News by Luke Jones on Tuesday September 09, 2014.
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It didn't come as a surprise but there were still gasps of excitement when Apple launched the Apple Watch at its event in Cupertino today. Yes, the smartwatch is not called the iWatch at all, but the Apple Watch is the company's first wearable and on the surface at least its software does set a new bar in this growing market, although the design may be a little more dividing. Let's take a look at this device in depth, but needless to say, without doing a full review everything you see here is based on first impressions and are certainly subject to change.Design Before getting into details about the device itself, we should probably start with that design. The fact that this is arguably the most customizable smartwatch experience so far (real gold bodies, leather, stainless steel, rubber, plastic, different screen size options) and comes in three separate guises, means we could argue that there is something for everyone with the Apple Watch. That said, the Motorola Moto 360 was welcomed with open arms because it was round, and almost everything else has been rejected because it wasn't. Yes with straps, finishes, and even screen sizes, you may be able to find an Apple Watch that is aesthetically appealing to you, but I find it hard for anyone who derided square smartwatches before to suddenly say the Apple Watch is good looking. It is square, in some guises elegant, in others ugly, and it is never absolutely sexy in the way the Moto 360 can be. Of course, not every product needs to be stunning to be successful, and I suspect the Apple Watch will prove that, but from a company known for innovative design this is a little clunky. Of course, opinions, opinions, but what is not up for debate is that this looks a little chunky. The problem with this is that Apple is arguing about making this a total watch experience as well as a tech one, but I just cannot see someone swapping their finely tuned Swiss timepiece for this. So, make no mistake, this is very much for the tech crowd. Also, at the moment the straps are propriety, although I suspect it will not be long until third parties figure out the mechanisms and start producing their own. The biggest worry I have about this design is that it feels like a first year product from Apple. The software and features are stunning and this is a wearable tour de force, but at the moment the design is lacking, no matter how Apple tries to dress it with customization. When Apple does what Apple does and next year launches a refined and thinner Apple Watch, there will be a lot of original Apple Watch adopters with a chunky device hanging off their wrists... cool factor gone. Software and features One of the first things to spring to mind was that this looked like an iPod Nano on a strap, which may seem a like an attack but isn't. Indeed, if all Apple did was put a Nano on a strap, it would already have arguably the most functional smartwatch of them all. As it stands, Apple has instead added a whole lot more besides, making the Apple Watch on paper at least (only a review will tell us for sure) the most complete wearable experience today. No, Cupertino has not completely changed this niche, but it has set it on a course for the future and built on, expanded upon, and ultimately topped the promise that Android Wear showed when it was launched earlier in the year. The result is undoubtedly the best smartwatch ever made, the most functional, and the most intuitive. However, there is nothing here that cannot be emulated and bettered, so interestingly while this is the best of the bunch at the moment, rivals now have a reference device in a bid to go one better. Apple apparently snapped up around 75% of the world's sapphire glass, which is why the Apple Watch has a screen made from the stuff. On the rear it has four very visible sensors, while it also gets Apple's new NFC payment feature Apple Pay. Cupertino's vision was to create a smartwatch experience and not merely a toned down smartphone one, and CEO Tim Cook laughed off the pinch to zoom mechanism found on other wearables. Instead, Apple has what is calls the "Digital Crown" which without getting to fancy about it is a glorified scrolling wheel. If we did want to get fancy about it we could say the Digital Crown has actually revolutionized how we navigate around a smartwatch and in that respect it could become as important to the medium as the mouse is to computing. Of course, only time will tell, but Digital Crown seems to work and is Apple at its innovative best. There is obviously a touch screen present here, but Apple has done a lot to make sure you do not have to use it a lot of the time, understanding that screen real estate is at a premium on a smart watch. Apps appear in a cluster and the Crown can help to navigate between them, while notifications are also taken care off here without the need for a touch. Siri is in full attendance and makes the Apple Watch a hugely smooth experience, and the device takes features like sending voice texts (it has a microphone) and automated texts to a new level of functionality that has not yet been achieved on other smartwatches. One feature that will struggle to catch on is the ability to tap the Digital Crown in a customized pattern to do certain commands. For example, you may set up a double tap/ pause/ double tap as a way to bring up the music player and start playing a playlist. This sounds cool on paper, but in practice is a little gimmicky and made me wonder why not just do the required taps onto the screen to open the app traditionally? Apps Apple is already talking about partnerships with companies and we suspect the apps available for the Apple Watch will grow at a pretty rapid rate. Fitness will obviously play a big part in that, and again Cupertino seems to have found a way to raise the bar in terms of what smartwatches can do in this regard. The device will work as a dedicated fitness tracker and features apps such as "Activity" and "Workout" but the sad new is you will still need your iPhone for GPS. However, these seem to go beyond the standard smartwatch fitness apps, delivering pulse reports, more accurate heart rate readings, and tracking activity more in-depth. Working in conjunction with the iPhone, the Apple Watch can cover everything and the company likened it to being a mini personal trainer. Compatibility Apple has been very generous in this respect as the Apple Watch will be compatible with the iPhone 5, 5s, 5c and the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Price and Launch As I predicted several weeks ago (indeed, tapping myself on the back) the Apple Watch was rolled out today but will not actually go on sale until next year. Considering there was plenty of warmth for this product at the launch, we presume the people will be lining up iPhone style to get their hands on this. They will have have to part with a hefty bit of cash though as the Apple Watch will start shipping for $350, making it easily the most expensive mainstream smartwatch so far. I should point out that the $350 price is for the most basic of three models (Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport, and Apple Watch Edition) and that with customizing or getting more premium examples such as gold the price will go up. Of course, that hardly matters as people are just going to lap this device up, and while the design is only moderately likeable, the overall experience seems to be a giant leap forward in terms of the smartwatch. Let a new era begin.
Luke Jones is the Managing Editor at MobileBurn.com and is the person you need to speak to about the content on the site. Luke studied creative writing at degree level before carving out a reputation as a freelance tech writer. He settled here at MobileBurn, where he reviews devices and contributes to the news, as well as overseeing the site's content and direction.