CUPERTINO, Calif. — The Apple Watch doesn’t look like it comes from some distant future, where cars drive themselves and we never have to go through airport security again. Instead, it’s clearly the best smartwatch Apple could design based on knowledge gleaned from today’s experts — including those in arcane arts like metallurgy and horology.
And you will absolutely want one.
It may not look like it yet, but after trying out the Apple Watch, I’m convinced it will become an essential piece of kit – as important as your iPhone.
For starters, the Apple Watch doesn’t look or feel that big on your wrist. When you’re wearing it, instead of the biggish lump it looked like in the keynote presentation, you mostly notice the beautiful screen. It’s smaller and thinner on your wrist than you’d expect.
It looks like a lot of fun to use. The icons on the Home Screen are beautiful. I was shown the Apple Watch by an Apple staffer, who gave me a brief, two-minute tour. I was then allowed to wear one for a few minutes while it played a pre-recorded demo that showed off the main features and interface. Some journalists have complained that this so-called “hands-on” demo was a fake, and that the Apple Watch clearly isn’t finished. I got the feeling it wasn’t so sinister. I’m sure there are some glitches, and Apple didn’t want us ruining a seamless demo with a system crash.
I tried on a stainless steel Apple Watch. It was lighter and smaller than the Casio Pathfinder I normally wear, which is, I admit, a pretty big, heavy watch.
The Apple Watch buzzes alerts (email, text messages, etc.) quite softy on your wrist. At first it felt like an energetic little insect strapped to my skin, but it was quite subtle. One of the designers told me you quickly learn the various buzzes, and you can get a lot of info from the watch without even having to look at it. The Home Screen with the icons is really compelling. The fluid, flowing icons is a great UI and I was impressed by the built-in functions — encouraging people to stand up once an hour and then tracking that throughout the day, for instance.
After playing around with the Watch and seeing the demos, I’m convinced it has huge potential. They showed people using it as a TV remote control, changing music on the computer with iTunes, opening doors, checking in at the airport, buying coffee at Starbucks, etc.
Watching the presentation, I was reminded of when the first iPod came out. These days, the original iPod looks like a primitive, chunky brick. I predict that the Apple Watch will go through a similar evolution and within three or four years, will become an essential and attractive piece of electronic jewelry. No one will leave home without it, because you’ll need it for everything, from getting coffee to communicating with your spouse.
This could become a real universal remote, especially when wearing it opens doors and gets you food and shelter. I love the idea of unlocking a hotel room with my watch, and especially my own front door. Looking at it, I was struck by how the watch references a lot of Apple’s heritage — incorporating what they learned with the iPod scroll-wheel and Multi-Touch controls — and then goes beyond that.
Even the emojis show forward thinking. My first thought during the keynote was, “Emojis? How stupid can you get?” But using them as a form of communication on the Apple Watch shows some very deep thinking. They’ve taken something very current — my 18-year-old daughter sends me messages that are almost entirely cartoon faces — and turned it into a feature that works well with limited screen space. It’s a new form of communication. One that’s visual rather than textual or verbal. People complain about text speech — LOL, OMG and the like — but that’s nothing. Communication will become even more nonverbal once we get these ever-present devices strapped to our wrists. I can see how app developers will take it even further.
Just like the iPhone, the Apple Watch was released with a fairly limited feature set. It’s a watch(!), a fitness device and a health tracker. As usual, Apple is being too modest about how it will end up changing our lives. Already, all my fitness devices are dead to me now. Compared to the Apple Watch, they’re limited and unhelpful.
Apple is also angling to make the watch essential by coming out with three versions. Plus, the way you can mix and match the straps reminds me of how Apple Stores display various case combinations, giving you a look at how you can personalize your gear.
The price tag starts at $349 for the Apple Watch, with a polished or space black stainless steel case and a choice of straps. The Apple Watch Sport comes in a space gray or silver anodized aluminum case and Sport Band. The glitziest of them, the Apple Watch Edition, packs all that technology into an 18-karat rose gold or yellow gold case.
After pawing all three versions, I’m going for the stainless steel Apple Watch with a leather strap. The Sport version is a bit too Swatch for a fuddy-duddy like me and the Edition is way too Vegas for my tastes.
I’ll be getting one in a heartbeat.