Updated: Our overview of the Apple Watch now includes updates with pricing and availability.
Back in August, we argued that smartwatches simply weren’t worth the investment (yet, anyway) for most people. Unlike smartphones, the addition of a computer on the wrist seems superfluous and destined to satisfy a very specific niche, we said. At their core, all smartwatches to date have simply functioned as secondary notification devices with a few tidbits tacked on here and there. The question, of course, was whether or not Apple’s entry into the space would break away from that mold in any significant manner. Now that the company’s annual September event has concluded and the Apple Watch has been unveiled, it looks as if we have our answer.
What Is Apple Watch?
Ever since Apple CEO Tim Cook confessed that the wearables sector was “incredibly interesting” in an interview in May of 2013, we’ve all assumed that an iWatch of some sort was imminent. This is Apple’s first wearable product of any kind, and the company is calling it its most “personal” product yet. It actually looks a lot like smartwatches from last year — a rectangular (not round) face, a bulky chassis to house a bulky battery, and an interchangeable band. Outside of the standard watch, there’s a “Sport” version that’s more durable and geared for fitness use as well as an “Edition” variant that’s encased in 18-karat gold. Apple isn’t divulging battery life estimates yet, probably because those aren’t final. All-day longevity has been the engineering hurdle of smartwatch development, and no watch maker has thus far been able to produce a truly all-day smartwatch that isn’t unsatisfactorily thick.
The Apple Watch only functions alongside an iPhone 5 or newer and won’t work with iPad or older iPhone units. Because there’s no SIM inside, its functionality is limited when not within range of a connected iPhone. But is capable of running apps from both Apple and third-party developers. The latter will start to surface once these devices start shipping “early next year.” You’ll find plenty of band options, from leathers to sweat proof rubber ones, and there are four sensors on the rear used for keeping track of your pulse. Mentioned almost as an afterthought, the Watch will be sold in two face sizes (large and less large), but no specifications were revealed. We’re guessing the smaller of the two will suit petite folks and children more adequately.
In a nutshell, it tells time, channels notifications from your iPhone, allows you to respond to said notifications, and allows you to interact with miniaturized versions of your favorite apps. It also acts as an Apple TV remote, an Apple Pay terminal, and “much more” to be revealed closer to launch.
How Is it Different?
Unlike most smartwatches, which only have touch and voice dictation interfaces, Apple has added two additional methods. First, there’s the Digital Crown — it’s like a conventional crown, but it functions much like the iPod Click Wheel from yesteryear. It’ll spin both ways to zoom and scroll, and depressing it acts as the Home button does on an iPhone. There’s also an unlabeled hard button beneath it that’s seemingly being saved for use by developers.
The vibration motor within has been internally built by Apple and dubbed a “Tactic Engine”. It’s far more subtle than most, so that someone sitting right beside you shouldn’t overhear a vibration buzz whenever you get a notification. Speaking of which, Apple Watch doesn’t run OS X, iOS, or any other existing Apple operating system. In fact, Apple’s not naming the software onboard, only referring to it as a ground-up development that plays nicely with iOS. That’s in contrast to Android Wear, which shares many elements of Android itself. Apple took great care to build software for the small screen, forcing itself to not cram too much information onto a tiny panel. That said, it’s probably the smartest we’ve seen yet in terms of using your smartwatch to interact with notifications. In the live demo, the watch was shown parsing an incoming iMessage question and offering up intelligent one-click replies based on the verbiage that the sender used.
Moreover, Apple harped a bit on a new communication potential that doodling could spark. You can send quick on-screen sketches or even your own heartbeat to contacts, and you can easily tweak the faces of emoji characters to show more exact smiles, winks, frowns, etc. Basically, it’s Apple enabling you to convey more with less. Most of it felt pretty hokey to these (admittedly jaded) adult eyes, but there’s huge potential here to strike a nerve with middle schoolers and those who are flocking to quick-response apps such as Snapchat.
The most significant difference comes not from the watch itself, but from Apple’s ecosystem muscle. The company is building a slew of first-party apps specifically for the watch’s tiny screen, but it’s also creating a branch of the App Store exclusively for Watch apps. We already saw that Facebook, Twitter, SPG Hotels, MLB, and American Airlines will be there, and we suspect that most every other app maker will at least consider building for Apple Watch. This is a competitive advantage that cannot be overstated. While the smartwatch sector flounders, Apple is tapping a hungry developer base that can’t wait to offer software on another Apple device. You can bet that the best, cleanest and most frequently updated watch apps will be on the Apple Watch, at least if the iPhone and iPad App Stores act as any indication.
