Can’t wait for the Apple Watch? You’re not alone

Mike Elgan
26 November, 2014
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Apple-Watch-iOS-wearables-macworld-australiaApple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the Apple Watch at a special event in September. The press was herded into a special tent to look at prototype watches running canned videos of what the watch might look like.

In short, we learned only the most basic and cryptic information about how the Apple Watch might work.

There were nuggets of gold in that announcement. For example, it was discernable that Apple was going in for establishing a deep psycho-physical bond between the wearer and the watch by combining its ‘Taptics’ haptic engine with interface interactions, on-screen activity and sound.

But we’ve learned a lot more in the past two weeks, and the new details are whetting the appetites of three groups of people can’t wait for the Apple Watch.

The developers who can’t wait

Apple has recently released its WatchKit toolkit to would-be Apple Watch developers.

The first wave of development for the Apple Watch will take place on iPhone apps, which extend their functionality to the Apple Watch when tethered via Bluetooth. In other words, the compute processing is taking place on the phone. The way it works is that by using WatchKit, developers can upgrade iOS apps with the addition of the WatchKit Extension. Inside the WatchKit Extension are the WatchKit Code and the resources needed for the functionality of the app and for the watch app itself. What happens on the watch is considered a ‘storyboard’ – basically screens populated with data. This is pretty much how Android Wear works, too.

The second wave, which Apple says it will enable sometime next year, will give developers the ability to build ‘native’ Apple Watch apps that run even when the wearable isn’t connected via wireless to an iPhone.

I imagine that the most powerful apps will run mostly on the iPhone indefinitely, while some apps will be able to run on the phone untethered.

The Apple Watch will come in two sizes, and we learned that these will have screens of two different resolutions – 272 x 340 and 312 x 390 – but both with the same 4:5 aspect ratio. The way WatchKit handles this is that objects start on the top left corner of the screen down and to the right to fill the space available.

Apple has some very clear ideas about how notifications will work. They come in two types: ‘short look’ and ‘long look.’ Raise your wrist to get the ‘short look,’ and after a second or two it changes to the ‘long look’ view, which has more information and action buttons like ‘comment’ or ‘favourite.’

Apple specifies a view called ‘Glances’ – one-screen chunks of read-only information that can’t be interacted with in any way.

Apple also specified a conspicuously finite list of possible gestures. The most interesting of these is ‘force touch,’ which means you press on the screen like you mean it to open a context menu with up to four options. Horizontal swipes take you from page to page. Vertical swipes move down and up on a single page. Tapping, of course, selects what you tapped on. Swiping on the edge goes back, and swiping up on the edge shows the Glances view.

The digital crown, which is a physical dial on the side of the phone, moves through pages fast.

The Apple Watch doesn’t support video. Developers can use up to 20MB worth of pictures, though.

All this information, and all of the tools, is being eagerly devoured by developers who can’t wait until the Apple Watch ships before building their apps.

The accessory makers who can’t wait

The Apple Watch isn’t expected until March at the earliest, but accessories for it are already emerging.

A company called DODOcase, which has long made cases for the iPhone and iPad (I use one on my personal iPad), is advertising a wooden charging stand for the Apple Watch. The stand uses the magnetic charger that comes with the Apple Watch and suspends the watch above the surface of the table it rests on. The company says the price will be between US$60 and US$80, and it’s requiring a US$5 deposit for pre-orders. (DODOcase says the first 100 customers will get a special first-edition model.)

A company called Rest is accepting pre-orders for a US$79 charging cradle for the Apple Watch called Composure. It takes the included charger and embeds it in a more appealing wooden slab. The company promises to ship the dock within 45 days of the Apple Watch ship date.

By the time the Apple Watch arrives next year, there will no doubt be hundreds of accessories available.

The market analysts who can’t wait

Another interesting dimension to the coming Apple Watch ship date, which is still unknown, is that there are two separate schools of thought on how well it will sell.

The conventional wisdom is that the Apple Watch is nice, but it’s kind of ugly, kind of bulky, kind of weird and kind of expensive to have any kind of mainstream appeal.

Rumours suggest, however, that Apple is gearing up for a massive launch. Some analysts agree with those rumours. For example, Morgan Stanley’s investor notes on the watch predict that Apple will sell one Apple Watch for every iPhone it sells – which adds up to 30 million Apple Watches next year. (The notes point out that Apple sold only 12 million iPhones in the first year of the smartphone’s release.)

Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White thinks that’s too conservative; he predicts 37 million units will be sold in the first year.

I tend to agree with the bullish, optimistic projections – in part because I believe the Apple Watch will have some revolutionary interface voodoo that will blow people’s minds to the point of becoming addictive.

I also think that the true power of the Apple Watch will be unleashed by developers who take advantage of the Retina display, the Taptics engine and all the rest.

In short, I think the Apple Watch is going to be really cool.

I can’t wait.

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