Apple Watch 7 (AW7) – Speculation
The Apple Watch 7 (AW7) will be announced on Tuesday 10th September 2021 and will run Watch OS8, first released in June 2021 (beta). Many of the software features could already be running in beta on your Apple Watch 6 well before the Watch 7 appears. Thus unless there are new hardware formats of AW7, its release will be somewhat of an anti-climax. Other than tweaks to screen, memory, performance or some other tiny detail, its release will be a #shrug moment.
That said, there’s a reasonable chance this year will be different!
This article will be continually updated in 2021.
Version 1.002, 7 Jan 2021
Headlines to Watch Out For
Here are the key moves for the Apple Watch; further below I’ll discuss the chances of them happening this year along with other minor product changes:
- New onboard sensors – body temperature (sleep, health, wellness insights)
- AirTag location support
- Expanded sleep insights
- Female health tools and insights
- Expanded native 3rd party BLE/sport sensor support and/or wider GymKit support in Fitness+
- New hardware formats – round face? or crown-free?
- The consolidation to one budget versions (currently SE/AW3) and a PRO version
- Several hardware component updates
Background: Apple Watch 6 – Current model
For those of us who like to deduce Apple’s next move, this is crucial information. Apple makes certain regional filings in advance of the launch date which tells us how many variants are planned. Thus we expect 6 variants for the AW7. If there are 12 variants registered then this could well mean the introduction of a round face series alongside the traditional rectangular face. Or it could mean that the 12 variants are the SE2 and AW7! There are other clues too but I’ll not mention them for now.
There are 6 CURRENT models of the Apple Watch 6 (AW6), namely these
- GPS: A2291 (40mm), A2292 (44mm)
- GPS + Cellular: North America: A2293 (40mm) A2294 (44mm)
Europe, Asia Pacific, and China mainland: A2375 (40mm) A2376 (44mm)
and there are 6 models of the Apple Watch SE, namely these
- GPS: A2351 (40mm), A2352 (44mm)
- GPS + Cellular: North America: A2353 (40mm) A2354 (44mm)
Europe, Asia Pacific, and China mainland: A2355 (40mm) A2356 (44mm)
Then there are cosmetic variants differentiated by combinations of cases, bands, and exclusive watch faces. Here’s a quick overview of these ‘collections’ which we could crudely classify as cheap or expensive:
- Apple Watch SE – aluminium case (cheap)
- Apple Watch – aluminium/stainless steel cases (cheap/mid-price)
- Apple Watch Edition – ceramic/titanium cases (expensive)
then we have special co-branded collections
- Apple Watch SE Nike – aluminium case and Nike band/face (cheap)
- Apple Watch Nike+ (formerly Sport) – aluminium case and Nike bands/faces (cheap)
- Apple Watch Hermes – stainless steel case and Hermes leather/sport band (expensive)
Background: Apple Watch Evolution w/Notes
I will go into some detail here as the evolution of the innards of the Apple Watch is surprising. Interestingly, the previous Apple Watch 5 (AW5) coincided with end of the life cycles of several of its components – more change was due with AW6 than we saw, change is coming with AW7. Here are examples of precisely what I mean
- AW2 (Glonass), AW3-AW6 (Glonass, Galileo, QZSS) – with China a key market for Apple I would expect Beidou support.
- AW1-AW5 all have WiFi 4 (up to 802.11n, 2.4GHz) with AW6 & AW SE introducing the 5Ghz band to allows faster dual-band connections with a new WiFi chip – Yet Wi‑Fi 5 (802.11ac) is in widespread use and Apple Watch’s new W3 chip may already be capable of running faster Wi-Fi connections and maybe also capable of running 802.11ax 2.4/5Ghz/WiFi 6 (Feb 2021) in years to come. This chip was updated in 2020.
- AW2 saw the introduction of WR50 water resistance, WR50 (50m) is sufficient.
- AW4/5 saw the introduction of EKG/ECG to an improved optical HR sensor as well as an improved gyroscope and AW SE uses this sensor. AW6 has a wholly new and more accurate sensor further supporting SpO2. This sensor was updated in 2020 and I argue will support capabilities not yet enabled.
- AW5 got the first compass and AW3 got the first barometric altimeter, and AW6 claimed to have the altimeter always-on for the first time.
- With the exception of AW3, every Apple Watch version modifies display functionality in some way whilst retaining a constant 326ppi resolution. AW SE retains the same screen as AW4 (kinda) and AW6 has a brighter screen in sunlight compared to AW5 and loses Force Touch
- AW4 saw increased screen sizes for both the ‘small’ and ‘larger’ screen models, so the size of the Apple Watch screen remaining constant is not a given. The rounded rectangle is a consistent format for the Apple Watch.
