The wait is over, fanboys and curious bystanders - the Apple smartwatch has finally been revealed. The Apple Watch is, if early reports are accurate, a little bit of everything - as well as a sidekick for your iPhone, it's a fitness accessory, wallet replacement and status symbol.
With a sensitive touchscreen, your choice of a 1.5-inch or 1.65 inch screen, and a starting price of $349 USD, the Apple watch will hit stores early in 2015 - giving potential owners plenty of time to save up after blowing their spare cash on the new iPhone 6 or super-sized iPhone 6 Plus.
So what we do we think of this much-hyped new wearable, now that we're finally seeing what Apple is bringing to the smartwatch game?
What we like
While rival Android devices have adopted a one-size-fits-all attitude to design, Apple is giving customers a decent selection of customisation options right off the bat. As well as the Apple watch being available in two screen sizes, there’s also three separate ‘Collections’ planned for release, each of which offers a range of wrist straps.
The standard ‘Apple Collection’ features stainless steel watch casing, the ‘Sport Collection’ targets more athletic customers with aluminium casing and synthetic rubber straps, and the top-tier ‘Edition Collection’ features a gold watch design and embellished ‘digital crown’ (what Apple is calling the dial to the side of the screen).
As well offering a variety of watches and bands, Apple also gives users plenty of options for on-screen customisation, including the ability to personalise the home screen and watch face to suit both the wearer’s taste and how they use their device.
Being that the iPhone has always been popular with identity and fashion-conscious types, expect to see further opportunities to individualise the Apple Watch through third party accessories once the device hits the streets.
It's great for fitness tracking
We were hoping that the Apple Watch would focus on integrating with iOS 8’s new Health app, and we weren’t disappointed. Fitness fans will be able to use their Watch to build a detailed profile of their health and fitness, with the device including a built-in heart rate monitor, an accelerometer and pedometer.
By using the Activity app, owners can track calories burned, steps taken and daily movements, with all info collected by the Apple Watch synced to a user’s iPhone Health app. By monitoring your daily activity and exercise, the included Workout app will recommend achievable goals and help keep you motivated.
It works with Apple Pay
We’re excited to see that, as hoped, the Apple Watch will come with NFC capabilities – working alongside iOS 8’s Apple Pay to be a virtual wallet you can wear on your wrist. No more swiping credit cards or remembering your PIN when making purchases; the new payment system will allow users to add their credit cards via iTunes in order to pay retailers at over 220,000 locations.
The Apple Pay app will accept Visa, Mastercard and American Express, but doesn’t transmit personal information to merchants, such as names and full card numbers, so your funds and identity are kept secure.
According to Apple, Watch owners will be able to use the device’s NFC function to simply tap their wrist against contactless payment systems when making a purchase. Once a payment has successfully gone through, the Watch will buzz and beep to let you know your money’s been accepted.
While NFC payments are a convenient addition to new iPhones, paying for goods with a simple tap of your wrist is (for the truly lazy or security conscious among us) even better.
It makes communication easy
One of the big reasons people want wearable devices: to keep track of calls and messages at times when their phone isn’t accessible.
While we’re not looking for a smartwatch to replace our phone as a primary means of communication, we do like having the option of making and receiving calls, or sending quick texts, when we’re on the go and want to keep our hands free.
On that note, the Apple Watch will allow wearers to keep an easy-access list of their favourite contacts, identified by picture icons. Tap the icon of the person you need to get in touch with, and then either dictate a message or make a call.
While this is nothing that Android smartwatches haven’t been doing all year, we do like the inclusion of Quick Words, which lets users send a quick response to a text message notification with a single tap - the device will generate a list of potential replies it thinks suit the received message, and all you need to do is select the most fitting.
And as expected, the Siri digital personal assistant is also built in, meaning your Apple watch will respond to voice commands and questions in a similar fashion to your connected iPhone.
It gives you info at a glance
One of the essential features that Android wearables do well is offering up relevant information with a quick tap or swipe. Apple seems to be taking notes, announcing that the Apple Watch will also include what the company calls Glances; quick, easy-to-access notifications based on a user’s interests and priorities.
With this feature, you’ll be able to swipe up from the bottom of the watch screen to scroll through information that’s important to you – not just regular notifications, but things like weather, stock prices, schedule and calendar info, and even music currently being played on nearby i-Devices. You’ll also be able to easily control your iPhone or iPad’s Music app via the Apple Watch, and skip, select, pause or play music with a quick tap to the wrist and scroll of the digital crown.
