Rugged Apple Watch 7 reportedly in the works — here’s what we know

Apple Watch rugged model
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

A new Apple Watch might arrive later this year, and not just the Apple Watch 7. Apple is reportedly working on a rugged version of its flagship smartwatch, taking aim at Garmin's demographic of outdoor sport enthusiasts.

According to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, "people familiar with the matter" say an Apple Watch variant catering to extreme sports athletes could debut as soon as 2021. It would likely complement the expected 7th-generation Apple Watch, similar to how the company offered the Apple Watch SE alongside last year's Apple Watch 6.

So what would make a rugged Apple Watch different than the one we already know? Gurman's sources say Apple could debut a new rubberized exterior that's more protective than the familiar aluminum, titanium and stainless steel case offerings.

Although the Apple Watch is already a capable outdoor companion, offering GPS, emergency services and all kinds of activity tracking, it's usually not the preferred choice for serious hikers, bikers and rock climbers. Instead, most of the best sport watches boast military-level durability ratings, including better water, temperature and scratch resistance.

Rugged Apple Watch: Battery life will be key

The leading outdoor sports watches also offer major battery life boosts compared to the existing Apple Watch. Most versions of Apple's smartwatch last about 18 hours, but that estimate wanes when continuous GPS tracking is in use. 18 hours is how long some outdoor-focused wearables last in their active GPS modes alone.

The recently-released Garmin Enduro can last up to a year (yes, 365 days) in its optimized battery saving mode, just to show you what Apple is up against.

If Apple is planning to compete with the best Garmin watches, it could look to improve the overall battery life of the Apple Watch. This has been a wish-list upgrade among Apple Watch fans for several years now, so we're cautiously optimistic about it finally happening.

Even Bloomberg's sources mitigate their intel. People "familiar with the matter," said the rugged Apple Watch model is still subject to getting canceled or delayed. Apparently, this isn't the first time Apple considered launching this breed of smartwatch variant, too.

Rugged Apple Watch price and release date

Whether you're a long-time outdoor sport enthusiast or picked up a new adventurous activity in the past year due to safety limitations of indoor activities, a dedicated sports watch is smart investment. We say investment because noteworthy models like the Garmin fenix 6 and Enduro don't come cheap.

It will be interesting to see whether the rumored, rugged-cased Apple Watch comes at a higher cost like other premium casings. It's unlikely that'll come cheaper that the baseline Series 7 (if you need a low-cost sports watch, consider the Garmin Instinct or Amazfit T-Rex Pro.)

If the rugged Apple Watch is actually releasing this year alongside the Series 7, we should expect some more substantial leaks in upcoming months. Like clockwork, Apple has scheduled its annual Apple Watch refreshes for September.

And if the rugged Apple Watch isn't arriving this year, we wonder what trick the company has up its sleeve — err, or its wrist. Since Apple split its Apple Watch and iPhone events last year, the Apple Watch 7 might not debut alongside the iPhone 13. The company will likely need some fodder for an Apple Watch-centric keynote beyond its flagship. 

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.