Hands-on with the new Apple Watch

9/10/2014, 10:10 a.m.
After Tuesday's unveiling of two new iPhones and a heavily anticipated smartwatch, Apple gave press and special guests (including models, ...
Apple unveiled the Apple Watch smartwatch, the company's first wearable device, at their September 9, 2014 announcement. The Apple Watch pairs with iPhone 5 or newer to display notifications. It features a magnetic charger, health and fitness apps and a crown that controls zoom and scrolling with a twist. (Photo: Apple)

— The size of the watch face makes using a full keyboard hard if not impossible (no apps with a keyboard were shown, but that doesn't mean one can't pop up later). To communicate from your wrist, you dictate messages to the watch or use it as a walkie-talkie to chat with another Apple Watch wearer.

Apple is really hoping people will choose to communicate using what it calls Digital Touch, a combination of drawings and vibrations. You can doodle with your fingertip, tap out a special series of vibrations or send your actual heartbeat. This shorthand could become the next Emoji, or it could be Apple's Poke: something fun people do for a while before forgetting about it.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and other Apple employees repeatedly used the word "intimate" to describe the watch's communication features. Perhaps that's because only someone you know intimately will have any clue what you mean when you send a line drawing of an octopus and the bass line to "Under Pressure."

Power struggles

Apple would not disclose the battery life of the watch. That could mean the company is trying to downplay the short battery life or that it is still working on the technical details and hopes to improve it before the release date. During a demo, an Apple employee said the company expected people to charge their watches every night.

One way it saves power is by only turning on the display when you lift your wrist to glance at it. But it's still a full-color screen with multiple sensors. Without a major leap in battery technology, more than half a day is still a lot to hope for from a smartwatch.

The device does not charge wirelessly. It needs to physically connect to a large circular charger that attaches via magnets to the back of the watch face, much like the current MacBook MagSafe cords do. That charger has a wire that plugs into a wall.

It is an all new proprietary charger. While the magnets might make plugging the watch in "easier in the dark" as Apple promises, it also means adding yet another cord to your power strip. And if nightly charging is necessary, that means your charger goes on every overnight trip.

Too soon to judge

There is still much we don't know about the Apple Watch. To make any reasonable guess about its fate, we would need to navigate the operating system, use the watch's touch screen (which differentiates between a tap and a push), and test the digital crown (a knob) on the side. Cook said the time was incredibly accurate, but how about the various fitness measurements and heartbeat?

Then there's the demand question. Are consumers really clamoring for a notification screen, credit card and fitness tracker on their wrist, especially one that's dependent on having an iPhone nearby? Smartphones can do many of these exact same things (especially with the iPhone's improved fitness tracking features).

After the legions of Apple fans and early adopters slip them on, will regular people swap out their Casio for an Apple Watch?


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