Apple Watch 2: What New Features Will It Bring?

AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez

AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez

Hardly two months after the initial launch of the Apple Watch, and just a day after the smartwatch’s debut for in-store purchases, rumors are already beginning to indicate that Apple plans to release a second generation of the Apple Watch in 2016. Sources familiar with the company’s plans tell Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac that the Apple Watch 2 will bring a video camera, a new wireless system that would grant the device greater independence from a paired iPhone, and new premium-priced models. However, the second-generation Apple Watch is expected to feature battery life about on par with that of its predecessor.

Apple is currently planning to integrate a video camera into the top bezel of the Apple Watch 2. That would enable users to make and receive FaceTime calls via their wrists. Gurman notes that Apple indicated its interest in widening the FaceTime functionality of the Apple Watch during its unveiling of watchOS 2 at its recent Worldwide Developers Conference. The new software enables users to answer FaceTime Audio calls from the Apple Watch for the first time, as well as to make the choice to either reject FaceTime video calls or to route them to be answered on the paired iPhone.  Gurman offers a caveat, noting that plans can change and it’s possible that the camera could be pushed back to a later model of the Apple Watch.

Jacob Kastrenakes, writing at The Verge, notes that the addition of a video camera is a strange next step in the Apple Watch’s development. He argues that video chatting on a smartwatch would certainly add a “wonderfully futuristic vibe that could help to sell the new model,” it could potentially represent a significant drain on the device’s battery life. It would also have several other drawbacks, like requiring users to maintain an awkward arm position for extended periods of time, and displaying video on such a small screen.

But Mark Sullivan argues on VentureBeat that “the camera will change everything,” writing that while the first Apple Watch is largely a device that centers around notifications, the addition of a camera to the second generation of the device could be game-changing. “The camera could be the feature that finally convinces mainstream consumers that the Watch is no longer a novelty, and that they need one in their daily lives,” Gurman posits. “If these new feature do end up getting added in a 2016 release of the Watch, I suspect that a lot of first-generation Watches will get thrown into the Drawer of Fallen Wearables.”

Under an initiative referred to internally as “tether-less,” Apple is planning for the Apple Watch 2 to have more functionality when separated from the iPhone. Currently, the Apple Watch can complete tasks in activity tracking, mobile payment, and music playback when used independently of the paired iPhone. But many other features that could normally function with a WiFi connection — like text messaging, emailing, and receiving updated weather data — don’t work completely.

To change that with the next Apple Watch, Apple reportedly plans to integrate a more dynamic wireless chipset to handle basic communication tasks without an iPhone. The Watch will likely continue to require the iPhone for “heavy” data transfers, like software updates or media synchronization, but the new WiFi chip would also likely enable a Find My Watch feature using WiFi router triangulation instead of GPS.

Since the Apple Watch’s initial release in April, Apple has conducted market research on the device’s real-world battery life and concluded that the majority of Apple Watch owners are satisfied with charging the device nightly. In fact, a source tells Gurman that the average Apple Watch user finishes each day with somewhere between 30% and 40% charge remaining on the Apple Watch, which enables the company’s engineers to change their hardware priorities with future models of the wearable.

Before conducting that research, Apple might have placed its primary focus on making major battery life improvements with the next generation of the Watch. But the company now, reportedly, believes that it can satisfy customers by keeping or just slightly improving the existing battery life while focusing on adding other, more advanced hardware features. Its addition of a Nightstand charging mode instead of, for instance, a sleep tracking feature, indicates that the necessity of charging the device each night won’t be changing anytime soon.

Gurman reports that Apple is currently considering a wider portfolio of Apple Watch models, which would expand its offerings from the current Sport, steel, and Edition lineup. The company is said to be focusing on introducing new models that would fit in between the highest-end stainless steel Apple Watch and the entry-level 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition. Apple wants to attract customers at price points between $1,000 and $10,000, but Gurman notes that it’s unclear whether that will result in lower-priced gold Apple Watch models, higher-priced steel models with more advanced bands, or versions made of new materials, like titanium, tungsten, palladium, or platinum.

It seems most likely that Apple will wait until 2016 to introduce a new generation of Apple Watches, and sources tell Gurman that because Apple prototypes several variations of future products before a release, the plans for a camera-equipped Apple Watch could be saved until a later generation, due to either roadmap changes or to the availability of necessary components. Apple Watch customers will gain access to the changes made with watchOS 2 this fall, when they’ll get the new nightstand functionality, more watch faces, new email functionality, and new Digital Touch messaging features.

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