Today was the big day: Apple announced its smartwatch, unimaginatively named “Apple Watch”- not iWatch or iTime, simply “Apple Watch”. Perhaps that’s the best summary of Apple Watch: unimaginative. While the rest of the world is losing its mind over Apple’s new timepiece, let’s take a minute, step back from the hype, and see how Apple’s new competitor stacks up against the already saturated smartwatch playing field.
Features & Functionality
When it comes to features and functionality, there are a few differences between what Apple offers and what everyone else does. Apple’s product includes two new input types: a twistable crown button for scrolling and zooming without blocking the display, and a touchscreen than can tell the difference between a tap and a press. Just how useful either of these features are will remain somewhat of a mystery until we get our hands on the device, but they’re worth mentioning, nonetheless.
As far as features go, it looks like Apple Watch is much more in-line with Samsung’s Gear lineup and devices powered by Google’s Android Wear. There are a few additions, of course, but their utility are hardly worth mentioning.
What does deserve recognition is the fluidity of the OS running on Apple Watch. I’m not, nor have I ever been, a fan of the “big grid of icons”, and a circular grid, as we’ve seen demonstrated here, doesn’t seem much more user friendly. Why Apple hasn’t abandoned this for something more useful, we may never know. The rest of the UI, however, looks amazing! It blows everything else away, hands down, no questions ask, no argument. Period. Google, Sony, and Pebble have their work cut out for them.
Apple Watch includes a feature that no other smartwatch currently has: mobile payments. Mobile payments via your watch certainly sounds like something the masses could get behind. No more credit cards. No more fishing your wallet or phone out of your pocket either! Just tap your watch and get on with life. Hopefully Android Wear will get some NFC support and enable this functionality through the Google Wallet and ISIS Softcard apps. Time will tell.
Size & Shape
Apple made the Apple Watch in two sizes, which is a bit interesting, but will attract more users, that’s for sure. Women and small-wristed men will flock to Apple’s watch over any other simply because it’s available in a smaller size. We assume, of course, that concessions had to be made, probably in the battery, to make up for the size difference, but until we see (and tear-down) the two in person, we’ll have to deduce.
What’s especially surprising is that if you want a round smartwatch you’ve got to go with either the Moto 360 (which is already available, if you can find it in stock) or the LG G Watch R (which is coming out next month). Prior to Apple’s announcement, almost every comment I read that was critical to the first round of Android Wear devices commented that Apple would never make a rectangular watch, they’d do it “right” and make it circular. Sorry to disappoint you, folks, but even the engineers at Apple couldn’t build a round smartwatch. They let you down. You can head back to those forums and post your apologies now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Form & Function
That leads us to the Apple Watch’s build. Here’s one area where literally every other smartwatch on the planet has just been lapped. Everything about the Apple Watch screams “high-end” and “attention to detail”.
Although all we’ve really seen is renders and a few samples, if Apple Watch lives up to its promises, it’s going to function very, very well.
Motorola and Pebble make smart watches out of metal, but Apple’s has a sapphire screen and various types of metal bodies – including gold. Yes, actual gold. Compare that to the LG G Watch and pretty much anything from Samsung and – well, there really isn’t any comparison, so we’ll just stop there.
Apple’s wristbands are very interesting as well! No, you can’t use a standard 22mm watch band like you can with many of the other smart watches. You have to buy Apple’s special bands. Looking at them, and the way they connect with the watch, makes me think this could be a feature rather than a drawback. I’m quite impressed with the several ways Apple has apparently reinvented the watch band!
Battery & Power
We don’t know anything definite about battery life on Apple Watch, but we expect that it’ll last a day or so, just like everything powered by Android Wear , but it probably won’t come close to the 5+ days that Pebble users enjoy. Charging, on the other hand should be exciting! Similar to the Moto 360, Apple Watch will have wireless charging. Unlike the Moto 360, the charger looks like it uses a proprietary format, not the Qi-standard that Motorola opted for.
Now for the bad news. In addition to starting at hundred dollars more than pretty much every other smartwatch available today (including the Moto 360), the Apple Watch is not available yet – and won’t be until next year. When exactly next year? We don’t know.
Like we mentioned before, charging the Apple Watch will require a proprietary charger, and is not compatible with the Qi or PowerMat standards. This doesn’t bode well for when Apple includes wireless charging in its phones and tablets, since it will likely go with the non-standard type of charger it will be using for Apple Watch.
What about compatibility? Android Wear is only compatible with Android-powered devices, and Apple Watch will only be compatible with the iPhone 5 and above. Pebble, on the other hand, works just fine with Android or iOS.
Although Apple Watch looks pretty neat, it’s going to have a hard time competing with the Moto 360, but Pebble and the rest of devices powered by Android Wear have some catching up to do.