Tim Cook finally got a chance to roll out a brand-new product – heck, a brand-new product category – for Apple on Wednesday, unveiling the company’s new Apple Watch lineup at a highly anticipated press event in Cupertino. Apple demonstrated many juicy features of the watch, but left a lot to the imagination, including exactly when we can buy one. Here’s a breakdown of what we know and what we still can’t wait to find out.
So, Apple is finally making a smartwatch, huh? Yes it is – several, actually. The Apple Watch will have three editions, varying in materials and luxury: The Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch Edition.
What are the differences between those three? Apple Watch is made of stainless steel, in a shiny chrome or a black finish. Its touchscreen is covered by a sapphire crystal, which should make it more scratch-resistant than the Gorilla Glass Apple has used on its iPhones. Apple Watch Sport has an anodised aluminium case (which is lighter than stainless steel) in silver or grey, and the face is Ion-X glass, which also designed to be hard and rugged (as well as a little bit lighter) than the sapphire. It’s definitely the lightest of the three Apple Watch editions, making it an ideal exercise companion.
As for the Apple Watch Edition, it ramps up the luxury factor with an 18-karat gold casing in yellow or rose. As you might expect, it’s heavy. Gold, y’know. The Apple Watch Edition also comes in a fancy leather box that doubles as a charging cradle!
Are there multiple models because one size doesn’t actually fit all? Yes, each edition comes in two sizes, which is something we haven’t seen with any Android Wear watches so far. You’ll be able to get the Apple Watches in heights of 38 and 42 millimetres, respectively. The promotional videos Apple showed during the event featured a lot of women wearing the watch, which was especially nice to see, since other smartwatch makers appear to be ignoring the slender-wristed sex.
Can you swap out the watch band? Absolutely. Apple announced six bands, and it seems like it’ll be easy to mix and match any band with any watch, swapping them out as your heart desires without the aid of any tools. Apple said it’s come up with its own proprietary system to make that easy – but that also means you probably won’t be able to swap in just any band.
For working out, the sweat resistant elastomer Sport Band comes in black, white, pink, blue and lime green. The Sport Band comes as the default on the Apple Watch Sport, naturally.
Owners of the Apple Watch and Watch Edition get three leather straps and two metal straps to choose from. The Leather Loop is designed to be soft and comfortable, with a highly adjustable hidden magnetic closure – you just wrap it around your wrist and the strap sticks to itself to stay closed. That one comes in stone, light brown and bright blue. Available in pink, brown and midnight blue, the Leather Modern strap has a two-piece magnetic closure and a subtle texture. And the old-school Classic Buckle strap is a black leather strap that closes with a stainless steel buckle just like the traditional watches you’ve seen your whole life.
Crafted of stainless steel, the Link Bracelet band closes with a butterfly clasp. Apple included a link-release button on several of the links, so you can remove links yourself to customize the fit – instead of having to take it to a jeweler or watch repair shop. That one comes in a regular stainless steel tone or in space black. With myriad tiny, interlocking loops, the Milanese Loop band kind of resembles chain mail, only much more modern. The stainless steel mesh is also magnetic, so you can adjust it to more sizes than you could the Link Bracelet.
When does it ship? Is Apple taking preorders? It won’t ship until early 2015 in the US, with Australian dates yet to be announced. That means it’ll miss the holiday shopping season, which is usually an important quarter for Apple’s finances. Still, Apple’s used this release strategy before. In 2007, it announced the original iPhone at that year’s Macworld Expo; the phone itself didn’t arrive on retail shelves until six months later. And that turned out pretty OK for Apple.
And no, Apple’s not taking preorders right now.
How much does it cost? Apple said the watch would start at US$349, but that’s all it’s saying at this point. It’s unclear if the small or large sizes will have different price tags, or how much extra we can expect to pay for the premium Apple Watch Edition. We know the watch has some built-in storage for apps, photos and music, but Apple also didn’t say if it would come in different storage capacities, as we see with iPhones, iPads and iPods. Our guess is that Apple probably won’t differentiate the Apple Watch via storage.
