When Will We See A New Apple Watch?

We will get new Apple Watch hardware at some point. The possibilities of better battery life, lighter casings and un-tethered utility are self-evident and Apple will capitalize on those. But when?

This week, rumors from Chinese site Commercial Times (via 9to5Mac) said that early production of a next generation Apple Watch was beginning at supplier Quanta later this month. Late last year, 9to5Mac projected that a new Watch could appear at a March 2016 event.

I’m not so sure that we’ll be seeing it that early. Several things that I’ve heard (from several sources) indicate to me that we won’t see a major new hardware model of the Apple Watch in March. Design partnerships, accessories, that kind of thing maybe but not a “Watch 2.0” with a bunch of new hardware features. I could be wrong, of course, but I’ve heard enough to put it out there.

Update: I’ve now heard a bit more that suggests that Apple might ship a minor revision of the Apple Watch that includes a FaceTime camera and not much else — but still that it would not be a full “Watch 2.0” with casing changes and major improvements. Still no word on timing but that could explain the reports of a camera have been showing up. Like I said, tea leaves!

I spoke to Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin, who says that supply chain checks are showing no movement that would indicate a new Watch model in production as of yet.

“With the supply chain cuts from the usual suspects of Apple component providers, the timing does seem suspect for a new product given orders would have taken place in the latter part of 2015 if a new product is shipping first half of 2016,” says Bajarin. “We are observing some interesting new patterns in Apple’s supply chain that are making the waters more murky than before. As with the current edition of the Apple Watch, no one really saw that coming via supply chain so it is possible to not see it. However, the Apple supplier warnings of soft revenue ahead do seem to cause one’s eyebrow to raise when thinking about a new product supposedly shipping in a few months.”

I’m also not hearing any major action on the software side of a new Apple Watch model. Shipping hardware well in advance of a even beta software that developers can use to take advantage of new features isn’t something that usually turns out well. The iPad Pro and Pencil are recent examples of a situation where the capabilities far outstrip the support so far from developers. What I have heard, though, is that Apple Watch had a big holiday quarter, which is backed up by research from Juniper that indicates over 50 percent of the smartwatch market belonged to Apple this season.

Additional sources have indicated to me that something is in at least the early planning stages for March, so there could still be an event. But what would be launched there I don’t know. Perhaps a smaller 4-inch iPhone and a new iPad model? When asked about the Watch and event, Apple declined to comment.

The larger question is really about what the replacement cycle of the Apple Watch will shape up to be. Even Apple doesn’t know that answer (it doesn’t even really know what the iPad replacement cycle looks like, besides the fact that it is really long.) The Watch, as a lightweight extension of the smartphone, rather than a standalone piece of equipment in its own right, has the potential to be much more powerful and transformative than it is now as an accessory. But the lightweight interactions and necessarily low-key hardware requirements could mean a much longer replacement cycle than, say, an iPhone.

If a major new Apple Watch were introduced in September, along with the very likely introduction of new iPhones for the holiday season, that would put the gap at close to two years between the initial introduction and the announcement of a new model. Though the hardware shipped later, the gap between introductions seems like it could be a better bit of breathing room between versions. This would allow for more significant advances in hardware, and also could prevent customer exhaustion.

As with anything related to Apple hardware announcements, the tea leaves are hard to read and the companies plans can change (the advantage of never publicly announcing hardware). But as of now, March seems like it’s a bit too early to count on Watch 2.0.

Article updated with new information about possible Apple Watch hardware.