We've seen it countless times: A starship reaches orbit, then launches a smaller ship. Enterprise. Executor. Galactica. They're meant for the bigger jobs, the longer jobs, the harder jobs. But the small jobs — the brief yet important ones — are better left to something lighter and more agile. So too, the iPhone and the Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch, however, isn't just a smaller, lighter, more wearable iPhone. With the iPhone, Apple sought to emphasize the mobile computer. With the Apple Watch, the company has chosen to focus on the watch.
This reflects the reality of how we've traditionally worn technology on our wrists — from mechanical to digital, from chronograph to calculator. By incorporating all the benefits of modern mobile computing, including communications and control, tracking and payments, it gives us more: It gives us our dreams.
We've read and watched them since childhood. Dick Tracy. Michael Knight. James Bond. They've been in the pages of our comics, and on our TV sets and movie screens, tantalizing us with just exactly those features.
That makes the Apple Watch a unique challenge. To succeed it needs to balance both past and future, tradition and technology, expectations and power efficiency. It needs to satisfy both reality and our dreams. So, does it?
For people who want:
- Greater convenience
- Phenomenal build quality
- Early access to wearable computing
- A second screen for their iPhones
- A heart rate monitor and better health and fitness assistance
Not for people who want:
- One more device to manage
- Stand-alone GPS or cellular networking
- A cheap smartwatch or fitness tracker
- A second or third generation Apple Watch
Apple watch video review
Give us four minutes and we'll give you the Apple Watch.
Apple Watch packaging
The different Apple Watch collections each come in different packaging. The Sport comes in a long rectangular box. The Watch comes in a white square with a white plastic rounded square container. And the Edition comes in a darker, more elaborate version of the same.
Regardless of collection, all include the watch case, the paired band, a USB cable with a magnetic charger on the end, and an iPhone-style AC adapter.
Apple Watch design
The Apple Watch is the most impressive piece of industrial design to ever come out of 2 Infinite Loop. From materials to finish, digital crown to band swapping mechanism, Retina display to mics and speakers, heart rate sensor to inductive charger, the Watch takes myriad components and melds them into a singular and singularly impressive object.
That makes sense, given how personal the watch project was to Apple's senior vice president of industrial design, Jony Ive, and Ive's longtime friend, collaborator, and now colleague, Marc Newson.
The design language of the original iPhone is evident; the Watch pursues the same blend of restraint and inevitability. Yet this time the technology doesn't just have to be in service of functionality — it has be in service of fashion.
Apple is using three different materials for the cases: 7000-Series aluminum for the Sport, 316L stainless steel for the Watch, and 18-karat gold for the Edition. There are two finishes for each: silver and anodized space gray, silver and diamond-like coated space black, and yellow and rose gold respectively. The screens are Ion-X (ion exchange) glass for the Sport and sapphire for the Watch and Edition. The backs are a composite material for the Sport with hard-coated optical polymer sensor lenses, and zirconia ceramics for the Watch and Edition, with sapphire lenses.
Apple's industrial design team are more than masters at working with composites, aluminum, stainless steel, and hardened glass — generations of iPods, iPhones, and iPads have have seen to that. These ceramics, golds, and sapphires may be new, but look to be every bit as well-handled.
Seeing the glass curve down and almost melt away into the metal is impressive, as is the laser-ablated antenna groover, and the way the metal gives way to the Watch's inductive charger and sensor assembly on the bottom. There may be physical seams, but the execution looks and feels seamless, for both the 38mm and 42mm sizes.
Apple is measuring those sizes vertically, so neither is especially small or large by traditional watch standards. The difference might not sound like much, but 4mm is roughly 10 percent of the 38mm Watch's height.
The depths are the same across the board: 10.5mm. That's not thin, but it's also not unprecedented in the watch world. If you frequently wear really tight fitting cuffs, you might notice a bulge, but I've not had any problem with any of the shirts or jackets I wear. The Apple Watch just disappears under the cuff.
Weights vary by not just size, but material: the Sport models weigh 25g and 30g; the Watch, 40g and 50g; and the Edition, 54g and 67g for rose gold and 55g and 69g for yellow gold.
Though the weight almost doubles from Sport to Edition, neither feels too light or too heavy. After a few minutes wearing them, whichever one you're wearing simply seems 'normal'.
Update: Gold and rose gold Sport
On September 9, 2015, alongside a variety of new band options, Apple introduced two new anodized aluminum finishes for Apple Watch Sport: gold and rose gold.
