Apple finally unveiled the Apple Watch on Monday, months after it was briefly announced last fall. As was suggested back then, and emphasized by CEO Tim Cook today, it's a way to tell really precise time, connect with other people, support health and fitness, and run apps.
According to the demos, you will be able to take calls, answer texts, read emails, and quickly check such things as the time, your heart rate, or a calendar. You can track standing time, exercise time, and your movements, with electronic nudges telling you that you've been sitting too long. And you can get access to music, Siri voice control, Apple Pay, and all your iPhone notifications.
Apple Watch will have apps as well. One potential benefit is having small portions of exactly the right data at hand, if you'll pardon the pun. For example, if you're at an airport, you could see the flight number, seat number, and barcode to get through security. But that's one tiny screen. Trying to distinguish among all the little app icons to choose what to use next could become a challenge.
Much of what was being demoed are functions an iPhone could do, which you'll still have to carry but which, to use instead of the watch, you'd have to hold in your hand. The intro still leaves many questions unanswered. Will the announced 18-hour battery life satisfy most people? Or will the prospect of having to plug in yet another device every day prove off-putting? Is wrist-mounted access that could potentially make you look more nerdish and less cool going to be reason enough for most people to buy an Apple Watch for $349 at a minimum? (Fancier bands can run $1,100 and a gold Apple Watch will set you back $10,000.)
The event showcased more than just a watch, however. One of the big pieces of news had nothing to do at all with wearable computing. It seems that HBO will be available for exclusively standalone streaming through Apple TV, giving many another way around dealing with cable companies. Available in April, the service will run $14.99 a month. That's more than Netflix, but cheaper than subscribing to cable or satellite service to get access for people who are unimpressed with most pay television offerings.
To further the beachhead, Cook mentioned that the company has sold 25 million Apple TV units (although that could well include each unit ever sold of any version) and then said the price would drop from $99 to $69. HBO access could be a big selling point, although the hardware and software have fallen behind what other companies, like Roku, provide. The lower price might be an attempt to attract new buyers in advance of a potential upgrade later this year.
The event had a heavy emphasis on health care, as you might well expect in something designed to showcase and sell a wearable device. Although the iPhone has yet to become a major tool for health care (with Geoffrey Fowler at The Wall Street Journal's live blog mentioning the "health app that most iPhone users opened once and never have again"), Cook announced yet another new framework: the ResearchKit. The company announced a set of five apps, including ones for glucose monitoring for diabetics, asthma, and breast cancer.
Wired pointed out that although the validity of data collected through phones--or, presumably, watches--has yet to be shown, there would be a significant potential achievement if a for-profit company could get many consumers to trust it with such intimate information. Apple emphasized that it would not see the data, but transmitting the information does raise potential security issues. Also, it wasn't obvious that such capabilities will extend at the moment to the watch.
A newly re-engineered MacBook also grabbed some interest, from the availability of a gold color model to an extremely thin size, at two pounds, with 12-inch display and supposedly improved keyboard, although the chip driving the system is less powerful than on other Apple machines. Furthermore, a promised nine-hour battery life for Web browsing is less than on a MacBook Air.