The headliner at today’s Apple event was clearly the brand new iPhone 6, but sandwiched between the announcement of the phone and the surprise release of U2’s brand new album free to the world through iTunes, the kids from Cupertino gave us their first-ever watch.
Now, digital watches that sync with your smartphone have been around before today. Pebble watch debuted last year and sold out in five days, but since you don’t see as many people walking around with smartphone-enabled watches as you do people with smartphones, clearly the tech hasn’t taken over the world.
The watch, which will start at $349 and will drop in 2015, comes in two different sizes, with six different styles of strap, ranging from leather to an elastomer-based sport band to stainless steel. There will be three different watches, the basic model with a steel casing, the sport with an aluminum casing and the Edition, which features 18K gold. The watch has a robust feature set that includes a crown to help navigate the tiny touchscreen (more on this below); integration with the iPhone 5 and 6; ability to read texts, tweets and other alerts; maps right on your watch; heart rate monitor; and accelerometers to track movement.
Will the Apple Watch create a new product category where only a fledgling one existed before like Apple did with mp3 players, smartphones and tablets? It doesn’t feel as likely, but if smartwatches do catch on because of the Apple Watch, here are the reasons why.
1. Apple Watch will become the leading fitness tracker
There has been a boom in fitness trackers the last few years with Nike FuelBand, Fitbit Flex and Jawbone Up leading a growing market of people quantifying their every moment. However, with these trackers the interfaces aren’t always great, the online components aren’t always functional and they can feel redundant when you’re wearing them with a watch. The Apple Watch unifies your tracker and your watch and will no doubt offer the best interface to actually get feedback on your activity level in a day. Accelerometers and a heart rate monitor will track calories burned, overall movement, and the coolest part—because sitting is now evil—will remind you to stand during the day. And unlike the Up and the Flex, you’ll be able to check your daily progress at glance, instead of syncing to your phone to see your activity.
Do Garmin and Suunto have to worry about getting competition in the running watch category? Probably not. Those companies offer very specific feature sets that will better serve hardcore runners, cyclists and triathletes than the Apple watch likely will.
2. Apple’s will once again transform an analog device into a digital one
One of Apple’s great successes is making us feel comfortable in the digital world. The swipes and gestures used to operate an iOS device allowed us to close the divide between digital and analog. It wasn’t an alienating array of 0s and 1s and lines of code, Apple made products you physically interacted with so simply that even toddlers could work an iPad. That digital-analog union seeped into their design too. The page of your iBook turned like that of a real book, App icons had beveled edges like real buttons and your notebook looked like a real notebook. This is called skeuomorphism. Now, did Apple lean on skeuomorphism for a little too long with its interfaces that mimicked chintzy leather stitching and yellow notepads? Yeah, but Apple had to ride that one as long as they could, to expand the world of people (like my parents and all their friends) who could learn to be comfortable with their digital gadgets.
Apple knows that to get people to adopt smartwatches, they’d have to go back to the old digital-analog playboook and not just give us a wearable smartphone. “What we didn’t do was take the iPhone and shrink the interface and strap it on your wrist,” CEO Tim Cook said. “Pinch to zoom covers the content and obstructs the view.” So they introduced a crown, like on your grandparents’ watch, and integrated it into the navigation. Instead of having to do everything with your fingers on the touchscreen, twisting the crown can zoom in and out, scroll between messages and move between apps. It���s a small thing, but one that could really help usability on the watch.The clickwheel on my original iPod was a small thing too, but it made accessing that massive database of music possible.
3. The acceptable alternative to Google Glass
There’s something slightly unsettling about Google Glass “explorers” as they like to call themselves—or “Glassholes” as our friends at Valleywag refer to them as. The omnipresence of their computer on their faces makes you feel like they could be surreptitiously filming you at all times. However, it would be nice to check a text message quickly when it comes in without having to pull out your phone. The Apple Watch, with it’s ability to sync with your iPhone, will let you check texts, Facebook messages and any other push notifications you set up by just glancing at your wrist. Apple Watch may find a happy medium between the rudeness of pulling out your phone and disengaging with the people around you and the creepiness of wearing Google Glass at all times.