Apple has finally made the Apple Watch official. The long-rumoured wearable, originally expected to be called the iWatch, was revealed on stage during the company’s iPhone 6 launch event in Cupertino, signalling Apple’s move into wearable technology for the first time.
Build quality is what you’d expect from Apple: light but strong, and slim, too.The Apple Watch is not nearly as slim as the iPhone 6, and it’s flat, so in form factor it’s not radically different from the other smartwatches on the market. But Apple has been careful to keep it from looking bulky, and even the larger version didn’t look out of place on a dainty female wrist. The dial – sorry, Digital Crown – looks less obtrusive in real life than it does in Apple’s promo shots. It’s smaller than the dials on most men’s watches, but it’s also very easy to access.The Apple Watch gets around this with the Digital Crown, which turns rotary movements into digital actions onscreen. Turning the crown when looking at maps will zoom in and out, but when you’re reading a list you’ll scroll up and down instead. It also doubles as a home button, sending you back to the home screen with a press.On the underside, four IR and LED sensors protected by more sapphire glass can detect the wearer’s pulse, then feed the data back into the Health app on iOS 8. You can also share your heartbeat with other iWatch owners, although we aren’t yet convinced many people will find a use for this niche feature. The button below Crown, which shows friends to contact, seems much more useful.The back of the watch is made from tough zircon, but doubles as a charging plate.
The screen is bright and crisp, and looked at from the kind of glancing angles you’d expect to look at a watch screen from – edge-on while riding a bike or balancing in a crowded train – words and pictures remained nicely readable.While some of the watch faces look fantastic, this watch will never be able to ape posh fashion watches in the same way as the Moto 360. Well, not circular posh fashion watches, anyway.The screen uses a flexible retina display, laminated to sapphire glass to protect it from scratches and scrapes. It can sense force for the first time in an Apple device, detecting the difference between a tap and a press, but Apple says controlling a wearable by touchscreen alone isn’t exactly ideal as you’re covering the tiny display. Little is known about screen resolution yet, as Apple hasn’t made anything official.
The Click-wheel Returns
Unlike every other smartphone design we’ve seen so far, the Watch doesn’t just rely on a tiny touchscreen. It relies on a physical moving part, a dial called the digital crown that acts a lot like a click-wheel: You turn it to zoom, to scroll, to move through the space of the Watch. To use it like your home button, just push it—it takes you back to the home screen.It’s a charmingly simple solution to a complex interface design problem—namely, that of edges. As smartphone manufacturers have moved towards flatter, thinner screens, they’ve struggled to solve one of the simple problems. As anyone who remembers trying to type on a click-wheel -or hell, trying to type out a show to watch on your AppleTV remote—knows, the click-wheel is a great navigation device but a less great way to actually input any kind of information. So Apple has given us a series of systems to both add information and and extract it.
Tapping, Clicking, and Talking
To save us from living in a hell of scrolling through a keyboard, character by character, we get three systems to communicate with the Watch: First, a sapphire glass-encased touchscreen that’s familiar to us all. Second, Siri, another familiar feature that can take down notations and messages.And most intriguingly, third, a kind of screen never before seen in Apple products: One lined with tiny electrodes that adds a new kinetic layer of interaction—and can tell not only where your finger is, but how hard it’s pressing. Where a touchscreen can read two dimensions, a kinetic screen can read three. It’s an exponential difference in terms of the vocabulary with which users can talk to their devices. It will make all the difference.And what about how the Watch communicates information to you? Beyond the screen, of course, we get something called a linear actuator: A common mechanism across all manner of electronics but, in this case, the thing that will deliver haptic feedback to the inside of your wrist. Tim Cook compared it to being tapped on the shoulder—a tiny, soundless alert that an event is occurring. If you chose to look at it, the Watch’s accelerometer will notice, blinking on the screen and showing you what’s up. If you’re walking somewhere, it will buzz when you need to turn.
The Apple Watch has a hulking great advantage in the apps department, something that was obvious from its unveiling: where Google tends to talk about the amazing potential of Android Wear, Apple talks about big brands that are already signed up and making apps for its platform – apps to find your car, let you into your hotel room, control your smart heating or track and share your exercise, not to mention shopping with Apple Pay.