Well, that date has finally arrived and now Apple has filled in some of the blanks at its March 9 media event in San Francisco.
So, what did we learn about Apple Watch since last September? Not as much as you might think.
The new details as of March 9:
- Apple Watch Sport is composed of customized aluminum alloy. Comes in silver or Space Gray. Color bands are made of high-performance plastic. $349 for 38mm, $399 for 42mm sizes. In Australia the pricing runs AU$499 and AU$579 and that’s £299 and £339 in the UK.
- Apple Watch (steel case) starts at $549 (38mm) and goes up to $1,049, depending on band. 42mm is $50 more. In Australia the pricing starts at AU$799 and goes to AU$1,629 depending on the band. The UK starts at £479 and runs up to £949.
- Apple Watch Edition (18-karat gold case) starts at $10,000, with options ranging all the way to $17,000. That’s AU$14,000 to AU$24,000 and from £8,000 up to £13,500 over in the UK.
- You can preorder all models starting April 10. Shipping April 24.
- Global launch. Will be available in several countries, including UK, Australia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Germany and France.
- Communicates with iPhone over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Can be anywhere in house, not just in Bluetooth range.
- iPhone will download apps for Watch via Apple Watch Store.
- Designed it with “all-day battery life” across a range of uses. 18 hours in typical day.
- You can connect an Apple Watch to another Apple Watch (direct communication). Draw a sketch and have it pop onto friends’ watches. Or tap to get a friend’s attention. Or send your heartbeat.
What we already knew
The Apple Watch is a new product category for Apple: it’s a smartwatch. Apple’s dabbled in wearable tech before with the older iPod Nano and its wristbands, but Apple Watch is a completely new platform: it’s made to run its own apps, connect with iPhones, and be its own fashion product.
A software development kit released last year has allowed app-makers to work on launch apps for Apple Watch, a new approach compared to most Apple products. The original iPhone didn’t even have third-party apps its entire first year.
What does it do?
The Apple Watch is a music player like an iPod; a fitness tracker with heart-rate measurements; a communications device that will send and receive messages, calls and audio recordings; and a handheld portal to other apps, too. It also makes payments via Apple Pay. It can also control your Apple TV and act as a remote for connected smart-home devices.
The Apple Watch seems intent on being a synthesis of many other smartwatches, trying to knit together all of these features into a coherent whole. In some ways, the Apple Watch‘s notifications, voice-activated controls, and swipe-to-glance features feel like a combination of what Google’s Android Wear and Samsung’s Gear smartwatches have strived for.
But if you want the basic breakdown, in case you haven’t used a smartwatch before: it keeps you connected to your phone, acts like a mini iPod, works as a fitness tracker, and could even replace your wallet. Apple has shown how the device could not just make mobile payments, but also act as a digital key to open a smart lock on a front door at home. Apps will also allow you to access other home-automation features, such as smart thermostats, using your iPhone’s wireless connection as a conduit.
And hey, it also tells the time; Apple actually claims high-precision accuracy within 50 milliseconds, and a variety of high-design customizable watch faces will do everything from show lunar cycles and weather to give quick-glance messages and calendar appointments.
Apple Watch and fitness
While a number of third-party apps should be available by launch, Apple has two of its own fitness apps built in. One tracks everyday activity via a trio of three metrics: estimated caloric burn, moderate exercise, and time spent standing; while another tracks dedicated workouts, including activities like cycling. Each syncs back to a hub app on the iPhone.
Four sapphire lenses on the back of the Apple Watch measure heart rate using a combination of infrared and LED technology, promising to deliver more accurate results than other wrist-worn optical heart-rate monitors. Apple’s heart-rate tracking works during workouts, but also automatically measures your heart rate every ten minutes. The Apple Watch also uses the iPhone for GPS and barometer-based elevation readings.
The Apple Watch works with other fitness apps — it’s Nike Plus-supported, and there are bound to be more apps by the time it launches.
Is it water resistant? Yes, it’s rated IPX7, meaning it can be worn everyday and in the rain, but isn’t meant to be used while showering or swimming.
