Apple Watch 7 makes me think there could be big upgrades to next year’s smartwatch

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The Apple Watch Series 7 is refined, but it’s also very familiar. What about a few more changes?

Scott Stein / CNET

I wear the very latest Apple watch on my wrist, but sometimes I have to remember it. The Apple Watch Series 7 has a bigger screen, which looks more beautiful. It charges a little faster. Applications load quickly. I flip through it, along with its two new watch faces, and I think… has anything really changed, though?

Of course, things have changed a bit. But the latest Apple Watch feels like a careful polish of the same ideas as Series 6. Or, Series 5 before. There isn’t one great novelty that stands out. Now that the Apple Watch feels like it has cleaned up the wearable tech experimental zone and become a mainstream product like the iPhone and iPad, perhaps that is the fate of the watch. I still see bright areas that the Apple Watch should evolve in, and the larger-screen, faster-charging Watch 7 makes it more evident than ever.

Read more: Here’s how the Apple Watch 7 compares to the Apple Watch 6, and why you might want consider the Apple Watch SE instead.

Better battery life

There are clear limits on batteries and small devices. Some fitness trackers last up to a week, but sacrifice performance and functionality. High power smartwatches tend to never exceed two days, max. Still, the Apple Watch has hovered at around a day and a half of battery life for years. When better battery life is finally coming? This autonomy of more than 18 hours continues to obtain bonuses in terms of performance: a permanent display, a larger screen, a faster processor. When will the scale tip over and extend battery life like what happens on recent iPhones and MacBooks?

Some people are fine with daily recharging. However, this seriously hampers the use of the watch as a sleep tracker. Apple suggests a quick charge in the morning or a charge at night for a night’s sleep. But a low-power sleep mode seems like an obvious need, or another way to make the battery last for a few days (or more). Turning off the always-on display or other features could help the watch extend its battery life, of course. I think more than ever of this Apple Watch battery as something that must evolve.

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The Apple Watch has a lot of watch faces. But they never feel enough, and their personalization has limits.

Scott Stein / CNET

A store of watch faces

Apple’s collection of watch faces is extensive and customizable, and the watch faces are beautiful. But it’s also limited. With Apple investing so much in bigger screens and high-performance processors, the lack of a watch face store is a lost opportunity. I keep trying to find watch faces to show off the Watch 7’s larger screen and use it in all kinds of new ways, and I’ve hit my limits. I want to show how many bits of information I can overlay (complications, we call them), for example.

One of Apple’s new Watch Series 7 faces, Modular Duo, displays two rows of rich information for apps that support it: a heart rate graph and a weather graph, for example. There aren’t many apps that use bigger complications like this. I would prefer a way to show a bunch of smaller ones, but also present it the way I want it to. There’s room on the screen now, so why not? I can’t, however, not really.

I’ve said it a ton of times: Apple Watch is the only major smartwatch that does not have an open watch face store. There could be so many more interesting designs out there, but Apple still hasn’t done it yet.

Total independence of the watch

The Apple Watch is now almost a stand-alone device: a fast wrist computer. It does a lot more than in 2015. But you still have to pair it with an iPhone.

Recent updates to Apple Watch allow you to associate a watch with someone else and have them wear it on their own, but you still need an iPhone to connect it at first.

Opening the watch to Android would be great, but there is an increasingly simple path: it should works by itself without phone. You should be able to set it up and use it fully as your own device. And then, optionally, pair it with whatever phone you have.

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The Apple Watch Series 7’s screen is so large that it rolls up a bit to the side. But the sensors on the back are the same.

Scott Stein / CNET

More sensors, or more complete sleep-wake awareness

The Apple Watch’s fitness and health features keep expanding, but it still doesn’t have a feature I’ve started to like on a few other watches and rings: a daily health score.

Fitbit and Oura wearable devices both have a morning score which can be interpreted as a kind of barometer of well-being or stress levels. The scores can seem arbitrary, of course. They depend on several readings ranging from the quality of sleep, heart rate at rest, heart rate variability and daily waking activity. And yet, over the weeks and months, I came to like the idea. I find these scores help me remember some things that I haven’t been prone to (not getting enough sleep, not getting up or being active enough), but in a more proactive way than the goals of the Apple Watch end-of-day activity ring has.

Sometimes these scores remind me to take it easy too. They can sometimes feel like a form of subtle warning system that sometimes (not always) can amount to discomfort.

The Apple Watch doesn’t have built-in temperature sensors, and it still doesn’t break down nighttime sleep in as much detail as other trackers. Sleep tracking is a flawed science on smartwatches right now, but I still find sleep scores to be useful reminders (and motivators).

The more I could wear an Apple Watch all the time, the more I would expect a little more awareness of my health than the three-ring fitness metric that I’ve started to ignore since I’ve been home a lot.

The Series 7 is the perfected watch as we know it, but what’s next?

I can see the Apple Watch as a quick, big-screen successor to the iPod on the wrist, and then go much further. I like the bigger screen, but it also feels like an opportunity that isn’t being taken advantage of enough. And it makes me more frustrated than ever having to take it off every day to recharge it.


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