When CEO Tim Cook teased that the company considers "Early" to be the first four months of the year, most expected Apple's next big thing to appear sometime in April. But joke's on us: Apple's March 9 "Spring Forward" event looks likely to properly debut the Apple Watch a month prior to the media's arbitrary April deadline.
Rene Ritchie and I will be on hand at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco to provide color commentary and covetous glances for whatever comes out of Apple's March 9 event; you can additionally watch starting at 10AM PT/1PM ET from the comfort of your own living room, courtesy of Apple's live stream.
Before we hop a plane to San Francisco, however, the iMore staff decided to sit down and chat a little bit about what we expect to see on the Yerba Buena stage in ten days.
The Apple Watch takes center stage
Ren: Though there are plenty of things in Apple's pipeline, this event screams "Apple Watch" to me — and it would even without Apple's cheeky "Spring Forward" tease.
We know the Apple Watch is supposed to come out within the first four months of the year thanks to Tim Cook's posturing. It's already out and about on models' wrists and engineers alike, and if that ten-page Vogue spread is any indication, Apple is gearing up for a major launch very soon. I highly doubt that this event will be anything but an Apple Watch coming out party.
Rene: Apple has had spring events before. The iPhone SDK events were briefly in the spring before moving to WWDC in June. The iPad events were briefly in the spring before moving to October. The last Apple TV was introduced at the last spring iPad event. Rumor has it there's a new Apple TV in the works, and a Retina MacBook Air. This feels like the Apple Watch's event, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if Apple gave it not only center stage, but sole stage.
Peter: It's all in the words on the invitation. "Spring Forward." It's been a tough winter for much of the U.S., we're looking forward to spring. There are springs in watches. Far out, man!
Ally: Yes, it'll be Apple Watch. But damnit I want a new Apple TV.
The Retail showcase
Rene: If Apple is filling an entire event with the watch, then it makes sense to fill it with the watch. How we'll be buying it could be a very interesting part of the overall experience and if there's something new to announce, it'd be great to see it announced on stage. Especially if it's announced on stage by Angela Ahrendts.
Ren: YES, Rene. We've yet to see a female Apple SVP on stage during these events, and Ahrendts would be the perfect candidate to talk about how you'll try and buy the Apple Watch in stores this year. We know next to nothing about how Apple's going to market the Watch, and Ahrendts is personable, well-spoken, and certainly smart enough to tell the media and the world what the Apple Store has in store for them.
Peter: We saw a dry run last year when the Apple Watch was first unveiled to the press. Now we get to see how Apple dazzles the rest of the world.
Rene: During the announcement event back in September, I assumed the bands would be available separately. Why else highlight how easy it is to swap them? When Apple.com showed off the collections, however, I became less certain. I'd love them to be swappable because I'd love to wear a sport band when I work out and a link or leather or Milanese band when I go out.
Ren: Let me put it this way: I think all the bands are technically swappable between all the models, due to the Apple Watch's band-lock mechanism. I doubt you'll be able to buy a Bright Red Modern Buckle for your Sport anywhere but eBay or Craigslist, however. There may be some band offerings within the various tiers — Sport users will likely get a few day bands, while the Apple Watch and Edition probably have a few sport bands from which to choose — but I'm skeptical you'll be able to pick up any band for any watch.
On the flipside, though, I'm not sure how Apple would police that if the company is selling separate bands online or at the Apple Store. If your significant other wants to pick you up a new band as a present, are they going to have to bring the Watch into the store to prove it's an Edition in order to buy an Edition band? And what about online sales? Seems unnecessarily complicated.
Peter: I want a third party necklace that lets me wear the Apple watch like Khan's pendant in Star Trek II.
Ally: I think people are making bands more complicated than they'll actually be. Perhaps there will be slight variances between different bands made for the different kinds of watch faces, but they'll be interchangeable. Whether I bought an entry level Apple Watch Sport or an upper model, I still go out to the bar and I still go to the gym and want to talk my Apple Watch, with different bands, with me to each place. I think Apple knows that and they'll address that.
Ren: Ah, the million dollar question. Apple was rather quiet about the Watch's approximate battery life during the September preview, implying only that you'd likely want to charge it once a night. We should get more in-depth technical specs during this event, though expect it to be limited to a quick slide breakdown of active versus passive use. For me, I'm just hoping I can go 1-2 days without a charge, and also that it doesn't completely destroy my iPhone 6's battery in the process.
Rene: We know the Apple Watch has a full color Retina display, we know it has radios, we know what size it is. There shouldn't be any surprises here. So, I expect what Tim Cook said about the Apple Watch back in September holds true — you'll want to charge it every night. Even if your own use case is light enough for it to last longer than a day, no one's going to want it to run out part way into the next and have to waste precious wear-time recharging it.
I can burn an iPhone down in a less than a morning if I crank everything up in just the wrong way, and likewise I'm sure people will be able to kill an Apple Watch in a few hours if they try hard enough. But that's not the point. The point is quick and light. It's the shuttlecraft, not the starship.
