Ever since Apple announced that it was building its own smartwatch, fans of wearables have been eager to see what the Cupertino company would deliver. Whether you love it or hate it, Apple has a reputation for excellence, and for waiting until it can deliver a superior experience that make previous products from lesser companies look like floundering newbies by comparison. Now, that long-time reputation for excellence may be sorely tested by the one force in the universe that remains impervious to the company’s Reality Distortion Field — physics.
New reports indicate that while the Apple Watch will pack significant processing power and a fluid, 60Hz display, it won’t deliver much in the way of battery life. 9to5 Mac is claiming that the CPU inside the Watch is close in power to the Apple A5 and running a stripped-down version of iOS known as SkiHill.
If true, this would actually put the Watch in the middle of the smartphone CPU pack. Many competitor products have adopted quad-core chips based on the Cortex-A7, or dual-core CPUs with embedded accelerators like the Cortex-M family. Apple’s A5, in contrast, was based on the Cortex-A9 — an older, but somewhat faster chip compared to the Cortex-A7.
Presumably, Apple will have moved the CPU to 28nm or 20nm (the original chip was built on 45nm before transitioning to 32m) but anything is possible at this point. Either way, 9to5 quotes its sources as saying that the iWatch will provide 2.5 hours of heavy application use, 3.5 hours of standard application use, and four hours when the device is used in straight fitness tracking applications. The watch should be able to display its clock face for up to three hours if left in that mode — which means, yes, apparently this is a watch that one wears without actually displaying the time on an ongoing basis.
Buried in that last point is something of a repudiation of the entire smartwatch concept. If a device can’t actually display the time, it’s going to disrupt the whole “I wear a smartwatch because phones are inconvenient” narrative. The larger problem Apple faces, of course, is that it’s incredibly hard to build powerful processors and gorgeous displays into wrist-mounted devices while simultaneously expecting them to last for hours.
If Apple doesn’t have a solution to this problem, it’s not because there’s anything wrong with Cupertino. The problem is, our semiconductor manufacturing may not be mature enough to solve the problem. Barring a major breakthrough in battery life or device performance, smartwatches may be an idea whose time never comes. Apple has reportedly been battling multiple production issues, from slower-than-expected inductive charging to the limited battery life. A great deal is riding on the company’s plans, but this may be one segment it can’t simply reinvent by force of will.