Should You Buy One?
First off, you can’t, at least not until the spring of next year. In a move that’s very much counter to Apple’s modus operandi, the company pulled back the sheets on a critical product two whole quarters before it’ll be available to purchase. Apple generally likes to reveal products and then delight its user base with a ship date that’s only a week or so away, but the smartwatch market was evolving so rapidly that it seemingly had to let the proverbial cat out of the bag before everyone and their cousin purchased a rival model.
Starting at $349, the Apple Watch is roughly in line with any other flagship smartwatch out there. You’ll need an iPhone 5 or newer to use it, though, so those unwilling to either upgrade their old iPhone or switch over from a competing platform need read no further. For late-model iPhone users, the answer is more nebulous. If you’re a fitness junkie or someone who actually enjoys the feeling of wearing a watch, there’s zero doubt in my mind that the Apple Watch will enhance one’s overall iPhone experience. Its subtle method of handling notifications and its slicker-than-most response interface options (that digital crown plus a touch panel) enable it to be used far more seamlessly than rival watches.
If you’ve been yearning for a singular wearable that tracks both fitness data as well as lets you interact with notifications, this is the one to get. If you’ve been doing just fine without one, I’d wait. The Apple Watch is a first-generation product, and it’s actually quite large. Those who sprung for the original iPad know what’s going to happen next — in a year, the second Apple Watch will be unveiled, and it’ll be monumentally faster, sleeker, and probably offered with a more visually pleasing round face. To me, it’s worth holding out to see.
Apple Watch Apps
A sample of the apps available at launch include: Starwood Preferred Guest, Passbook, Uber, Instagram, ApplePay, Weather, Messages, and Phone.
Apple Watch Pricing & Availability
Available April 10 The Apple Watch will be available on April 10. You’ll be able to try on and learn more about the watch at Apple Retail stores. The Apple Watch will be available in nine countries at launch including: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States. The watch will begin shipping on April 24.
Apple Watch Sport, 38mm & 42mm Aluminum, silver or space gray. The anodized aluminum used to make the Apple Sport Watch is 60% stronger than standard alloys but weighs just the same,
38mm Silver Aluminum Case w/ White Sport Band — $349
42mm Silver Aluminum Case w/ White Sport Band — $399
38mm Silver Aluminum Case w/ Blue Sport Band — $349
42mm Silver Aluminum Case w/ Blue Sport Band — $399
38mm Silver Aluminum Case w/ Green Sport Band — $349
42mm Silver Aluminum Case w/ Green Sport Band — $399
38mm Silver Aluminum Case w/ Pink Sport Band — $349
42mm Silver Aluminum Case w/ Pink Sport Band — $399
38mm Space Gray Aluminum Case w/ Black Sport Band — $349
42mm Space Gray Aluminum Case w/ Black Sport Band — $399
Apple Watch Collection, 38mm & 42mm Stainless steel, traditional or space black. The stainless steel used to make the cases becomes up to 805 harder through a specialized cold-forging process.
38mm Stainless Steel Case w/ White Sport Band — $549
42mm Stainless Steel Case w/ White Sport Band — $599
38mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Black Sport Band — $549
42mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Black Sport Band — $599
38mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Black Classic Buckle — $649
42mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Black Classic Buckle — $699
38mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Milanese Loop — $649
42mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Milanese Loop — $699
38mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Black Modern Buckle — $749
42mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Black Leather Loop — $699
38mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Midnight Blue Modern Buckle — $749
42mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Bright Blue Leather Loop — $699
38mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Soft Pink Modern Buckle — $749
42mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Stone Leather Loop — $699
38mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Brown Modern Buckle — $749
42mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Light Brown Leather Loop — $699
38mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Link Bracelet — $949
42mm Stainless Steel Case w/ Link Bracelet — $999
38mm Space Black Case with Space Black Stainless Steel Link Bracelet — $1,049
42mm Space Black Case with Space Black Stainless Steel Link Bracelet — $1,099
Apple Watch Edition, 38mm & 42mm 18-karat solid yellow or rose.