Updated: Apple Watch release date, news and features
By Matt Swider
Apple Watch specs, release date and price
Update: We tested Apple Watch here and note that apps start development in November. See the official iPhone specs below, including battery life and anti-theft features.
Apple CEO Tim Cook had a big “one more thing” announcement up his sleeve, and it was a small sapphire-coated smartwatch dubbed the Apple Watch, not the fabled iWatch.
What is it? An iOS 8-friendly watch that plays nice with your iPhone
When is it out? Early 2015 release date
What will it cost? $349 (likely north of £217, AU$379)
What does Apple Watch do?
Apple’s first wearable gadget beams messages, Facebook updates, simplified apps and Siri to our wrists, eliminating the all-too-common need to take out our devices to constantly check notifications.
It’s going to become especially convenient to pocket the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and even bigger 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus in your jeans, or to always stow the next 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 in a bag.
Other apps seen in the Apple Watch video include iMessages, Health, Calendar, Weather, Mail, Photos, Camera’s shutter button, Passbook that now includes Apple Pay and even Apple Maps for navigation.
Developers will be readying more Apple Watch apps in the coming months thanks to the November launch of the WatchKit SDK next month. It could bring a whole new section to the iTunes App Store.
The smartwatch also takes cues from the Nike FuelBand SE and other fitness trackers with health sensors and nutrition apps, a must for any serious wearable gadget these days.
Sure there are fitness apps on your smartphone, but you’re not always carrying your iPhone while tracking your steps and activity. The Apple Watch is better suited for your everyday workout.
The final Apple Watch design isn’t too far from the made-up renders that we’ve seen in recent weeks. It draws inspiration from iPod Nano with a rectangular-shaped screen plus one knob and a single button.
Apple Watch is more than iPod Nano meets the iPhone, though. The smartwatch display comes in two sizes measured by height: 38mm (1.5in) and 42mm (1.65in). Both are slightly smaller than the entire Pebble Steel watch height, which measures 46mm (1.8in).
Apple Watch’s screen is surrounded by casing made of custom alloys of stainless steel and aluminum that, according to the company, stands up physical demands of daily wear and another BendGate.
Beyond the “Apple Watch” and “Apple Watch Sport” versions, a special “Apple Watch Edition” mixes in 18-karat yellow or rose gold for a premium look. It goes well with that gold iPhone 5S for sure.
That brings the metal colors to six: stainless steel, silver aluminum, space black stainless steel, space gray aluminum, 18-karat yellow gold and 18-karat rose gold.
Apple Watch doesn’t have a unique round display like Moto 360, but the casing does feature a circular knob known as the “digital crown.”
This input is unique among smartwatches, but a true classic derived from traditional watches. Apple has of course put a modern-day twist on its twist functionality.
The Apple Watch digital crown replaces the pinch-to-zoom touchscreen mechanic used on everything from iPhones to MacBooks. It’s too impractical on such a small display, according to Apple.
Rotating it allows you to zoom into your app selection, your location on Apple Maps and a photo from a gallery. Scrolling through dates and stopwatch times is handled by this knob too.
The digital crown also acts as the Apple Watch home button. There’s no Touch ID sensor here, but Apple is smartly locks the wristwatch with an anti-theft passcode whenever it’s taken off.
The button below the digital crown allows you to start a conversation with friends. Pushing it brings up a their contact info photos and zooming into a specific person with the digital crown gets things started.
Beyond calling and messaging them, you can get their attention with a gentle tap. It vibrates the “taptic” feedback on their smartwatch.
What’s intriguing about this taptic feedback system is that it’s said to be more precise and subtle than a vibration everyone can hear. Want to ditch a party? Your friends’ secret sign may be three taps on the Apple Watch before bailing. It’s an interesting way to get someone’s attention.
Apple Watch goes all Drawesome on us with a bizarre sketch function for light messaging on the wrist. You can also share your heartbeat with someone in real time.
Apple Watch bands
The variety of Apple Watch bands played better than U2 at the press conference, giving consumers a way to personalize their smartwatch.
Standard straps include Leather Loop that conceals magnets for easy fastening, the leather Modern Buckle and the leather Classic Buckle. There’s also a gym-friendly elastomer Sport Band.
Higher-end metal straps include the Milanese Loop with flexible magnetic stainless steel mesh and the stainless steel Link Bracelet.
The ability to swap the straps without having to use tooling or visit or jeweler is one of our favorite features in the Apple Watch vs Moto 360 comparison.
Apple Watch faces
Apple is promising customizable watch faces with “millions of different appearances.” It brings everything to its timepieces, from time lapse backgrounds to classic Mickey Mouse arms as dials.
However, just to be clear, the smartwatch comes with a base of 11 watch faces, according to the official Apple Watch press release. Most allow you to change the colors, design elements and add functionality.
The Apple Watch face gallery shows off an Astronomy design with an interactive, real-time 3D model of the earth, moon and planets. Likewise, the Solar acts as a contemporary sundial.
