This is the Apple Watch

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The screen fades to black, a camera pans. The audience is shown, for one last time, before their lives are changed forever. And then it appears. The Apple Watch.

Well, maybe it’s not exactly that insane, though it definitely seems to be the new product category Tim Cook has been teasing for years: a wearable.

With a rounded-square front-panel, powered by a brand new bubble-like UI, the Apple Watch comes to light with ‘nimble, precise’ adjustments. Through what Apple calls a new style of input, a ‘Digital Crown’ allows a user to navigate the device without covering the display. There’s a built-in gyroscope, a ‘Taptic Engine’ for alerting the user in a ‘subtle way’, and a heart rate sensor that uses infrared, visible-light LEDs and photodiodes to provide accurate calorie info. The Watch will also apparently be able to sense the pressure of a tap, though it doesn’t seem to actually use capacitive touchscreen tech, but rather a ‘digital touch’ sensor. Inductive ‘Magsafe’ charging means you won’t have to plug in a Lightning connector to power the Watch, though at the same time it isn’t as simple as, say, putting multiple devices onto a charge mat.

Kevin Lynch, VP of Apple, presented an on-stage demo, showcasing a Homescreen which Apple described as “the universe”, with apps represented by small circles that you glide across. As you zoom in, the “neighborhood” of apps is shown. In-app, the UI looks incredibly similar to webOS in a way, with a dark background, super-rounded corners, as well as bright card-like UI elements which expand, as well as hide content with a fluidity reminicent of the Palm platform.

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Siri is supported, as are Music controls, and plenty of other reminder-style services, such as Calendar, Mail, and an App Store of possibilities. Apple Pay will also work with the Watch, allowing card-free payments, though Australian availability may be limited.

The Map app uses the GPS on your connected iPhone to provide turn-by-turn, with vibrations offering a hint at whether to go left or right. An absurd Photos app is included, with the small-display only offering tiny glimpses of photos. Favourite photos will be available though. A strange ‘digital touch’ app lets you send drawings to friends.

A Messages app includes truly specific Apple Watch-customisations, such as the ability to answer a question through intuition. Rather than using a keyboard, if someone asks you a yes/no question, or gives you options, it’ll give you each choice in a menu. The audio-messaging ability with iOS 8 finally makes sense, with another reply option being a short voice-message. Emoji is also available.

AppleEvent_0868An Activity app measures calories, steps, and an ‘activity-ring’ which closes when you hit the recommended 30-minutes of exercise a day. The device also reminds you to stand for at least 1 minute in every 12 hours of the day. A Workout app offers a more RunKeeper-style interface, with common activities (Running, Cycling) shown on-screen. You’ll have the option to set goals, as well as to see your progress while you’re working.

Initially, notifications will appear in a basic way, though a WatchKit developer API means more Watch-specific apps will appear, with actionable notifications. Example apps included a BMW app showing car-charge, a Nike app, an NLB app for scores, as well as a Honeywell thermostat app.

Technically, it doesn’t seem to be running iOS, though we’re not sure how it is powered. Support wise, the watch requires an iPhone 5-or better for its brains, presumably for GPS and data, though the extent of this relationship wasn’t shown. Is it connecting via Bluetooth, or is there some other way that the Watch transfers these insights? We just don’t know yet.

As with a ‘real’ watch collection, there are three styles of Apple Watch, each holding a huge range of customisations.

The default Apple Watch line is contained in a stainless-steel or ‘space-black’ casing, with a sapphire crystal display, as well as a range of ‘stylish’ bands. Then there’s a Sport collection, which Ive says is “incredibly light and durable”, featuring anodized aluminum cases in space gray and silver colours. Strengthened Ion-X glass covers the Watch Sport screen, with ‘durable’ bands to also be available. And finally, the Edition, which seems to be a premium line with an 18-karat gold case in rose or yellow colours. A sapphire crystal display is also featured, with premium bands and closures.

In a broad sense, Apple seems to have taken a lot of time to rethink current smartwatch offerings. While you can argue that it isn’t a revolution over preceding products, it still has a lot of unique capabilities, as well as an interesting approach to a number of problems holding back other devices. The range, with at least 28 possible combinations according to their website, is also unique in that it offers something for everyone, even different screen sizes (38 mm and 42mm). With that said, though, I am worried by the lack of info on battery life.

Available in 2015, the Apple Watch will hit US$350, and will hopefully make you feel like a pleb for even considering the iPod nano to be a watch.