Rather than imitating the existing 18K yellow and rose gold Apple Watch Editions, they've been made to perfectly match the gold iPhones 6 and iPhones 6s, and the new rose gold iPhones 6s.
The aluminum Watch is blasted by microscopic zirconia beads for a matte finish, while the stainless steel and golds are polished to a shine. The ceramics are polished with a grinding stone and the sapphire with diamond covered pellets.
Like any watch, scuffs and scratches are inevitable. And like any watch, you'll be able to treat them as and when they happen. I've had my steel and sapphire Apple Watch going on three weeks and it still looks as good as it did when I took it out the box.
OLED retina display
The Apple Watch's front is dominated by its Retina display. That's not unusual for a mobile device, but this Retina display is OLED (organic light-emitting diodes), and that's a first for Apple.
The 38mm Apple Watch has a display size of 340-by-272 pixels.The 42mm Apple Watch has a display size of 390-by-312 pixels.
Modern OLED has improved upon its ancestry to retain its traditional advantages and mitigate its disadvantages. With deep blacks and high power efficiency, it's a perfect match for a device that's designed to be viewed quickly.
The deep blacks and power efficiency are related: With Apple's traditional LCD (liquid crystal displays) technology, there's a single backlight that's either on or off. It doesn't matter if there's one subpixel or every subpixel active, the entire display is drawing power. That also means, even for unused areas, there's some light coming through; the resulting blacks look closer to very dark gray.
With OLED, the subpixels light themselves. So, if any part of the display isn't being used, it's also not being lit up. That both saves power and allows the unused areas to stay closer to true black.
The colors are bright and, in addition, the Watch appears to match the iPhone's calibration, making for an incredibly consistent experience.
Both text and graphics look look crisp and clean, and have great viewing angles — though it's arguable how much that matters on as personal a device as a watch — and the screen remains legible in all but the brightest, most direct sunlight, even at low brightness settings.
The OLED display has matured so well, in fact, that it's hard to imagine we won't be seeing it on more and bigger products in the future.
Digital Crown and side button
There are two physical buttons you can use to interact with on the Apple Watch: the side button and the Digital Crown.
The side button is, as the name implies, on the side of the Watch. While it serves several functions, in practice it feels like the sleep/wake button on the iPhone — especially the newly relocated sleep/wake button on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
Unlike on the iPhone's sleep/wake button, the side button is not an on/off switch: Press it once for the Watch's Friends interface; press it twice for Apple Pay (currently only available in the U.S.). Press and hold it for the the power off, power reserve, and lock device menu. Do that while you're in an app, and then press and hold it again, and you'll force quit the app.
That a single press of one of only two control buttons on the Apple Watch is devoted to Friends indicates that Apple believes communication — along with the fancy new Friends interface and Digital Touch system — are among the most important features on the Watch.
Depending on how highly you value your friends and how much you enjoy Digital Touch, you may agree or disagree with the choice. Regardless, you can't change it: If health and fitness is more important to you and you'd rather have workout or timer functionality a single hardware button press away, you're out of luck.
Perhaps Apple will make the side button configurable at some point, the way they did with the late mute/orientation lock switch on the iPad, and the way they have and still do the triple press for accessibility. But I'm not counting on it just yet.
Because a single press is assigned to Friends, and you can't use it to sleep the screen the way you can on the iPhone. To do that, as Serenity mentions in the roundtable below, cover the Watch with your hand and let the ambient light sensor do the sleeping for you.
The Digital Crown is an entirely different animal.
On appearance alone, it looks like a traditional watch crown — the kind we've always used for winding and setting. It's not centered, but offset to counterbalance to the side button.
Press it once, and you go to the home screen — unless you're already on the home screen, then you either center up on the home screen or, if you're already centered, you go to the clock face. Press and hold and you get Siri, Apple's personal virtual assistant.
Press it twice and you switch between the the app you're currently using and the clock face. Press it three times, and, if you've set it up, you toggle the Zoom or VoiceOver accessibility on or off. You can also press the Digital Crown in conjunction with the side button to take a screenshot, or hold them both down to reboot.
In addition to pressing you can also turn the Digital Crown. That will zoom in or out, scroll up or down, or cycle through options. All while keeping your fingers off the tiny display so you can both navigate and view what it is you're navigating.
That sounds like a lot of functionality for one little crown, but for the most part it works. (Mainly because a lot of it is infrequently required.)
