It’s called the Apple Watch, it looks like a luxurious synthesis of technology and traditional timepiece craftsmanship, and it uses a ‘Digital Crown’ to navigate through lists and zoom in on data. Apple finally announced its long awaited smartwatch on Wednesday morning (AEST) and, boom, just like that, the centre of gravity of the shaky wearables market has shifted in a seismic reset.
The new Apple “this changes everything” device starts at US$350 (with no Australian price announced as yet), and will be available early next year. And the kicker for US-based fence sitters? Apple Watch supports the new ApplePay system, so they can quickly purchase items from retailers ranging from Bloomingdales to Staples with a flick of their wrist.
Apple Watch will come in two sizes and three different models – from a baseline version to an ultra-luxe 18K gold model – and six different bands will allow a wide degree of personal customisation. ‘Taptic’ feedback buzzes your wrist for iPhone notifications, and can even send signals to turn left or right in the watch’s navigation app.
And, yes, this gadget requires an iPhone to work.
In many ways, the Apple Watch feature set looks like it was borrowed from other smartwatch companies. Dig: the gadget tracks your steps and heart rate. It displays smartphone notifications. But Apple’s message is that Apple Watch does all these things better than the competition. And with its perfectly contoured edges, luxury materials and nifty new UI, it’s got all the visual trappings of another ‘God device’ from Apple. That’s a potentially transcendent advantage that could send competing wearable tech manufacturers back to their drafting tables.
A physical dial replaces some of your finger taps
Tim Cook proclaimed Apple Watch will “redefine what people expect from its category” and that the wearable is the “next chapter in Apple’s story”. To help achieve such lofty goals, the Apple Watch doesn’t ditch third-party apps – which are always so difficult to implement on wearables – but instead reimagines the smartwatch UI. The key is the new Digital Crown that’s used to navigate the teeny-tiny visual elements on the curved, sapphire display.
The new crown translates rotary movement into digital data. But that’s just tech speak for a new navigation scheme that may solve the problem of navigating data on a necessarily minuscule display. The crown can be used to zoom in on interface elements and scroll through content – actions that would otherwise require finger gestures in a less advanced UI.
The Apple Watch will come in two case sizes (38mm and 48mm heights), but Apple didn’t mention specifics about display dimensions or resolution, through we know the display is a flexible Retina display underneath a single crystal of sapphire. Regardless, anyone who’s ever used a smartwatch knows new navigation paradigms are welcome.
It’s not so much a watch as an experience
Apple’s grand reveal was relatively light on details, and perhaps the Apple Watch’s most killer feature – Apple Pay support – was tacked on at the very end of the event, almost as if a last-minute afterthought. There were no details on internal specs, but we learned this wearable doesn’t include a camera, as its main photo feature is a scheme that turns your watchface into a slideshow for your iPhone photos.
That said, Apple did riff at length about industrial design, and highlighted some built-in software features and third-party apps.
Siri voice dictation will let you send iMessages to friends (among other common Siri tricks). There’s also a Digital Touch feature that lets you create something of a walkie-talkie-like connection with your pals. Its Apple’s new method for sending customised emoji and quick little finger doodles composed with digital ink, and – awwww – you can even send a visual representation of your heartbeat to loved ones.
Health and fitness features consumed a large portion of Apple’s Watch presentation, but Apple never really delved into the accuracy of its sensor technology. This is a critical area to watch, as activity-tracking features are so unreliable in competing smartwatches. Nevertheless, Apple Watch includes a heart rate sensor and accelerometer onboard, and handshakes with the iPhone’s GPS to track and reveal various activity metrics.
A Move ring displays your daily calorie burn. An Exercise ring tells you how active you’ve been. And a Stand ring reports the embarrassment of your sedentary lifestyle. Once you meet your daily goals for each ring, you earn an achievement, and the ring goes away. There’s also a separate workout app that reveals how far, how fast, and how long you’ve been exercising.
If you’re already a fan of activity-tracking wearables, you know none of these features are revolutionary at face value. But if Apple can deliver a software interface that people love, it will solve an elusive user-experience puzzle.
In addition to all the built-in goodies, a new WatchKit SDK will enable third-party developers to enrich Apple Watch beyond the standard notifications that already appear in other iOS devices. An American Airlines app will provide you with a richly visual travel itinerary. Another app will let you use iWatch to open your room door at W hotels. A Pinterest app will provide walking directions for pinned locations. A Honeywell app will provide thermostat control on your wrist. And a BMW app will help you find where you parked your car.
It also sounds magical. And now we wait to see how the new Digital Crown simplifies app navigation.
Our Macworld counterparts in the US had the chance to look at the new Apple Watch. You can watch their thoughts below.