Which phones does it work with? Good news: you do need an iPhone to pair with your Apple Watch, but it doesn’t have to be the brand-new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. An iPhone 5, 5s or 5c will work just fine. That’s a big deal since the watch’s US$349 starting price might be harder to justify if it also required the purchase of a shiny new phone.
What kinds of sensors does the Apple Watch have? Can it track my heart rate? Apple says that the watch has a couple different sensors, including an accelerometer (as you’ll find in most smartphones), and a ‘custom’ sensor that uses visible-light and infrared LEDs along with photodiodes, all on the back of the device, to determine your heart rate. The Apple Watch can also talk to your iPhone’s GPS and Wi-Fi to help with figuring out location and other information.
So it’s a watch and a fitness tracker? The accelerometer lets the watch count your steps, and it can rely on the GPS in the paired iPhone to determine the distance. That data comes in handy for two of the apps Apple included on the watch: Activity and Workout. Activity shows your progress toward daily goals for moving, exercising and even standing. Workout is for more detailed tracking of a variety of activities, including distance, pace, time and calories burned during each session; you can also use that app to set workout goals, and the watch will give you feedback as you reach those goals. Both of the watch’s fitness apps sync data back to the Health and Fitness apps on your iPhone, too.
How do you navigate the Apple Watch? It’s got a touchscreen, right? It does have a touchscreen, but the Apple Watch’s big innovation is the little dial that sticks out the side, also known as the Digital Crown. That’s a high-tech version of the crown you’ll find on standard wristwatches, which you turn to set the time or wind the watch. In the case of the Apple Watch, however, the Digital Crown acts more like the iPod’s Click Wheel: You can turn the crown to scroll through a list or zoom in and out of a map. Pressing the Crown returns you to the watch’s home screen, just like pressing the Home button on your iPhone would.
Below the Digital Crown, you’ll find a button, which Apple simply refers to as ‘the Button’. Press it to access the Friends app, which brings up a Contacts-style collection of the people you like to stay in touch with. Tapping a picture of a friend lets you send them a message, make a phone call or make contact with the Apple Watch’s Digital Touch features (which we’ll talk about below).
You can touch and tap on the screen too, but if you recall using the sixth-generation iPod nano (the little square one from 2010 Apple sold watch bands for, remember?), the size of your fingertip is bound to obscure whatever you’re trying to tap; that’s why the Digital Crown is there to let you navigate the Apple Watch while still being able to see the entire screen.
That said, there’s one gesture that works pretty well on even a watch-sized screen – swiping. Swipe around your Apple Watch screen and you can jump to little bits of information – your calendar, your location, current weather data and so forth. Apple calls these Glances, and they strip out the most relevant information from apps and put them into a form you can digest just by looking at your Watch’s screen.
When you do touch the Apple Watch, its screen can actually distinguish between a regular tap, which you’ll use to select things, and a harder touch, which is how you’ll access contextual menus – kind of like right-clicking with your mouse. Apple calls this technology Force Touch, and it’s enabled by tiny electrodes in the display.
Can the Apple Watch do anything my iPhone can’t do on its own? Apple showed off a really cool-looking app called Digital Touch, as we mentioned above. Digital Touch lets you tap out a pattern on your watch face, which your friend will see and feel on his or her own Apple Watch. You can also draw each other little pictures, which has some practical purposes – in his demo, Apple vice president Kevin Lynch drew a picture of a fish to indicate to one his Apple Watch chums that he wanted sushi for lunch. And if you hold down two fingers in Digital Touch, you can send your heartbeat, which shows up on your friend’s watch as a glowing, pulsing heart. This might encourage couples to buy his-and-hers watches so they can let each other know anytime how their hearts flutter for each other… or pound like hammers when they get really mad.
