Apple didn’t invent tablets, but the iPad is the device credited with popularizing the form factor for mainstream consumers. Similarly, we’ve had smart watches and activity trackers for years, but the world is feverish1 for the Apple Watch.
If you’re nuts about consumer electronics (or even just watches), you probably know that it all started about 40 years ago, in the 70’s, with Seiko. Even if you couldn’t care less about watches or electronics, if you’re serious about exercise (or know anyone that is), you probably coveted or encountered some of Polar’s earliest devices in the late 80’s and 90’s.
Now, fast forward 15 or 20 years. These types of devices are way more affordable and starting to appeal to the general consumer. Tracking your activity or workouts no longer means tracking a 100 mile bike ride. Instead, you can log something as simple as steps taken over a day or something as advanced as a triathlon. Technology has also seen the functionality of these devices expand beyond what we thought would be possible even a decade ago. The Dick Tracy watch is real!
Wearable tech is now occupying the mindset of the average consumer and for the last couple of years, we’ve been cutting our teeth on Fitbits and Android Wear watches. The market is primed for an entrant from a company like Apple. So, what should we expect on Monday? A lot, is the short answer.
If you watched the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus keynote last September, you’ll remember that it was long. After they got done with the iPhones, they gave us our first glimpse of the Apple Watch. The company talked about feature after feature and it didn’t seem like the stream of information would ever stop. CEO Tim Cook eventually cut things short and said that there was just too much information to share all at once (or, more likely, at an event reserved mostly for the first Apple phablet).
Six months later, we’re expecting an in-depth look at some of the features we already know a little bit about, like the heart rate tracker, rumoured to be a huge improvement over what we’ve seen in other wearables. We’re also banking a lot of new information.
Here are the key things to expect from Monday’s event.
1. Pricing and Canadian Availability
Apple users are loyal to the brand, so this will be one of the most important pieces of information to come out of Monday’s event.
Tech fans and gadget fiends might be more interested in the functionality or even the hardware powering the watch, but the majority of Apple Watches will be purchased by people who already want to buy it because they love the Apple brand, iPhone users who want a smartwatch built for their phone, or those easily influenced by Apple’s wide-reaching and effective marketing strategies.
The entry level Apple Watch Sport will start at around $350 USD, with an aluminum build and rubberized strap. This we already know. But the stainless steel Apple Watch, which many believe will be the “mainstream” version, is an unknown, with estimates varying between $500 and $800 USD. Potential customers may also be surprised by the prices of each watch band; Apple is offering six varieties, from a traditional metal link bracelet to a more refined Milanese loop, to a simple leather loop or buckle.
Less obvous is the price of the 18k gold Watch Edition. How much that will cost has seen guesses that range from $5,000 to as much as $20,000,
One other fact we don’t know is when this device will launch. Apple has said mid-April but it’s unclear as to whether Canada is included in the initial phase of launch. We’re expecting details on launch countries and secondary launch markets on Monday.
Apps, apps, apps. This is something we got a small taste of last September. Apple talked a lot about health and fitness, and how the breadth of the watch’s fitness functionality would mean something for everyone — whether it was reminding you to stand up and move around or helping you train for your next marathon. The company also briefly mentioned Digital Touch, a way for you to wordlessly communicate with other Apple Watch users with just one tap (or 10, if you feel like it).
Less talked about were the third party applications. The Apple Watch SDK has been available for sometime now, so app developers are already hard at work on software they think will offer a good experience on the wrist. But many of those people are building apps for hardware they haven’t even seen yet.
Fear not, though. Apple already has a set list of launch partners and these are the apps that will be featured at Monday’s event. The people making those apps have seen the Apple Watch. That’s not to say there won’t be tons of other great apps ready in time for the mid-April release, but Bloomberg reports that these launch partners (including Facebook and BMW) have been at working with Apple in a secret lab in the Cupertino HQ. So, yeah, those guys have an edge that others do not.
Apple didn’t talk too much about battery life last September, though all the rumours since then have pretty much guaranteed that we’ll be treated to a lengthy lecture on how long the battery lasts and the sort of charging routine Apple expects people to keep with this device.
