Apple has a seriously difficult job when it comes time to replace the Apple Watch Ultra. It went in a new direction with it at launch, emphasizing its outdoor adventure credentials, and backing it up with the right features and materials. While not for everyone due to the size and the price, it’s a superb smartwatch that truly earned its 5/5 score in our review — and it has continued to impress ever since.
How can Apple improve on the first version when it comes time to introduce the inevitable Apple Watch Ultra 2? Here are a few things we hope to see.
Don’t make it bigger
There are some rumors already circulating that the screen on the Apple Watch Ultra 2 may be larger than the current model. At first, this sounds concerning — but provided the case itself is no bigger, it’s fine. Yes, the Apple Watch Ultra is a big watch, but it’s not unmanageable for those who are either used to wearing big watches or don’t have small wrists. Keeping it the same size, whilst possibly increasing the screen size, sounds fine.
But, in my time using the Ultra so far, not once have I thought, “I can’t see the screen.” There’s interesting potential in changing the screen technology for one that’s more efficient or brighter, but I can’t see the value in changing the screen size just yet. Not changing the size of the Apple Watch Ultra overall for any Apple Watch Ultra 2 seems like the best course of action.
Make it smaller
While making the Apple Watch Ultra 2 bigger seems like a waste, making it smaller may not be. The Ultra’s size means it doesn’t appeal to anyone with small wrists, or who prefers small watches. One of the reasons I dislike the Google Pixel Watch is that it only comes in one size, and I’m sure there are people who feel the same about the Apple Watch Ultra.
Apple’s problem will be getting the balance in size and battery capacity right. If the Apple Watch Ultra 2 doesn’t provide much more battery life than an Apple Watch Series 8 (or the inevitable Apple Watch Series 9), then it’ll only be the design that separates it and will become redundant. Because it’s a tool watch for outdoor enthusiasts, it shouldn’t be small. But by minimizing some of the external design changes — the button guards, for example — a 47mm Apple Watch Ultra 2 could work, and bring this great smartwatch to more people.
Give it satellite connectivity
The iPhone 14 series has satellite connectivity and the Apple Watch Ultra has LTE as standard, but to really make the smartwatch work as a standalone device people can rely on own in an emergency, Apple should add satellite connectivity to the Apple Watch Ultra 2. Apple is one of the pioneers of this technology, but others are using it in increasingly interesting and more varied ways, so Apple may be able to maintain its lead by integrating it into a smartwatch.
Undoubtedly it will be technically challenging, and it won’t be a feature that will appeal to everyone, but it fits in with how hardcore Apple Watch Ultra owners will use the watch. It doesn’t really need the iPhone to accompany it now, so giving it the same emergency tools as the iPhone will mean there won’t be any compromises to leaving your iPhone behind.
Package it with a cheaper, everyday band
The Apple Watch Ultra’s special bands really suit it, and add to the visual drama of the watch, but they aren’t especially suitable for all-day, everyday wear. Despite its size, the Watch Ultra can be worn all the time; all it needs is a more sensible, comfortable band (as I recently found out by using the simple silicone Solo Loop band with the Ultra).
Packaging the Apple Watch Ultra 2 with a “normal” band like the Solo Loop will also help it appeal to more people, as it lessens the outdoorsy style, and helps reduce the visual impact too. Make the Solo Loop in a special, Watch Ultra 2 color, and Apple retains some all-important exclusivity too. In an ideal world, if it can drop the overall price by $50 or $100 for this entry-level “comfort” version of the Apple Watch Ultra 2, then all the better.
Refine the features
I haven’t used the Apple Watch Ultra to track hikes into the wilderness, or taken it deep underwater. It means there are aspects of the smartwatch’s features that I have not yet fully appreciated, or have the experience to understand its disappointments in these areas. There are plenty of people who have used the Apple Watch Ultra in these ways, though, and they are best placed to see where it can be improved.
The Ultra is Apple’s first go at a rugged smartwatch, and the new features were never going to be perfect, or please everyone. For the Apple Watch Ultra 2, Apple would be wise to draw on the experiences of Ultra enthusiasts to refine the hiking, navigation, diving, and running features. For example, I’ve seen comments wanting native support for .GPX files, a more intelligent Back Track feature, and improved dive timing.
If the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is really to improve on the Apple Watch Ultra, it’s in these niche areas it should do so; in its current form, it’s so immensely capable for the average user, it’s hard to make it measurably better. Instead, Apple needs to build on and refine the newly introduced features that make the Ultra such an exciting sporting, adventure smartwatch. It needs to listen to its hardcore owners and see why they still may reach for a Garmin smartwatch when they get serious.
Time is on Apple’s side
The Apple Watch Ultra is the best smartwatch you can buy if you can manage the size (and own an iPhone), and I don’t think you absolutely have to utilize all the outdoor-specific features to enjoy it either. I’d never need the helium-escape valve on an Omega Seamaster 300M, but that wouldn’t stop me from wearing the watch.
For this reason, Apple doesn’t need to replace the Ultra any time soon and has plenty of time to work on making an Apple Watch Ultra 2 even better. While we may see a replacement later this year, it seems more likely any second-gen model will arrive in 2024. That means you shouldn’t hold off getting the Apple Watch Ultra now, and because it’s so good, you won’t be disappointed in it.
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