Can I use the Apple Watch to pay for things? Yep! Apple said that the watch supports Apple Pay, its new mobile payments system. That means the watch definitely has near-field communication, or NFC, technology. The iPhone 6 models also have a dedicated ‘Secure Element’ chip that stores your encrypted information – not your actual credit card numbers, but rather a ‘device account number’ that is used to create a single-use security code to authorise each transaction. The phone provides the watch with information about the items stored in its own Secure Element, and then the watch has the ability to use those items itself in order to pay wirelessly. There’s a nice security touch, too: If you take the Apple Watch off, it’ll lock and require a code before you can purchase anything, so if someone steals your watch they won’t be able to use it as a credit card.
What kind of apps did Apple build for Apple Watch? Will it run third-party apps?
Apple seems to have gone all out for the watch, building in many of the common apps that we use every day: Messages, Mail, Weather, Calendar, Maps, Passbook, Music, Photos and more. A few notable omissions: While the Apple Watch can act as a viewfinder for your iPhone’s camera, letting you snap pictures and even set the self-timer, it doesn’t have its own built-in camera. Nor does it have Safari, Apple’s web browser – all the information you get is mediated through those apps.
Still, if what Apple builds into the Watch isn’t enough for you, the company is supporting third-party apps and Glances off the bat. Apple showed off a handful of apps from friendly developers at Wednesday’s event – a Starwood Resorts app that lets you check in from your Apple Watch and even make it possible unlock your room door from your watch at US hotels was particularly cool. The company also said it would be providing a WatchKit API to allow other app makers to create several different types of experiences, including actionable notifications, Glances (quick multiscreen views of specific information as we said above), and full-blown apps.
What kind of battery life is Apple claiming? Apple’s only mention of battery life in the presentation was that it had designed the device for ‘easy nightly charging’ with the magnetic charger. But company representatives declined to answer reporters’ questions about battery life in the hands-on area. That’s not a great sign, if you want to believe that the Apple Watch has comparable battery life to its Android Wear competitors. But it could just mean that Apple is still making tweaks to the software to wring out as much battery life as possible.
Does the Apple Watch charge wirelessly? No. The back of the watch has no exposed charging contacts, and the charging cable snaps on with magnets to juice it up via induction. But it’s not ‘true’ wireless charging as you might normally think of it, where you’d drop the watch onto a charging pad and walk away – it’s more like your electric toothbrush.
We’ve seen a magnetic charging dongle similar to this on the FiLIP, which is a wearable GPS tracker and phone for kids. The first few times we used it, we loved the satisfying click as the magnets latched on, but the novelty quickly wore off, and then the charger was just another proprietary dongle we had to keep track of.
Hopefully the Apple Watch will be able to go all day on a single charge, so you don’t need to shell out for a second charger to keep at work. After all, Apple is the company that charges for a spare iPhone cable.
Can I choose from a whole slew of watch faces? Oh yeah, a bunch – poke around Apple’s gallery for some great examples. They look good in person, too – some are animated, like the one that gives you a fully interactive view of the moon phases and how the planets align. And yes, there’s even a Mickey Mouse watch face, a modern spin on the face we saw on that watch-like six-gen iPod nano. Lynch also demonstrated how you can customise several of the watch faces, spinning the Digital Crown to select a new colour scheme, or tapping at the screen to tweak what kind of information is shown.
Does it have Siri? Can it make phone calls?
The Apple Watch has a microphone and a speaker, so you can talk to it and it can talk to you. (You can also use the microphone to do voice dictation, send audio messages and even communicate via walkie-talkie mode with other Apple Watch users).
And yes, you can use it to make and receive phone calls, as well as transfer calls to your iPhone or a Bluetooth device.
Is it waterproof? Can I swim with it?
The Apple Watch is water resistant, but not waterproof. You can wear it on a rainy day and have water splashed on it and it’ll survive, but you can’t submerge it in water.
What can the Apple Watch do without a phone?
The Apple Watch is at least a few months from shipping, and Apple is being careful releasing all the details of the device. It’s definitely meant to be used with an iPhone nearby, but it is functional when the two devices are parted – say, when you want to go for a run and don’t want to bring your iPhone with you. The Apple Watch can track your fitness information, play music (from its own onboard storage) via Bluetooth, and even make purchases using Apple Pay, all without the iPhone being present.