, but Apple Watch would be able to receive messages away from a wi-fi connection and without being paired to an iPhone, alongside a host of other features, such as GPS functions and streaming Apple Music.

In terms of display technology, Digitimes tips Apple to shake things up next year, with a new display moving the game on from the OLED panel in use on the first generation watch.

The site claims an Apple Watch with a Micro LED display could come at some stage in 2017 – a move which would a thinner wearable but with a brighter, more vibrant screen using less battery power.

However, that could also mean the new display isn't intended for the next Apple Watch – it's rumoured by many that we'll be seeing Apple's second watch much sooner. It may only be an Apple Watch 2 addition if the company adopts an interim "S" model upgrade cycle as it does with its smartphones.

The latest word is the addition of a GPS chip, though, something raised by 9to5Mac in what the site says is a "sketchy" leak. This would be ideal for those who use their watch as an exercise mate, as it would offer accurate workout logging without the need to keep an iPhone close by, and it could be mated to new fitness apps, including an addition to the existing Workout – the ability to track swimming. If true, this would also mean the next Apple Watch will come with a much higher level of waterproofing.

Apple Watch camera

Following early hints that Apple is considering fitting a camera to its next wearable, Patently Apple has uncovered patents held by the tech giant strongly hinting that an Apple Watch with a camera is under consideration.

The site says the system is the "ultimate selfie camera", with the patents outlining a camera fitted to the watch face. It could also mean users would be able to make and receive FaceTime calls straight form their wrists.

However, the front-facing sensor isn't the only camera system outlined in the patents. They also mention a lens fitted along one of the edges.

This would make selfies awkward, it's true, but it would make it easier for the wearer to capture images around them. It also paves the way for the likes of barcode and QR code-scanning capabilities.

The same patent outlines two new, possibly touch-sensitive buttons, too, but with no description as to what they are for. There are also new ways to interact with the watch through the digital crown.

Software

Apple unveiled WatchOS 3 at its 2016 Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, revealing a handful of new features from the current OS 2 running smartwatch.

The headline act is improved performance. The company claims the Apple Watch can launch apps seven times faster with the new system and will constantly update them in the background, so they're always ready to go.

There's a slight rethink in terms of user interface – an iPhone-like control centre can be accessed by swiping up on the watch face. There are also brand new designs which can be flicked through by swiping left.

Scribble allows users to write on their Apple Watch. By crudely drawing out letters with your finger, you can write short replies to messages and emails.

New fitness tracking and apps have also been introduced and there's a new emergency feature – holding down the side button for a few seconds will prompt your linked iPhone to call the emergency services. Developer previews are out now, with a full rollout expected this autumn.

More battery life?

Rumours suggest the next watch will use a thinner display to make room for a larger battery.

According to Wareable, this is an essential upgrade as many of the key features missing from the first generation Apple Watch had to be dropped because of battery life qualms.

However, they add that Apple is likely to see it differently. The tech giant, much as it has done with the iPad, will look at ways to make battery usage more efficient in relation to the features the next watch will pack. The same lifespan could be on the cards, but with new battery consuming features as a trade-off.

New variations?

MacWorld says Apple could be looking to introduce new variants beyond the current line-up of Sports, Steel and Edition, with a premium version rumoured to emerge.

The fourth Apple Watch tier could sit in-between the most expensive version of the Apple Watch Steel, currently priced at £949, and the cheapest version of the flagship Apple Watch Edition, which starts from £8,000.

The company is allegedly interested in attracting customers willing to spend four figures on a premium wearable but are put off by the Edition's asking price. It's not known what Apple could do to make this new watch different from its current offerings, seeing as a design overhaul may not be on the cards, but it could feature bands made from high quality materials, as well as an all-new construction, possibly made from tungsten, palladium, titanium or even platinum.

New Multifunction bands?

