Thoughts on the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch was announced Tuesday during Apple’s iPhone event. Due sometime in 2015, it’s an interesting and curious piece of technology. Sure it tells the time very accurately (+/- 50ms), gets notifications, but the real power is what else can it do.

  • Glanceable information
  • Apple Pay
  • Health and Fitness
  • Fashion

Glanceable information is something Android has done better, for longer. Widgets on Android can be customized on almost any screen to give you quick glance information. Without unlocking the phone you can have limited access to weather, email, twitter, messages, the list is almost endless. Limited information, but that’s the point, you just need a glance to get what you need. This doesn’t require you unlock your phone, find the app, launch it, then power down. There’s a nice convince factor there, but more importantly those actions take battery power. Now Apple has a chance to help improve two areas on the iPhone, most importantly that all so precious battery life. Using the Watch to display this information gives the iPhone a virtual second small battery. There’s still some power used in the bluetooth connection, but it should be less than what it takes to power up the iPhone screen.

Also announced at the Tuesday event, Apple Pay is a secure way using NFC to make mobile payments from your iPhone, Apple Watch, and eventually Mac. Mobile payments are nothing new, Google Wallet has been out for years. The problem Google had with adoption was tied to carriers, banks, and handset manufacturers all wanting their own cut of the transactions. It had a lot of potential, but just never could get needed customer base to push it along. Apple is throwing it’s massive weight behind Apple Pay and has a huge advantage to their deployment. They make the hardware, the software, and sell enough phones they are making the rules. Five major banks are on board, as are several stores like McDonald’s and Subway. The Apple Watch appears to interact with the Touch ID on the iPhone to generate a token for the Watch to use as long as it maintains skin contact. This adds some convenience and utility to the device. We will have to see how much in real use.

With Health Kit, Apple is trying to get lazy bastards off your asses. You know who you are, the ones that sit in front of the computer all day. With a heart rate sensors built into the back of the watch you are going to get a good look at your daily activity levels. I currently use a Fitbit to monitor steps, flights of stairs climbed, and active minutes per day. It’s a great little device to help you track your daily life. Health Kit + the Apple Watch is going to significantly increase the amount of data you collect. This should help you get healthier, if you choose to do so.

Fashion is where there’s going to be a bit more controversy, version 1.0 at least. There’s no denying Apple has studied horology and applied what they learned with Apple level details. The case is rectangular with perfectly rounded and smoothed edges. Sapphire glass is amazingly thin and polished completely smooth. The back is stamped with traditional horological details; case size, construction materials, and serial number. Not ignoring the bands, they are designed with the same level of detail and finish. Overall it’s an engineering project worthy of high praise, but it’s obvious a few sacrifices had to be made.

The design appears to give a subtle nod to the original iPhone. It’s a bit chubby, and also looks heavy. Both complaints probably due to component/battery size needed for all day use, and even that is in doubt. If this can’t go all day on a charge, it’s going to get a lot of negative attention. It’ll get thinner over time, Apple is very good at progressing hardware design. The iPhone has evolved quickly as they get better with power management, and component pieces get smaller. No doubt in 4 years this will get even more stylish as Siracusa alluded to above. But this raises another series of questions.

What is the hardware upgrade schedule for a device like this? My original iPad from 2010 still functions, and gets used a lot by my son. Over the 4 years of ownership, it’s got slower and several apps won’t run on it at all. Officially the original iPad couldn’t upgrade to iOS 6, which was released in September of 2012. That’s the nature with yearly software upgrades to iOS, some devices just get left behind due to hardware restraints. The Watch will have the same problem. I have no idea if it’ll be better or worse compared to that, but 2 years of software updates is not a long time when it’s competing with watches for your wrist. I asked John Biggs, writer of tech and watches…

A designer watch is typically bought once, and held forever if of sufficient quality. Something in the $3-$4k range such as an Omega Seamaster can often be passed down to your children. It was announced these would start at $350, most likely the aluminum version with a sport band. I would guess the stainless version will be roughly $500, with a matching strap. Biggs thinks the gold version will be north of $1200. The added functionality makes it hard to compare it to a traditional watch, but it’s clear you aren’t only going to buy one if you like it. Since it has to be paired with your iPhone, most likely it’ll need to run the exact same version of iOS. This could put you on an every other year upgrade schedule to keep up with your iPhone. If you aren’t thinking about this yet, you should.

Is it underwhelming? Maybe. Apple anticipation is so high it’s difficult to live up to expectations. We wanted something “magical” and they did the best they could with the available components and technology. I think it’ll be interesting and I plan on getting one for both the wife and I. If I find it adds value to my life, I probably won’t have a problem upgrading often. If it doesn’t, it won’t be because Apple didn’t try.

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