An Introduction to the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch






The Apple Watch

Earlier in the year we talked about Google’s Android Wear, the Android OS for their watch.

On the 9th of September, Apple revealed their own watch called the Apple Watch, due to be released in 2015. As Apple’s first foray into wearable technology, the Apple Watch promises a lot more than just telling the time. From receiving notifications, tracking your health and fitness, connecting with others and making payments, the watch will enable iPhone users to connect and interact in new ways.  Once again, designers and developers will need to reconsider how their iOS apps will connect with the users.

Listed below are some of the key features that Apple have highlighted in their presentation of the Apple Watch

Variety

The Apple Watch offers a lot of customisability when it comes to the watch face. Users can choose a simple watch face, or add further functions such as stopwatches and weather updates.

The watch will be available in three different types:

  • Standard – which comes with a range of options for the wrist strap,
  • Sport – designed to be lighter and sturdier, made from anodized aluminium with the display protected by strengthened Ion-X glass; and
  • Edition – made with 18-carat gold

 

A selection of Apple Watch faces

Notifications and Glances

What could probably be considered as one of the most important or desirable features of a smart watch is the ability for it to ‘talk’ to your phone and provide notifications. The Apple Watch does this, notifying the user through a subtle ‘tap on the wrist’, described by Lauren Goode in her article as ‘like a light buzz on the wrist rather than electroshock therapy’. Users will be alerted when they receive a phone call, a text, an email, and can dismiss them immediately.

Apple have also developed Glances, described as ‘scannable summaries of the information you seek out most frequently’, similar to the Google Now widgets on Android Wear devices. To view them, the user simply swipes upwards and can then swipe through the Glances, to see things like upcoming appointments, weather forecasts, music controls and so on, with a tap taking the user to the full app. To see all notifications, the user can swipe down from the top.

Apple hasn’t yet revealed many details about how the notifications will work, whether users will have control over what types of notifications they receive, or if all notifications received on their iPhone will be reflected on the watch. The ability to easily decide what sort of notifications a user receives on their wrist verses their phone will be an important factor that will decide whether the watch is more useful than an annoyance.

‘Taptic’ feedback

The ‘tap on the wrist’ mentioned above is made possible through haptic feedback, dubbed ‘taptic’ feedback by Apple, designed to only be noticeable to the person wearing the watch. The idea is that the user will feel different types of vibrations depending on the different types of notifications they receive.

Connecting with others

Tapping comes in to play not only with alerts and notifications, but as part of a range of ways of connecting with other Apple Watch wearers. Known as ‘Digital Touch’, these features are presented as a fun and spontaneous way of interacting with others, and currently consist of Sketch, Walkie-Talkie, Heartbeat and Tap:

  • Sketch allows you to draw something directly on the watch face that your friend can see animated on their end.
  • Walkie-Talkie allows users to record and send a quick audio message.
  • Heartbeat lets the user presses two fingers to the screen, sending their heartbeat to a friend through the built-in heart rate sensor.
  • Tap lets users send a ‘tap’ to friends, like a more immediate form of a Facebook nudge.

The four 'Digital Touch' apps

Health and Fitness

With the increasing popularity of health and fitness apps to monitor and encourage activity, it’s no wonder Apple have put emphasis on these sorts of features.

The watch is able to track the user’s total body movement through accelerometers, and uses a custom sensor to track heart rate.

These features allow collection of data regarding the user’s activity which is then displayed in the Activity App and Workout App.  The Activity App allows users to see how much they’ve moved, exercised and stood in a day, and encourages them to reach daily goals. The user’s iPhone receives this information, where they can view their progress over time.

The watch is also supposed to learn about the wearer, allowing it to suggest fitness goals.

Apple Watch's health and fitness apps

Payment

Along with the announcement of the Apple Watch came the announcement of Apple Pay, a way to make secure mobile payments that work with both the iPhone and the Apple Watch. iPhone users won’t have to wait until the release of the Apple Watch, as Apple Pay will be available for them from October onwards. The idea behind the payment method is simple. Users can add their credit or debit cards through their Itunes Store account, then use their phone or watch in store by holding it up to the contactless reader. Payment with an iPhone requires the user to have their finger on Touch ID, essentially using their fingerprint as a password, while Apple Watch payments require the double-clicking of the button below the Digital Crown.

This method of payment isn’t just limited to in store transactions, it will also be able to be used in apps on the iPhone, again through the use of the Touch ID. In the US, currently 220,000 merchant locations will be able to accept Apple Pay payments.

At the moment it’s not clear whether we’ll see this in Australia, however with Visa’s PayWave and Mastercard’s PayPass already in use in many retailers, chances are it will reach us.

Criticism

The watch hasn’t been without it’s fair share of criticism. A noted drawback is that the watch requires the user to have their iPhone with them in order for it to work.  This, of course, means that users need to have their iPhone with them while exercising if they want to make use of the health and fitness apps. There is also question about how well a device like this will take off when it requires another Apple device to use, making it much more expensive for users who have other brands of phone. The future for the Apple Watch may very well be a more powerful device that is able to perform more of the iPhone’s functions, without requiring the user to own one.

Price

It is expected to hit the market next year starting from $349.

With such a recent public reveal, it will be interesting to learn more about the Apple Watch as the release date approaches.  We will also continue to take in the reactions from fellow designers, developers and the general public. The reactions so far have been mixed, with many people praising the design and capabilities of the watch, while others questioning the usefulness of a watch that requires an iPhone nearby to work. With smart watches still relatively new to the market, it remains to be seen the effect these devices will have on the design and development of apps and the way people interact with them, and if they will make as large an impact as smart phones did before them.

More information about the Apple Watch:

More information about haptic feedback and its potential future uses
Exploring the possibilities of Apple Watch accessories
Comparisons between the Apple Watch and Android Wear – Article 1, Article 2
More information about Apple Pay




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