Is the Apple Watch S1 chip replaceable?

What if the S1 chip in the Apple Watch–containing the CPU and virtually the complete system on a single chip–were replaceable? Looking at the images on Apple’s web site, I found an intriguing matchup. (Note that I am not a hardware guy, so this is not based off of any hardware engineering knowledge.)

If you look at the image that Apple uses to demonstrate the Taptic sensor, it shows the internals of the watch. Look carefully at the left side of the watch’s guts, and you’ll see what looks to me like some sort of connector or latch mechanism.

S1 Crop

Now, if the watch were not upgradable, the S1 chip would be soldered permanently in–like the A8 chip is in the iPhone and iPad. But if the Apple Watch were upgradable, there would have to be some sort of latch/connector system to plug the custom S1 chip in and secure it in place.

Apple Watch S1 - 000PercentApple Watch S1 - 030Percent Apple Watch S1 - 060Percent Apple Watch S1 - 100Percent

Is it staring at us in plain sight? Look at these images. I took Apple’s original Taptic image off their web site, then used Pixelmatr on my Mac to superimpose the S1 chip (also from their web site) on top of it, and scaled the S1 so that the left edge matched the “connector” on the left. Then I made the S1 chip shown with different amounts of transparency so that you could get a better idea of how it might fit and connect.

Am I crazy? Is this possible? I don’t know. But it sure is intriguing!

Some more things to think about… I had some Twitter conversations with @neilcybart, @olemaedev, and others, and bounced around a few ideas.

  1. Would all models be upgradable? Theoretically, yes, but Apple might make the least expensive model (the Sport aluminum model) non-upgradable, or perhaps just prohibitively expensive to upgrade.
  2. Would you upgrade it at an Apple Store? Send it in to Apple? An Apple-certified jeweler?
  3. How much would it cost? $199? $299?
  4. How often? Every year?
  5. Would Apple keep the old S1 so you couldn’t sell it? (The first 2 years, anyway, there wouldn’t be any market for it.) They’d offer to recycle it for you.
  6. An upgradable S1 would be great because it would be a competitive advantage. Why pay $150 or $250 for a Fitbit, or $300+ for a competing smart watch that would be obsolete in a year? It’s bad enough to get a new phone every 2 years, who would want to also get a new watch?
  7. Your watch exterior and engraving would be yours forever. You could hand it down to kids or relatives. Probably most relevant for the Edition edition.
  8. Would Apple ever change the connector? They might want to every 5 years or so (think Lightning connector), but then you couldn’t hand the watch down.
  9. The Apple Watch could theoretically get thinner or shaped differently in the future, as long as the connector and S1 still fit.
  10. Would competitors now be 2 years behind Apple again? How would Android deal with their round and rectangular watches–would a chip fit in both? If there were a standard design from Google, how much variation could there really be in Android watches?

Anyway, food for thought. What are your thoughts?


11 thoughts on “Is the Apple Watch S1 chip replaceable?

  1. says:

    It won’t make bit of difference. all the processing takes place on your iphone.
    all it does is display the information.
    Most of the battery juice will be taken up by screen and light sensors diodes and haptic module.

    Let us assume 1 day battery life which assumes an overall TDP of less than 0.10 Watt
    given the battery guesses of 400 mA, 3.8 V and 1.5 Wh of energy.

    how much more life do you get if you reduce the voltage of everything down to 1.5 V. That just doubles to 2 days.
    Do you really believe Apple would put a plug-able chip on the Watch
    where space is of premium.

    You are looking for clue in image is even more ridiculous.
    repeat after me all the computing takes place outside the watch.

    Do you really believe the Watch will even have upgradable OS given the bluetooth bandwidth. OS would have to be less than 100 megabyte.

    • throwaway says:

      Not so. Most of the computing for third party apps currently is done on the iphone. However, fully native apps will be made available for developers (using the current S1) within 12 months of the device launch. An Iphone will always be required for the current gen watch, as there is no networking or gps capability.

