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First thoughts on the new Apple Watch

Apple WatchApple revealed the much rumoured Apple Watch at their Cupertino keynote on September 9th. I previously predicted that they would use this device to start dropping the ‘i’ from their device names and I also expect future phones, tablets, computers and software to gradually become ‘i’-less too. Calling everything ‘Apple X’ makes far more sense from a brand recognition perspective and also significantly reduces their need to sue every ‘i’ product that someone else releases – which must cost them a fortune.

I’m going to go straight out there and say that unlike pretty much every previous keynote from Apple (at least since 2007), I feel unable to make a purchasing decision based on what I’ve seen before I physically handle the watch and indeed the new ‘super-sized’ iPhone 6 and 6+ (+? Not a lot of thought went into that did it!).

What I can say though is that my first impressions are that the watch may not be the game-changer that we were hoping for.

iPod Nano

One from the archives: Apple’s discontinued iPod Nano also worked as a watch when coupled with third party straps. Surprisingly similar to look at – some would even say perhaps the Nano had the edge?

It’s undoubtedly beautifully engineered and constructed – from an engineer’s perspective, but as a consumer I wanted to see different, future, uniquely Apple – in the way the original iPhone was. Let’s face it it’s pretty much a square block of round-edged steel (or aluminium if you go for the Sport version) with a high-res screen and a twiddly dial on the side. My immediate reaction was – oh, they’ve reintroduced the iPod Nano! Maybe that was a conscious decision – where most premium watches, and Android powered smart-watches, are circular. But imagine how much more eye-catching and mould breaking it could have been if the watch face was a much longer and thinner piece that melted into the strap? I can see that they are banking on making a killing from interchangeable straps as they did with phone cases – but as mentioned later I also think that was missing a bigger opportunity.

applewatchmockup

How it could have looked. Did Apple dare to ‘be different’ enough with the design of the Apple Watch?

From a user perspective they have clearly put a lot of thought into how a wearer interacts with the device and this seems to have largely paid off. However Apple made a big play on the way two users can communicate with each other showing a very gimmicky emoji-like 3D smiley face which for me was a clear indication that Ives didn’t have total reign over the software on this watch, as that was almost straight out of the Microsoft Office bag of 80s clipart!

Not a great deal was said about battery life, although later comments imply a day if you’re lucky with a definite need to charge over night. This could be the one unsurmountable issue for Apple. It’s not untypical for people to surface around 6 in the morning, travel to work and be travelling home from work 10 or 12 hours later at which point the watch could be flat out of juice. For me, I was really looking forward to being able to keep the device on at all times, to monitor sleep patterns for example – but with the ‘mag-safe’ charging device needing to plugged into the rear of the watch, this is looking unlikely. A neat idea – but surely they could have come up with a solution that wouldn’t mean having to take the watch off to charge it? Why not build the battery in as part of the strap so that we can simply add a new strap to extend the watches life while another is sat charging? Apple have had years to design this thing – I’m thinking off the top of my head so I’m baffled as to why these obvious ideas weren’t considered.

It also looks as if Apple Watch is going to be not a lot more than a watch without being within a few feet of an iPhone (from a 5 to a 6+). I reserve judgement on how useful this makes it until I’ve had a chance to live with one – but I really hope it is more autonomous in function that it appears at first sight.

One other notable omission, particularly when compared to competitor’s offerings is a headphone socket! OK, if the device is to be joined at the hip with a phone it’s fair to assume that you may not need one – but what about listening to music when out on a run? One of the only reasons for getting one of these is to not have to carry a phone around at the same time. And as it goes music playing was not something that Apple mentioned or demonstrated at all (another tick in the box for the poor old defunct iPod Nano!) and therefore may not be part of its feature set. What if I don’t want to have Siri reply to me out-loud in public (and personally I hate talking to my devices at any time so Siri is useless in my use-case)? I’m sure a blue-tooth enabled headset will cure all ills – but a cleverly designed socket to enable both a device charger that doubled up for a headset with mic would surely have been possible (especially with something as thick as this) – so why leave it out?

moto360

Shape shifter: Is Apple Watch distinctive enough to better the recent Android smart-watch offerings from Motorola and others?

Apple are launching with three different versions of the device. The main Apple Watch is constructed from a hefty chunk of stainless steel with a choice of straps and a screen cut from a a single piece of crystal sapphire. The Sport version is constructed from a ‘new blend’ of aluminium which is said to be stronger but lighter than any previous. It has a toughened glass front and only comes with a choice of garish ‘Swatch’ like straps which are apparently more resistant to sweat – but also good taste by the looks. And the final one is a blinged up version of the stainless steel model coated with 18 carat gold which I assume is in the line up to satisfy Asian and Middle-Eastern tastes as there is no other obvious benefit in the line up (the same reason why Apple brought out a gold coloured iPhone). I’m unconvinced that this was the right way to go. Personally I want all the functionality of both the general Apple Watch and the Sports one – without the garish strap and fail to see why they would go to the expense of separating them (different materials require separate construction lines).  Who would have complained if the device was made from aluminium and not steel? All iPhones and iMacs are aluminium – no steel option and sales haven’t suffered! Why is ‘toughened’ glass better than sapphire? I thought that was the toughest material available? Presumably glass is lighter? Not that I’ve heard.

The new Apple Watch is set for release at some point in early 2015. As there were no working models in Apple’s demonstration area after the keynote it’s fair to assume that this is still very much a work in progress. They probably launched this far ahead of roll-out to try and disrupt the Christmas sales for other manufacturers leaving a clear run-way for Apple Watch. Whether what they demonstrated was good enough to do that remains to be seen. My jury is currently firmly out.