If you want a moving background, there’s the Motion watch face, or still image, there’s the Photo face. Utility, Chronograph, Color, Modular and Simple exhibit more contemporary designs.
Apple Watch battery life
Tim Cook didn’t go into great detail about the Apple Watch battery life, but he did hint that the smartwatch is designed to be “worn all day” and is “simple to charge at night.”
An Apple spokesperson backs up our theory, more or less confirming that the smartwatch requires a daily charge. The person also reportedly said Apple is working on modifications to eek out more battery life.
Previously, when it was known as the Apple iWatch, it was rumored to have a 400mAh battery, but Cook is saving that announcement for a later date.
He did, however, call attention to the unique recharging method. The Apple Watch’s back crystal houses a magnetic inductive wireless charging solution similar to the MagSafe design. Again, it looks as if Apple bucks another trend – this time it’s the popular Qi wireless charging method – in favor of its own standard.
For a gadget that supposedly keeps the time, the Apple Watch release date speculation has been all over the place. It highlighted the fact that no one outside of Apple had the full scoop until September 9.
Just don’t expect that to be the iPhone-compatible watch’s release date this year. Apple’s official line is that it won’t deliver the the Apple Watch until early 2015.
Reports in the Taiwanese media have placed the release date as sometime in February. Those same reports suggest manufacturing of the Apple Watch has slipped to January due to Apple being constrained by the amount of sapphire that supplier GTAT is able to produce for the device’s display.
This could mean that when the Apple Watch does arrive, there could be less than the targeted 10 million smartwatches the company may want for the launch window. Although it’s important to bear in mind that Apple’s entry-level model, the Apple Watch Sport, doesn’t include a sapphire display.
This may mean that while numbers of the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition versions are less than expected, the company can still produce enough Apple Watch Sport models.
And yet, the early Apple Watch unveiling makes sense. Google’s first smartwatches have just been released care of the Samsung Gear Live, LG G Watch and newly-launched Moto 360. None work with iPhones.
Apple will be working hard to avoid the same kind of limited supply problems it faced when introducing the hot, but hard-to-find gold iPhone 5S last year.
An even trickier question than “when will it come out?” has been “how much will the Apple Watch cost?” There’s really no precedent for a premium smartwatch price just yet.
The answer: More than we were hoping to pay, even though its specs may be on par with Android Wear.
That notorious Apple tax pushes the pricetag to $349 given components involved. That’s £217 in the UK and AU$379 in Australia, but expect those prices to be even higher, above the straight dollar conversion.
It’s true that Apple has recruited high-profile people throughout the watch and biometrics industries who have wound up on its Apple Watch team. That talent comes at a price.
Then there’s a hidden cost. While a subsidized iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are cheaper upfront in the US, stores make up the difference with contract kickbacks. Not so with a smartwatch. Stores need a cut too.
For the sake of comparison, Android Wear’s cheaper options are the Samsung Gear Live at $200 (£170, AU$250) and LG G Watch at $230 (£160, AU$250).
But Apple’s biggest and most stylish competition is from Motorola, and the Moto 360 price is $249 (£199, likely AU$275 given its rivals’ prices).
Apple is aiming for luxury given the sapphire glass-protected display, an imposing digital crown, two sizes and even the 18k gold colored edition. Expect prices for that version to climb even higher.
Apple’s smartwatch remained firmly up Tim Cook’s sleeve until the very end. Plenty of iPhone 6 spy shots leaked, but so-called “iWatch” photos didn’t surfaced before the official announcement.
The final Apple Watch design isn’t too far from the renders that we’ve seen in recent weeks. The iPhone-compatible smartwatch features a rectangular-shaped design, one knob and a single button.
The Apple Watch screens features scratch-resistant protection thanks to sapphire glass. That’s really important for wearables that we bang and knock around all day.
Previous rumors indicated that the “iWatch” will end up with a 1.6-inch display, which is slightly larger than the square-shaped iPod Nano 6G, and a two bigger screen options at 1.8 inches.
For a real-world comparison, the now-launched Moto 360 has a circular 1.56-inch LCD touchscreen with an almost completely round 320 x 290 resolution.
Apple already makes a device with a 2.5-inch display, the iPod Nano 7G, but it’s difficult to imagine the company crafting the same dimensions onto wrists without some of that Apple “magic.”
This could be why we’re hearing that the iWatch could come in two different sizes that conform to bigger and smaller wrist sizes.
There’s also a chance that Apple may compete directly with the Moto 360 smartwatch that features a stunning circular watch face. Could Motorola’s stylish smartwatch be why iWatch isn’t due until 2015?
That LG-made iWatch display may be locked behind sapphire glass to protect it from the sort of nicks and bumps that comes with a constantly worn wearable.
Sapphire glass is the same tough-as-nails material that’s supposedly being used in the iPhone 6 in an effort to replace Gorilla Glass 3.
The move, though expensive, would be much appreciated. We’ve brushed our Android Wear smartwatches against walls in just one week’s time and that’s too close for comfort.
