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After months of intense speculation, Apple announced its smartwatch platform at an event in Cupertino, California on Tuesday. It will go on sale in early 2015 starting at $349.
Although the [company]Apple[/company] Watch will have both a touchscreen and the ability to detect force, the key UI feature on the Apple Watch is the “digital crown,” a button on the right side of the device. It looks like a traditional crown, but allows the user to pick options in menus without obstructing the screen. It also functions as the home screen button for the watch. It’s a nice bit of user interface innovation, and a great example of how a physical button can be superior and more flexible than a touchscreen button. (It’s an example of what has been called “invisible design,” which is the the focus of our Roadmap conference this November.)
The central app on the Apple Watch is the clock, which comes with a few nifty features, like the ability to superimpose your position in the world on a rotating globe. And as expected, the Apple Watch will be able to run apps that display “glances.” Glances are notifications that use subtle haptic vibrations to alert the user, who can’t read them until he or she raises the Apple Watch to his or her face. Apple demoed apps and glances from Twitter as well as a few new in-house apps, like a messaging system that sends emojis and short doodles. Haptic notifications will also be used for turn-by-turn directions on the Apple Watch maps app, letting the user know when to turn left or right.
The Apple Watch uses a flexible retina display with a sapphire crystal screen, with rounded edges that look similar to those on the iPhone 6. Like Google’s Android Wear smartwatch platform, Apple Watch will require a paired iPhone, although it will only work with the iPhone 5 and later. The Apple Watch can also be used with Apple Pay.
One of the unique hardware elements of the new Apple Watch is four sensors built into the backside of the device. These sensors include infrared and photosensors, which used together with other sensors, like a pedometer, can be used to assess a person’s physical activity. These sensors are used in a new fitness app, which tracks progress over time. The Apple Watch and the associated Workout iOS app measures three aspects of activity: “Move,” “Exercise” and “Stand.” The “Move” metric, which is displayed as a ring, will give users a brief overview of how active they are. The “Exercise” ring will be used to measure brisk physical exertion. And the “Stand” ring will tell you how often you’ve taken a break from sitting. The Workout app supports running, walking and cycling.
The Apple Watch will charge wirelessly through a new mechanism that combines Apple’s magnetic MagSafe connector with inductive wireless charging.
There are a surprising number of customization options for the Apple Watch. Since looks are so important to watches, Apple Watch will come with a variety of different straps that it is calling bands. Apple-made bands will come in three “collections.” The Apple Watch Collection is the default band, but there are also sweat-proof “Sport Collection” bands, and Watch Edition bands that will look more like jewelry, some plated with 18-karat gold. (All of these, presumably, have different price points.) The Apple Watch device itself will also come in two sizes for different sized-wrists and a range of colors to match the bands. In terms of the user interface, users can choose from different watch faces and rearrange the installed apps.
There are a lot of unanswered questions raised by today’s announcement. Apple CEO Tim Cook mentioned additional features, such as controlling your Apple TV, that he didn’t expand on in depth. Apple didn’t touch on battery life — although Cook mentioned charging the device every night — nor the actual size of the watch, which looks a little thick from the videos. And Apple didn’t provide a lot of information about the system on a chip powering the Apple Watch.
“We set out to build the best watch in the world,” Cook said. “What we didn’t do is take the iPhone and shrink its user interface, and slap it on your wrist.”