There are some collisions: With traditional watches, we've been trained to pull the crown to go into adjustment mode, turn it to make adjustments, and press it to exit adjustment mode. The Apple Watch can try and alter that training, but to do it consistently it needs to be consistent. Right now it's only mostly consistent.
You turn the Digital Crown to change an alarm time, for example, but setting the alarm requires a tap — if you press the Crown instead, the Watch will eject you back to the home screen. If you turn the Digital Crown to set a customization on the clock face, however, pressing it is indeed what you need to do to commit the setting.
There will always be exceptions in navigation, but they come at a cost. Both choices in those examples make sense within the context of the individual app — one has space for a "Set" button, while the other does not — but within the greater context of the overall interaction model, it adds to the cognitive load, creates the potential for confusion, and limits the chances either behavior will become truly instinctive.
If each evolution in computing has come with an evolution in human interface — keyboard to mouse, click-wheel to multitouch — then the Digital Crown has its work cut out for it.
The Digital Crown hardware is certainly solid. The mechanics are terrific, and the grooves on the stainless steel especially so: unlike the slightly rounder, laser-cut aluminum, the machined stainless steel catches the ridges of your fingers with what I imagine is Spider-Man-like stickiness.
I just have to remember to use it. I no longer have my iPod click-wheel training of old; years and years of iPhones and iPads have trained me to touch what I see and manipulate it directly. I've gotten more accustomed to the Digital Crown over the last three weeks, and I see and appreciate the value of not obstructing the display, but only time will tell if that rationale can win out over my instincts.
On the rear plate of the Apple Watch, surrounded by a circle of text describing the product's logotype and serial number, as well as information on its size and materials, you'll find its inductive charging ring. A form of wireless charging, inductive charging works by converting electricity into electromagnetic energy, passing that energy to another object, then converting it back into electricity.
- Update: watchOS 2 and Nightstand mode
It's done through coils in both the charger and the device being charged. While it typically requires more power and more time than a wire, it has its advantages: there are no ports and plugs to line up.
Apple uses the same MagSafe nomenclature for the connection as they do for the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops, but the larger size of the disk and surface area of case makes it even easier.
On the Watch, you simply bring the magnetic disk at the end of your USB charging cable to the rear of the watch case and let science do the rest. Because it's inductive, there are also no contacts exposed, which means no corrosion and physical wear-and-tear on the parts.
There are slight cosmetic differences between the chargers that come with the different Apple Watch collections: the Sport is encased in white plastic and the Watch, stainless steel. (The Edition has an exclusive charger built right into the box.) Apple also sells separate 3 foot and 6 foot chargers, also encased in stainless steel.
Overall the inductive chargers work really well. The magnets align with a satisfying snap, yet don't require significant force to pull apart. If anything, I'd enjoy an even stronger bond.
For people used to plugging an iPhone into a battery pack and shoving the whole thing into a pocket or purse as they walk around, magnetic chargers aren't quite so durable — your Watch and charger will likely separate at some point inside your bag and foil your plans.
That said, the Watch isn't a phone: It typically won't need to be charged that way, and the charger's ease of use and convenience will be more important to most people most of the time.
Whether or not inductive charging is a compelling enough alternative for Apple on a phone scale — or beyond — remains to be seen. At watch scale, it was the right choice.
Heart rate sensor
The rear casing is also where you'll find the Watch's heart rate sensor. The sensor's four lenses are arranged in a diamond pattern; the top and bottom lenses are for the photodiodes, while the left and right are for the infrared and for the green LEDs.
The heart rate sensor uses photoplethysmography, which employs beams of green and infrared light to measure the amount of blood flowing through your wrist. When your heart beats, the blood flow increases, and by measuring the intervals between the beats, the sensors can read your heart rate.
To save power, infrared is used for the regular readings that occur every ten minutes. When infrared isn't providing enough data, the sensor enables the green LEDs and ramps up intensity and frequency for a solid reading.
Optical heart rate sensors and tattoos
If you have tattoos covering your wrist, especially if they're dense and dark, the artificial pigment in your skin may interfere with the sensor's ability to read your heartbeat. We ran some tests, and here's what you need to know:
The sensor unit curves down beyond the metal of the case in order to ensure close skin contact and as accurate a reading as possible. When the Watch is on you don't feel or notice it at all. You're only reminded that it's there when your heart rate comes up on screen.
In addition to the heart rate monitor the Apple Watch includes an ambient light sensor as well as an accelerometer and gyroscope that let it understand its — and your — relative position in space over time.
