Your Apple Watch is going to become less dependent on your iPhone, as Apple pushes developers to create apps that run natively on the smartwatch. Apple's push to bolster the software running on its watch comes at the same time as rumors that the next version of the Apple Watch will feature largely internal improvements rather than major external changes.
The software news comes straight from Apple, which posted a notice on its developer website that as of June 1, all watchOS apps submitted for App Store approval will need to run natively on the Apple Watch. That should improve the performance of apps, since they won't need to always pass information back and forth between the watch and the iPhone. It also enables apps to access features on the watch itself such as the heart rate monitor, accelerometer, taptic engine and microphone.
Apple first introduced native apps to the Apple Watch last year with the release of watchOS 2. Having apps run natively on the Apple Watch makes the device less dependent on the iPhone, which Apple thinks could increase the appeal of its smartwatch.
Apple is also reportedly planning a new version of the Apple Watch, but on the outside, it won't look very different from the original model. That's the word from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a solid track record when it comes to predicting Apple's next move. According to Apple Insider, Kuo's latest research note claims the next Apple Watch will feature "spec improvements with limited changes to form factor design."
Kuo expects the latest watch to debut in the fall, likely at the same time as the rumored iPhone 7. That would bring new Apple Watches to the retail market just in time for the holiday shopping season.
Still, the lengthy gap between Apple Watch updates — the original Apple Watch has been available for a year — has Kuo predicting less than stellar watch sales for Apple in 2016. In the same research note forecasting a focus on spec improvements for the Apple Watch 2, Kuo estimates that Apple sold 10.6 million watches in 2015; he's expecting that figure to drop to 7.5 million this year. Other estimates have Apple selling 12 million watches since the April 2015 launch of the first version: The Wall Street Journal notes that would be double the number of iPhones Apple sold in that product's first year.
Not everyone thinks Apple will wait until the fall for an Apple Watch update. Brian White, an analyst with brokerage Drexel Hamilton, said an updated watch could debut at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, which typically takes place in June. According to Mac Rumors, White based his prediction on a recent tech tour of China, concluding that a new Apple Watch could also be 20 to 40 percent thinner than the original version.
Rumors about the next Apple Watch have been circulating practically since the first one arrived in April 2015. It's widely expected the next version will include an integrated camera with 9to5Mac reporting last year that the Apple Watch 2 could sport a FaceTime camera to enable video calls. The camera is expected to be integrated into the top bezel of the Apple Watch 2.
Other smartwatches have integrated cameras before, such as Samsung's Gear 2, but they've been used for snapping photos instead of two-way video calls. Since the speaker used to make calls on the current Apple Watch leaves a little bit to be desired, hopefully an enhancement to that feature would come along with a front camera.
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In addition to allowing native apps, last year's watchOS 2 software update lets you initiate and answer FaceTime calls from your wrist, but just with audio.
Initial rumors suggested an updated watch would be unlikely to have its own cellular connection. However, the Wall Street Journal's report on the watch's first year of sales says that Apple is working on adding cellular connectivity to the next Apple Watch as well as a faster processor for the device. And older 9to5Mac's report says the watch could leverage a new Wi-Fi chip to handle tasks like text messages, emails and updating data in apps like weather. Whatever changes Apple ultimately introduces with the new watch, it seems like Apple is putting an emphasis on removing the link between its watch and its phone. (It's not as if today's Apple Watch is completely dependent on the iPhone — you can use it for fitness tracking, music and mobile payments — but the Apple Watch 2 should be able to do more.)
Even as Apple works on all of these upgrades, 9to5Mac said last summer not to expect much improvement in battery life. Among color smartwatches, the Apple Watch actually lasts longer on a charge than most of its Android Wear-based competitors (at about 18 hours), but you still need to charge it once a day, especially if you tend to use the growing number of apps.
That could change -- in August, DigiTimes reported that display maker TPK was making "One Glass Solution" (OGS) touch screens for the next Apple Watch, which take up less space than the original mode's OLED display. Traditional touch screens require two stacked pieces of glass. This could leave more room for a larger battery.
In March, Apple cut the price of its entry-level watch by $50. It also introduced a new line of bands in new colors and materials. If Kuo's predictions prove accurate, those could be the last changes we see to the Apple Watch lineup until the fall.