Apple intended the port to be used for diagnostics. If your Apple Watch was bricked, you could take it into a store where the staff would be able to connect to the hidden port and hopefully get it working again without having to open things up, or leave you without your wearable for an extended time.
But it had potential beyond that. Just as Apple’s Smart Connector on iPads can allow for additional accessories like keyboards to be connected, the diagnostics port could have allowed extras, if Apple wanted. Indeed, one company made a battery strap that could plug in and boost the wearable’s limited stamina, but Apple didn’t like this and quickly blocked the functionality via a software update.
Now that the port has gone, it looks like Apple will never use it for any kind of feature expansion, making it something of a missed opportunity, even if it doubtless saved many a bricked Apple Watch. Its absence probably helped Apple introduce IP6X dust resistance for the Series 7.
A portless future?
But without the diagnostics port, how do Apple staff perform, well, diagnostics?
The answer is likely in the presence of a 60.5GHz wireless data transfer mode that was detailed in FCC filings ahead of the launch. It only activates when the Apple Watch 7 is placed on a special proprietary dock, so it sounds like this is how Apple intends to restore broken watchOS on bricked Apple Watches.
Apple abandoning the hidden port on its wearables could be a precursor to a more dramatic move: the long rumored portless iPhone. It was reported that the iPhone 13 might be the first generation to get a portless model, but that hasn’t yet come to pass.
But with the EU making moves to force mass adoption of USB-C, Apple might accelerate its portless plans as a way of sidestepping the imminent legislation. In time for the iPhone 14? We’ll have to wait and see.