Lugs and grooves
Two tiny buttons frame either side of the Watch's undercarriage: Press them, and the band lugs detach from case grooves, letting you separate them. It's ingenious.
Unlike traditional watches, no pins or tools beyond your finger and nail are needed to change bands. That makes it practical — almost desirable — to change bands as often as you like.
There's an additional surprise hidden inside the two grooves: the company's "Assembled in China. Designed by Apple in California" signature, along with certification labels, the Watch's model number, and a Lightning-like port sealed away to prevent anyone but Apple from tampering with it.
The ability to easily swap bands isn't vital to the Watch as a product, but is valuable to the wearer. Moreover, it highlights that while the watch is traditional, Apple's watch benefits both from the company's fresh eyes and relentless design consideration.
It's one of those things that make Apple products so appealing.
The Apple Watch is rated IPX7 under IEC standard 60529. That means it can withstand sweat, rain, splashes, and washing up; while not officially recommended, people have also showered with it and even submerged it in shallow water for short amounts of time.
I've tried most of those things and my Apple Watch is just fine. It's absolutely not built for prolonged swimming or deep diving, but for all activities that involve brief, incidental contact with water, it should be just fine.
Apple Watch bands
Apple has been making accessories for a long, long time, including colorful cases for the iPhone and iPad. A case, however, is optional and sold separately. A watch band is integral and included with every Apple Watch. Moreover, each band has been designed for, and paired with, specific Watch cases and sizes to create what Apple refers to as "collections".
While Apple's accessories — and entire iPod lineups — have varied in color each year in an effort to be more fashionable, watch bands aren't for new products like mobile phones or music players. Apple can't make an effort to bring fashion to technology. They have to bring technology to fashion.
To meet that challenge, Apple has created a range of bands. Some are based on the classics; others that harken back to Apple industrial designer Marc Newson's work on the Ikepod line from the 1980s.
The Apple Watch Sport collection comes exclusively with fluoroelastomer bands — a fancy term for high-performance rubber — in white, black, pink, blue, and green. The weights vary depending on the color (starting at 47 grams for black all the way to 57 grams for white), because working with pigments is different than working with pixels.
Apple has shown off additional sport band colors at fashion shows, including dark blue, red, and yellow, but there's no telling where, or if, the company will release them to the public. Since fashion is always changing, anything from seasonal to annual to occasional is possible.
I've tried on all the different sport band colors, but received a white sport band from Apple to test. Georgia, Ally, and Serenity all ordered and have been using white sport bands as well, though they've also tried on other colors, including and especially the blue.
The difference in weight isn't really noticeable, and the feel is quite consistent — smooth and silky. They're meant for exercising: for running and sweating in the gym or outside, going about your daily life, and, if you're up for living on the edge, even showering or dancing in the rain.
The bands may get wet under those conditions, but it was made to survive moisture, not absorb it. Some type of sweat or moisture-wicking band system would be interesting, true, but this isn't that.
The pin and tuck system — a design Marc Newson has used before — works well. There are three parts to the band: the half with the pin, and short and long versions of the half with the tuck. It doesn't provide the near-infinite adjustability of the magnetic loops, but it's as good as any conventional watch band.
The sport band is the band most people are going to get, since it's the only option for the Sport collection and the baseline option for Watch and Edition collections. Because it's inexpensive and useful, however, it'll probably also be popular as a second band for anyone who opts for a different initial pairing.
In both cases, it's well-engineered and will suit any Watch owner well.
- Update: As of September 9, 2015, there are new sport band colors, including: lavender, antique white, stone, orange, midnight blue, and product red.
The Apple Watch collection has the largest number of band options. There are sport bands white and black; a classic buckle with black leather from ECCO tannery in the Netherlands; a magnetic loop with black, blue, stone, or brown Venezia leather from Arzignano, Italy; a modern buckle with black, blue, soft pink, or brown Granada leather from France, an inner Vectran weave, and a magnetic closure; a magnetic Milanese loop that weaves stainless steel, Italian-style, into mesh; and a link bracelet with release buttons that make for easy sizing.
I've had the chance to try on all of the options, as have Georgia, Serenity, and Ally, but I've spent the most time with the Milanese loop Apple provided for testing.
The quality of the weave is remarkable. It feels like cloth made from metal. It also scales amazingly well from 38mm to 42mm size, and manages to look great, at least to my eyes, on both men and women in casual and formal settings alike. Because it's magnetic, it can also fit absolutely any wrist size in its range. I've joked about this before, but like the leather loops, it really is like Lululemon pants for your wrist.
