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Apple Previews the New Apple Watch

Apple CEO Tim Cook reached back in time following his introduction of the iPhone 6 and Apple Pay at the Flint Center last week with a traditional but long absent “There’s one more thing.” That “thing,” of course, was Apple’s long-awaited smartwatch, which Apple showed on slides using the “WATCH” logomark, though, luckily, the company uses the more text-friendly “Apple Watch” name on its Web site.

However, you’ll have to reach forward in time to get one: the Apple Watch won’t be available until early in 2015. And it’s not a single device, but a whole range of them, spread among three separate lines:

Each line consists of a number of different models, in two sizes — 38 mm and 42 mm — and with a variety of available bands, from durable colored plastic with a magnetic fastener, through various traditional buckle models, to Milanese loops. Between the various Apple Watch lines, there are dozens of different configurations being offered. Apple has never, in my recollection, offered so many varieties of a single product at launch. And, compared to other smartwatches currently on the market in terms of design, Apple’s latest offerings are, well, there isn’t any comparison: these are the first smartwatches I’ve seen that look absolutely like wristwatches.

The Apple Watch, like many watches, is water-resistant but not waterproof. That is, you will be able to wear it in the rain or wash your hands with it on, but not wear it in the shower or swim with it. Athletes may be uncomfortable with that level of protection; there isn’t much difference between a downpour and a shower.

But that’s all on the surface. What does the Apple Watch actually do, and how does it do it?

As a watch, it offers over two million different ways to tell time, according to Apple. The Apple Watch will have a wide variety of software watch faces, many of them customizable with what watchmakers call “complications.” Apple Watch complications include stopwatches and stock reports, along with phases of the moon and upcoming meetings. The screen, of course, is touch-sensitive, but not just multi-touch. The Apple Watch screen also offers force sensitivity, so it can distinguish between a tap and hard press, which Apple calls a “force touch.”

Methods for controlling the interface itself are almost a blend of the old-fashioned click-wheel on the original iPod and the touch-screen of the iPhone. Aside from the screen, the watch stem, known as the “digital crown,” is a primary means of control. Users click and twirl the crown to control many onscreen actions. A second button below the crown can be pressed to switch to a list of contacts who can be reached using the Apple Watch’s connection to the user’s iPhone.

That’s right: many of the Apple Watch’s features work in collaboration with a nearby iPhone, and in fact, an iPhone is required. Happily, any model from an iPhone 5 on up will do. In conjunction with the iPhone the Apple Watch can message contacts, play music, serve as a real-life Dick Tracy wrist-radio using its built-in speaker and microphone, handle mail, and more. Among that “more” is Siri, allowing for dictation as well as information retrieval, and various new personal messaging capabilities, including the ability to exchange sketches, animated emoji, and tap sequences (the Apple Watch includes haptic feedback, meaning you can feel those taps on your wrist). The watch can also share your heartbeat in real time.

That last is courtesy of the various sensors built-in to the Apple Watch. These can measure heart rate, body movement (including when you stand and sit), and, in conjunction with an iPhone’s GPS, keep track of how far you’ve gone on your morning run or bike ride. All this information and more is handled via the watch’s Activity app and its Workout app, not to mention the apps that communicate with HealthKit, a new iOS 8 feature, on the iPhone. Although Apple claims to have designed the Apple Watch for everyone from couch potatoes to serious athletes, Adam tells me that many serious runners would be unlikely to want to carry an entire iPhone as well as wear a watch, and as a lifelong competitive runner, he should know.

Also in conjunction with the iPhone, the Apple Watch can serve as a point-of-purchase device, using an NFC transceiver to make payments via a merchant’s reader. This is all enabled courtesy of the new Apple Pay service that was announced at the same event (see “Apple Pay Aims to Disrupt Payment Industry,” 9 September 2014).

Although most of what Apple demoed the Apple Watch doing involved Apple apps, there will be a WatchKit API that independent developers can use to create their own apps. They’ll presumably need to communicate with a host app on the iPhone, but Apple provided no details on that today.

Given all the things that the Apple Watch does, and its small size, one inevitably wonders what kind of battery life it offers. Apple isn’t saying anything beyond “an active day’s use” right now. The Apple Watch uses a magnetic induction device that snaps to the back of the watch and recharges it overnight — how long a charging cycle takes is another question that Apple has yet to answer. We anticipate that it will be the sort of thing you’ll need to plug in before bed every night.

