The Apple Watch Ultra isn’t something you wear to run around the neighborhood. It’s something you strap on your wrist before facing nature itself. It is a robust piece of technology designed to help you survive in a primitive environment. Or that’s what Apple suggests anyway.
According to Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, Apple consulted “big-name explorers, consummate adventurers, and elite athletes.” The people who provide information are the kind of people who are “attracted to extreme environments”. What comes out of the queries is a watch that Apple has designed specifically for “exploration, adventure and endurance.” The reveal also included a trailer showcasing a plethora of extreme environments the watch is supposedly ideal for. Unfortunately, as dramatic as the watch trailer looks, it is a work of fiction. The watch won’t be able to do everything you see, and science backs me up.
I’m not for a second questioning the experience of Ray Zayhab, Nadia Aly or Scott Jurek. I’m not even criticizing the supposed features of the watch, some of which would be incredibly useful in the wild. What I’m doing is pointing out that the watch has a major flaw that means you could severely hamper its performance or even destroy it if you take it into an “extreme environment.” Apple is heralding the Ultra as a device that can handle just about anything this planet can throw at it. Actually, it’s not even close.
What is the Apple Watch Ultra?
You can see a lot of outdoor influence in the watch itself, and it’s obvious that Apple has designed it with weekend adventurers in mind. The titanium case is a smart choice, as the lightweight metal is popular with campers on a reasonable budget. It is extremely light, highly durable, and essentially immune to corrosion. My camping kit includes a titanium french press. Many hikers and survival enthusiasts swear by titanium woks and trash cans, which weigh significantly less than their steel counterparts.
Larger buttons mean you don’t have to take off your gloves when wearing the watch. Gloves serve many purposes, and taking them off can be anything from a minor inconvenience to a situation where you won’t be able to feel your fingers for about 45 minutes. The brightness of the screen, the microphone and the speakers make it possible to call your mother from the top of an exposed mountain.
Apple has also installed a large battery in the watch and claims that users can get up to 36 hours of regular use on a single charge and up to 60 hours on low power settings. This may be one of the most advanced batteries Apple has ever put in one of its smartwatches, and it’s also why you don’t want to take your $800 wristband into an extreme environment.
Extreme temperatures can destroy a battery
Mobile technology tends to run on batteries. As advanced as modern batteries are, they are not capable of operating in extreme environments. The batteries that power smartphones, smart watches, and similar devices are of the lithium-ion type. Lithium-ion batteries are much more cold-tolerant than the lead-acid batteries that power things like a car’s starter motor. However, they are still not good enough to survive extreme cold or hot conditions.
Lithium-ion batteries encounter two major problems when the temperature is too low. The first is related to charging. A battery uses a chemical process to store energy, which only works within a specific temperature range. If you charge your lithium battery at a temperature below 32 degrees, the reaction occurs much more slowly than it should, and the battery’s anode becomes coated with lithium, similar to how normal electroplating works. Lithium plating can cause rapid capacity loss and short circuit within the battery cell.
Even if you avoid plugging it in, a drop in temperature can ruin your battery. Researchers have found that parts of lithium-ion batteries can crack and separate from surrounding materials when they spend time in sub-zero temperatures. These cracks can significantly reduce a battery’s storage capacity. Things get even worse at extreme temperatures where the researchers say the cathode, which is the electrode current coming out of the device, can completely separate from the battery.
Not everyone who encounters these conditions is an adventurer
The above problems can occur at temperatures around or below the freezing point of water, so if you see ice on the ground or on your car’s windshield, your device’s batteries could suffer. The Apple Watch Ultra has an impressive temperature range, with the manufacturer claiming it can withstand temperatures as low as -20°C (4°F) and as high as 55°C (131°F) while strapped to your wrist. a person. The problem is that you don’t have to be on top of Everest or walk to one of the poles to experience these temperatures.
Winter camping has grown in popularity in recent years, and it’s that kind of outdoor activity that could seriously damage or destroy Apple’s extreme sports smartwatch. Winter temperatures in popular national parks can occasionally exceed the temperature range of the Apple Watch. Average low temperatures in New York’s Adirondack National Park can reach 3°F between January and February. However, the truth is that things don’t even need to be as cold as that. The figures reported by Apple assume the watch is on your wrist. Apple specifically states:
Apple Watch Ultra adapts to the most extreme environments in outdoor exploration with a operating temperature at wrist -4° to 131° F. (emphasis ours)
Your body heat will do a lot to keep the battery within its actual safe temperature range. If you take off your watch and find yourself in sub-zero temperatures, or worse, the battery dies and you try to charge it, you will probably damage the battery. You may also find temperatures above the 131°F limit inside a car without air conditioning during the summer. But if that happens, you might come out of the situation in worse shape than your smartwatch.
When it comes to the most extreme environments on Earth, the Apple Watch Ultra doesn’t stand a chance. Average temperatures at the South Pole are lower than the Apple Watch Ultra can withstand for ten months of the year. During the two months of the year, the Apple Watch has the possibility of operating within the temperature range specified by the manufacturer, but the averages are still quite close to -20 degrees Celsius. The top of Everest may seem hot by comparison, but the hottest end of the temperature range for the world’s tallest mountain is still at the limit of what the Apple Watch Ultra can handle.
So what do real explorers do?
On May 29, 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary became the first man to summit Mount Everest. On his wrist was a mechanical watch made by an English company called Smiths. Sir Edmund later claimed that the watch had performed “very well” during the expedition, and almost 70 years with a mechanical watch would surely outperform a smartwatch under similar circumstances. Mechanical equipment is a more reliable option if faced with extreme cold. Even if it freezes, it will work again when you heat it up. A battery-powered device, on the other hand, will be permanently damaged and may fail completely.
If you absolutely must carry electronics, you’ll have to rely on your body heat to protect the batteries. This could be risky as you have to get under your clothes and lose precious heat to get the device out. Devices will also cool down quickly; the cold could still damage them in the short time they spend away from your body. And it’s worth nothing that in Apple’s commercial for the Ultra, the company showed the watch on a coat sleeve.
Is the Apple Watch Ultra a waste of money?
The Apple Watch Ultra is probably a great device to have on your wrist in many scenarios. If you like camping and hiking, you’ll be fine for about three quarters of the year. The dive features look great, and marathon runners and triathletes may be excited. Most of Apple’s presentation presented scenarios where the watch should work as described.
The only thing it’s not made for is extreme cold. That’s not even Apple’s fault; it is one of the limitations that modern batteries have. So if you like the look of the Apple Watch Ultra and the price doesn’t make you cringe, don’t hesitate to buy one. Make sure you don’t take it on any extreme adventures or expeditions you have planned.