The magnetic end of the band has scuffed over the course of the last week, but no more so than any other stainless steel watch band I've ever owned — and, like any other stainless steel band I've ever owned, I have no doubt it can easily be polished back to a shine. I'm not sure I'll bother, honestly: I like the worn look. (I do wish there were a space black option to match the space black Apple Watch, but DLC coating a weave is likely beyond current manufacturing technology.)
The modern buckles are also magnetic — the metal closure splits in two down the middle. They aren't infinitely adjustable like the loops, but they are incredibly easy to attach.
The Watch I ordered is coming with the Link Bracelet, which is heavy but iconic. Apple claims it takes 9 hours to make and hand-brush each one. Beyond the manufacturing, the system Apple has designed for sizing is every bit as ingenious as the band swapping mechanism itself. No jeweller or expensive tools required. Just press buttons, pop the extra links out, and get a custom fit.
You can quibble about some of the color options and I'll quibble right along with you, but from a sheer design and engineering point of view, each and every one of them is fantastic.
Not only are they beautiful, but they're accessible. The loops and magnetics mean that everyone — even those with coordination and motor skills issues — can more easily secure them and hence, secure their Apple Watch. That's a remarkable benefit.
- Update: As of September 9, 2015, Apple Watch bands include two-tone black and saddle brown classic buckles, as well as a space black and black sport pairing.
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Update: Apple Watch Hermès
Apple Watch Hermès, which launched on October 5, 2015, is Apple's first foray into direct fashion partnerships for the Apple Watch. It brings together the stainless steel and sapphire crystal Apple hardware with the luxury leather of Hermès into a collection that's both old world and cutting edge.
There are three bands in the Hermès collection. Single Tour comes in both 42mm and 38mm. The 42mm is offered in Fauvre (brown) and Noir (black) and the 38mm in Fauvre (brown), Noir (black), and Capucine (red). The Double Tour, which circles the wrist twice, in only available in 38mm, in Fauve (brown), Etain (gray), Capucine (red), and Bleu Jean (blue). The Cuff, a nod to Hermès' equestrian heritage, is only available in 42mm and only in Fauve (brown).
You currently can't buy the Apple Watch Hermès online, only at select Apple and Hermès retail outlets. You also can't but the bands separately, only with the Watch casing.
The Apple Watch Edition bands are similar to the Apple Watch bands, but they come with matching gold or rose gold pins or buckles. Unlike the Watch bands, you can't buy them separately, at least not yet, and there are no gold versions of the Milanese or link bracelet (though at least two celebrities have been sighted with the latter).
That means you have to get them paired as part of the collection. There are, however, some unique colors: in addition to white or black sport, there's also rose gray or bright red modern buckles, and black or midnight blue classic buckles.
- Update: As of September 9, 2015, there's a new 42mm 18K rose gold option with midnight blue classic buckle.
All of the Sport and Watch bands can also be ordered separately — subject to availability — and used with any of the other Apple Watch, Sport, or Edition models. The only constraint, other than personal taste, is size: 38mm cases need to be paired with 38mm bands and 42mm cases with 42mm bands.
Third party bands will also be officially supported by Apple as part of the Made for Apple Watch program, though it'll likely take a while to ramp up.
I don't know if current generation bands will be compatible with future generation watch cases, though I certainly hope so. Being able to keep a band collection and upgrade the Watch atoms would be great.
I do know that, as much attention as the rest of the hardware and software gets, the bands deserve just as much. Not only do they allow for a wide range of personalization, they're doing to incumbent watch band manufacturers what the iPhone did to incumbent phone manufacturers — knocking them on their collective, complacent asses.
Apple Watch and watchOS
The Apple Watch runs watchOS. It's a variant of iOS, the company's iPhone and iPad operating system, and shares much in common with it. Under the hood, the backboard daemon handles background processes on both iOS and watchOS, while frontboard handles foreground processes. Whereas the iPhone and iPad have springboard to display their app launcher layer, watchOS has carousel, which takes better advantage of limited screen space and integrates the Digital Crown.
Update: watchOS 2
On September 21, 2015, Apple released watchOS 2. Only 5 months after the original version shipped, watchOS 2 is more of a rounding-out than a radical update. That includes photo and time-lapse clock faces, time travel, responding to mail, adding more friends, locking down activation, and more.
Though watchOS is technically a 1.0 version, much of it is analogous to iOS 8.2. The Watch's version of UIKit — the framework that handles interfaces — is peppered with unique features all its own, however; watchOS even has its own special frameworks which handle things like the clock faces.
