After holding the iPhone 12 Pro for a year, and really preferring it wrapped in a case, I’m very worried about the Apple Watch Series 7 and what is being described as a “dramatic change in design.” The rumor is that the Series 7 will replicate the most distinctive design elements of the iPhone 12 series, the iPad Pro, and the Mac Mini M1 — flat sides and squared-off edges.
The Apple Watch Series 6, which shares its design with the Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 5, is almost exactly right in terms of proportions, size, shape, and weight, making it immensely comfortable to wear, while the jewel-like curved case works in all situations and with all outfits. Moving away from the flowing lines may impact all of this, and that has got me a little concerned.
Not hip to be too square
When the Apple Watch Series 4 was released in 2018, Apple’s chief design officer Sir Jony Ive told Wallpaper, “You’d be reckless to move away from the fundamental icon,” when asked about the subtle evolution of the design compared to the Series 3. Ive, a known watch aficionado, left Apple the year after and the Series 7 will be the first departure away from his final smartwatch design for the company.
Has Apple shunned Ive’s words and decided reckless is the way forward? Renders of the Apple Watch Series 7 created by FrontPage Tech (above) from alleged CAD drawings and other leaks show how the non-Ive Apple Watch may resemble the iPhone 12. If you’ve got one of the phones to hand, then imagine it at a sixth of the overall size and you get the general idea. If you happen to have an iPhone 11 hanging around, then take a look at the way it’s designed, and how the shape of the sides mimics that of the Apple Watch Series 6.
Now pick the two up. One is considerably more comfortable to hold than the other. The iPhone 12 undoubtedly looks sleek and modern, but the sharp edges are constantly noticeable when it’s in your hand, while the iPhone 11 nestles into your palm. It doesn’t require the same amount of grip to hold as the iPhone 12. There’s a gentleness to the iPhone 11, a smoothness and delicacy that’s missing from the harsher, Brutalist-like straight lines that define the iPhone 12.
Watches, good watches, flow. Whether it’s the sweep of the second hand, the motion of each cog inside the movement, the twist of the bezel on a dive watch, or how the case sculpts around a wrist, these are highly personal things and are at their best when they’re part of us. A smartwatch lacks the movement, so it must rely on design and feel to achieve a similar emotional attachment.
Watches, good watches, flow.
When I hold the iPhone 11 it’s more pleasing than the iPhone 12. Based on this if I was asked which shape would make a better wearable, the answer would be the iPhone 11 every time.
Goes with everything
The current Apple Watch is so well designed, so expertly judged, and accompanied by a wealth of quickly changed straps, that it goes with everything. The case is elegant and when paired with a metal bracelet it’s classy and looks great with smart wear, or with Apple’s Sport Loop strap it’s equally at home with sportswear and in the gym. There are very few watches that have this level of versatility, and it’s a major part of the Apple Watch’s brilliance.
Flat, or less sculpted, sides immediately make me think of sportier smartwatches. The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, the Suunto 3, the Polar Ignite, and Polar Vantage, to name just a few all have simple round cases with relatively flat sides. The Apple Watch Series 7 is rumored to come in more colors too, which combined with the new design could make it a sportier wearable overall. Less Swatch, more Nike+ SportsWatch.
Sporty smartwatches are great when you use them explicitly for sport. If it’s not, then it becomes the equivalent of wearing highly technical sneakers and never, ever breaking into anything more than a brisk walk on your way to Starbucks. Getting everyday wearability right is crucial for a smartwatch, as we really only benefit from the health tech when we wear it all of the time.
The Apple Watch Series 6 gets the balance spot-on, and it’s because of this that any change to the design, almost regardless of how small, makes me fret that it will irreparably upset the proverbial Apple cart.
Keep the faith
Does all this mean I’ve resigned myself to the Apple Watch Series 7 being a design and wearability disappointment? No, for two main reasons. The first is there’s always an exception to any rule, and just like some wrongly dismissed the Apple Watch at first because it wasn’t round, there is a flat-sided watch out there that not only looks fantastic, but wears really well too.
The Tag Heuer Monaco is a stunning, unique, and boldly off-kilter timepiece that goes against convention, yet is an undisputed style icon and one of my favorite watches. Each time I’ve worn a Monaco I’ve been so surprised at how little the slab sides, flat case back, and 15mm thickness impacted the way it felt on my wrist, brought about by careful use of curves and the slightly rounded lugs, plus a really good strap. It’s a statement watch and can’t be considered small or subtle, but the ergonomics are much better than photos first suggest.
The other reason is Apple isn’t likely to squander its huge lead in wearables by challenging us too much with its updated Apple Watch. It has been through six iterations of the Apple Watch already and inevitably understands what works and what doesn’t, and what elements are safe and advisable to alter. What we’ve seen in renders may not be the final design either, and as the Monaco proves, a picture doesn’t always give a good indication of how a watch feels on your wrist.
Not all bad news
Leaving the design aside, the technical and spec-based rumors about the Apple Watch Series 7 make me excited to see it. Just like it did on the Series 4, increasing the size and resolution of the display while reducing the bezels will really enhance the experience, but a rumored increase in battery life could be even more transformative. WatchOS 8 has a variety of new features that hint at even more comprehensive health tracking, which may signal new sensors being included on the Series 7.
I’ve little doubt the new Apple Watch will continue to be the best smartwatch you can buy on a technical and usability level, but I am not so convinced about the style and design continuing its watch-for-all-situations wearability. When I consider it carefully there are reasons to be positive, but just by picking up my case-less iPhone 12 Pro I’m reminded why I’ll remain cautious until I get one on my wrist.
Apple will hold its “California Streaming” event on September 14 and is expected to reveal the Apple Watch Series 7 alongside the new iPhone 13 models.
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