hands-on with Cupertino’s timepiece (Wired UK)


Apple Watch
Apple WatchNate Lanxon


It’s challenging to comprehend the total weight of eyeballs in
the technology world. Indeed, I’ve tried for the last five minutes
to little success. But it is such a weight Tim Cook figuratively
must have felt today as he took to the stage at Apple’s event here in California.
Every journalist, Apple fan and geek focussed their gaze to see if
the year of increasingly loud rumours were true: was Apple to enter
the smartwatch market?

The answer was yes. Defying brand convention by dispensing with
the “i” prefix, Cook revealed the “Apple
Watch
“. It’s a timepiece (and yes it does tell the time — we
checked) that reveals design chief Jony Ive’s meticulous skill for
crafting a clean aesthetic and a smart interface has not diminished
in a post-Jobs Apple.


Apple Watch
Apple WatchNate Lanxon


We were on hand to test the Apple
Watch
at the Cupertino event, and I am as pleased as befits a
journalist to report that it is a beautiful device in person. On
the wrist it’s lighter in weight than I expected, which has become
something of a trend — I said the same of Motorola’s
Moto 360
recently. The screen is vibrant; in line with its
“Retina” moniker, it presents a sharp, clear image with excellent
viewing angles.

It feels like many Apple products do: extremely well-built,
elegantly presented and really very modern. The leather strap on my
test model fastened with a satisfying little thump of magnet on
magnet. There was a sense of luxury in a way I found lacking on the
Moto 360, for example.

Arguably the most unexpected twist in Cook’s reveal was just
that: a twist — the watch is controlled in part by a rotating
“digital crown”, or “dial on the side of the watch” to the rest of
us. Ive’s analogue flourish blends a physical, and, in today’s
Apple portfolio, unconventionally mechanical, interface into the
otherwise high-tech digital proceedings. It rotates without any
real physical response. No clicks, no real resistance to being
turned. Give it a decent push inwards and you’ll return to the
watch’s homescreen.


Apple


The screen’s array of circular icons is unusual for a reason
that may have gone unnoticed: there are no accompanying words.
Logos for the applications each icon represents have had to be
designed to communicate meaning without a helping hand from the
alphabet. They succeed. Many will be familiar to iOS users; others
— new fitness apps, not to mention those of third-party developers
— will need experimenting with to understand their function at
first. Whether this steepens the learning curve for technophobic or
techno-unfamiliar users will be a real-world test worth
observing.


Apple Watch
Apple WatchNate Lanxon


As I was being guided through a demonstration of the device sat
on my wrist, I felt myself admitting in my head that I was quite
impressed. Interface and design aside, certain small features stood
out as seeming useful: the maps app that guides you to turn left or
right using only a distinct vibration; the ability to use the
screen as a viewfinder for the iPhone’s camera; and the ability to
control Apple TV or iTunes. The latter example here reminds me of
Casio’s calculator watches of the 1990s, which used an infrared
bulb to let you control your TV from your wrist.

The integration of fitness apps and sensors was not unexpected.
The interfaces created for Apple’s own activity trackers manage to
present more detail than Samsung’s Tizen Gear devices and can tie
in with third-party apps, such as those from Nike, or equivalents
from Apple. It makes them more open-feeling (which is not something
one often says of Apple) than some of the present competition, but
the true usefulness of these features were difficult to gauge on
the crowded floor of an Apple demo suite. We’ll return to this in
our review.


Apple Watch
Apple WatchNate Lanxon


It’s not all wolf whistles for design and Nobel prizes for smart
technology though. There was barely a mention for battery life.
Will it last a day? Three? Presently smartwatches tend to hover
between two and five days but Apple glossed over this, which
doesn’t fill me with confidence.

There’s also no headphone socket despite the device being able
to store media on its internal memory. I was hoping to hear there
was Wi-Fi so this could be AirPlayed to speakers, but the Wi-Fi
comes from an iPhone paired over Bluetooth. It’s not native to the
watch. So it’s there — Bluetooth — where the answer lies for how
you’ll be able to listen to music on a run. I wouldn’t personally
file this under “problematic” but it’s a consideration to keep in
mind, particularly since an iPhone absolutely has to be owned in
order to utilise what the Apple Watch offers. My first impression
was to consider iPhone and Watch inseparable, even if technically
they can function apart.

My final thought was to understand how “smart” this smartwatch
is — if Apple even considers it so; the word “smartwatch” was
never uttered on stage today. It’s beautiful, very capable and in
my limited time with it a very different type of system to Android
Wear or Samsung’s Gear range. But how smart it is will be learned
after using it for several days or weeks. I don’t want another
screen to just see notifications on, or to pause a song, or to see
whether the sun has got his hat on. I want it to be intelligent,
decide certain things for me, disturb me only when it knows I’m
likely to find a disturbance both convenient and necessary. A smart
friend knows that if your cat has just passed away, posting a cat
photo on your Facebook wall isn’t appropriate even though they know
you love cats. A smart watch needs to do the same thing, but with
information and detail more tertiary to your day’s activities.

Apple may well have cracked this but it’s impossible to know at
this point. What I do know is that I have seen and used a device
today that gave me confidence that, as an industry, the smartwatch
is not a fad or a stopgap — it’s not a netbook, fiercely attacking
the laptop market until the iPad was fully baked. There is
something in this trend and although Apple still needs to convince
me “who” this is for and “why” I might be one of them, I’m
reassured by what I saw today. Maybe this is something that can
give a smartwatch holdout like me a reason to have a change of
heart.

I guess, like the heart of the watches themselves, it’s about
time.

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9 September 2014 | 10:16 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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