Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) introduced its first wearable computing device, the Apple Watch, marking its first new product category since the company unveiled the iPad tablet in 2010. The watch will focus on health and fitness and also comes with a new user interface that's different than the iOS interface for the iPhone and iPad.
The watch will be available in early 2015 and will start at $349, which is more expensive than some smart watches on the market but not exorbitantly expensive. For example, Motorola Mobility's Moto 360 costs $250 but the Timex IronMan One GPS+ costs $400.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said that "we believe this product will redefine what people expect from its category." The Apple Watch, which some had expected to be called the iWatch, has a square face with a sapphire screen and touchscreen display. The watch will come in two different screen sizes, roughly 1.5 and 1.65 inches, with multiple variations possible in terms of straps and casings, and uses different materials like stainless steel, aluminum and 18-karat gold.
Importantly, Apple said the iPhone (5s, 5c, 6 and 6 Plus) is required for the Apple Watch to work, meaning it will be tethered to the phone and will not have its own cellular connection, which likely will enhance its battery life. The Apple Watch will have Near Field Communication technology and will work with Apple Pay, the company's new mobile payments system.
At a media event, Apple executives spent a great deal of time detailing the watch's UI. "What we didn't do was take the iPhone and shrink the user interface and strap it on your wrist," Cook said, according to The Verge.
Users can turn the "digital crown" on the side of the watch to zoom in and out on a map or scroll through a list, and can also press the crown to go back to the home screen. Additionally, apps on the watch are grouped into what Apple calls "neighborhoods," letting users tap to zoom into a neighborhood and then spin the dial to cycle through that group of apps. Apple is letting third-party developers create apps for the watch. Developers can use a software tool that Apple calls "WatchKit" to extend the capabilities of notifications so that users can take actions based on the notifications on the watch.
The watch has multiple sensors that can tell the difference between a tap and a press, for example, and the screen can also detect when force is placed on it. A so-called "force touch" is similar to a right click, it brings up more options, according to The Verge.
The watch supports Siri, Apple's digital personal assistant, and users can dictate to the watch to reply to messages. The watch can also be charged wirelessly overnight and is designed for all-day use, but Apple did not say how long the watch's battery is expected to last.
Apple is also focused on fitness and health tracking with the watch. The watch uses an accelerometer, a built-in heart rate sensor, GPS and Wi-Fi from the iPhone to provide a comprehensive picture of daily health and fitness activity, the company said. The Activity app measures three separate aspects of movement: calories burned, brisk activity and how often someone stands up during the day. The Workout app provides goal-setting and pacing during popular session-based workouts, such as running and cycling. The Fitness app on the iPhone collects users' activity data so users can see their activity history in greater detail. Apple Watch then uses this history to suggest personal, realistic goals, reward fitness milestones and keep users motivated.
Meanwhile, Apple's competitors have been busy rolling out their own wearable devices, seeking to gain market share ahead of Apple's own wearable, which has been rumored for months. Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Motorola Mobility all recently unveiled smart watches of their own running Google's Android Wear software.
Apple's foray into wearables is not a sure-fire success. Many smart watches have struggled to gain traction because of their cost and limitations or their functionality. Many smart watches on the market need to be paired to smartphones via Bluetooth, though a few, such as the new Samsung Gear S, have built-in 3G connectivity.
Yet the market for wearables is still tiny. ABI Research reported that global shipments of wearable devices, including smartwatches and activity trackers, totaled just 2.9 million units in the first quarter of 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In a report released in August, research firm CCS Insight predicted that shipments of smart wearables will grow from 9.7 million in 2013 to 135 million by 2018, at a compound annual growth rate of 69 percent. The firm expects the installed base of wearable devices to surpass 250 million at the end of 2018, with 46 percent being devices that pair with a smartphone and 38 percent being devices with their own connectivity or that do not connect to a smartphone.
CVS and Walgreens reportedly join Apple's mobile payments project
Report: Apple to offer one-handed software UI mode for larger iPhone 6
Report: Apple's iWatch to contain NFC for mobile payments
Report: Apple unlikely to start shipping iWatch until early 2015
Report: Apple to unveil iWatch Sept. 9 alongside iPhone 6
Report: Apple snags mobile payments agreements with Visa, MasterCard and American Express