  2. Michael says:

    @Dr. No

    Actually you’re wrong. Not all the processing is done on the iPhone. That is currently only a limit for 3rd party development. Furthermore, Apple has stated that later this year WatchKit will be updated and that restriction will be removed.

    Apple usually does this in steps for two reason:

    1. To train developers – make sure they learn the most efficient way to accomplish a task, before letting them run amok.

    2. The API has not matured enough to allow developers access.

    So, repeat after me, full blown apps running on the watch will come later this year.

  3. JarJarThomas says:

    Already directly after the representation, it was clear for me and some hardware colleages that the s1 could be easily replacable.

    The whole id of a packaged chip is only usefull if you want to make it exchangable,
    otherwise you would do a less space intensive system.

    Dr. No some details you said are just wrong.

    -> There are apps ON the watch that need processing power. Yes it is not the same power as an a8 chip, sure. But there are already references to watch apps that are running ON the app. In the SDK it is especially mentioned that the sdk for that will be available later 2015.

    -> the watch also uses wifi not only bluetooth. So it is perfectly fine to do upgrades.

    -> regarding space is premium … only if you want to make it pluggable you would try to pack the chip into an extra casing. Otherwise you would sold everything together to safe space.

    -> regarding battery power. There are three ways to increase battery time.
    Lower power usage, better optimized and learning software, increased capacity of the battery with same volume through better tech.

    -> regarding future size of watches … it is simple to make future watches smaller.
    If the s2, s3 or whatever need less space … it would be fine to create an adapter for the bigger watches.
    You would have a problem adding a s1 into a casing of the future.
    But adding a newer chip to the old casing will not be a problem at all.

  4. Michael says:

    Another thing to think about…

    What if the sensors on the backside were designed to be modular as well? The “health” aspect could be tailored for an individual’s needs – or even upgraded in the future as Apple released more sophisticated sensors.

  5. My guess is the display, back cover, and all the internals will be upgradable. Few people will buy the gold versions if they become obsolete in 3 years. 30 years from now, an upgraded Apple Watch will still work but the functions would include things we never thought about today.

    I expect an upgrade to cost about as much as the cheapest Apple Watch model.

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  8. xiaozhi says:

    No. The package is an SiP (System in Package) encapsulated in a metal can so any individual components within would not be reparable or replaceable. However, the SiP module itself should be replaceable or even upgradable with a new module (expensive).

    “What’a this?” is the gap between the watch casing and the edge of the SiP which is a complex shape but can be seen here:

    What you call the “S1 Chip” is not a single chip at all but the SiP module as seen above, which contains several chips and hundreds of passive devices.

    I have to say, the general public, including much of the Tech industry, is basically ignorant of how electronics are packaged and often jumps to wrong conclusions due to these basic misunderstandings.

    Repeat: the “S1” is a SiP module “package” and not a “chip” and any chips inside are not replaceable because they are encapsulated.

  9. xiaozhi says:

    By the way, this is also incorrect:

    “What if the S1 chip in the Apple Watch–containing the CPU and virtually the complete system on a single chip–were replaceable? Looking at the images on Apple’s web site, I found an intriguing matchup. (Note that I am not a hardware guy, so this is not based off of any hardware engineering knowledge.)”

    Again, the S1 is not a single chip, and although it has an SoC (System on Chip) device, it also includes other chip devices such as memory, WiFi and power management chips.

    If you refer to the image linked in my previous comment, in the image on the left, which shows the surface of the SiP, the various larger rectangular components are each IC chips, and the smaller components are chip desecrate devices (e.g., capacitors, resistors, diodes, etc.).

    All of these components are soldered on the SiP substrate and then the entire assembly would be encapsulated in epoxy inside the metal can on the right in the linked image.

    Not individually reparable. Not individually replaceable. Assume the entire SiP module is replaceable, as would be the taptic engine and various sensor or mechanical components assembled in the watch case.

    I hope I don’t sound harsh, I’m just trying to be clear. No questions are bad questions.

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