- Apart from AW SE, every model has received a new processor (AW4/5/6/SE=64bit dual)
- Apart from AW2/SE/6, every model has received increased storage (AW5/SE/AW6=32Gb)
- RAM has never remained the same on 3 consecutive models. AW4/5 are both the same on 1Gb DRAM and AW6/SE is unknown
- AW4/5/6 each had launch prices of $399+
- AW4 saw Bluetooth 5.0 introduced (v5.2 is latest, Dec 2019)
- AW6 is the first with UWB capability (Ultra Wideband)
- AW1 onwards had an ambient light sensor
- No AW yet has been able to record body temperature.
- Every AW has a different battery capacity using the same fundamental technology. AW6 has the best capacity so far.
That was all factual stuff you can check out on the Apple website and elsewhere.
Evolution: Caution is needed when extrapolating from past evolutions?
Some of the historic trends from the previous section are relatively easy to see with some components updated annually and others less frequently. Thus AW7 will NOT have either a new WiFi chip or new optical HR sensor but it will almost certainly have a slightly faster S7 CPU.
There is usually at least one entirely new piece of tech capability that is introduced each year, despite AW6 appearing to be a ‘boring release’ it had these: new oHRM, new WiFi chip and new UWB. UWB seems ‘boring’ because there is no accessory hardware that currently works with that capability. Apple AirTag (locating tag, Q2.2021) WILL use UWB.
Looking at a seemingly unchanged specification item may disguise an underlying hardware improvement that either improves battery life OR has functionality that is not yet enabled. For example, it is feasible that the AW6 is still using the same GNSS chip as the AW3. Yet, there have been notable GNSS chip power consumption improvements elsewhere in the market and Apple needs efficient components…GNSS is a key place to achieve that. So, either they’ve already silently replaced the GNSS chip with a more efficient one or that change is well overdue.
Similarly, although Bluetooth 5.0 is the headline spec, Bluetooth 5.2 offers battery savings for audio playback and its inconceivable to think that Apple won’t soon pounce on those. BLE 5.2 also supports multiple pairings but AW7 doesn’t need those.
There have been no worthwhile leaks so far for the AW7 but there have been patents filed by Apple. This does NOT mean that the patent will be used in the next model, indeed a patent might never be used. Apple HAS filed patents for circular watches and for buttons that replace the crown.
First Pass: Apple Watch 7 Specifications Speculations
Just extrapolating from the past and adding in some credible, known patent filings we deduce this
- AW7 will be released in September 2021, probably Tuesday 10th or Wed 11th (news cycles are important)
- AW7 will start at $399
- The Hermes, Edition and Nike Collections will continue 99%
- There will be a new strap design and/or strap colour 95%
- AW7 will be slightly faster and slightly more battery efficient 🙂
- delivering a marginally faster experience but, more importantly, a more energy-efficient architecture to support a close-to 2-day battery life 90%
- a better-performing CPU, labelled S7 99%
- 64-bit quad-core processor 50%, 128bit won’t happen.
- 64 Gb storage 40%
- 2 Gb DRAM 70%
- Wholly new battery tech 20%
- Slightly improved battery capacity from 303.8 mA·h to perhaps 307 mA·h..ie a trivial 1% increase. 80%
- AW7 will retain the current size formats but may have circular formats added (Analyst: Ming-Chi Kuo)
- 40/44mm versions and LTE/non-LTE version will be retained, indeed the basic rectangular case design will be highly similar to AW6 99%
- Circular watch face as either a total redesign 10%, or as an optional format 30%
- Removal of the crown? 10% The crown will eventually go on AW8 30%.
- A ‘PRO’ Version makes sense from a price perspective and ties in with other Apple product ranges, but what extra software features warrant a Pro model designation? 20%
- Smaller, child-targeted version 0%
- AW7 is due for an improved GNSS chip both in terms of modern levels of power consumption and the ability to support Beidou. AW6 could already have that chip, Beidou could simply be enabled.
- AW7 will not have a new WiFi chip
- AW7 will not have new UWB capabilities
- AW7 will not have new barometric altimetry capabilities
- AW7 does not need WR100 water-resistance.
- AW7 will not get a new oHRM 99%. However, AW6’s sensor IS likely to find its way onto subsequent models including AW SE gen 2 99%
- Sensor fusion between the accelerometers and oHRM will enable more safety & wellness functions, that includes accidents (an elderly trip or a bike crash), sleep, medical alerts (AFib, SpO2), wider female health features and a ‘help mommy! I’m about to be mugged alert’ 80%. The commercial importance of some of these feature sets cannot be overstated.
