Apple entered a whole new product category Tuesday when it announced the Apple Watch. This device, a companion to the iPhone (5 or better required), is designed to serve many functions, including at-a-glance (and at-a-feel) access to data from your iPhone as well as advanced fitness and health tracking. I had the opportunity to test and wear one after Apple's event, and I was pleasantly impressed.
All Photos by Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus
The Demonstration Process
Apple had a pretty scripted demo they walked interested media through. It started with the reality that there were two different software builds on the demonstration Apple Watches on hand.
The ones Apple's staff members strapped onto media—and yes, they strapped it on, presumably to ensure it was snug enough for the haptic feedback to be noticeable—had a looping 4-minute demo running. Those devices were not at all responsive to user input.
The version that the Apple demo employees wore was more functional, and allowed the Apple reps to move through some features and show off the interactive portions of things.
My assumption is that since the watch isn't nearly finished (remember, it's not due until "early 2015"), there are many parts of the OS that are simply incomplete at this point, and by only allowing employees to navigate, Apple could be sure no one would hit any "bridge out, turn around now" scenarios.
To Apple's credit, the fact the company put these things out there for any demos—let alone putting them on our wrists—is fantastic considering how early they are in the development of the final OS builds.
Here's a video I made while they were running me through Apple Watch's paces:
Next: Feel and Function
Page 2 - The Feel
The Apple Watch they strapped on me was a 42mm version with a leather bracelet and classic buckle. It went on easily enough, and was much lighter than I expected. Given the way the demo was setup I spent more time paying attention to the watch on the other guy's wrist, and very quickly forgot I was wearing the Apple Watch (sadly, Apple didn't forget I was wearing it and insisted on taking it back when the demo was over). Still, it was quite comfortable and not at all chunky or heavy. Apple has done very well here.
Speaking of feel, the haptic feedback was something that surprised me. During the looping 4-minute demo there were moments where the watch would pulse or tap my wrist to notify me of something. At first I didn't notice, but that's because I was already in a crowded room with lots of bumping and bustling, and also because the feedback wasn't at all what I was expecting.
I had it in my head that the taps would feel like iPhone-style vibrations against my wrist. They are not. Instead it truly feels like someone was tapping me on the wrist. As soon as I acclimated myself to it, it was a very natural notification that wasn't at all intrusive, but was always noticeable. Apple has achieved something quite special with this, and I'm really curious to see how much more it develops.
Given how early Apple is in the development process, the Apple Watch is surprisingly functional already. My demo included Messages (with replies), a tour through the health and fitness UI, as well as the Watch-to-Watch communication.
This last bit was pretty interesting, because you can use your Watch to communicate (draw pictures, send taps, and even send your actual heartbeat) with companions anywhere, not just in the same room. This is because the Apple Watch is paired with your iPhone and uses iMessage to beam that data over. And since iMessage works anywhere you have a data connection (Wi-Fi or cellular), you can do Watch-to-Watch communications around the world.
The Digital Crown does, in fact, actually turn, and will spin to infinity, leaving the scrolling and other limits up to the OS to decide. It turns smoothly and I believe will work quite well, as shown in Apple's demo. There's another button on the side, but we weren't given any guidance as to what its planned use is. Time will tell (no pun intended!).
Turning the Digital Crown
The screen is very smooth and clear, and I was able to read it at any angle, even under bright lights. Apple's clearly done something here to mitigate glare but, again, we weren't given any details as to how.
Next: Battery Life, Price, Bracelets, and the Verdict
Page 3 - Battery Life and Price
During the keynote announcement Apple indicated that Apple Watch is built to be worn and used all day and charged at night, and at this stage that's all the battery life data we'll get. Presumably that means it'll last a full day, but who knows? Maybe it'll last two.
As for price, Apple has said the Apple Watch will "start at $349." Presumably that's for the cheapest model with the cheapest bracelet/band, though it wouldn't surprise me if that price nudged down $50 by the time things launch.
It also wouldn't surprise me if the price of the top end, gold "Edition" model with a matching bracelet costs upwards of $1000 when all is said and done. I think there will be quite a range of prices depending upon which model and bracelet/band you choose.
There were a ton of different bracelets on display with the watches today, and my guess is we'll see even more, both from Apple as well as third parties. The bracelet itself can be removed from Apple Watch with a simple push of a button, making quick changes really easy. Use your sport band while out for a run, then swap into your metal bracelet for a dinner date.
It's too soon to tell how much of a hit this will be. Not only is the Apple Watch the first of a completely new product line for Apple, it's not yet finished. There are more questions unanswered than answered at this point, and I think that will continue through the initial rollout of the device.
Apple has chosen to enter the wearables market not just with a band that users could wear alongside a wristwatch, but instead with a fully-functioning watch that also has fitness features and is complementary to the iPhone. That means users have to be willing to start wearing a watch if they don't already or replace their existing wristwatch(es) with Apple's offering.
Price aside, that may be the toughest sell of all here, and it will be very interesting to see if a mechanical watch geek like me is swayed by the curves and taps of the Apple Watch. I'm open to the possibility and am eagerly awaiting its launch!