While iOS and OS X have been unified under Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, the watchOS project has been led by vice president of technology, Kevin Lynch. That combination — shared roots yet space to grow — makes a profound amount of sense for something that's new and yet connected to what's come before.
It not only maximizes familiarity; it should also allow for great ideas, when created for either the Watch or the iPhone/iPad, to more quickly and easily cross over to the other(s). That's better for Apple, and for developers and customers.
Pairing and setup
iOS 8.2 added the Apple Watch app to the iPhone and you'll need that software version, or later, for pairing, setup, and ongoing management. All of that is handled by the My Watch tab.
It might seem awkward or outdated at first to set up your Watch using your iPhone — perhaps bringing back memories of tethering your iPhone to the Mac or Windows — but because the Apple Watch is paired with the iPhone, it at least sets proper expectations for the experience to come.
The Apple Watch app icon represents a side view of the Apple Watch itself. It's well rendered, and the thin gray loop on a black background does make it stand out on the Home screen. A lot. That's helpful for locking onto it quickly when you want to use it, but also strange and almost out of place when you don't.
The interface for the Apple Watch app is as bright-on-dark as the Apple Watch's itself. It's striking, even if it continues to tease those still holding out hope for a universal dark theme for iOS.
The pairing process is clever: you line up your iPhone's camera to your Apple Watch's screen... and you're paired. The Apple Watch app then asks if you want to set it up for left or right handed use — a thoughtful move by the company. Log in to iCloud; choose whether you want to allow location services, Siri, and the sharing of anonymized diagnostic information; set up a 4-digit passcode or strong password; and decide whether you want unlocking your iPhone — including using Touch ID — to also unlock your Apple Watch.
Once that's done, you're given the option to automatically install all Apple Watch app extensions already available on your iPhone. Depending on how much data you move over, the initial sync might take a while. Once it's done, though, you're ready to go.
I went with the option to automatically install apps the first I paired. Later I went back and removed most of them. Now I only add apps and other options when and if I need them. The Watch, at least to me, feels best when it's lean.
Unfortunately, there's a lack of consistency between settings available on the Apple Watch for iPhone app and those available in the Settings app for the Apple Watch itself. In some cases that might make sense given the context — immediate availability vs. ease of use. In others, it feels random.
For example, I can set "reduce motion" on both, but "reduce transparency" only on the iPhone. I can set what happens "on wrist raise" — "show watch face" or "resume previous activity" — on both, but I can only toggle "on wrist raise" on or off on the Apple Watch.
Trying to figure out where a setting is feels like trying to figure out which side really is up on a standard USB cable — more work than logic should allow.
Either way, I think it will take most people some time and experimentation to figure out exactly which settings make the most sense on the Apple Watch. That's to be expected. It's a new type of product.
Touch and Force Touch
In addition to the Digital Crown and side button, you're also meant to swipe, tap, long press, and otherwise interact with the Watch's capacitive screen, just like you do with the iPhone.
That said, the screen — especially the 38mm model — is so small that traditional multitouch gestures aren't going to work properly. So rather than toss them in as a compromised offering, Apple has excised them entirely. You can't pinch to zoom; instead, you need to use the Digital Crown.
There are certain events that require a two-finger tap or touch, like sending a heartbeat or using accessibility features. I'm not sure if those are actually detecting dual touch events or simply reading the surface area and shape being produced by a single touch event.
Either way, it doesn't mean Apple has abandoned interesting gestures entirely: Enter Force Touch.
Force Touch is new. It was announced alongside the Apple Watch back in September 2014, though it technically shipped first on the 13-inch MacBook Pro and new MacBook. While Force Touch for Mac is already being used to make multitouch multi-dimensional, Force Touch on the Apple Watch is currently focused on just one thing — a way to get additional options, similar to the secondary (right) mouse click on personal computers.
To Force Touch, you don't just tap the screen — you press down on it firmly. That triggers one and four contextual options. Some of those options include a glorious "Clear All" in Notification Center (can we get that for iOS, please?); flagging, marking as unread, or trashing email in Mail; or switching between analog, digital, graph, and hybrid mode in the Stopwatch.
It's not the number of options that matter, however; it's the utility. The options can't be vital, because burying them under Force Touch risks them being invisible to people who would absolutely need them. Yet they have to be important; otherwise, they're just adding clutter and complexity to the interface and should be pruned.
That leaves the "useful" category — and it's in that category where good Force Touch options excel.