- AW7’s new sensor would most likely be a (basal) body temperature sensor. Whilst that appears to be a #Shrug moment that sensor would further improve sleep stage detection, fertility tracking accuracy and early detection of some illnesses. And those three features are BIG, BIG features on smart watches. If you want to bet on an unknown…this would be the one.
- To include body temperature measurements 70%
- AW7 will get wider connectivity to external devices – AirTAG, we’ve already talked about 100%, I’m thinking more about GymKit (which is stated for the AW6 in 2021, albeit probably initially limited) 100% (phased). Support for Bluetooth/BLE/FTMS sensors already exists in the SDK, support for ANT+ is unlikely (1%).
- AW7 will still have a magnetic compass
- AW7’s screen is more of an enigma. Something ‘new’ will happen as the current tech seems to have gone as far as it can. We could see more battery efficient micro-LED/mini-LED screen or a round format as the next evolution….both together could be risky. 50% chance we will see one of them.
- AW7 may well not need increased capacity above 32Gb. Realistically, disk space is mostly used for music and cached maps/video. Disk space is cheap, the issue is that the physical unit would be very slightly larger (and hence the space for the battery very slightly less)
- AW7’s RAM is unknown. If the DRAM is currently 1Gb then will further increasing it make any material difference to the performance vs space equation?
- AW7 gets Bluetooth 5.2 support 30%.
I don’t think any of those predictions are exciting. Sorry. But they don’t need to be exciting for the creep of ever-better Apple Watches to continue. Remember, Apple Watch is only 5 buttons and a decent battery life away from wiping Garmin from the NASDAQ. That’s not so much of a techy change for such a commercial upheaval.
Further cautionary points:
Apple was sufficiently secretive to be able to release the SE version without anyone knowing until Summer 2020! So it should be able to sneak something equally as significant out for 2021.
Extrapolating from the past is fine…until it isn’t. Thus the AW SE saw an unpredicted disruption to the annual AW release cycle. It’s a reasonable guess that the AW SE2 could move to a 2-year refresh cycle but why couldn’t the AW6/7/8 also move to a bi-annual cycle? Why not circular or PRO model iterations one year and the two rectangular ones iterate the next? Or some variation on that theme?
Second Pass: Health & Fitness Features
Apple Watch is clearly an extension of your iPhone. Yet, the future of the Apple Watch uniquely lies in becoming ever more independent of the phone and able to sense biometrics from your body as well as sense environmental interactions, the latter includes sensing your ‘speed’ for fitness purposes. Apple Watch is a wearable, an iPhone isn’t. AW also requires connectivity to external fitness sensors for the longer-term support of fitness and athletic endeavours beyond GymKit. I don’t think Apple has too much urgency on that aspect, remember Apple tends to focus on its ecosystem first and foremost.
Whilst the Fitbit Sense introduced EDA scans and core/skin temperature, I don’t believe that Apple has to respond to Fitbit per see. It’s more that Apple will progressively respond to the needs oy a loyal and growing customer base.
Elsewhere the is a first-mover advantage and massive profits to be had. Financial urgency comes from a magical solution to non-invasively measured blood pressure, hydration and/or blood sugar. Blood pressure readings are plausible, the other two aren’t. The tech isn’t there yet despite a few patents that people will cite in the comments below. Then there is a micro-fine tightrope that needs to be walked with the FDA, if Apple claims to produce medical-grade devices then it has a whole host of responsibilities and risks to manage. Trying to claim that a blood pressure sensor is some sort of indicative health tool rather than a medical sensor wouldn’t pass with me, maybe the FDA are more of a pushover? Hmmm.
In my opinion, extended GymKit support and a BODY TEMPERATURE sensor are vastly more likely in the AW7 than a hydration sensor, a blood glucose sensor or a blood pressure sensor, simply because they are vastly easier and it makes sense to do the easy stuff first, so long as people want it. People patently DO want sleep, fertility and sport sensor improvements. That all said, the financial imperative IS there to deliver exotic health sensors because our populations are getting less fit by the year and high blood pressure and diabetes are mass-killers and mass consumers of funds to manage and treat them and their implications.
There are a lot of details to mull over there.
New battery tech, new screen tech and new watch formats are the most exciting. Most likely, the excitement will come from the software improvements of Watch OS8 rather than new hardware in Apple Watch 7.
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- Band Shown: Amazon and Nomad both sell the Rugged Strap. £57.00, Eu63, although right now it’s less than $50 on Nomad’s own US site.
- Band Shown: MonoWear Active Nylon: $32
- Other HIGH-quality bands from Watch Strap Co., aka WsC
Here are predictions and leaks for pretty much every other GPS sports device available right now