The new Apple Watch launched in Fall 2014, and the premier was as notable for what Apple did not tell as for what it did. Over the past few weeks, important new information has become available, as have some initial opinions from hands-on testers. Here’s the latest.
Aesthetics and Design
Many agree that the Apple Watch is the best looking among the smartwatch set. Following a brief hands-on experience, PC Magazine said of the Apple Watch “The whole thing is more premium looking and feeling than Samsung’s, LG’s, or Sony’s entries, and smaller than the gorgeous but pizza-pie-sized Moto 360.” Slashgear reported: “This is no plastic Swatch. Apple’s choice of metals for the casing, and the size of the watch, all contribute to it feeling premium and solid.”
Apple’s decision to offer a wide range of customizable options is also garnering praise. Slashgear and others say that Apple’s decision to offer three collections, in three metals, in two sizes (38 mm and 42 mm), with six interchangeable straps and bracelets, and 11 different faces, puts other brands to shame. Apple’s premium materials also impress. The use of 316L stainless steel, aluminum, and 18k gold, all finished to a high level, stand head and shoulders above the crowd.
Yet with all that going for it, those who are tuned in to such things note that Apple did not do itself any favors with its selection of official product images. For a launch like this, (the) image is everything. A superb mood or beauty shot can be the difference between “Wow, that looks cool!”, and “Uh, I‘m not excited” in the minds of consumers.
Feel and Function
Reports from those who saw the Apple Watch and tried it on at the launch are generally positive, and it does especially well when compared with the competition. CNET’s reporter tried on a steel model on a bracelet, and an aluminum sport model on a rubber strap. He reported that the watches felt really good. CNET said that even Apple’s larger 42 mm watch did not feel too big. This is in contrast to reports on competing watches that are often docked points for being too large and clunky. CNET also said that the Apple’s “Taptic” engine delivers a more subtle range of vibration alerts than watches from other brands. Apple’s straps and bracelets, with magnetic attachments taking the place of traditional buckles, also garnered praise.
Apple’s “digital crown” navigation device is receiving glowing reviews. The device, which looks like a traditional watch crown, replaces finger-based scrolling that would be almost impossible to execute precisely on the small screens. According to Apple, the crown allows the user to scroll, zoom and navigate. Pressing the crown takes you to the home screen. Some liken it to the original iPod Click Wheel. Slashgear’s hands-on tester said that system works very well. A separate button located just below the crown brings up your friends, making it easier to message them quickly. Down the road, Apple will likely give owners the ability to customize these controls to some degree, as it did on the iPhone and iPad. Though the crown handles scrolling and navigation, the watch screen does respond to touches, and Apple says the Retina display features Force Touch, a technology that recognizes the difference between a tap and a press, making finger gestures easier to execute.
“Swipe-n-go” mobile payment using the watch was among the most eagerly anticipated features, and Apple delivered, sort of. You can indeed swipe your wrist to pay for a purchase, assuming the merchant has the right hardware. However to complete the payment, you also have to touch the iPhone’s biometric security sensor to confirm that you are the one making the purchase. So if your phone is on your hip, or in a backpack or handbag, you’ll have to take it out, even when paying with the watch. One of the biggest concerns among consumers is battery life. TechRadar reports that Apple has confirmed that the watch will have to be charged daily. This is not a huge surprise, given that the watch packs a ton of features into a very small package. Of course everyone hoped for more, but even Apple can’t alter the laws of physics. Other features include “ping my phone” which lets you send a command to the phone to make a sound, so you can find it, unless of course it’s back at the bar. The watch can also take dictation, allowing quick verbal replies to messages.
Apple did not discuss water resistance at the launch event, a subject near and dear to the hearts of many watch lovers. MacRumors reports that the watch will be water resistant, so getting caught in the rain, or a small splash while washing your hands, won’t be fatal, but taking it in the shower or the pool will be. Lefties will be happy to read that the screen orientation can be adjusted for you needs, though of course the digital crown and push button will be on the “wrong” side of the watch.
Prediction and Conclusions
Slashgear opines that even at the relatively high $349 entry price, Apple won’t be short of buyers. ZDnet says the watch “blows away the competition.” TechRadar and PC Magazine take the long view, comparing the Apple Watch to the original iPhone.
My take is that the golden age of the smartwatch remains a distant vision on the horizon. The Apple Watch will almost certainly be the best-selling smartwatch yet, and like the iPhone and iPad before it, it will likely cement Apple’s position as the leader in the nascent category. However the initial purchasers will be Apple fans and early adopters. The average person, who may not even wear a watch, will not view this watch as a necessity. (Not to mention that the Apple Watch offers little to Android users.) Over time however, as more apps are developed, as the “internet of things” matures, and, hopefully, as battery technology improves, smartwatches will eventually offer so much convenience and functionality that many people will view them like they view today’s smartphones – as necessities. That day is not yet here.