Was This New Flat-Edged Design Intended for the Next Apple Watch SE?

Apple Watch Series 7 Concept iDrop News 2 Credit: iDrop News / Wilson Nicklaus
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The saga of the flat-edged-Apple-Watch-that-never-came has become one of the biggest Apple rumour mill gaffes in recent history, leading to much speculation on how the pundits got their predictions of the new Apple Watch so very, very wrong.

After all, it’s not often we hear reports from multiple sources that point to such a radical design change, only to see a product appear that’s nothing like what anybody was expecting.

To be fair, the earliest reports of a major new Apple Watch design were vague, coming last fall from reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. However, even he hinted at a “significant form factor design change,” and it’s fair to say that what we got was nothing close to that.

By spring, however, the leaker circuit was putting some actual renders around this supposed redesign, with folks like Jon Prosser and Sam Kohl predicting a flat-edged styling that would put it in line with Apple’s iPhone 12 and recent iPad Pro models.

If true, it would have been the biggest Apple Watch redesign in years — perhaps the only redesign in the product’s history, in fact, since many would fairly argue that the increase in screen size on the Apple Watch Series 4 doesn’t really constitute a “redesign.”

Either way, it seems many people believed this new design was coming. Even Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, who has a pretty solid track record of only speaking about things that he’s fairly certain of, got caught up by them as well, predicting a “flat screen and flat edges to match the iPhone and iPad design.”

Of course, as we now know, this is not at all what we ended up with.

As to why the leakers were so easily duped? Most theories centered around three possibilities: Apple had deliberately planted false information as part of a “sting operation” against leakers, folks were seeing an old design that Apple had prototyped, but abandoned, or they were seeing a design intended for next year’s Apple Watch Series 8 and simply jumped the gun on assuming it was for this year.

There was also a fourth theory that Apple changed things up at the last minute due to the rumoured production problems. This was the least plausible scenario by far, since that’s not really how any company does things. If Apple had abandoned the flat-edged design, it would have done so months ago, not mere days.

Proponents of this theory pointed to the “later this fall” availability as evidence that Apple was forced to go back to the drawing board and design an entirely new Apple Watch model after the flat-edged design failed. Of course, with the Apple Watch Series 7 now scheduled to land in stores next Friday, it’s fair to say this wasn’t the case.

Frankly, it never made much sense in the first place, however, since Apple would not announce a product design that it hadn’t even considered — and make no mistake, the display on the new Apple Watch is a significant redesign.

Another Interesting Possibility?

Now, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has just offered another really fascinating take on the whole fiasco, suggesting that the new design was real, but never intended for a mainstream Apple Watch model to begin with.

Gruber believes that the leaked information was far too accurate not to be something that was “making its way through Apple’s supply chain,” which suggests that it’s a product that’s already being prototyped and tested by manufacturers.

For the most part, Apple tries to lock down its designs about 10-12 months before shipping a new product. Apple’s executives have already revealed that this is the case with each year’s iPhone lineup, which is almost always decided upon by the prior November, and there’s no reason to believe that the Apple Watch would be any different.

Since the rumours of the new Apple Watch design appeared this past spring, however, that seems too early for the Series 8 to already be in anything but the very earliest prototyping stages, where it would exist only within Apple’s highly secretive labs.

Instead, Gruber postulates that the flat-sided design is intended for the next-generation Apple Watch SE.

At this point, we’ve only seen one generation of Apple Watch SE, released alongside the Series 6 last year. It stands to reason that Apple wouldn’t release a new SE version every year, but it’s also certainly believable that at some point it may want to visually distinguish the lower-end, entry-level model from the more premium Apple Watch versions.

My guess is that the flat-sided design is real, and it’s making its way through Apple’s supply chain, which is how it leaked. But it clearly was never intended for Series 7 — Series 7 is an altogether different new industrial design. So my theory is that the flat-sided design is for the next-generation Apple Watch SE.

John Gruber

After all, the current Apple Watch SE is visually indistinguishable from an Apple Watch Series 4, Series 5, or Series 6. Granted, the mainstream models are available in more premium finishes, but if you put an Apple Watch SE beside an aluminum Apple Watch Series 4, 5, or 6, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference just by looking at them.

Since there’s only been one generation of the Apple Watch SE, it’s difficult to predict a trend for the new lower-cost model, but now that Apple has broken the ice with the first one, it’s certainly possible it could move to a spring launch cycle, similar to the iPhone SE.

In this case, we could see an “Apple Watch SE Series 2” as soon as March or April, which would put the timing perfectly in line with the designs getting locked down — and falling into the hands of the rumour mill — this past May.

As exciting as the rumoured Apple Watch design seems to some, Gruber makes the valid point that it feels too “utilitarian” for Apple’s wearable. Just because the design works on an iPhone or iPad doesn’t mean that it’s something people are going to want on their wrists.

I’m not saying the flat-sided design would look bad, per se, but I am convinced that — if it ever does ship — it will look more utilitarian. It’s not a premium design. It’s plain.

John Gruber

After all, even though Apple has long since stopped worrying about impressing the fashion industry, the Apple Watch is still a watch, first and foremost, and therefore has to appeal to customers in a way that’s entirely different from a smartphone or a tablet.

It’s definitely an interesting and very plausible idea, and it’s understandable how a “boxier” Apple Watch would have more limited appeal.

At the same time, though, it also seems unusual for Apple to take a design language that it’s been using solely for premium devices for the past few years, and bring that to the lower-end Apple Watch.

The preponderance of evidence suggests that Apple is likely at least working on this design, so whether it’s intended for the Apple Watch SE or next year’s Apple Watch Series 8, it’s safe to say we can expect to hear more about it in the coming months.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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