Can the Next Apple Watch Be Any Thinner?

The current Apple Watch contains a 205 mAh battery that takes up about two-thirds of the area and about half thickness of the case. Given that customers would like to see the Apple Watch's battery last longer and yet be faster, what are the prospects for shaving some battery thickness and making the Apple Watch thinner?

Image credit: Apple

In an informal discussion, without delving into exotic approaches, there are at least four things Apple can do to give the Apple Watch, version 2, a longer battery life—in the hopes of making the watch thinner.

  1. Decrease the power required by the SoC and OLED display.
  2. Make the onboard software more power efficient.
  3. Make key components smaller and make the battery larger in area.
  4. Improve the battery design so that is has more milliAmp-hours per unit volume.

Unfortunately, despite heavy R&D, battery technology doesn't improve dramatically from year to year. Perhaps 10 percent. For example, one clever thing Apple did with the 2015 MacBook was to change the battery design to be more conformal. That is, fit into all the nooks and crannies of the case. That adds capacity without any new battery technology required.

Another factor in the design is the extent to which Apple can further miniaturize and reduce the power requirements of the system. Customers are currently clamoring for an Apple Watch that goes longer between charges and is more independent of the iPhone. Accordingly, if the battery (and the rest of the assembly) were made thinner, to be more stylish and appeal to women with small wrists, the battery would have to grow in area to compensate.

That trade-off (thinner but more area) could well end up being a wash and while the Apple Watch would perhaps look cooler, it might not have dramatically more capacity.

And so, it's a very delicate balance between advances in the state of the art of the technology inside and the user expectations. Worse, while a thinner Apple Watch may look nice and fit some people better, it might be seen as a step backwards by those who really only care about not having to charge it every night.

Removing the battery during teardown. Image credlt: iFixit

For example, from iFixit's teardown, the current battery looks to be, very roughly, 5 mm thick. Reducing the overall thickness by 1 mm and making it no larger would cut its capacity by 20 percent. Not good.

It's impossible to surmise how the design of the Apple Watch will go in its next version and what advances Apple can make in the four areas above. But I think it's safe to say that if the Apple Watch 2 is any thinner, there won't be substantial improvement in the time between charges.

Apple's task will be a design trade-off combined with marketing campaign that makes the customers appreciate (and want) the next version of the Apple Watch even as they ignore the fact that dramatic gains are not in the offing so soon after version 1.0.

I wouldn't be surprised if, for now, Apple settles for a better battery, a larger battery, a less power-hungry SoC and leaves the squishy concept of "thinner" to the future. Apple has years, decades, ahead to achieve that.