The most recent rumours say we can expect about a day and a half of mixed use, and five hours with heavy app usage. Realistically, you’re not going to have your wrist in your face all day long. While app developers will no doubt release applications that require more than the desired amount of interaction, Apple is trying very hard to keep the period of required interaction to less than 10 seconds.
If you’re using it as intended (time keeping, notification screening, casual fitness tracking, and occasional navigation or music playback), you probably won’t have any issues getting a full day of use out of it. Monday’s event is expected to bring us more detailed information on what it will mean for battery life if a user wants to really use the watch in a meaningful way.
We’re not just talking about athletes who want to have the watch track workouts that span multiple hours. Say, you wake up in the morning, you use your Apple Watch to track your workout, then to unlock and start your car and navigate to the airport. Once you’re on the plane, you listen to music (stored on the watch) during your flight, and then you use the watch to unlock your hotel room door. All of that before lunchtime! We can see this watch getting a pretty heavy mixed use workout even with the “average” user, so Monday should answer most of our questions about what will be possible with the Apple Watch in day-to-day life.
Smart watches today are generally not fashionable. Sure, you may like the dull colour schemes, or the clunky designs, but the very definition of “fashionable” is something that conforms to currents styles and trends. Smartwatches and fitness trackers have heretofore not been trendy. That’s a problem for users, but it’s also a problem for manufacturers. If people don’t want to wear a device, they won’t, and fashion or style is a very addressable problem.
A recent Nielsen study showed that 16% of wearable users own a smartwatch (an estimated 3% of the Canadian population) but even these earlier adopters aren’t wearing their devices all the time. Just 44% of respondents said they wear their watch every day and a massive 30% admitted they only wear their devices a few times a month or less. Can Apple produce a wearable that people want to wear every day?
While some wearable companies have partnered with major fashion brands to address this issue (Martian and its Guess-branded watch, or the Fitbit module that fits into Tory Burch necklaces and bracelets), Apple is taking the lead on design for the Apple Watch. With three different versions, each available in two different sizes, a lot of care has gone into designing this watch and making it look like something you want people to see, not just one you want to use.
Because of that, we’re expecting a major fashion sell from Apple tomorrow. The company has already revealed that the watch straps will be easily swappable and it will sell numerous different colours and materials for you to switch up your style. We haven’t heard anything about branded straps, partnerships with fashion houses, or third-party straps but Apple has already been pushing the watch in fashion magazines, including a two-page spread in the fashion bible that is French Vogue. It stands to reason that we’ll hear something about how the Apple Watch will go with everything from your gym shorts to your wedding tux at Monday’s event.
5. iOS 8.2
The Apple Watch is a companion device at its heart, and so it makes sense that the device powering the watch might also need a little preparation for the new arrival. It’s been several months since iOS 8.1’s release in October and there’s talk that iOS 8.2 may debut on Monday with new features focused on health and workout monitoring and tracking. We’ll also see a host of bug fixes (the best part of any update, in my opinion).
Above all else, we should expect surprises!
We don’t know about you but we love surprises, and Apple is really, really good at them. Steve Jobs’ keynotes were notable in more ways than one, but our favourite part was always the, ‘One more thing.’ He didn’t say it every time, but when he did, boy, it got people excited. Tim Cook used it when he introduced us to the Apple Watch in September so we know Apple hasn’t retired this phrase since Steve’s passing.
We’re expecting a lot of surprises on Monday as Apple talks about functionality we don’t yet know about, third party accessories, or even whole new devices. There’s talk of new MacBooks (very possible), a new iPad Pro (less likely), or even an updated Apple TV.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that, with something as huge as the Apple Watch (the company’s first new product line since the iPad), Apple would want to focus on just this device during Monday’s event. But then we remember September, when we saw the first iPhone to ever come in two sizes and the Apple Watch on the same stage. That either device shared an event with another was surprising, so absolutely nothing is off the table for Monday’s event.
Daniel will be in San Francisco topping up his tan from Mobile World Congress, so we’ll be bringing you up-to-the-minute updates from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Monday at 10AM PT / 1PM ET. In the meantime, our own Tom Emrich was on Global TV talking all things Apple Watch on Friday afternoon. Prepare for Monday in just over six minutes!