by Brandon Butler
🍕 An Apple Watch for the Wilderness needs one thing to be a huge success: multiday battery 4/14/2021

Mark Gurman reported last month that Apple is working on a rugged Apple Watch for more extreme sports, essentially adding shock absorption in a big rubber case.

I like the idea of a rugged, tough Apple Watch, but I would want more than just a protective case: give me a longer battery.

When I think extreme sports, I think about two very different extremes: riding your mountain bike along some trails near home, getting muddy and dirty and maybe taking a fall (or two) and then loading the bikes onto the bike rack and heading home for the night; or backpacking Yosemite National Park and spending days or weeks hiking and sleeping in a tent.

You’re guaranteed to close all your rings regardless of which activity you take. The shock absorption works great for any activity where you might take a fall or slam your wrist into something — a tree, a rock, the ground — and not having to worry about your watch shattering is a huge plus.

And on the mountain biking end of the spectrum, you’re out for the day and then you’re back home with a power outlet and a charger. You can wear the Watch to bed, track your sleep, then juice it up in the morning before you head out again to go wingsuiting.

On the other end of the extreme sports, however, are the backpackers, the bikepackers, the mountain climbers, or anyone else making a multi-day or week excursion into the outdoors. These people generally won’t have access to a power source and must be careful about the gear they take with them — every ounce counts, and carrying a bulk of batteries, cables, and chargers just isn’t realistic. Nor is the time spent actually recharging everything. The Watch needs the iPhone, both need different proprietary charging cables, and both need an external battery pack — which, even the bulkiest 10k or 20k batteries can only fully recharge both devices 3-6 times. How many days is that in low power mode?

You have enough to deal with while backpacking – pitching a tent, cooking your food, avoiding bears — that adding to that list “recharge multiple devices” becomes a chore.

But a rugged Apple Watch, built for use over the course of multiple days, could be great for those long distance outdoor folks. I’m not advocating for a battery that will last the length of the Pacific Crest Trail — the technology just isn’t there yet for that kind of distance – but more than a day and a half or two days would be game changing. And I think an Apple Watch with a 5 or 7 day battery could be possible.

This could be achievable in a number of ways: first, strip out several of the battery draining features, like blood oxygen levels, fall detection, the always-on mic (listening for Hey Siri) and the always-on screen. Many of these just aren’t necessary for people in extreme conditions. If I take a fall deep in Yosemite, my Watch won’t have signal and won’t be able to call for help, and no one would be able to get to me in time, anyways. A watch won’t save your life deep in the forest or up on a mountain, so let’s not pretend it will.

While we’re cutting the always-on display, let’s reduce the display quality, too. I don’t need to read email or look through my camera roll in the backcountry, and I’d rather have the battery life.

Apple Watch also feels really balanced on performance and battery: the watch is responsive and you get a day+ of battery from it. But what if the Watch was a little slower, prioritizing an extended battery life? I’d also make it easy to enter a low-power mode that disables most of the watch’s features except displaying the time, tracking steps/sleep, and a reduced frequency of pulse checking. The bare minimum.

Oh, and ditch the magnetic charger. Give us Lightning or whatever the iPhone has by then so we can use one cable to charge everything. (If Apple switched the iPhone to USB-C — which I don’t think they’re going to do — and gave the Watch a USB-C charging port, I could power my phone, watch, and Sony A7C camera all from the same cable. 🤯

I hope Apple takes a hard look at making some difficult sacrifices to the current Apple Watch Series 6 features to give backpackers and other adventures on the trail a long term battery option for simple step and sleep tracking while adventuring. My thinking is, make a mediocure Apple Watch to make a great Apple Wilderness Watch.