Ahead of Apple Watch release, concerns about battery life abound

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 March, 2015, 2:21pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 April, 2015, 11:30am

The Apple Watch is to be unveiled on Monday morning California time, but will the company's first new product since the death of Steve Jobs be an iPhone-like success, or a Newton-scale flop? 

Three million Apple Watches are expected to be sold in the next weeks.

This includes hundreds of thousands of the 18-carat-gold Apple Watch Edition, expected to retail for more than US$5,000 and which, if it proves as popular as Apple hopes, could use as much as one-third of the world's gold supply

Unlike previous Apple products, the Watch is targeting a high fashion and luxury market, rather than a tech one, as evidenced by the presence of Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour at an unveiling in September. But the success or failure of the device could hinge on a problem that has long plagued Apple: battery life. 

According to industry news site 9to5Mac, the Apple Watch will need to be charged nightly, and may run out of power after five hours of "heavy app usage". 

Battery life has long been a problem for the iPhone, with the latest model needing to be charged at least once per day and more often for heavy users.

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Apple's chief designer Jony Ive defended the iPhone's poor battery life, saying that a larger battery would make the device heavier and therefore less "compelling" for users. 

Nevertheless, battery life is a key concern for Apple with the Watch, to the extent that its limiting features available to third-party apps in order to cut down on charging frequency.

"I think Apple is taking a similar approach with the Apple Watch and iPhone, saying to themselves: 'We don't have an option to fail on this,'" Sumit Mehra, chief technology officer of app studio Y Media Labs told Business Insider.

"So Apple is limiting all this nice stuff, all these sensors, NFC, haptics, heartbeat sensor, gyrometer — everything. Apple is only going to allow developers to do the basic stuff to just get the Apple Watch out there, because either it's not ready, or they don't know what the implications of something like this could be."

"Sensors take up a lot of battery, and they don’t want every app out there on the Apple Watch using these sensors because all of a sudden this watch will only give you four hours of battery life, and then it’s not a watch anymore if I have to charge my wrist every four hours."

While iPhone users may have become resigned to charging their devices everyday (and its not like the problem is limited to iOS devices), watch owners have very different expectations: a typical watch battery lasts around four years. 

"The Apple Watch is Jonathan Ive’s new Newton," writes Fast Company's Mark Wilson, referring to the personal digital assistant device discontinued by Apple in 1998. 

"It’s a potentially promising form that’s being built about 10 years before Apple has the technology or infrastructure to pull it off in a meaningful way."

Current battery technology dooms the Apple Watch, Wilson argues.

"Analog watches have omnipresent dials that define their design and allow them to function on almost no power," he said. "But a 'smart' watch that can't shine its own face is neither functional nor fashionable. It's just a time coffin that lives on your wrist."