Which phone do you need?
To pair with an Apple Watch, you’ll need an iPhone 5, 5C, 5S, 6 or 6 Plus. Sadly, earlier iPhones are excluded. So are other phone platforms like Android. This is an iPhone-owner’s product, much like Samsung’s Gear watches run only on certain Samsung phones, or Android Wear watches require Android phones.
How it seems to work
Like most smartwatches, the Apple Watch is designed to be an adjunct to your iPhone. It’s meant to stay paired and connected while you wear it for most features, but it also does some things while disconnected, too. It has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, so it will stay connected even while your phone isn’t paired while you’re at home and on a wireless network.
The Apple Watch has a small, bright color touch display plus a scroll-wheel digital crown and button on the side for extra features. You can touch and swipe to interact, or speak to its microphone.
The watch runs on a brand-new S1 processor, is equipped with a gyro and accelerometer, and can piggyback on the Wi-Fi and GPS from your phone. You press down on the crown to get to the home screen. The watch will take dictation and offers very precise synchronized time to plus or minus 50 milliseconds. It also has a “Taptic” haptic processor that offers a subtle vibrational feedback for notifications, alarms and other messages, plus a force-sensitive touch display.
Like the iPhone 6, the Apple Watch has NFC. This will enable those Apple Pay payments and help it act as a door-opening key at hotels.
How does it charge? Via a clever combination of magnets and inductive charging: the charger just snaps on the back.
How many styles does it come in?
A lot, but they’re all based on the same curved-edge rectangular-screen design. There are three different construction styles, two different sizes and six different watch bands, leading to a surprising number of combinations. The first variant, Apple Watch, has a stainless steel case, a ceramic back and a sapphire crystal. The Apple Watch Sport has an aluminum body, composite back and Ion-X glass screen. The Apple Watch Edition has a ceramic back and sapphire crystal, but also adds 18-karat gold to its body. Each model comes in two different colors: silver and black aluminum, stainless steel and a darker black steel, and regular and rose gold.
There are also larger and smaller sizes, called “42mm” and “38mm,” which amount to men’s and women’s sizes — or adult and kid. The six available bands at launch span a variety of designs: a Milanese loop of metal mesh with magnets, a leather band that auto-attaches, a segmented metal link band, a classic leather watch band, and a more plasticized sport band in bright colors. They span the gamut, and you can bet there will be tons more from other manufacturers. They detach easily, too, for band-swapping.
Band prices stretch from $60 all the way up to many hundreds of dollars, impacting the cost of the Apple Watch significantly.
How is it different from other smartwatches?
The Apple Watch has some newer technologies that other smartwatches, to date, haven’t adopted.
Apple’s watch is the one of the first mainstream wearables to support mobile payments: Apple Pay will be enabled via NFC, meaning you can swipe to pay at stores, and possibly pay for things online, too — and open doors at hotels, among other things.
The Apple Watch uses haptic feedback, but it also has a force-sensitive display: press harder, and it will do different things. This could mean more advanced types of notification buttons, or control input.
Apple also added a different type of input: a little Digital Crown on the side is a clever idea, merging a home button and scroll wheel in one. It aims to help make pinch-to-zoom and scroll functions easier to pull off, while IR and photo sensors give it extra sensitivity. That, and a button below that brings up favorite friends and contacts, offer a set of buttons that don’t require the screen at all. You still can swipe and tap, too.
The heart-rate tracking technology could also be a little different. It works optically, much like recent heart-rate wrist monitors, but the four-sapphire-lens array underneath seems a lot more robust, at least in external design. We don’t know how it performs yet.
Apple’s watch will run its own distinct app platform. Android Wear already has a fair amount of app support, but apps are a secondary part of Google’s watches. The Apple Watch puts its apps in the spotlight on the main display. Apple released its WatchKit API last year, counting on courting developers to make the watch do lots of things by the time it goes on sale. That could help Apple catch up to existing platforms like Android Wear.
