A relaxed, confident and effervescent Tim Cook wowed the Apple faithful with the long-awaited, heavily-hyped (though, as I’ll argue later, underhyped) Apple Watch. Cook’s almost childlike enthusiasm seems entirely justified: Based on first impressions, Apple Watch has the potential to be yet another transformative device for the company. It’s the ammunition needed to put to rest the Haunted Empire/Apple-After-Steve-Is-Dead meme if not once and for all, at least until this time next year when the restless tech press will almost certainly ask: “What have you done for me lately?”
Apple Watch — not iWatch — puts the brand front and center in a sophisticated piece of personal technology that has been smoldering, but hasn’t caught fire. Pebble really got the niche going when its Kickstarter campaign broke all records. But while Pebble has gained considerable techie cred (I don’t leave home without it), few people outside that bubble even know what it is.
So Apple needs to do with its Watch what it did with the original iPhone in 2007 and iPad in 2010: convince people that they really need one. That these two products are the top sellers in Apple’s arsenal makes Cook’s audacious plan plausible.
I’ve not held one myself so I can’t speak to the usability. But the problems Apple has chosen to solve — its approach to what a smartwatch should be — seem spot on, based on the unveiling. They are priced right — at least exactly where I had speculated the price point should be. They are stylish and customizable (meeting another criteria I hoped for), the better to wean watch wearers from their wrist ornaments of choice, and woo potential customers still going commando.
Apple Watch has Siri integration, which extends that personal assistant intelligently. But you can’t use it to make or receive calls, which would have been dumb. It gives you turn-by-turn directions, sparing you the need to keep referring to your iPhone (and keeping the battery-sucking screen on) as you discreetly move about looking like a native who is desperate only for the correct time.
The Twitter app gives you all the lightweight functionality you need to read, respond, RT. When available for sale “early next year” road warriors will immediately have a taste of what it will be like using a watch to check in to an airline, unlock a hotel room, check your car’s vitals. I might be getting ahead of the story, but isn’t that whole Apple/IBM alliance about the professional — elbowing into the enterprise?
Health and activity monitoring seem robust and in the background — as they should be to be of any use. How long might it be before your vitals are shared with your medical team automatically, giving them (and you) a heads up to troubling stats? It’s not just for astronauts anymore.
The crowning achievement of Apple Watch is the digital crown — a perfect-seeming interface for navigating menus and making selections. How it feels on the wrist remains to be seen — Is the watch thick enough to allow pudgy fingers to use it easily, but not too thick? This is no place for a touch screen, buttons or voice. Check out Apple VP Kevin Lynch messing with it in the video below (sorry for lack of sound) to get a sense of its proportions.
If Jony Ive has perfected stem-winding, his place is reserved in heaven (again).
The Apple Watch news was so exciting, two other big Apple announcements almost seem tame. But Apple also unveiled two larger iPhones — 4.7″ and 5.5″ screens as rumored — and finally got into the NFC payments game. Again, by endorsing what Google and the unfortunately-named Isis consortium of credit card companies have been struggling to get consumers to care about, NFC payments now have a chance — how could it have been when it was absent from the best-selling phone in the world?
Take a bow, Mr. Cook. And leave that shirt untucked. Tails are for players.