Apple made a huge Apple Watch mistake 8 years ago — and it shows

The Apple Watch Ultra with the Timex Waterbury Chronograph.
Timex Waterbury Chronograph (left) and Apple Watch Ultra Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

It’s almost fall, which means it’s almost new iPhone and Apple Watch season. Next month, we’ll almost certainly see the iPhone 15 lineup, as well as the Apple Watch Series 9 and, possibly, an Apple Watch Ultra 2.

However, in recent weeks, rumors have sprung up about an all-new Apple Watch X that could come out in 2024 or 2025. This would be a major milestone for the Apple Watch product cycle, marking the 10th anniversary of Apple’s wearable. For 2023, we should expect the Apple Watch Series 9 to be fairly iterative in comparison.

One of the rumored features of a possible Apple Watch X is a new, proprietary system for how Apple Watch bands attach. According to Mark Gurman of Bloomberg, one possibility would be a magnetic band attachment system instead of the current method, where bands slide into the chassis and lock in via a button mechanism.

While a magnetic system sounds easier and more streamlined, it also highlights a big flaw in Apple’s decision to use a proprietary band from the start.

Your Apple Watch bands are about to be useless

An Apple Watch Series 5 and an Apple Watch Ultra with an assortment of various Apple Watch bands.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

The Apple Watch was first announced in September 2014 and actually released in April 2015. Apple’s smartwatch has been around for eight full years as of this writing.

I didn’t get my Apple Watch Series 0 until a few months after the release, but in that time, I have acquired a decently sized collection of assorted bands, from Apple’s own to various third-party straps. Up until recently, I’ve always gotten the smallest Apple Watch, the 38mm or 40mm size, so the vast majority of my bands are designed to fit the small Apple Watches. But I’ve since upgraded to the Apple Watch Ultra, so those smaller bands are no longer being used.

Right now, I am in the process of rebuilding up my band collection for my Apple Watch Ultra because I like to mix up my band styles and have options to pick from. But since I heard about the Apple Watch X possibly changing up the band attachment mechanism, I won’t be buying as many bands now, as they’ll possibly be rendered useless in a few years.

MobyFox Hokusai Apple Watch band.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

This is the problem with Apple adopting a proprietary band system all those years ago when the first Apple Watch launched. Once Apple decides to change the system for attaching bands, then that huge collection of watch bands you’ve collected over the years becomes useless.

I’m pretty sure that we all saw this coming. After all, Apple was using the 30-pin connector for the iPhone for several years before it jumped over to Lightning, and now we could be moving to USB-C with the iPhone 15. It only makes sense that Apple would be changing how the bands work on the Apple Watch at some point. We didn’t know exactly when it would happen, but the possibility has always been there.

If Apple is changing it to a magnetic system for a potential Apple Watch X, that could be the new standard for Apple Watches going forward. And eventually, no Apple Watch will use the old system, so what happens to all of those old bands?

For a company that wants to tout sustainability so much, changing the band system and making those current bands useless is pretty contradictory.

Apple should have copied Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 and Watch 6 Classic, in black and silver.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Because I was all-in on Apple products for the past decade or so, I never really explored other options until I started here at Digital Trends. But since then, my eyes have been opened. A lot.

Take Samsung Galaxy Watches as an example. They don’t use proprietary bands at all. Instead, they simply use universal 20mm watch straps, which is the way that Apple should have gone as well.

Since Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 and older models just use standard watch straps, that means you have a ton of strap options that already exist, rather than waiting for a specific, proprietary version of a style you like. And if you decide to stop using the Galaxy Watch, those bands can still be used with traditional watches or another smartwatch that uses standard straps. This is also true of smartwatches like the TicWatch Pro 5, Garmin Forerunner 265, and others.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic, and the new fabric strap.
New fabric Samsung watch strap Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The only thing I don’t think I like about standard straps is the fact that those tiny pins used to attach them to the lugs could be a pain to deal with, especially if you like to swap out bands a lot. For that, Apple’s system is easier, and even more so if it’s switching to a magnetic mechanism.

Still, I believe Apple messed up by not using a standard watch strap system like Samsung and other companies. If Apple used the existing standard, you could have used your favorite watch strap prior to the Apple Watch, and even if you switched to a different smartwatch, you could use your existing straps.

Now that it’s rumored that Apple will be changing the strap attachment method in the future, all of those current watch bands you’ve collected will be rendered obsolete. The possibility of a vastly upgraded Apple Watch experience is exciting, but if it comes at the cost of years’ worth of watch bands, that excitement will be muted.

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