It's official. Apple is making a smartwatch called simply "Apple Watch," but you're going to have to wait for the opportunity to pay at least $349 for one until early next year. If the Apple Watch works as well as the company claimed during its lengthy unveiling on Tuesday, it just may be worth the wait.
Like the existing watches that run Android Wear or the Pebble or Samsung's Tizen-powered watches, the Apple Watch starts with the basic capability of being able to check your phone's notifications and the time, but then it adds functionality that goes far beyond what's been done before.
Multiple infrared and visible light LEDs on the back of the watch work to detect a pulse rate, which then interact with Apple's own health and workout apps to create what Tim Cook calls a "comprehensive health and fitness device." Case in point is the new health app that tracks steps, heart rate and active calories, just for starters.
The other big smart watch innovation on the Apple Watch is actually quite small. In fact, it's the little rotating button on the side of the watch that also functions as a control that Apple calls the "digital crown." Turning the digital crown allows you to zoom in on photos or to scroll through selections like the scroll wheel in the center of a mouse. It's a novel but simple addition typical of Apple that now seems an obvious choice after seeing it in action.
The Apple Watch also gets that scratch-proof sapphire touch screen we've been hearing about for so long now. It will also be able to tell the difference between a quick tap and holding your finger down on the screen, which Apple calls a "force touch" and provides another means of controlling apps on the device.
"We’ve developed multiple technologies and an entirely new user interface specifically for a device that’s designed to be worn. It blurs the boundary between physical object and user interface,” said Jony Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of Design.
Apple also introduced something called "Glimpses" for the watch that are essentially the same as the cards that Android Wear users are familiar with that show useful information like location, weather and upcoming appointments. Siri is also accessible and the Apple Watch allows you to respond to texts via dictation.
The latest text analysis in iOS also attempts to extract likely responses to incoming messages and then allows you to simply respond by choosing from a few pre-determined response options, something not available on Android Wear.
The Apple Watch goes way beyond what any early smartwatch can do by integrating Apple's new payment system, Apple Pay, basically allowing the watch to stand in for a wallet or credit card at hundreds of thousands of locations in the United States. Apple has also clearly done more legwork with developers to ensure that a useful array of apps will make use of the Apple Watch. It announced WatchKit, a package of tools and APIs for developers during the event.
The company has already announced that Starwood Hotels will allow guests to use their Apple Watch as a room key, and apps for Pinterest, Nike and many others are already in the works. One of the strangest features Apple touted is the ability of the watch to measure your heart rate and then share it with another watch wearer who can then feel that heartbeat as simulated by the Apple Watch's "Taptic Engine."
Taptic feedback is basically just a word Apple has chosen to describe the watch's use of haptic feedback. Apple claims that its system is more advanced than just basic vibrations of your wrist, and that different types of taptic feedback can actually tell you which way to turn while navigating, simply by the type of buzz the watch gives your wrist. The Taptic Engine also works in tandem with a tiny speaker to provide an even broader selection of possible alerts.
The heart of the Apple Watch is what the company has dubbed the S1 SiP (System in Package) that sounds a lot like a miniaturized version of a system-on-a-chip. Also inside are magnets to work with the wireless inductive charging system, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 radios to connect to your iPhone.
And yes, the Apple Watch does require an iPhone, but any iPhone 5 and up will work, including the 5, 5S, 5C, and the new iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.
Staying with the theme of choice and being "truly personal," which was Tim Cook's mantra for the day, there will be two sizes and three different styles of Apple Watch. There's your basic Apple Watch with a choice of straps, Apple Watch Sport with a stronger silver anodized aluminum case and sport band, or Apple Watch Edition that introduces an 18-karat gold case and premium straps to the equation.
The Apple Watch will start at US$349. Now for the bad news: It won't be available until "early 2015."
So much for the perfect holiday gift. Stay tuned to Gizmag for news on the Apple Watch as it comes in.
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