Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Apple Watch Edition’s Upgrade Dilemma

Serenity Caldwell, iMore:

I understand the justification of replacing an iPhone or a Mac when they’ve become too slow or outdated for their task — at most, I’ve spent $2000-$3000 on such a device, and its cost-per-year averages out to something where I don’t feel wasteful in replacing the machine.

Watches are different. They’re jewelry. They’re as much a fashion accessory as they are a device. And watches can have a long lifespan, if treated properly. Watches have people trained in the art of repair, keeping someone’s $20,000 timepiece from becoming a useless paperweight.

Once Apple jumps into that price point and that industry, should it expect that users will pay $10,000 again 18-30 months down the line to replace their watch? Does the advent of digital mean we’re expected to replace our heirlooms now, rather than pass them down? I really don’t know. Maybe the Edition is truly just meant for those who look at $5000 cost-per-year of ownership as no big deal on their bank account. Companies like Vertu have made a living off those customers; why shouldn’t Apple?

But I’d like to believe Apple is better than that. If they truly want to command the watch industry, they might take another page from watch-makers: repairability.

I’d love for this to be the case. I think owners of the Edition, especially, but also the no-suffix Watch, should be able to go into an Apple Store and get the S1 swapped for an S2, when the second version is released. Then, they could leave with the same watch they’ve worn for a year, complete with the unique characteristics that make it distinctly yours. Potentially in favour of this is Abdel Ibrahim’s suggestion that the Watch might not change shapes year-to-year, which means Apple can design subsequent modular chip designs to fit the same space. Further in favour of this is the fact that the Apple Watch has an everything-in-one chip. But I don’t think it’s going to happen.

If the animation in the introduction video is to be believed, the S1 is sandwiched in the middle of the Watch’s stack, between the Taptic Engine and the sensors on the back. And, if Apple’s site is to be believed, the body of the Watch is one seamless form, with cutouts only for the buttons, display, and sensors. Perhaps there’s some way of cracking one open; perhaps there’s a hidden latch in strap attachment areas or something. Or perhaps the front or back glass — excuse me — sapphire can be removed. But this strikes me as exceedingly unlikely.

Furthermore, the next-generation Watch is likely to have more than an upgraded processor. It’s likely to include new sensors, which may require somewhat different capabilities than the current hardware can provide.

I would love to be proved wrong on this, but I think it’s unlikely that the Watch will be upgradeable into the future. I think Apple sees the Edition1 similarly to the other models in the lineup in this regard. They’re packing it with some pretty good hardware that should be better than adequate for a few solid years of use.

Apple really is in uncharted territory here. A Rolex can be handed down generation after generation because the technology inside it hasn’t changed that much for a hundred years. It’s not really a question of whether a tech company can make a good watch; it’s whether the watch industry can support rapid technology changes.

  1. Which, by the way, isn’t going to sell in the mad hotcakes fashion that the WSJ predicts↩︎