Well, it may not be called the iWatch, but Apple’s entry into the burgeoning wearable category – called simply “Watch” – has at last gone from rumour to reality. Unlike the many Android Wear smartwatches that have been standalone products with individual merits, such as the Moto 360’s “real” watch faces or the Samsung Gear Fit’s heart rate monitor, the break from the norm here is the sheer level of customisation offered, all in one go. Another similarity is the requirement to own an Apple phone, ideally the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus of course, and it's not clear how backwards compatible with older iPhones the Watch is.
Apple Watch: Features
With two different face sizes – 38mm and 42mm respectively – three separate collections – the entry-level Watch, the sweat-loving Watch Sport and the 18-carat-gold, bling-tastic Watch Edition – plus six different strap styles with three different fits all fighting for your attention, seeing all of them at once is a disorientating experience. Apple lined all 36 different types up in a central hub at the Cupertino reveal like a cross between Baselworld and The Usual Suspects.
Make no mistake, this will be a new range from the off when it launches early next year, not a one-off product. Whatever your choice of wear - plastic for fitness, leather for work, stainless steel for evening wear - Apple seems to have it covered. Indeed, the “Milanese loop” number is verging on smart jewellery, the design of the face as its own entity meaning you can mix and match. We can see the custom-obsessed money flying out of wallets already – the price being “from” $349 is key.
We grabbed a hands-on with the “Modern” buckle, a magnetised fixer connecting its blue, brushed leather strap. It linked easily and was a perfect fit as luck would have it without adjusting – good old predictable wrist widths. The first thing you notice is the 38mm watch’s body is surprisingly small and light, the Moto 360 – until now arguably the looker in the smartwatch department – seeming hulking and heavy by comparison. The sleek design also sits comfortably next to normal watches – it actually looked a bit like the Uniform Wares one we were wearing – with little style concession at all. This is unprecedented for a smartwatch.
Apple Watch: Display
The Flexible Retina sapphire-glass display is both clear and strong, if a bit of a fingerprint lover. However, while it is used as a touchscreen, the neat digital crown dial on the side keeps your fingers off and out of the way, the small screen not often obstructed, flicking through customisation options and zooms in and out, and also acting as a home button. It’s a really clever solution and very intuitive, allowing you to customise settings such as contextual info and colour schemes quickly.
Apple Watch: Performance
Our hands-on involved a run-through some of the basic functionality – browsing the circular apps (you zoom in and out of them fluidly a la Google Earth), fitness monitoring (through the sensors on the reverse of the face), map finding, etc. The most impressive factor, though, was the consistent alerts, shunning loud beeps and flashing lights for a light throb to your wrist, be it for text messages, lap times or a reminder to get the shopping.
Apple Watch: Connectivity
Connectivity wise, there’s no ugly and impractical headphone ports, with all connections handled by Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. We were sent hand-drawn messages wirelessly to our watch by a member of staff, the use of which were unclear of – for a product so stylish, drawing little pictures on it seems a bit Nintendo for us – but it certainly works. Charging is elegant, too, a circular MagSafe connecting to the entire bottom of the watch body, where the four sensors sit.
Apple Watch: Verdict
Of course, this was a guided demo, and Apple was unsurprisingly keen to play up its style and connected credentials. We didn’t get much time to put the new S1 chip to the test, try Apple Pay or Siri (the latter is accessed via clicking the digital crown), see the extent to which it requires an iPhone to function (which we were told it does), or, of course, test the battery life, which Tim Cook and co stayed very quiet on indeed. The sheer lightness of the watch makes us wonder just how much stamina it’s packing, but we shall see. The headline news is this is a really good looking smartwatch that you could conceivably buy just as a watch, and that, for us, is a first. Whether smartwatches in general are a category that can prove useful enough to snare the masses, though, we're still unsure.