This much we know: Apple is about to blow the smartwatch market wide open. With the same impeccable timing that saw them announce a new record for weekly billings on their app store ($0.5bn) and a record breaking 2014 for iOS app developers ($25 billion in revenues) during a damp squib of a Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which they declined to attend, Apple has been dropping ice cubes down the vest of this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona by announcing that the Apple Watch will be officially released to the general public on March 9th. Mobile is so 2014!
It’s already anticipated that Apple will have approximately one fifth of the smart watch market by 2016, a market that is expected to grow to about $12.9 billion dollars by 2020. Analysts believe sales in 2015 alone will increase year on year by a factor of 28, transforming a market currently worth $130m into one worth $3.6bn, with Apple’s sales likely to be in the region of 6 million watches. When the Apple smartwatch is launched there will be a staggering 100,000 apps to choose from; the average user is expected to install around 100 of them.
The device will no longer be known as the iWatch, but Apple Watch, to reflect the fact that, according to Apple’s British design guru Jony Ive “it is the most personal product that we have ever made”. It is undeniably a beautiful looking, highly desirable accessory. From the super sensitive sapphire coated screen, which, as Ive points out in Apple’s introductory film, is the second strongest transparent substance on the planet, after diamond, yet has still been adapted to distinguish between a “tap” and a “press”, and respond accordingly, to the “digital crown” control centre, ingeniously devised to mimic the winding mechanism on an analogue watch, it is every inch another Apple design triumph, everything you could have expected, and more.
Alongside touch and press, the “digital crown” is the watch’s control centre; you can swipe the screen in identical fashion to a smartphone, albeit with a little less margin for error, and use the crown to scroll, zoom, and navigate through different options. The crown contains sensors which convert movement into data, an extra dimension that enables new functions, for example lighting the screen as you turn your wrist to look at the watch, and also acts as the home screen button.
Apple Watch is far more versatile than a smartphone in terms of both look and functionality; there are 34 variants of the watch in total, divided into 3 categories; the regular Watch, available in space black or stainless steel, Watch Sport, the lightest of the three with an anodized aluminium case and Ion-X glass instead of sapphire, reducing the weight of the watch and making it more appropriate for outdoorsy activities, and Watch Edition, which features 18-karat gold casing in yellow or rose gold, which is, you guessed it, the most expensive of the three. Expect these to be locked away in safes, rather than on display at your local Apple store.
In total, there are 6 different band styles and 18 colours to choose from, drastically reducing the chances of you sporting the same style as your peers, but making it all the more embarrassing should this actually happen; dinner parties and social gatherings just got a whole lot riskier! You can, however, swap bands easily using a unique slide-out locking mechanism, so you can always bring a spare in case you find yourself clashing with the boss!
There are two different kinds of bracelet; a link one, made from stainless steel, with over 100 components that can be easily removed to match wrist size, and the Milanese loop, a kind of metal mesh, which may prove popular, but in our view will be, in years to come, the wearers way of saying to the world, “avoid me like the plague, I have more money than fashion sense.”
The leather straps come with a buckle, but this being Apple, it’s a cleverly disguised magnetic clasp for the modern buckle, and a band feeding through a stainless steel or 18-karat gold loop for the classic, or there is a third option, with a specially magnetised strap for an extra secure fit. Blue, brown and silver are the available colours.
The sport band is smooth flurorelastomer with a pin and tuck closure, and you can choose pretty much any colour you like; green, pink, baby blue, or beige, if you like.
Different wrist sizes need different sized watch faces, but don’t worry, Apple thought of that too. A 4mm difference between the 38 and 42mm screens may not sound like much but it makes a subtle difference, without unduly affecting the display on either size.
And then there are the nine different watch faces to choose from, including one featuring mickey-mouse! Realistically, the alternatives on offer are all pretty, ahem, smart, and you could probably choose any of them without attracting quizzical looks, although it’s likely the butterfly will prove more popular with the female sex.
