A few months ago I made it very clear I had no expectation for there to be an "iWatch" (tentatively named at the time) in 2014. I even pegged 2015 as unlikely. I was partially right – there is no Apple Watch available to consumers in 2014, but there is very much an Apple Watch available only a few months later.
The timeline isn't terribly relevant, but they were definitely ahead of where I expected them to be. It was no question that they had one in the works, but Apple did the exact thing that I wasn't sure they'd do – take direct aim at the fashion industry. I love that they did, and the general response is that the Apple Watch is more on par with premium watches than it is with the smart watches of today*.
What Is Missing, What Isn't
What Apple is doing here is what they've always done, with one fairly major missing piece. What they're doing is producing a device of extraordinary quality that feels incredible in the hand (or on the wrist), so incredible it elicits an emotional response whether you realize it or not. The feature list is simple yet compelling, and there is a new interaction model. This last part is critical and I cannot wait to see how it pans out. I have stated in the past that there will be an interaction model post-touchscreen that isn't voice, and I am curious to see if this is it (for small screened devices). It has strong ties to the original iPod from what I can tell.
These core strengths are in the experience and emotional response from using the device. Experience or emotionally based "features" are challenging to capture in writing, I suspect this plays a part in why Apple has so much fashion exposure on it. In addition to the obvious fact that it is a fashion product, the fashion industry understands that beauty and craftsmanship reach people on an emotional level; this is true for all of Apple's devices, but I suspect the Apple Watch takes it to a whole new level.
So what is missing? Ben Thompson captured it well here – Apple never told us why we need the Apple Watch. What problem is it solving? Where does it fit in our digital lives? I think this is at least partially because they don't entirely know yet. They have some great ideas, intimate communication is going to be key. With voice being a primary interaction method there is no doubt that they're focusing heavily on the tap, haptic, and other aspects of the communication methods for the device. Their demos don't show it well because this is just too new. It is still tough to picture as a core piece of our interactions. We can't effectively communicate much substance with tiny doodles and we aren't all going to learn morse code, but there will be some intermediate level of brief communication that will become commonplace.
- Shape - A circular design is appealing, but the drawbacks don't necessarily make up for the advantages. I have always liked certain square watches, the shape is not a negative as many have proposed (usually in comparison to the Moto 360).
- Thickness - The device doesn't seem to be quite as thick as some of the promo shots make it look. I believe the roundedness of it make it appear thicker than it is, but I really don't know. It does look thick, but I'm a fan of very slim watches.
- Size - Having two sizes was a no-brainer. There has to be substantial focus on smaller wrists, often generalized as "female wrists", but it applies more broadly. Many people do not like huge watches, and I suspect the watch will shrink substantially in overall appearance (by making it thinner) in coming years much like the iPhone did. It will be "too thick" when looking back on it in a few years, but it isn't necessarily too thick for a first generation device.
- Bands - Apple created a genuinely elegant solution here, I think this will help sales substantially. Like others, I am curious what they will do considering the high end Edition watch's digital crown will be color matched to the band the watch was purchased with.
I think John Gruber is on the right track.
Overall I like the watch. I am really excited to see what direction it heads and to see how they develop this new interaction model as well as the new intimate communication. I am also curious to see how the adoption is across sexes, classes, and outside the nerd community. My grandparents have iPhones and iPads; I am having a hard time picturing them getting an Apple Watch, but only because of what it looks like today, I think there is a big opportunity to change that very quickly.
Will I buy one? We'll see. My tentative thought at the moment is that I won't. I held off on the phone for a few generations (3GS), though that was largely because of the AT&T restriction, but I caved and switched in 2009. With the only restriction being my willingness to spend the money, there are fewer barriers than with the iPhone.
There is tremendous potential here and I cannot wait to see how it plays out.
*At face value, this statement is easily refuted. The feature list comparison shows that the Apple Watch doesn't stand out compared to the current top tier Android smart watch, the Moto 360. This type of comparison overlooks the strengths that make Apple who they are, but neither Apple's strengths nor the feature list points are important to everyone, so of course it all comes down to what each person values in a device like this.