Apple Watch 'not designed for the long haul,' says iFixit

The Apple Watch received a score of 5 out of 10 for repairability, due to the impossibility of removing just about any component inside.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

A look inside the hard-to-repair Apple Watch. iFixit

If you're looking for a smartwatch that will last generations, the Apple Watch won't be the one for you, according to iFixit.

iFixit, which regularly does teardowns of high-profile gadgets, found that the Apple Watch, which launches on Friday, won't be upgradable, which means users who want to future-proof themselves and keep the same smartwatch will be out of luck.

"Once inside, coaxing the battery out is a cinch, but the overall device construction limits further repair options," iFixit said in a statement. "We hoped to confirm rumors of upgradable internals -- but had no such luck. The S1 SiP [internal System in Package] is encased in resin, and is further held in place by a mess of glue and soldered ribbon connectors. In short, basic component replacements look nearly impossible."

S1 SiP is custom-designed Apple technology that integrates a number of subsystems like the chip into one package. It's encased in resin to increase durability.

Smartwatches like Apple Watch are designed to compete with traditional watches that keep on ticking over the years. Indeed, Apple has positioned its device, which starts at $349, to be considered an alternative to the traditional luxury watches customers would find in any jewelry store. But what makes the Apple Watch less attractive, according to iFixit, is that the device is incapable of being updated and will therefore become obsolete as time goes on, processors become faster and apps support only the latest generation models.

Other companies, including Samsung, Motorola, Pebble and Huawei, have all entered the smartwatch market but have been unable to break out of a small niche. Apple Watch is viewed by many as the product that could bring smartwatches into the mainstream.

Planned obsolescence -- the idea that a product will eventually be obsolete, forcing customers who want to keep using it to buy a new model -- has long been part of Apple's strategy. In iPhones, for example, Apple releases new updates each year. The company's operating system, which is also updated each year, only supports some of the later models. Customers who own a first-generation iPhone, therefore, would find it impossible to have access to all the latest features and apps available in Apple's iOS. It appears now that Apple Watch is going to be in a similar position.

The iFixit revelation could prove troublesome for those who are looking to spend a significant amount of cash on the Apple Watch. While the cheapest Apple Watch Sport model comes in at $349, the company's gold-plated Apple Watch Edition can hit $17,000. The mid-range model, Apple Watch, costs several hundred dollars to a little over a thousand dollars, depending on the model.

By not making Apple Watch upgradable, customers will need to buy new models eventually to keep up with the times, iFixit argues.

Then again, it's hard to imagine too many customers actually looking to upgrade Apple Watch or any other smartwatch, for that matter. As the iFixit teardown shows, tearing open Apple's smartwatch isn't for the faint of heart and replacing components can often be a potential pitfall for those who have little knowledge of how to replace those components. Even in the PC space, where upgrading internal components in desktop is more popular than in the mobile market, only a dedicated minority actually tear open their desktops to upgrade components.

That's perhaps why the issue of longevity didn't appear to be on the minds of customers earlier this month when Apple Watch preorders soared and early available units sold out. Before long, Apple Watch delays were pushed back to June. Only a precious few lucky customers who didn't preorder the device are likely to get their hands on the smartwatch on Friday. All others who preordered will get their devices shipped to their homes.

So, what's actually inside the Apple Watch? According to iFixit, the device includes a 205mAh battery, compared to a 300mAh battery found in competing devices, like the Motorola Moto 360 and Samsung Gear Live. The device also includes an ARM Cortex M3-based touchscreen controller. Interestingly, although Apple has promoted the Apple Watch's heart rate monitoring feature, it's actually bundled with a plethysmograph that could act as a pulse oximeter allowing users to measure their blood oxygen level. iFixit didn't provide any other details on the components built into the device, other than to say that the internal components were all based on Apple's custom S1 system in package.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.