MacWorld lists another rumoured introduction in the form of a new multifunction strap, detailed in a patent held by Apple. It describes a magnetic band which can be used in two different ways when the watch is not being worn.

Firstly, it can wrap around the watch and enclose the face, protecting the device when it's not being worn. Secondly, the patents show how the magnetic band can be folded into a stand arrangement so users can prop it up and turn it into a smart clock.

Waterproofing?

Back over at Wareable, the site lists a fully waterproof design among its most desired new features for the Apple Watch.

Bernard Desarnauts, the chief executive of Apple Watch research group Wristly, tells the site that Apple needs to move the game on from the IPX7 rating of its current wearable, which is only good for 30 minutes in depths of up to three feet, and needs to be beach and boat-friendly. As AppleInsider points out, the current watch is "good for washing hands, but not swimming".

Wareable has a pretty extensive wish list for the watch. As well as a higher waterproof rating, a greater deal of health sensors should also be on Apple's list of priorities, it argues, alongside a more responsive Siri and more features when unpaired from an iPhone.

The site even goes so far as to suggest a complete overhaul of the watch's looks will be necessary in the near future. Designer Daniel Will-Harris tells them that a circular Apple Watch is a necessity and that changes right down to the kerning of the numbers on the face will be needed in time.

Reveal

Some of the earliest Apple Watch 2 rumours centred on a reveal at some point early in 2016 -specifically April, given that the first watch, which was introduced alongside the iPhone 6 in September 2014, hit stores the following April.

Apple did pencil in a keynote event for that month, but the device did not emerge. Instead, we were treated to the iPhone SE and a 9.7ins iPad Pro.

Some believed the device could emerge at the developers conference but in the event, only WatchOS 3 appeared.

As a result, there's only one potential reveal date left for 2016 – September, alongside the iPhone 7.

The latest word on this comes via 9to5Mac, which cites a report from the "variously-reliable" Digitimes claiming that Apple Watch 2 will be revealed later this year.

If, as expected, the iPhone 7 doesn't represent huge change over the iPhone 6S, a second-generation Apple wearable should give the handset's launch "more punch", 9to5Mac adds.

Is an Apple Watch S coming instead?

Although the release cycle for the line is unclear, one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business believes the company could mimic the routine used for the iPhone.

Apple releases a different numbered iPhone every two years and bridges the gap with an "S" model, usually featuring bumped-up internal specification. KGI analyst Ming Chi-Kuo, who is something of a specialist when it comes to nailing Apple's future plans, expects the same to happen with the Apple Watch.

According to AppleInsider, Kuo is anticipating the next wearable to feature "spec improvements with limited changes to form factor design" and says those hoping for an entirely overhauled smartwatch will have to wait until 2017 at the earliest.

AppleInsider points out that rumours of a new Apple Watch with no form factor changes have been circulating since last summer, with reports that a bigger battery and brighter display are coming first starting in July – just two months after the release of the debut watch.

The battle ahead

Apple Watch is facing a backlash of indifference from app developers who are losing interest in the wearable gadget. The brief flurry of enthusiasm that greeted the product on launch is a distant memory for Apple, which has witnessed a steep plunge in new apps.

A spokesman for mobile database Realm told The Drum: "On a weekly basis we're seeing very few Watch apps, compared to iOS apps. For every 1,000 new iOS apps being built, there are 10 tvOS apps and maybe 1 Watch app."

This is partly because Apple has limited app developers' access to many parts of the smartwatch's functionality. But it is also due to the fact that many developers regard the watch as a mere companion piece to the iPhone, increasing pressure on Apple to dramatically improve its next instalment of the device. It is believed that the updated Apple Watch, sporting independent apps, will be ready to be unveiled as early as the middle of June.

Meanwhile, in a separate note of apathy, Newsweek's Winston Ross has looked back over his year owning an Apple Watch, which he bought in the expectation it would change his life. "And in some ways it did!" he writes, adding: "But mostly it didn't."

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