Those in the “shut up and take my money” crowd (I may find myself marching with them) will need to save up at least $349 for the cheapest Apple Watch. How much the highest end watch, or, indeed, any other than the cheapest watch, will cost is another of those pesky unanswered questions at this time.

Last year, Josh Centers speculated on what kind of watch Apple would deliver (see “Making the Case for an iWatch,” 3 July 2013). It looks like he scored rather well. Among the items floating in his “claim chowder” offering were:

  • Two-way wrist radio capability: ✔︎
  • Siri: ✔︎
  • Fitness tracking: ✔︎
  • Fashion friendly design: ✔︎
  • Photo display: ✔︎
  • Apple TV control: ✔︎
  • FaceTime camera: ✘
  • Self-winding recharging: ✘
  • $199 price point: ✘
  • App Store for Apple Watch: probably, but no specifics provided

Pretty tasty chowder, Josh!

But will Apple Watch sales be tasty for Apple? Even at $349, I expect Apple to sell carloads of these timepieces from the future. What’s more, given that what was shown today was a preview of a 1.0 product, I expect the product lines to evolve quickly, and the price range to expand both lower and higher.

I believe we’ll see a lot of “IOU an Apple Watch” cards being left under the tree this holiday season.


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Comments about Apple Previews the New Apple Watch
(Comments are closed.)

Scott Rose  2014-09-09 15:45
Sadly, Apple made no mention of whether this watch will work for left-handed users who need to wear their watch on their right wrists. As a lefty myself, I don't want to be obscuring the screen constantly as I reach over the top of the watch to turn the crown dial. Furthermore, I can't wear this on my left wrist because I can't scribble on its screen that accurately with my right fingertip. Not to mention that if it was on my left wrist, it would get in the way of my daily activities (for example, it would be scraping against the table all day long whenever I handwrite on a piece of paper).
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-09-09 15:57
We heard anecdotally that there's a southpaw mode, but obviously the buttons won't be moving. I don't think there are any rules about which wrist you have to wear it on (I regularly wear my Pebble on my left wrist and my Garmin 620 on my right, though seldom simultaneously).
Scott Rose  2014-09-09 17:02
Thanks, Adam! :)
Chris Pepper  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-09-09 17:06
I hope it's 180-degree reversible in software, to put the dial and button on the (left) outside for left-handers. The 'digital crown' would be at bottom with the button at top, but I'm not sure that matters.
Geoff Hutchison  2014-09-09 18:28
I like that concept. Considering all other iOS products detect orientation, this seems possible. You'd only have to make sure the watch band is installed appropriately.
Waldova  2014-09-09 17:35
Can't help but feel like this big-ass watch is a shark...and Apple jumped it. Requires an iPhone to operate? Really? I would now have two devices I have to charge each day? I have enough trouble keeping my iPhone and iPad charged up.
Edward Wood  2014-09-15 18:04
I can't conceive of buying an expensive watch and then requiring an iPhone to use it. the whole thing seems like a bad joke, with the watch doing pretty much the same things as the iPhone. Aside from the fashionistas, who needs the watch?
Geoff Hutchison  2014-09-09 18:26
I regularly wear a watch (and yes also an iPhone, Adam) when running, but I admit being a bit disappointed that for $349, the GPS features require the iPhone. Maybe the battery life wasn't good enough if they added in active GPS?

Certainly, I'd love to use something like this *alone* for fitness tracking, since it would handle distance + time + heart rate, which would be fantastic. As it stands, I'll probably hold off, hoping that the next version will include GPS without the phone.

I can understand some need for the iPhone to operate - I expect most of the intensive computing is done on the iPhone to save battery life.

I expect, though, that this is another Apple product that must be examined and tried in person.
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-09-10 04:46
I'd like to see a GPS on the watch, too. I see running as a time when I leave most of the world behind and can just be alone with my thoughts and the scenery.

When I do take my iPhone along, it's in a pocket below my rear waist band, where I can't detect it - no bouncing, no binding, nothing. But, I can't imagine limiting my running gear to only those items that have an adequate rear iPhone pocket. Nor can I imagine wanting to wear an arm strap holder thingie.