What we don't like
Worst. Interface. Ever.
The iPhone and iPad user interface is instantly recognisable and incredibly intuitive to use. It’s organised, simple to navigate, and doesn’t feel cluttered. Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t continued this trend with the Apple Watch home screen - the awkwardly placed, honeycomb-like design of the apps is, to be honest, hideous and the stuff of trypophobe nightmares (including this writer’s).
While Apple is insisting that a quick tap and turn of the digital crown can let a user focus on specific areas of the screen, and enlarge apps for easier reading and selection, it still doesn’t make the interface any less messy or irritating.
At this stage, and compared to other Apple products, the home screen just looks like a barely contained mess of apps that lack the sophistication and simplicity of competing products. Potential customers who are even remotely near-sighted won’t get much joy from the Apple Watch interface.
One of the biggest questions that will determine the Apple Watch’s overall usability is still curiously unanswered: just how long will this thing last between charges? During Apple’s presentation, nothing was mentioned specifically about what we can expect from the Watch’s battery life.
Although other reports suggest the Apple Watch has a rough 12 hours of battery life, with a nightly charge required, looking at the battery performance of other wearables (in particular the Moto 360) leaves us sceptical.
With all of the brightly coloured, always-on features that make up the Apple watch, we’re concerned that the device’s battery just won’t have the staying power to take medium-to-heavy users through a typical workday. And the fact that Apple hasn’t given us any details on the Watch’s battery is making us even less confident.
It's big on gimmicks
Granted, the Apple Watch comes packed with some novel features that you certainly won’t find on an Android Wear device. Digital Touch is a quirky inclusion that lets you respond to a contact with a quick squiggle on the screen, which will then be delivered (and felt) by the recipient.
Some users will take advantage of this and work out a system of quick doodles to communicate in a kind of cute, on-screen visual code. But we’re thinking most owners will tire of this feature quickly, and stick to quicker, simpler communication tools such as phone calls and quick texts.
And although Apple was proud to point out that you can even send a friend your heartbeat via the feature – we have to ask, why would you want to? Maybe if you’re sentimental it might seem like a romantic gesture, but mostly it’s just useless or even slightly creepy.
Digital Touch isn’t the only ‘but why’ feature to be found on the Apple watch – the new animated Emojis (that you can customise by scrolling the digital crown), and pretty-but-pointless Astronomy watch face, are equally unnecessary.
A watch is not an iPhone
Continuing on from novelty features, we’re also underwhelmed by the inclusion of apps that, while vital on your smartphone or tablet, don’t really serve a point on a wearable device with a one and a half inch screen.
Apple, can you please explain why it was important to include the Photos app on the Apple Watch? Sure, you can select your favourite smartphone photos to carry with you on your wrist at all times, and it’s only mildly inconvenient to have to pan in and scroll through images to find the one you want. But why would any of us really want, or need, to look at pictures on our smartwatch anyway?
And although we like the idea of integrating Maps for simple vibrating directions, nobody is going to willingly read a map on such a tiny screen when there’s a clearer option available.
We suspect that there will be quite a few included apps with this same problem – great on a larger screen, but mostly useless or unnecessary on a smartwatch (especially if you’ve got a bigger accompanying device with you anyway).
It just seems bloated
Ask an Apple user the reason why they’ve picked a device from the iconic company over its competitors, and you’ll likely hear one thing: Apple products are simple, stylish, and have everything you need. They’re easy to pick up, don’t require the aid of a complex how-to manual, and the entire ecosystem works seamlessly.
But right now, we can’t really say the same about the Apple Watch. It seems that in an effort to catch up to Android wearables, Apple has thrown everything it can think of to the wall and is waiting to see what sticks; and that’s the exact opposite of what has made the company’s devices so popular.
The whole point of a smartwatch is that it accompanies your smartphone, not replaces it. And from our first look at the Apple Watch, it seems this is a point that has been missed. There’s just too much happening here, and we’re not sure how customers will respond.
Until we get the Apple Watch on our wrist for an in-depth review, we won’t know for sure if Apple has given Android Wear a run for its money.
Having said that, if any company can take the smartwatch from being a niche product to a mainstream must-have, it’s Apple. Despite our dislikes, the Apple Watch still has a lot of potential, and no doubt fanboys will be lining up to take home the device when Apple releases it early next year.
Whether it catches on with your average consumer – many of whom favour Apple phones due to their simplicity of use and brand recognition, but aren’t big on unnecessary gadgets – is the big question.