Would you shell out money for a ‘smart’ accessory band for an Apple Watch that added additional capabilities? More battery life, perhaps?
The reason I ask is that the Apple Watch has a port that the company has yet to show off. It’s being used for diagnostics and direct access to the Watch operating system, but it’s feasible that could be used to connect accessories in the future.
The port has a 6-dot brass contact array inside the groove for the ‘bottom’ strap connector slot. Several sources have confirmed its existence and placement to me. It is very similar to the connector for the Lightning connector in iPhones, as that connector currently only uses 6 of its 8 available pins. Apple recently began opening up the Lightning port for use by third parties. A source says that this port is currently for diagnostic purposes only — but that there is nothing preventing it from being a connection port for future accessories.
Let’s get this out of the way: As far as I know, smart bands will not be a part of the first Apple Watch version.
But the existence of the port is interesting. Every millimeter of the Watch has been decided with purpose in mind. In a device so small and personal, you cannot afford to keep anything extraneous. Apple including this kind of port on what I believe to be the shipping versions of the Apple Watch means that it’s absolutely necessary in order to install the OS during manufacturing. Or for testing or debugging purposes — say, in an Apple Store. But that doesn’t preclude the possibility that it could be used to connect accessories in the future.
Those accessories would likely take the form of bands that expanded the capabilities of the Watch in some way. One obvious way would be to include additional sensors in a band to gather more information about the wearer in health capacities. This could be a way to add sensors that measured stress, blood pressure and more — things the current version does not track.
It’s also conceivable that a company like Mophie could build a Watch band that contained an additional battery for extended life (if Apple extends band manufacturing to other companies, which seems likely). Pebble recently announced a feature for its new Time watch called “Smartstraps,” which operates on the same principle.
This first wave of the Apple Watch will be about seeing what developers can get it to do with apps. But, as we’ve seen with the iPhone, accessories are a big driver of Apple retail. Having accessories that not only augment the Watch aesthetically, but also operationally, would be big business.
This kind of extensibility would be a great way to get around the “I just bought a watch for a couple thousand dollars that will be obsolete next year” problem. What if people that shelled out thousands could add additional capabilities by simply upgrading their bands? This wouldn’t help if most of the money you spent was on your hardened gold link band, of course, but it could alleviate the angst over having to replace a hefty investment down the road.
While the port is on watches that are being used by Apple employees currently — there is always a possibility that the Watch version that ships to consumers won’t have this port at all (the Watch’s design has changed in small ways over the months since its announcement). There is also absolutely no guarantee that the port will ever be used for anything but diagnostics. But it’s still interesting that it exists — and to think about the possibilities.
If you’re curious, the other slot has “Assembled in China – Designed by Apple in California” engraved inside.
Update: Apple declined to comment on rumor or speculation.
Update: A report from 9to5Mac suggests, as I noted was possible, that the port won’t be on the models that ship to consumers.This report was apparently referring to a Lightning port. The diagnostic port we mentioned above is both on Apple’s watches at the event (we checked) and in their videos released on the construction process.