Apple had two big announcements at its Cupertino event – the new iPhone, of course, and somewhat surprisingly, the Apple Watch. It’s been finished at last. Well, it hasn’t been finished – it’s not going to be available until early 2015 at the earliest, but it did have prototypes on show and successfully worked an audience from foaming anticipation through to raucous applause and tearful whooping with a rather cool video showcasing its smooth lines.
It’s the Apple Watch, not the iWatch, and in coming to market now (soon) with what could be the next big thing, Apple has done what Apple does – wait for someone else to create, market and sell a product, watch carefully from the sidelines and then come in with something bigger, better, sleeker (and more expensive). It’s a strategy that has worked well in the past but allows little room for error, as seen in the Smartphone market where it has been overtaken in both technical innovation and platform share.
While the job of the iPhone6 is to play a serious game of catch-up in this well-established arena, the new Apple Watch is well poised to take advantage of a (relatively) slowly building interest in wearable tech. Could it be the device to start smartwatch fever by perfecting that awkward blend of functionality and comfort?
TIME magazine seems to think so – its writer says that:“having gotten to wear and play with the device, one thing is for certain: The Apple Watch is a beautifully designed piece of technology with enormous potential”, and goes so far to say that “In fact, I’d say it’s the most exciting gadget since the iPad, from Apple or any other company.” This seems to be a lot to do with the design, which feels solid yet lightweight and fits on the wrist naturally. It looks “more like a piece of jewellery” than a typical smartwatch due to the curved, bezel-less screen, which establishes a slightly feminine quality. Other platitudes include it not feeling showy or intrusive to the point where you could even forget you’re wearing it.
TechCrunch delves into the features. NFC and Apple’s new “Secure Element” for storing payment information will allow you to use Apple Pay (currently only available in the US) to make purchases. Other quirks include “the new paired communication mode that Apple demoed, which allows one user to connect directly to another for real-time sharing of hand-drawn messages, customized animated smileys, heartbeats and more”, and “Taptic” feedback, that makes it feel like someone is gently tapping your wrist – far subtler than “the jarring notification vibration of Android Wear smartwatches”. The range of bands available also get a mention, with the sports band appearing as though it’d be comfortable during exercise and the link bracelet offering quick adjustments for size.
When it comes to operation, Wired highlights the “digital crown”, a side-mounted dial used to control some of the functions. What’s interesting about this, it says, is the fact that “an analogue flourish blends a physical, and, in today’s Apple portfolio, unconventionally mechanical, interface into the otherwise high-tech digital proceedings.” Used to rotate through menus or options, or to return to the home screen at a push, it complements the touchscreen interface though early reports seem to indicate it offers little or no feedback response, spinning perhaps a little too freely. When it comes to the interface itself, it’s typically minimalist. For example, there are no words on-screen to help you recognise apps – “Logos for the applications each icon represents have had to be designed to communicate meaning without a helping hand from the alphabet.” The only potential issue with this, it suggests, is introducing a learning curve for techno-phobes. Other highlights here include the ability to use the screen as a viewfinder for an iPhone camera, an IR function for TV control and maps that vibrate left or right to tell you the way.
Perhaps the biggest issue the Apple Watch will have to overcome is well described here – how “smart” is it really? The author suggests that for the high price of purchase:
I don’t want another screen to just see notifications on, or to pause a song, or to see whether the sun has got his hat on. I want it to be intelligent, decide certain things for me, disturb me only when it knows I’m likely to find a disturbance both convenient and necessary.
Alongside questions over battery life, an area that was deliberately side-stepped during the initial presentation, the fact that there’s no headphones port despite the ability to store media and no built-in WiFi (you’ll need to use a paired iPhone) it’s clear that this isn’t a feature-packed all-in-one, it is an accessory, and we’ve seen those already. Will comfort and looks be enough to convince people that a smartwatch is now a must-have? Sadly we’ll have to wait until next year to find out.