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Apple Watch designer reveals how different the gadget could have been

An Apple Watch designer has given the lowdown on the features that didn’t make the cut for Apple’s best-selling smartwatch.

Anna-Katrina Shedletsky, the former Apple Watch product design lead, has revealed that Apple tried and failed to integrate an ECG and cellular antenna into the first generation of the Apple Watch. Despite these frustrations, she said that “it was incredibly exciting to work on a product that had never been built before.”

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Answering a question posed on Quora, Shedletsky wrote that the design difficulties arose because of the size of the device, waterproofing considerations, and its position on the wrist. However, these problems were fortunately surmounted for later iterations of the Apple Watch.

For the ECG, waterproofing was the key challenge because it requires isolated electrodes which could let seams leak water. The design of an accurate sensor was also difficult, and so in the end it was ditched but a PPG sensor was included.

Cellular antenna was similarly skipped over for the first generation. Antenna design was difficult because of the size profile of the Watch, and because it’s strapped next to the wrist. This was an even more fundamental challenge because the device simply could not launch without a Wi-Fi antenna.

This was solved by carving a groove into the cover glass to allow the required separation from the metal enclosure and the metal traces in the display itself. This was apparently such a tricky feat of engineering that she compared it to playing the family board game Operation.

Shedletsky argues that both decisions were emblematic of a careful balance between risk and potential value, with Apple ultimately deciding not to include features that were technically possible if they weren’t of a high enough standard.

Apple reaped the reward of patience; in our review of the Apple Watch Series 4, we describe it as “Apple’s best, most thought-out release in years”, and awarded it 4.5 stars.

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