This includes when there's no explicit Force Touch menu. For example, press firmly on an animated emoji, and you'll immediately cycle to another one of the available colors — yellow face to red, red heart to blue and then purple. (No alternatives for the hand, alas.)
Force Touch is also what you use to switch clock faces and access customization options. You could argue that changing the clock face is vital, but it's also such a primary part of the interface that discoverability there seems inevitable.
I'm not sure if there's some abomination of Fitts's Law that accounts for Force Touch being the largest target area when the distance is modified by my lack of coordination, excitement, or occaisional Hulk-like rage at the Internet, but I've trigged it enough by accident that I'm convinced if I hadn't known about it, I'd have discovered it fairly quickly on my own.
Especially because Apple makes it unmistakable when you trigger it.
Haptics and the Taptic Engine
Force Touch is what you do when you press into the screen. The Taptic Engine is what presses back. It creates a "haptic response" — which is a fancy way of saying physical feedback. In this case, the haptics are generated by an LRA (linear resonant actuator), akin to the one used in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, but different in kind from the ERM (eccentric rotating masses) used in almost all previous generation iPhone models.
Rather than the audible buzzing that emanates from one corner of the iPhone, the Apple Watch haptics is creates a specific click-like sensation that feels like it's emanating from directly beneath your finger.
That's because the Taptic Engine uses horizontal movement to make your fingers perceive vertical movement. No, physics isn't a lie and your fingers aren't liars: It's just taking advantage of the limits of human proprioception and fooling our more-easily-foolable-than-we-thought brains.
The Apple Watch's version isn't identical to the feeling of a trackpad click the way it is on the new MacBook, but you'll still know it when you feel it. More importantly, you instantly know it was a Force Touch rather than a regular tap or long press.
While the MacBook enjoys a far wider range of Force Click commands than the Apple Watch, being in constant contact with your wrist allows the Apple Watch can use haptic feedback in far more ways than the MacBook.
By generating a variety of patterns and intensities, the Taptic Engine can provide a range of alerts and information. It's not always easy to tell them apart, especially at first, but they start to make sense over time. For navigation it's easiest — a long series of taps versus three shorter series of taps means turn right instead of left. That lets you know which way to turn next without having to look or even hear.
And, unlike phone or some other smartwatch vibrations, you won't disturb others either. In a quiet room, if you listen for it, you may be able to hear an Apple Watch tap, but under ordinary circumstances, it all but disappears into the background noise.
I've had many meals and drinks with people wearing Apple Watch and never knew when they got taps, nor did they know when I did.
That subtlety makes all the difference. It lets me keep haptics on when I'd instantly turn normal vibrations off.
Where this technology will go, on the Apple Watch and the MacBook, or on devices in between like the iPhone and iPad, is fascinating to consider. Especially considering Apple has, at least thus far, implemented it in a way that respects the unique characteristics of each device. That makes it one of the most exciting developments we've seen in years.
Siri is Apple's personal virtual assistant. As with the iPhone, Siri on the Apple Watch exists as a natural language, context-aware voice interface that can be invoked at any time to answer questions and act on commands. The smaller size and more constrained interactivity of the Apple Watch, however, makes Siri even more useful and important.
A large part of that is Apple's decision to enable the "Hey, Siri!" voice command for the Watch even when it's not plugged in. That means you don't have to hold down the Digital Crown to access Siri, you can simple raise your arm, turn your watch towards you, and speak.
On the Apple Watch, Siri can set alarms, set reminders, tell you about time around the world, set timers, send messages, create appointments and show you what's on your calendar, Make phone calls, tell you about the weather, find locations on maps, play music, find information about movies, answer questions using Wikipedia or Wolfram Alpha, show pictures using Bing, tell you about sports, tell you about stocks, and launch apps.
It works almost all the time for Serenity, but I've found that I need to speak within the first few seconds after the screen wakes up and lean towards the side with the mic for it to be that reliable for me.
One of the things Siri on the Watch can't yet do is talk back. Responses, at least for now, are text only. The Apple Watch has a surprisingly decent speaker for its size, and it's already put to more than good use by VoiceOver, so this feels less like a deliberate omission and more like something that'll be coming as soon as possible.
There are others things that Siri can't do on the Apple Watch that it can do on the iPhone. Some of them makes sense. Complex activities like booking a dinner reservation aren't well-suited to the Apple Watch. Simpler things, however, like taking a short note, would be welcome additions. Mail I'm not sure about. Messages feels like it's enough for the Watch, but responding to an email with a short bit of text, like a message, would be convenient.
