Is Apple about to ‘iPod mini’ the Apple Watch?

The Apple Watch may be about to become a product family in its own right.


Decoding the latest Apple announcement, it seems the Apple Watch may soon graduate from its status as a subordinate accessory for iPhones into a full-weight product family in its own right.

Here's why I think this.

The iPhone event that wasn’t

When Apple told the world it will hold an event on Sept. 15, industry watchers were confused. They’d heard that the new iPhones may be delayed until October or beyond, while industry insiders such as Jon Prosser, Mark Gurman and others were telling us that the event won’t see an iPhone 12 launch, but will instead see the debut of the Apple Watch Series 6 and iPad Air 4. (The watch was seemingly confirmed by stray code on the Apple YouTube page.)

In this picture, Apple’s new smartphones get their moment in the autumn sun a little later, with iPhones, AirTags, over-the-ear AirPods and a new HomePod also waiting in the wings. (Not to mention the world’s first-ever Mac built on Apple Silicon.)

While we don’t know for sure what Apple plans, the anticipated new product list seems far more extensive than the firm would traditionally cram inside one event. At the same time, if it’s true Apple plans a launch event dedicated to the Apple Watch and new iPad Air, there’s going to be something significant about them.

What might this be?

I think the focus is really on the watch.

What’s in watchOS 7?

Appearing at WWDC 2020, Apple’s vice president for technology, Kevin Lynch, told us what to expect in the next iteration of watchOS 7.

Flagship features include new sleep tracking, shareable watch faces and a hand washing monitor. The Workout app becomes "Fitness" with far more comprehensive analysis of physical activity and the capacity to track new families of exercise, including dance. More on this here.

The watch also maintains direction as an augmentation tool designed to help users make better decisions with helpful advice to do things, how to get more sleep or when to get more exercise, for example.

What we think we know about Apple Watch 6

We think we know a few things about Apple Watch 6. Tracking claims made across summer we’ve seen predictions it will be a little thinner than before, boast a couple of new health-tracking sensors (including a pulse oximeter for blood oxygen level detection) and may include some form of biometric ID to replace the Digital Crown.

Equipped with a larger battery designed to support the new Sleep tracking tools and supported by improvements within the OS, Apple Watch Series 6 will remain the market-leading wearable.

Which is why Apple wants to expand the market by exercising its well-honed iPod mini strategy.

The iPod mini strategy?

Think back and you may recall when the iPod was the world’s biggest-selling MP3 player. Did Apple rest on its laurels milking that product for all it was worth?

No. It did not.

Instead, it diversified and expanded the iPod market with the iPod mini, which quickly became its biggest-selling music player until it was eventually replaced by the even bigger selling iPod nano (and shuffle, to an extent).

This I think may be the big news at the event. Bloomberg recently reported that Apple plans to introduce a lower-cost Apple Watch SE (that name is a guess) that competes with lower-cost fitness trackers. Reports claim this will be available in aluminium, with 16GB of storage, Bluetooth 5.0 and the same S6 and W4 processors that will also power the Apple Watch 6.

It will continue to use a Digital Crown, while the higher end model may introduce an optical sensor. Both cellular and non-cellular models will be available. (It may not actually ship until March.)

So, how will Apple turn what could be dismissed as little more than a low-cost version of an existing product into something that everyone suddenly feels they need?

A new service for fitness?

Over the summer, Bloomberg also claimed Apple plans to introduce a new home workout service. This will use the advanced physical movement analysis tools the company announced at WWDC along with AR to provide interactive home fitness sessions.

This is likely to sync with other Apple products, so you might watch the fitness video using an Apple TV, while your watch tracks what your body is actually doing.

Perhaps Apple had this service in mind when it appointed fitness instructor, Jay Blahnik, as senior director of fitness for health technologies. It also fits the big-picture strategy the company has with Apple Watch, to develop it as a tool that actually helps people with their lives.

Lynch alluded to this approach when he spoke to The Independent:

“There are so many things in the world to distract us and occupy our attention,” he said. “Supporting people in managing that transition is where the magic is…”

“In any of these adventures we go on when building things here we ask, what will make the most difference for people that, from a mainstream perspective, will be easy, helpful and empowering.”

The model is one in which the device provides a person with actionable insights that may help them improve their lives.

One more thing?

Of course, introduction of this new service may also act as a great debut for news of the Apple One services bundle, a new Apple TV and over ear AirPods. But it will be the Watch that likely generates the most attention – particularly if you want to stream Apple Music tracks over cellular on the low-cost model while on your daily run.

This is all speculation, of course. I’ve been wrong before. But, underlining all of this I sense a continued move to make the Apple Watch a system that works without an iPhone, extending the move Apple took when it made it possible to purchase and install apps on the device without an iPhone in watchOS 6. 

That voice-first future, in other words, is arriving. With this in mind, many are also curious concerning the AR Apple used in its invitation to the show. Might this suggest one more accessory no one is discussing as the company broadens its catalog?

We’ll know more in a few days.

Meanwhile, here’s a few tips to help you get things done using an Apple Watch.

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