Using a direct-communication suite of apps called Digital Touch, the Apple Watch will also act as a personal communicator to other Apple Watch owners: you can scribble little emoji, send vibration-enhanced love taps, or send audio messages like a walkie-talkie. High-school classrooms, look out.
What did it feel like on my wrist?
Good — and comfortable. While the Apple Watch may seem a lot like other square-screened smartwatches, its fit and finish are refined. Its design is a bit like a mini-iPhone, but also reminiscent of the 2011 iPod Nano, yet curved. I tried on a stainless steel Apple Watch with metal link band, an Apple Watch Sport with a rubbery sport band, and a smaller Apple Watch with a leather band. They all had a great wrist feel.
The Apple Watch doesn’t have a round display like some Android Wear watches, but its build quality seemed even better than the Moto 360 and LG G Watch R. It shares some similar design elements to recent smartwatches like the Asus ZenWatch and Samsung Gear S. Even if the watch body itself doesn’t always seem striking, the Apple Watch does seem to morph depending on its accessories.
The screen on the 42mm model is about the size of a Pebble Steel, and felt more discreet than some larger Android Wear and Samsung Gear watches. The smaller 38mm watch felt too small for me, but it looked pretty good on smaller wrists showing it off.
The watch I tried on just ran a set demo loop, much like early Android Wear watches at Google I/O. For deeper features, you had to see one on an Apple employee’s wrist. But even on the loop, you could feel Apple’s “Taptic” engine. It’s much like vibrations on other watches like those from Android Wear and Pebble, but this one feels capable of a more subtle range of vibration styles.
The watch isn’t surprising in design, but it’s elegantly made. The bands in particular feel well thought out: a steel mesh one has magnets that wrap and attach, and so does a cool segmented leather one. And the snap-on magnetic inductive charger is great: it avoids weird snap-on dongles, but also means the watch won’t detach from the charger when in a bag or an airline seat pocket.
What can it do when it isn’t connected to a phone?
The Apple Watch is meant to be connected to an iPhone, but it also does some things stand-alone based on what we know so far: track activity and fitness, make payments using Apple Pay, and play music that’s been downloaded to the watch. However, even some elements of fitness tracking seem dependent on phone-paired functions, like GPS. Yes, the Apple Watch will sync playlists, although how much dedicated storage it’ll have isn’t known. Basically, we don’t know yet how good Apple Watch will be as a stand-alone device, but it will function. And it can connect over Wi-Fi, allowing you to use it at home even when it’s not paired.
Can left-handed people use it?
Sure, the digital crown is on the right side of the Apple Watch, but don’t worry: you’ll be able to put it on either wrist. The Apple Watch design is reversible, and and you can set which way the screen flips, so the crown can be on the other side: the only change would be that the bottom button for contacts would end up on the top.
What’s its battery life like?
A full charge will give you 18 hours of use, based on Apple’s calculation of what everyday use means. It’ll track heart rate during a workout for about six hours, or last through about six hours of music playback via Bluetooth. What this actually translates to in real life use won’t be clear until we get to review one, but this is at the low end of the smartwatch battery-life spectrum.
What’s its main competition?
Samsung and its expansive collection of Tizen-based smartwatches, and the ever-improving world of Android Wear Google-driven smartwatches are the places where Apple Watch faces the stiffest competition, but there will be lots of smaller, high-fashion smartwatches emerging to compete, too. Pebble is planning new products, Swatch has its own smartwatch in the works, and there are sure to be others. Apple’s watch may precipitate a lot of mainstream fashion-tech competition in the coming months. If you consider the Apple Watch as a fitness gadget, then all-day heart-rate trackers like the Basis Peak, Microsoft Band, and Fitbit’s latest wearables could be seen as potential alternatives.
Who needs it?
When the iPad first debuted, many demeaned it as either a “big iPhone” or a keyboardless laptop, but it managed to stake out its own ground. After two debut events, the Apple Watch is still a mystery gadget. Can it show us that it’s needed? The short answer: it’s not clear who needs it. But it may turn out that a lot of people want it.