And so to the apps; Apple has to a certain extent been hanging its hat on health and fitness apps being at the core of what they are trying to do with their smartwatch, although rumour has it that they have had to scale back on many of the services they planned to offer, such as heart rate and blood pressure sensors capable of monitoring stress levels. There’s still no shortage of game changing software, however; users will be able to map and time runs, plan workouts, and receive nudges when preset conditions are met; Apple CEO Tim Cook has set his to nudge him when he has been sitting down for too long during his gym sessions. The feature is known as the Taptic engine.
There are the usual array of music, social media; Whatsapp, Instagram, Twitter et al, maps (which will nudge you to let you know when to make a turn) and a camera. You will need to own an iPhone to work the apps however as many of the data storage and push notifications will be not be native to the watch, but reliant upon the smartphone device.
If you are like most people, you probably don’t need to concern yourself with 99% of the 100,000 apps that are on offer, but it will be worth keeping your eyes and ears peeled for ingenious new trends and inventions.
The watches will start at $349 dollars; Apple has yet to announce the full pricing structure, but its likely that the cheapest version of the Apple Watch will set you back around £300 after VAT and exchange have been accounted for.
There are essentially 2 major criticisms that have been levelled at the Apple Watch; the first concerns battery life. Apple CEO Tim Cook has already advised that the watch will need to be charged daily, which he suggests will be due to its heavy usage. In other words, the battery will drain quickly because you will want to use the features so much. Although there has been something of a furore over battery life (the Pebble smartwatch for example, has a much longer one), taking your watch off at night and charging it the same way you charge your smartphone doesn’t quite seem like the obstacle it is being made out to be in some quarters. For those who like to burn the candle at both ends, Apple are rumoured to be introducing a “power reserve” function which will power down most of the apps in order to prolong battery life. In our view issues around battery life ought to be manageable, if a little burdensome.
The second major criticism is simply, “why do I need an Apple Watch?”. Well, why not? It is every bit as good looking as a similarly priced analogue or digital watch, it tells you the time, helps you get around, send you alerts about things you need to know, measures your fitness levels, you can communicate with it, take calls, send messages, even talk to it if you want to thanks to the siri function. Some critics say it has come too soon, that it should only be released when there are better uses for it, and that for this reason it won’t sell as well as the first iPhone’s or iPad’s. This is not the case; when the first iPhone’s went on sale nobody was sure what kind of uses it might be put too, and that product seems to have done ok! Likewise the iPad. Why shouldn’t the general public have access to the technology now?
Finally, how does the Apple Watch compare to the competition. Well, Pebble Watch has just raised £9.7 million pounds and counting through a kickstarter campaign, and as we mentioned earlier, it most likely has a superior battery life, but can it compete with the might of Apple with its R&D budget, army of developers and design excellence? Almost certainly not, although it will be able to compete on price. It is categorically not, however, the Blackberry to Apple’s iPhone.
The Moto 360 has something the Apple Watch does not; a circular watch face. It’s stylish and original, but it has battery life issues far worse than Apple’s and few game changing features. It hard to see how it won’t get steamrollered when Apple Watch goes on general release. There are no shortage of rivals; Asus ZenWatch, the LG G Watch, Martian smartwatches, Cookoo, Sony Smartwatch 3, I’m Watch, MetaWatch STRATA, Qualcomm Toq, Alcatel OneTouch Watch, Garmin Vivoactive and more. Its always worth looking at the alternatives, but hard to argue that any have anything like as good a product as the Apple Watch.
Apple is staging an event on March 9th, to be attended by analysts and media, which will take place in San Francisco at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Its hard to see how Apple Watch is going to be anything other than very, very big. It has everything going for it. Apple’s reputation, excellent design, lots of features, the promise of many more to come, a huge existing fanbase to sell to, and a diversified offering that challenges the public to get creative and show how we are all the same but different at the same time.
Can we think of one reason the watch might not sell? The popularity of the existing, non “smart” watch market. Rolexes, Tags and Cartiers at the high end, the Casio’s, Swatch and Seiko at the lower end. Would you swap your exclusive, Tag Heuer for a smartwatch that anyone could buy? Or ditch your Timex for a brand whose products you already own? We feel, the answer to both questions is: probably, yes.