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For years, the Apple Watch has been mostly a single device, with the two different sizes, a few finishes, and an assortment of watch bands being the only distinguishing factors. However, that’s clearly starting to change, and it looks like last year’s release of the Apple Watch SE is only the beginning.
According to a new report from Mark Gurman of Bloomberg, Apple is mulling over the idea of launching a ruggedized version of the Apple Watch designed for more extreme outdoor adventures. The watch would be aimed at athletes, hikers, and other folks with similarly active lifestyles.
At this point, the discussions are said to be only preliminary, and in particular, it’s unclear whether the Apple Watch “Explorer Edition” — as it’s currently being called within Apple — would use fundamentally different hardware, or whether it would simply be a standard model with a more rugged casing.
Most of Gurman’s sources suggest the latter, implying that the new ruggedized watch would basically be another form of the upcoming Apple Watch Series 7, offering all the same features as the mainstream wearable, but packing it into an impact-resistant case similar to Casio’s G-Shock watches.
If true, this would put the “Explorer Edition” Apple Watch in a similar class as the workout-focused Nike+ Edition and the ultra-premium Hermès Edition for fashionistas, although it would still differ from those by offering an entirely different casing design. This would put it more on par with the Series 5 “Edition” models that were available in exclusive ceramic or titanium finishes, or the original, insanely expensive Gold Edition of the very first Apple Watch.
After all, the other special edition Apple Watches — Nike+ and Hermès — featured identical casing to standard Apple Watch models, in aluminum and stainless steel, respectively. What was unique about those models wasn’t the design of the watch itself, but rather the exclusive bands that came with it, plus a special watch face in the case of the Hermès.
The “Explorer Edition” on the other hand would feature a completely new design for the Apple Watch casing, since this wouldn’t just be about the materials used. Even the Gold Edition Apple Watch was the same physical case design, just made from 18K gold. A rugged Apple Watch, however, would require a completely different level of materials engineering to pull off — especially considering the number of advanced sensors on the wearable.
When’s It Coming?
According to Gurman, this isn’t the first time Apple has considered the idea of a rugged smartwatch. Sources told Gurman that the company had weighed the idea of a new model back in 2015 after the first Apple Watch launched, in order to “better appeal to extreme sports athletes.”
For whatever reason, however, Apple chose not to pursue that angle, focusing on making the Apple Watch Series 2 more waterproof instead and adding other features that would appeal to swimmers.
Thanks to this and other enhancements, the Apple Watch has proven to be popular with runners, hikers, and swimmers, and of course Apple keeps making it even better each year, with new workout types and other activity-tracking features packed into each watchOS update.
However, as Gurman notes, competing watchmakers like Casio have been seeing strong sales from their more rugged models, and it’s possible that Apple could pick up some of this business with its new “Explorer Edition.”
While the current Apple Watch is water-resistant to 50 metres, which is more than just about any other competing smartwatch, there are already case-makers like Catalyst who offer cases that can double that, with 100-metre (330 ft) water resistance. Presumably, Apple could easily match or exceed that number with a more rugged casing on the Apple Watch itself.
The rugged design would likely be about more than increasing water resistance, however, being designed for environments where the current metallic case designs are more likely to get scratched or damaged.
The report doesn’t offer any insight into what Apple might plan to do with the screen, however the higher-end Apple Watch models — the stainless steel and titanium finishes — already include sapphire glass, which is highly durable against scratches, but not necessarily against impact.
While it might seem like the new “Explorer Edition” would include the sapphire glass display, since it would almost certainly be a higher-end model, it’s worth keeping in mind that sapphire isn’t necessarily ideal for activities where the Apple Watch is likely to be hit by other objects, as would be the case in many extreme sporting activities. In fact, the Ion-X glass used on the aluminum Apple Watch is actually better in that case, although it seems likely Apple could use a different type of glass entirely.
At this point the idea of an Apple Watch “Explorer Edition” is still in the nascent stages of discussion, and while it’s not impossible that it could appear this year, Gurman’s sources suggest that it could end up being pushed off until 2022, assuming that Apple chooses to go ahead with the plans at all.