THE ERA OF THE APPLE WATCH
With the unveiling of the Apple Watch last fall, Apple launched a new product category for the first time since Tim Cook became CEO.
The implications of the Apple Watch release are huge for both Apple and its CEO, giving rise to a host of questions. Will the Apple Watch sell? Can Cook replicate the late Steve Jobs's genius and add another hit product to the string of successes that began with the iPod in 2001? Does Cook have what it takes to keep Apple on top?
HIGH EXPECTATIONS MEAN HIGH STAKES
More than anyone else, Wall Street market analysts want to know the answers to these questions. Overall, they're predicting healthy sales, with some estimating Apple will sell around 20 million watches in 2015 and others saying 30 million or more.
According to a survey conducted by investment firm Piper Jaffray, 7 percent of iPhone owners plan to buy an Apple Watch. That may not sound like a lot, but considering Apple has sold well over 450 million iPhones worldwide in the past three years, that would equate to over 30 million watches—an amount considerably higher than the number of iPhones and iPads sold in their first years. What's more, in the first half of 2014 the total number of all smartwatches sold was 7 million. That means that if Apple could pull off selling 30 million in less than a year, their sales would be more than double that of all other smartwatches combined.
With numbers like these, consumers certainly have high expectations of Apple. Last December, Time magazine named Apple Watch as the top gadget of 2014, even though it wasn't available for purchase yet. If for some reason sales are mediocre, Apple's stock will likely take a big hit, and the company's image will be tarnished.
FASHION ACCESSORY OR TECH GADGET?
Not only is the Apple Watch a foray into a new product category, it's also a new leap into the fashion world. Late last year, rumor had it that Apple was planning to hire fashion experts for its retail stores to assist customers as they try on various bands and styles. And if you recall, in 2013 Apple hired Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry, as its head of retail, and Paul Deneve, the former CEO of the Yves Saint Laurent brand, as vice president of special projects. In addition, Apple is also rumored to release an 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition, priced in the range of $5,000.
Apple's devices have always been fashionable, but they were gadgets first and foremost. In this case, the balance is shifting from utility to style.
WHAT WATCHKIT REVEALED ABOUT THE
New details about the Apple Watch emerged when Apple released the WatchKit tools so developers could make apps for the new device. During its September presentation, Apple had already described many of the watch's features; however, the manual for developers gave more depth, revealing both the watch's strengths and its weaknesses.
The most interesting detail may be the way in which the Apple Watch will require an iPhone to function—at least initially. When the Apple Watch displays information, the processing of that information actually takes place on one's iPhone and is then pushed to the Apple Watch.
At first, the Apple Watch will have only three standalone apps: Dates, Times, and Timers. That means if you don't have your iPhone with you, you'll still be able to use your Apple Watch as a watch, but nothing else. Thankfully, this doesn't seem to be a permanent problem, as Apple did say that fully native apps would arrive later this year.
GLANCES AND NOTIFICATIONS: WHAT’S IN A LOOK?
Another interesting detail is that WatchKit offers developers two main options for communicating with the user: Glances and actionable notifications. A Glance is a non-interactive “template-based notification” on the watch display sent via an app on one's iPhone, such as a weather app.
Actionable notifications, on the other hand, present information on the screen that you can respond to, a feature that's basically an extension of iPhone notifications. For example, the American Airlines app will use actionable notifications to remind you when it's time to go to the airport, as well as to update you on gate changes, your connecting gate, and boarding times. Plus, it will give real-time location information while you're in the air via Glances.
Apple Watch will also distinguish between “short look” and “long look” notifications. If it senses that you're just glancing at your watch, you'll get a single message, such as “Your plane is boarding now.” But if you keep looking at the notification, more information appears—in this case, the flight number, boarding time, and gate number.
During the long look, the icon for the app and the original notification get smaller and move to the top of the screen to make room for the additional detail. You can then scroll through the additional information and perform actions such as commenting, favoriting, or dismissing.
LIMITATIONS OF THE APPLE WATCH
Apple's WatchKit software for developers revealed that many of the Apple Watch's features won't be available to developers—including the heart rate monitor; the near field communication (NFC) chip; the Taptic Engine feature; and even the digital crown, which is used to zoom and scroll Apple apps and to return to the Home screen.
To top it off, the device's microphone will only be usable by developers for dictating text, and there will be no custom alerts available. You can use the Apple Watch to control the iPhone's Camera app, but not other camera apps. And to begin with, only Apple will be offering watch faces. Developers won't be able to offer their own custom faces, nor will they have the option of offering in-app purchases.
The use of gestures on the Apple Watch will also be much more limited than on other iOS devices. They will reportedly be limited to vertical swipes to scroll through the screen, horizontal swipes to go between pages, tapping to select, and the “force touch,” which opens a contextual menu. There's also an “edge swipe” that goes back to the previous screen and another edge swipe that opens the glance view.
A WORK IN PROGRESS
Despite the Apple Watch's limitations, I think it's likely that many of its features will eventually be accessible to developers. For now, Apple appears to want to keep things simple and uniform to ensure that the Apple Watch gets off to a strong start. As always, the company has given a considerable amount of attention to every tiny detail. And that's exactly why people love Apple's gadgets so much. I think Apple has a winner. Jim Karpen, Ph.D, is on faculty at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, IA. He has been writing about the revolutionary consequences of computer technology since 1994. His Ph.D dissertation anticipated the Internet revolution. His site, jimkarpen.com, contains selected regular columns written for The Iowa Source. jim_karpen@ iphonelife.com.