April 24, 2015: It’s time for the official release of the Apple Watch, the wearable device Apple CEO Tim Cook describes as the “next chapter in Apple history.”
Fans, having endured a seven-month wait since the device’s unveiling at a keynote the previous September, can finally strap an Apple Watch onto their wrists. Behind the scenes, however, the Apple Watch launch is a moment long in the making.
The original Apple Watch launch
“Apple Watch begins a new chapter in the way we relate to technology and we think our customers are going to love it,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in a March 2015 press release setting the April 24 launch date. “We can’t wait for people to start wearing Apple Watch to easily access information that matters, to interact with the world, and to live a better day by being more aware of their daily activity than ever before.”
Repeatedly described as Apple’s “most personal device yet,” the new wearable put several innovations on wearers’ wrists — and Apple was quick to tout its hardware savvy.
The Apple Watch’s Digital Crown — a small knob on the smartwatch’s side — provided an “innovative way to scroll, zoom and navigate fluidly without obstructing the display,” the company said. And an “all-new Taptic Engine discreetly delivers a gentle tap on your wrist whenever you receive a notification or message.”
The device came in two sizes, 38mm and 42mm, and in three separate models: the aluminum Apple Watch Sport (with prices starting at $349), the stainless steel Apple Watch (starting at $549) and the ultra-pricey, 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition (starting at a mind-blowing $10,000).
Interchangeable watch bands and watch faces gave Apple Watch owners multiple ways to make the device their own.
Similar to the way Apple co-founder Steve Jobs described the iPhone as a device that did three things, the company boiled down Apple Watch functionality into three distinct categories. The watch served as “incredibly accurate timepiece, an intimate and immediate communication device and a groundbreaking health and fitness companion,” Apple said.
A post-Steve Jobs device
Given that Steve Jobs died in October 2011 and the Apple Watch came out in 2015, it wasn’t the first post-Jobs Apple device by any stretch of the imagination. It was, however, the first major new product line to launch in the post-Jobs era.
In this way, Apple Watch was something like the Newton MessagePad, the device shepherded through production by Apple CEO John Sculley in the 1990s. (Jobs left Apple in 1985 after a failed boardroom coup.)
Just as the Newton reflected the tech industry’s first tentative steps toward embracing mobile computing in the 1990s, the Apple Watch signaled the arrival of wearables.
“There was a sense that technology was going to move onto the body,” Alan Dye, the man in charge of Apple’s human interface group, told Wired. “We felt like the natural place, the place that had historical relevance and significance, was the wrist.”
Did Steve Jobs know about Apple Watch?
There’s a bit of confusion as to whether Jobs was involved in the early stages of the Watch’s development. The aforementioned Wired article claims that Apple design chief Jony Ive only thought about an Apple-branded watch after Jobs’ death. However, Tim Bajarin — an Apple analyst who, unlike many, actually knew Jobs for more than three decades — said, “Steve was aware of the Watch” and “didn’t nix it as a product.”
Conceptualization of the Apple Watch took place around the time that Apple engineers were busy working on iOS 7, a major overhaul that eliminated skeuomorphism from iPhone’s user interface. After that, Apple’s smartwatch began to develop as a product. Apple recruited various smart-sensor experts to create a device that would offer something fundamentally different from the iPhone.
Apple Watch also marked an attempt by Apple to become more of a luxury brand. Going back to the company’s earliest days, Apple drew parallels between its computers and aspirational goods like high-end cars.
However, decisions like making a $17,000 Apple Watch Edition and showing off the device at Paris Fashion Week marked a strategy shift that embraced high-end fashion in a way Apple hadn’t overtly done before.
Apple Watch launch is the start of something big
Apple first showed off its smartwatch on September 9, 2014, during the media event revealing the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The show took place at The Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, California. (That’s where Jobs debuted the first Mac in 1984 and the Bondi Blue iMac G3 in 1998.)
While not the breakout product either of those machines were, Apple Watch remains a major hit in its own right. A 2021 estimate by Above Avalon put the number of Apple Watch wearers at 100 million. And a 2022 survey showed that Apple Watch dominates the smartwatch category, with a commanding 36% slice of the market. (Apple refuses to release Apple Watch sales numbers, but regularly talks up the wearable’s high satisfaction rate among early adopters.)
With the latest models, Apple Watch finally feels more like its own device and not so much an iPhone accessory. Health and fitness features, like the life-saving ECG heart-rate sensor, have become major selling points. Cupertino continues to refine the Apple Watch design, shrinking bezels and adding new features like and an always-on display.
In 2022, the Apple Watch Ultra launch — a bigger, brawnier model designed for extreme athletes — brought the first major expansion of the product line. Plus, Apple continues to work to work on even more advanced health sensors, like monitors for high blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
Finally, it seems that the Apple Watch has found its niche.
What’s your take on Apple Watch?
What’s your view of the Apple Watch at this point? Are you a loyal customer, who couldn’t do without Apple’s wearable? Leave your comments below.