At this point, a rugged Apple Watch “Pro” has been all but officially confirmed. Not only did we start hearing whispers of this device over a year ago but also the rumor mill has been amping up as of late with new details about potential specs and features. The latest is that the Pro could offer multiday battery life on a single charge as well as feature the Apple Watch’s first serious redesign... ever. And, if Apple truly wants to compete with the likes of Garmin and Polar, it will need both.
The latest news comes courtesy of Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman in his most recent Power On newsletter. In it, Gurman contends the Pro model will be a “good bit bigger than the standard Apple Watch” — to the point where it might only appeal to a “subset of customers.” On top of that, he notes that the device’s fresh look will be an “evolution of the current rectangular shape.” (Though without the flat edges that were once heavily rumored for the Series 7.) Lastly, the Pro model may be able to last multiple days thanks to a bigger battery and low-power mode as well as feature a more durable type of titanium to make it “extra rugged.”
Apple hasn’t significantly tweaked the Apple Watch’s design since 2018 with the Series 4 — and even then, the changes weren’t a major departure from the Series 3. At the time, Apple bumped up the size of the Series 4’s display from 38mm and 42mm to 40mm and 44mm. It also changed the red dot on the digital crown of cellular models to a more subtle red ring. Subsequent models have also introduced flatter side buttons. So, considering that’s what’s constituted a “redesign” in the past, the changes Gurman described suggest a more distinct visual change is on the horizon.
A distinct visual break from the past is necessary if Apple wants a successful multisport smartwatch. From a product standpoint, a rugged Apple Watch that looks and functions too similar to the standard Series 8 would muddy the waters. Plus, it doesn’t exactly encourage folks to spend more when you can already upgrade to more premium materials on the standard models. On the flip side, folks who gravitate toward multisport watches like a more outdoorsy vibe. Button guards, large 47–50mm displays, and durable yet lightweight case materials are hallmarks of this category. Adding at least some of those elements would help the Pro model feel like an Apple Watch that could take a beating. Apple should also consider opting for multiple buttons, as relying solely on the touchscreen and digital crown isn’t smart for an outdoorsy watch. Otherwise, there isn’t a clear reason to opt for the Pro over a Garmin or a regular Series 8.
Gurman’s comment that the Pro model’s size may only appeal to a subset of folks means we’re likely to see the largest ever Apple Watch — 47mm at the minimum. That’s what “standard” Garmin and Polar watches tend to measure and would enable the Pro to house a much larger battery. And design aesthetics aside, multiday battery life could be the deciding factor as to whether a Pro model will actually compete in the multisport watch space.
Warranted or not, people have been griping about the Apple Watch’s battery since 2015. And nobody cares more about multiday battery than outdoor athletes. watchOS 9 can add all the running metrics and triathlete support it likes, but it’s pointless if an athlete has to even think about pausing to charge in hour five or six of an activity. Even the threat of your watch dying and not fully counting your activity is enough reason to eschew Apple in favor of Garmin, Polar, or Coros. For multiday activities or camping, carrying a charger for another device is even less appealing. It’s hard to believe that the Pro will get beyond 48 hours, but getting at least 24 hours would go a long way in terms of credibility.
So far, the Pro model is shaping up to be the most intriguing update to the Apple Watch in a while. But if Apple doesn’t nail a rugged design and true multiday battery life, all the advanced metrics and features in the world wouldn’t make it a compelling product. Without these two aspects, Apple would more likely end up repeating the mistake of the Apple Watch Edition — an expensive high-end watch that nobody asked for.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge