Apple Watch 7 gets new GNSS (GPS) Chip & New WiFi Chip- An Explainer
Apple Watch – GNSS/GPS History
The first-generation Apple Watch and Series 1 Apple Watch had no GPS capability. Series 2 saw the introduction of a GNSS chip for the first time which covered both the American global GPS network as well as the Russian GLONASS network. Support for the Galileo and QZSS constellations were added in Apple Watch Series 3 but then we don’t know what happened to the tech as the support for the same constellations was maintained from 2017 to the Apple Watch 6 in 2020.
Must Read: Detailed Apple Watch 7 Review
It’s quite possible that the Series 6 GPS chip was silently updated around 2019 as there were many technical advances from other GNSS chip manufacturers in the wider market at the same time. My sneaking suspicion (guess) would be that the hardware did NOT change because my extensive GPS tests of the Apple Watch 6 (supporter-only content) found little difference to what came before – but that’s fine as the results were pretty good and better than almost all current sports watches from Garmin, Coros, Polar & Co.
But now the chip has changed.
Apple Watch 7 – A New Generation of GNSS/GPS Accuracy…and Power
GNSS Accuracy is a highly complex subject and these factors all come into play
- Available number of satellites (from one or more constellations)
- Quality of smoothing or sampling algorithms
- Frequency of polling
- Number of satellite frequencies used (L1, L5)
- Quality of antennae
- Usage and environmental conditions
We know for certain that the new Apple chip gets additional global coverage from the addition of the Chinese Beidou constellation of satellites. In itself, this gives more chance of achieving the same level of accuracy as before. Nevertheless, that could still result in an overall improvement to the results you saw in Apple Watch 6.
However, it is inconceivable that is the only improvement. I would say it is certain that there are significant power consumption improvements as well. An example of what is possible is by comparing the MediaTek MT3333 chip used by Garmin from 2017-18 which consumed 27mW for tracking whereas the current state of tech would be exemplified by the Sony CXD5603GF (L1) at 6mW ie a 75% improvement in consumption. We can assume a broadly similar level of improvement from the new Apple chip or, in the worst case, a 50% improvement.
The other notable improvement could be that this new chip uses L1, L5 frequencies to improve accuracy by eliminating reflected and refracted satellite signals. To date, the only wearable smart/sports watch with dual-frequency is the Coros Vertix 2 using the Airoha A3335M chip. It’s possible Apple has this capability as well but I suspect NOT and, in any case, I would expect the additional frequency to be disabled at launch and only enabled in a future release of watch OS 8.x or even for the next-generation Apple Watch 8.
New Wi-fi & Fast Data Transfer Potential
There are new WiFi and data transfer capabilities in the AW7. Although the 60.5GHz frequency is mentioned, it is likely that multi-frequency transmission using 60.5GHz will allow greater (and potentially MUCH greater) data throughput.
Clearly, a docked mode (not on the wrist) is stated as a way this works. It’s unlikely this is intended solely as a way Apple Stores can flash update or recover Watches.
Apple initially created the Apple Watch as a sports device. OK, so they got distracted as they realised they could make much more money selling it as a health and fitness watch.
Either way, GNSS/GPS is obviously important for anything to do with location. That ranges from following directions, showing the correct weather report to reporting your running speed.
Surely if you create a running watch (or a running app on a smartwatch) then the absolute main, key, super-important, vital thing is to know exactly how fast you are running? right? I can assure you that EVERY sports watch, including Garmins, are frequently wrong by 20-40 seconds per kilometre when it comes to reporting your instant pace from GPS at any given time in urban areas. Really, they can frequently be that inaccurate at their prime purpose. That’s why a new GPS chip could be important.
GPS chips also historically gobbled a lot of battery juice…so, that’s cutting down that consumption is the other reason why this is important.
The new capabilities of the data transmitter will probably lie dormant until a future Watch model. There are probably benefits of smaller sizes and reduced power consumption however the capability appears to be VERY significantly increased data transfer rate and this can only mean one thing in the longterm…video, be that video calls over LTE or something else.
In A Nutshell
We know for certain that Beidou is now supported. This improves the chance of achieving the existing level of accuracy. (+/-5m). In all likelihood, we will notice little difference to the recorded tracks nor to the accuracy on instant pace/speed. I’ll test that in full when I buy one when they are available.
It’s also likely the new chip offers significant savings in power consumption but we won’t see that as, for example, power savings will be taken up by higher power consumption of the larger screen.
An optimist who believes that Apple rides the waves at the leading edge of innovation will expect the new chip to enable increased precision from the latest, greatest L1/L5 dual-frequency precision location support. Hmmm, I’m not that much of an optimist.