I bet Apple adds a GPS in a later model, in a year or so.
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-09-10 04:48
One more thing. I have enough trouble getting my 5S into a rear pocket. So I certainly hope that Apple will continue to make smaller iPhones. Those iPhone 6s may be loved by some, but they are too big for my exercise pockets. Luckily, it is Adam's turn to get a new iPhone, so I won't face this dilemma for another year. Perhaps then Apple will rev its smaller phones.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-09-10 07:07
I agree that battery life was probably the issue with active GPS, considering everything else that's going on. I've been pretty impressed with battery life on my Garmin 620, which has held up fine for 4+ hours when riding the Elliptigo (I can't run nearly long enough to stress it).

But Apple could take a page from Garmin's book and have the GPS be something the user would have to invoke manually - the Garmin 620 can go for a long time as a normal watch when you're not using the GPS (I don't know how long, because I haven't tried - if I'm going to wear a watch normally now, I use the Pebble).
Paul Schinder  2014-09-10 18:19
My Garmin Fenix lasts for weeks when GPS is off. This time of year, when I don't use it much, I try to plug it in every 6 days or so because there's a satellite ephemeris file that Garmin Express installs on it that has a 6 day lifetime. But it's not necessary just to keep it running.

I think you're right about battery life, though. No Garmin I know of can last 24 hours with GPS on without an external power source. I've run my Fenix for 14 hours with GPS on, and it was nearing the end.

I have no interest in the iWatch, though. After using a Withings Pulse for 7 months before finally abandoning it, I'm finished with "activity trackers", since they only track a small subset of activities, those which involve feet impacting on the ground. They're useless for cycling (road and mountain) and cross country skiing. Nothing else the iWatch does interests me. My Fenix has the ability to show notifications on its tiny screen when paired with an iPhone, but I don't use it because it makes my Fenix another device that I have to charge daily, and I don't want to bother.
Michael Lever  2014-09-09 23:09
I haven't worn a watch for more than 45 years so this is one Apple product I won't be buying. But for those that do, I wonder how they'll like the weight or what they'll do with their existing watch.
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-09-10 10:00
My existing watch is a cheap Timex Indiglo model that is roughly the same size as the Apple Watch, so the switch won't be noticeable in that regard. The Apple Watch is probably a little heavier, though the Sport models are lightweight aluminum with very light bands, so the difference in weight if I got one of those would likely be negligible.

I also have a gold dress watch that I never wear—in fact, I may sell it to finance the purchase of an  Watch. 😉
Dale Steele  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2014-09-10 21:32
Good article. Wasn't that supposed to be "tapic" not haptic feedback? As a lefty who hasn't worn a watch for years it remains to be seen whether I'll give this thing a go. I was impressed with some aspects.

I also had the feeling that a lot of what they presented was ways to be subtly distracted during meetings and other group activities without those around you knowing. Unless they have a apple watch too...

Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-09-10 21:41
"Haptic" is the correct term. Apple's page at says this: "It’s called the Taptic Engine, a linear actuator inside Apple Watch that produces haptic feedback."
Suzanne R Brown  2014-09-15 16:35
When I saw this watch in the Keynote, my reaction was "now that's a smart watch I'd actually be seen wearing!". It's gorgeous and has some great features.

I could live with the charging at night - after all, we're quite accustomed to plugging in our phones and iPads.

But they lost me with the "water-resistant" vs "water-proof". It's why I wear a Rolex - even in 18kt gold with diamonds, I can shower and swim with this on with no harm. I like a watch I don't have to worry about.

Perhaps they will eventually find a way to make this watch water proof, but I doubt it - it requires a screw down crown and that would not work with the design of this crown. Too's absolutely stunning in 18kt gold.
Water proofness is a big selling point for me. My Pebble, whilst it does not compare on features and will likely get little use after the Apple Watch is out:

Lasts me 7 days on a charge
Shows 'low battery alert' with about two days left
Totally submersible and waterproof. Read Twitter underwater in the bath, shower with it on.
Always on display, motion activated backlight. The display is always on, always visible.
Physical buttons: I can play pause my podcast or just back 30 seconds by feel without having to look at the screen. Depending on my daily activities, my Pebble may well get some use still.
Roy Derrick  2014-09-15 21:59
Why did the Apple Watch have to be so ugly?
Jack Clay  2014-09-20 13:09

I see the Watch requires an iPhone, but does anyone know if it will work with a iPod touch, which is basically an iPhone without the phone part?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-09-22 07:41
Apple has said nothing about that, so it's hard to say. My guess is no, it won't, since many of the Apple Watch's capabilities rely on ubiquitous connectivity.