Face-Off: Is it time for Apple to make a hybrid smartwatch?

Hugh and Mike battle it out

Welcome to Wareable Face-Off, a new column where two of our writers go head-to-head in the ring of strongly-held opinions for a wearable tech smackdown. Before fighting commences, please also pour one out for the proposed names that didn't make the cut: Wareable Smack Down, Wrists Of Fury, The Worn Ultimatum, Watcho Libre and countless other terrible suggestions.

We're kicking things off with a big one: Should Apple build a hybrid smartwatch? The company's dominating the smartwatch space right now, but would it make sense for it to follow the fashion brands and create something to appeal to the classic watch crowd too?

In one corner we have editor Mike Sawh, who's pro-hybrid all the way, while US editor Hugh Langley isn't having any of it. The gloves are off. Time to fight.

Mike: It's time for Apple to build a hybrid

After three versions of the Apple Watch there's an argument that there's still work to be done to make it the "perfect" smartwatch. But would the idea of Apple branching out and making a hybrid smartwatch be so ludicrous? I don't think it is, and there's no reason why it wouldn't work or couldn't be a success.

A hybrid could answer a lot of the issues I feel prospective Watch owners may still with have the current smartwatch – namely the design, which is not universally loved. Also, if there's less tech that needs to be powered under the hood then longer battery life is a certainty, potentially matching the Nokia Steel HR's 25 days or even better.

What features would it incorporate? I think the way to go could would be an approach similar to the Garmin Vivomove HR, combining an attractive circular watch design with a discreet digital display while still supporting those great first-party and third-party watch bands. Embracing Apple's slick notification system would be a must, and even incorporating those Activity rings (maybe as little sub dials in the watch face) would definitely give it appeal. There are a lot of features that I imagine remain untouched by most Apple Watch owners, so stripping down to the smartwatch and fitness basics wouldn't be such a bad thing.

I can kind of see it already. Taking the best bits of what the likes of Garmin, Nokia and even Fossil have done in this space and embracing all of the good Apple has done as well. Pricing would still probably be around the same as the Apple Watch. But if it looks good and delivers where it needs to deliver, then I'd certainly be interested and I'm sure I wouldn't be the only one.

Hugh: Are you having a laugh?

No offence Mike, but you've lost the plot on this one. See me after class.

First of all, Apple has zero pedigree in the craftsmanship it would require to pull this off. It's an electronics company, always has been. I'll agree that the Apple Watch is not the best looking smartwatch out there, but if anything that only reinforces my argument. Even with 'proper' screen-toting smartwatches, tech companies have struggled on design, which is why the fashion houses are stepping in and doing it better.

But even if we assume Apple had the chops to build a gorgeous smartwatch – I'm sure it could reach its hands into the bottomless Cupertino money pit and poach some of Switzerland's finest – it wouldn't align with the company's ambitions. It wants that screen. It needs that screen. Apple is gradually reducing the reliance on the iPhone as the Watch becomes capable of doing much more, including streaming data, taking calls and, eventually, deeper health capabilities.

If you believe the rumours, Apple will soon announce a platform to let third-party apps make better use of that untethered connection. The Watch is swelling with new features, sensors and smarts by the year. And you know what that means? More need for a screen than ever. Apple knows that the future of wearables is deep health, and while I'm not saying a screen is absolutely integral to that, it will be if Apple wants its Watch to be independent.

Let's also not forget that Apple's App Store is a massive profit generator for Cupertino. People aren't going to wear both an Apple Watch and a hybrid, so it would have to concede some of that potential app revenue. According to data from Sensor Tower, the App Store raked in $38.5 billion in 2017 from apps and in-app purchases. The Apple Watch's ecosystem is relatively young, with plenty more potential for app creators to make money from users – and for Apple to share in the spoils.

Apple doesn't usually fear cannibalisation, because it often makes business sense in the long run, but here it would mean creating a third category of product that risks knobbling the progress of one that's finally showing signs of success. Sorry Mike, you're down – and you're out.


What do you think?

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