An Apple Watch 'Explorer' edition is a great idea (and not because adventurers need it)

It'll bring some welcome variety to the Apple Watch, and sell by the backpack-load, too

Apple Watch rugged
(Image credit: Future)

The latest rumour about the Apple Watch Series 7 is that Apple is planning to release a more "rugged" version, perhaps alongside the regular version (expected later in 2021) or perhaps early in 2022.

That's according to a report from Bloomberg, which says some inside Apple have dubbed this the "Explorer Edition", and that it offers "extra impact-resistance and protection in the vein of Casio’s G-Shock watches". This feels like a great move to me for two reasons, one of which is good for me, and one is good for Apple.

First, let's talk about why Apple would do it. The Bloomberg report says that the new model will be "aimed at athletes, hikers and others who use the device in more extreme environments". I would be surprised if this is its primary purpose. I certainly think it's being designed for the parameters that extreme sports lovers would want, in terms of its damage resistance, waterproofing and so on. And I bet there's of people like that at Apple, because it's that kind of place, and some are undoubtedly working on this watch and making it exactly what they want it to be.

However. The extreme sports market is not exactly massive. Apple has no problem catering to niches, but it would probably rather cater to larger groups who can really move the ol' profit needle. You know what group is large and loves to wear watches made for extreme conditions even though they won't ever push them to those conditions? Men.

Think of some of the most iconic watches of all time; Rolex Submariner, made for diving; TAG Heuer Monaco, made for motorsport time tracking; Omega Speedmaster, worn to space. Think of the people who wore them: Connery as Bond, Steve McQueen, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

Think of the G-Shock itself, mentioned above – an icon of toughness since its introduction nearly 40 years ago.

People buy these watches – or more more affordable models that evoke them – because it's fun to think that you might need their extreme features one day.  Because to wear one with your business suit implies that you might unbutton your shirt to reveal a wingsuit at the end of the day, and you'll basejump your way home. These watches are cool because what they were built to do is cool, and to wear them feels like you're dialling into that. They're a little act of rebellion against the mundanity of everyday life.

I have noticed that most people I know with an Apple Watch are women. This is just anecdotal, and I have no idea how closely it reflects Apple's own sales figures – and I'm certain that one factor is that Apple is one of very few smartwatch makers focusing on women's sizes. I know men with smartwatches that aren't Apple Watches, but very few women (and those few women all have Fitbit watches).

So I wonder if an Apple Watch Explorers Edition would aim to appeal largely to people who like a rugged look, and who don't feel like Apple's current range of options really scratches that itch – even the titanium model. And I think it could sell like water-resistant hotcakes for that reason, regardless of whether it's actually any good for free climbing or whatever.

G-Shock titanium

You want a bit of this iconic tough design in your Apple Watch, don't you?

(Image credit: G-Shock)

Variety is the spice of life

That's the part that's good for Apple. But I'm not someone who covets a tough watch. I'm just someone who's starting to wish that the Apple Watch included more variety than it does now, and this could be a great positive sign for that, if it happens.

The Apple Watch comes in three materials with eight different colours, two sizes and [checks notes] I'm seeing here… one billion different band options per year? Sounds about right.

Yet after these years of basically the same design, I do find myself look at wonderful regular watches with various different shapes and flourishes to their cases, and wishing for something new on the Apple Watch (which I refuse to switch from, to be clear).

A version with some G-Shock DNA in it would surely have to mix up the design a little – moreso than the Apple Watch Nike or Hermes editions, which just include special bands and watch faces. I'm hoping that if Apple cracks the dam holding other designs back with this rugged watch, new looks might start to flow. I doubt we'll see a version with a round screen or anything extreme like that, but I would love to see Apple play with some chamfering or dual-tone cases or other cosmetic changes.

Maybe this whole thing is just something someone in Cupertino was playing with and will never see the light of day – but I think there's a good chance of Apple going for it, and I hope it's just the start.

Matthew Bolton

Matt is T3's former AV and Smart Home Editor (UK), master of all things audiovisual, overseeing our TV, speakers and headphones coverage. He also covered smart home products and large appliances, as well as our toys and games articles. He's can explain both what Dolby Vision IQ is and why the Lego you're building doesn't fit together the way the instructions say, so is truly invaluable. Matt has worked for tech publications for over 10 years, in print and online, including running T3's print magazine and launching its most recent redesign. He's also contributed to a huge number of tech and gaming titles over the years. Say hello if you see him roaming the halls at CES, IFA or Toy Fair. Matt now works for our sister title TechRadar.