The rest of the functionality is interesting: In addition to using "Hey, Siri!" for messages, you can choose to have the audio recording or the dictation text sent, which is great when the words you're using aren't common or easily transcribed.
Even though there's no Safari web browser on the Apple Watch, you can still ask questions that generate Wikipedia results. They're shown on cards, like on the iPhone, you just can't tap them to launch Safari and learn more.
As a workaround, Apple has brought Continuity's Handoff feature to Siri. You can start using Siri on your Apple Watch; from there, if you want or need to, you can pick up your iPhone, swipe the Siri icon on the lock screen, and keep right on going.
If all of this — buttons, touches, force touches, and Siri — sounds complicated, that's because it is. But the difference between complexity and sophistication is in the handling.
Most people can use their Mac without ever launching Terminal, but Terminal is there for those who rely on it. Likewise, many people can use an iPhone without ever opening Notification Center or double pressing the home button for the app switcher. And many people will be able to use the Apple Watch without using all the button controls or combinations, or tapping through the home screen and deeply into apps.
If speaking out loud to Siri is inappropriate given the circumstances, or if Siri is somehow unavailable, you can still navigate your way through. You can press the Digital Crown, tap the Messages icon, press firmly to create a new message, tap (maybe a few times) to add a contact, add some default text or an emoji, and send it.
More likely, you'd just handoff your task to the iPhone and type it out there. Or, you'd just wait until you can say "Hey, Siri, send a message…"
Security and privacy
Apple hasn't released many specifics when it comes to the nuts and bolts of watchOS security and privacy. Since it's based on iOS 8.2, at least in part, my educated guess is that it's similar on a system-leve. Perhaps even better, since there's no browser and no HTML email directly available for exploits.
You can set a 4-digit passcode for the Apple Watch or a strong password. You can choose to let Touch ID on your iPhone unlock your Apple Watch or require entry of the passcode or password. You can also set it to erase all data after 10 failed passcode or password attempts. (And yes, if you get a passcode or password wrong, Apple Watch shakes its interface just like Apple's previous products — and adds a haptic "growl" to boot!)
Once you're authenticated, by default you stay authenticated for as long as the Apple Watch stays in contact with your wrist. That's smart. Bluetooth trusted devices have long had one deal-breaker failing — take the device and you take the trust. Not so with Apple Watch. Take it, and you get locked out.
You can disable wrist detection if you really want to, but you won't be able to use Apple Pay and some other features if you do. That's to keep your transactions and other data safe.
Because Apple won't sync Apple Pay for security reasons, the credit and debit cards you've set up on your iPhone won't automatically appear on your Apple Watch. You have to add them with the Apple Watch for iPhone app.
For enhanced privacy you can choose to require a tap before a notification transitions from the brief "short look" to the more verbose "long look". You can also turn off heart rate and motion tracking if either or both concerns you.
Overall I love what they've done. Siri made the mic smart, Touch ID made the home button smart, now wrist detection has made the back of the wearable smart. What Apple and developers will eventually be able to do with this chain is going to be very, very cool.
Apple has made accessibility a priority for years, no matter whether you're using a Mac, iPhone, or iPad. As such, it should come as no surprise that the Apple Watch has accessibility features built into its core.
watchOS's accessibility options include VoiceOver, Zoom, Greyscale, Bold Text, Reduce Motion, Reduce Transparency, On/Off labels, and Mono Audio. You can enable and customize VoiceOver, Zoom, Reduce Motion, and On/Off labels right from Settings on the Watch; the rest you can enable and customize using the Settings section of the Apple Watch for iPhone app.
Missing, as mentioned previously, is Siri's voice responses. You can still control a lot with Siri, you just can't hear receive audio feedback the way you can on the iPhone. There's also no hearing aid-specific support yet. Given Apple's history, however, my guess is both will be addressed in future updates, perhaps in new and watch-specific ways.
Accessibility and inclusivity make technology easier to use for everyone. By not only prioritizing it in the development process but also including it in keynotes and advertisements, Apple has helped to spread awareness and give real people a chance to live better lives.
I'm calling that out specifically because the accessibility community is incredibly engaged, and continuously reaffirming that people not only pay attention to, but pay for, this kind of support is the best way to keep it a priority.
Apple Watch apps
The iPhone launched in 2007 with a half a page of built-in apps and no App Store. The iPad launched in 2010 with close to a full page of built-in apps and an App Store with hundreds of tablet-optimized apps. The Apple Watc