At the heart of the iWatch needs to be a speedy, yet small processor along the lines of the 1.2 Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 that’s inside the Samsung Gear Live.
Apple has partnered with Samsung and ARM for its iPhone processors in the past, including the A7 CPU iPhone 5S, so the same could be true for the iWatch core.
It would also help if Apple could match its two Android Wear competitors’ the 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage. Something tells us it won’t be user-replaceable.
Apple isn’t all about cramming more megapixels into its smartphones vs the competition, but it may be inclined to add more sensors than any other smartwatch manufacturers.
The iWatch has been speculated to include more than 10 sensors including an accelerometer, gyroscope, altimeter, compass, heart-rate monitor, pulse oximeter, among others.
This would pivot the iWatch from an iOS notification-reading wearable to a full-fledged fitness tracking devices, taking cues from the Nike FuelBand SE and expanding on that relationship.
Health-focused smartwatches and apps seem like the future of wearables given the biometric sensor-filled Samsung Simband prototype and Apple’s own iOS 8 Health app that’s just crying out for the iWatch.
Interface and apps
Like a Jetsons watch from the future, iWatch is likely to incorporate Siri on the wrist so that Apple’s personal assistant can head your every beck and and phone call.
iWatch could put iOS 8 at your dominant-hand’s fingertips at all times thanks to a streamlined interface and smaller versions of the apps that you use every day.
It’s expected to push both iMessages and SMS texts to the Apple smartwatch and alert you of upcoming calendar events and reminder tasks.
This would eliminate the all-too-common problems of “I left my phone in the other room,” “in the charger” or “in the car overnight.” On second, it may ruin some of your best excuses!
The benefit of iWatch apps
An iWatch would basically take the most important notifications from your iPhone and beam them to your wrist.
Care to dismiss a call without the pomp and circumstance of taking your phone out? Done. Or maybe you’re waiting by the iPhone for important news? Check.
The iWatch touchscreen may deliver the ability to more discretely dismiss calls and actively keep on top of the ones you want to answer.
Meanwhile, a built-in microphone could launch Shazam to identify a mystery song more quickly (like before the track ends five seconds too soon) or call up directions more safely.
With an iWatch literally on hand, there’d be no more dangerously fumbling with the iPhone on your dash while you wait for Apple CarPlay to be installed on your vehicle of choice.
iWatch apps in the making
We haven’t seen official iWatch apps just yet, but Apple’s iOS 8 Health app is almost certainly being readied for its first wearable due to metrics you just can’t track with a normal iPhone.
Apple’s HomeKit has also been previewed as a way to tie together smart home electronics. It could trigger smart light bulbs, door locks and thermostat setting.
Just don’t expect a full iOS 8 experience on the wrist or a phone-call-cabale iWatch decked out with a SIM card like the rumored Samsung Solo. Your Dick Tracy wristwatch days aren’t here just yet.
The biggest hurdle for the Apple iWatch and all smartwatches in general is battery life. No one wants to charge another gadget every day. We do that too much as it is.
Case in point, one of the major cons we mentioned in our Samsung Galaxy Gear review revolves around its pitiful one-day-per-charge battery cycle. It has a 300mAh battery.
Apple has previously patented a curved battery design that could give it the extra space that it needs to boost the rumored iWatch beyond a day or two.
The smartwatch components need to be small, but the battery life does not, according to energy-drained consumers.
Wireless battery charger
At least when the iWatch battery dies, there may be a cool way to recharge the device thanks to wireless charging technology.
Apple has reportedly called upon a wireless charging coil supplier in China to send samples of its technology so that it can implement it into the iWatch.
The iWatch could therefore wirelessly charge through magnetic induction, a method similar to the Qi-compatible Moto 360 smartwatch.
The Moto 360 wireless charging cradle is rather slick, perfect for a nightstand. It could even come with the iWatch, sort of like the first iPhone included a dock in the box initially.
Qi is quickly becoming the more popular wireless charging standard ahead of its rivals. That being said, Apple does like going with its own proprietary technology more often than not.
A lightning connector could also be an alternate way to charge the iWatch, but that may be a more difficult task if Apple is to make it waterproof or at least water resistant.
Smartwatches that can stand up to the elements are being demanded by consumers who want their “24/7 wearables” to be true to that term down to the second.
If the iWatch is like currently Android Wear watches, expect it to be splash proof up to IP67, which is rated for a depth of 1 meter (3.3 feet) for 30 minutes.
That’s good for the shower and accidental submersions, but not exactly fit for dunking the iWatch in the swimming pool or taking it in the ocean. Not this first generation at least.
iWatch is likely to loosely follow the iOS 8 compatibility chart by working with new iPhones and iPads that contain newer Bluetooth antennas.
The iPad 2, which can be upgraded to iOS 8, is the one exception to the chart. It may be left off of the iWatch compatibility list.
Just don’t expect any Android phone, new or old, to work with the iWatch. Android Wear can’t connect to Apple’s devices, and we expect Apple to return the favor.