Peter:I'll wait for the Cronenberg version that fuses with skin and works off my very life essence.
Ally: I'm not looking forward to charging more than I already have to. Peter's idea sounds most logical to me.
Ren: I argued both sides of this a few days ago, and I continue to hope against hope that Apple offers some sort of trade-in or maintenance program for its Edition customers. Assuming the basic watch form-factor doesn't change for at least a few years, those components theoretically look to be swappable, and it doesn't seem out of the question for Apple to charge a $500 - $1000 "maintenance" upgrade to swap out the internals for newer and better hardware while still keeping the basic Edition look. But at the end of the day, I really don't know. If this does happen, I can almost guarantee it's going to be limited to Edition customers, however. Too expensive to do for the Sport, not quite practical enough for the Steel Apple Watch.
Peter: The Mac, iPad, iPhone and iPod touch aren't hardware upgradeable. Why should I think the Apple Watch will be?
Rene: The optimist in me thinks the Apple Watch Edition might have some kind of upgrade or trade-in program. If the casing stays the same for a few generations, and the Apple S1 computing module and other components like the display are swappable, then it could maintain usefulness for years to come. The casing will have to change sometime, however, and get thinner like all electronics do. That means less gold in future versions. That could hurt the idea of upgrades but still work for trade-ins. It could also increase the value of original Apple Watch Editions regardless of electronics.
Ally: Apple already does trade-ins on phones, why not watches?
HomeKit, HealthKit, and Apple Pay
Ren: The Apple Watch's hardware is spectacular to be sure, but just as important to this event: software. We saw a guided demo of the Watch's capabilities last September, but I expect to see a more free-form demo on stage on March 9. We got a bit with glances and notifications, but it would be cool to see more on Maps, Siri, and that teased Apple TV controller. And let's not forget about the Watch's HealthKit sensors and how that syncs back to your iPhone, or the Watch's offline Music capabilities. Finally, I wonder if we'll get a quick Apple Pay demo of the Watch in action — maybe during Ahrendts' retail section?
Peter: All my jokes aside: Over the last six months I've had some radical health changes that make me maintain a strict diet and activity program. If the Apple Watch, HealthKit and third party apps help me manage this part of my life, it'll be life-changing. This is make or break for this device for me. I'm not interested in a fashion accessory. I'm interested in devices that can make my life profoundly better.
Rene: We've already seen an Apple TV Remote app on the Apple Watch. We've already seen a Camera remote view finder. We've already seen Siri and that's what ties into HomeKit. Remote control will be a big deal. HealthKit and Apple Pay likewise. The Apple Watch is going to be like an extended sensor array — it's going to take everything interactive about the iPhone out of your pocket and put it conveniently on your wrist.
Ally: I'm seriously behind on HomeKit and connected home in general. (We are just now considering a Nest.) HealthKit may have more of a place on the Apple Watch than any other platform since it's worn all the time. I have found fitness trackers relevant despite motion data on the iPhone because I don't always pick up my iPhone for every step. A watch or band however is truly always with me. So the health and fitness aspects are the only reason I'm personally interested.
Rene: Rumor has it Apple's been working with some developers to get WatchKit apps ready for the Apple Watch launch. My guess is we'll see demonstrations from some of the better known, more impressive looking apps on stage. We already saw a preview of Twitter back in September, but we'll no doubt hear about how easy it was to get everything from messaging to airline passes to delivery notifications to scientific marvels to authenticators to remote controls to health apps and more brought to the Watch.
Ren: Apple loves its third-party developer demos: They're a great way to showcase how easy it is to build on the platform (for developers) and all the amazing things you'll be able to do with the Watch (for users). The real question is, what apps will we see? Boarding passes are a little hard to demo. I'm guessing we see something messaging or social media-related, and possibly some sort of app that uses Handoff and notifications to sync between your iPhone and your Watch. We haven't really seen how that interaction is going to work, and I'm sure Apple is dying to show it off.
Peter: Apple's going to cherry pick whatever it thinks complements its own offerings and gives the public a better sense of what they'll be able to do with their Watch.
Ally: I'm hoping they demo how to use the wand feature….
Rene: Beyond the bands, beyond standards like Bluetooth 4.0 earphones for music, I'm not sure what I really want or need yet. Apple showed off a special charger as part of the Apple Watch Edition box back in September. Will they offer separate Apple Watch Stands for all models? Something for the bedside? Car chargers?
Ren: If there's any other hardware debuted during the Apple Watch event, I'm thinking it has to be a pair of Bluetooth headphones. Beats has a set of $200 wireless earphones, but I'm thinking Apple will introduce something a bit more price-friendly during this event for folks who want to pair their Sport with a good set of wireless headphones. I also wonder about charging options: I doubt MFi program vendors have had time to put together car chargers or extra dock chargers for this event, so it's entirely possible Apple may have its own custom solution ready for people who might want such a thing. (Though it does seem like car charging is maybe not a thing you'd do for the Watch in comparison to an iPhone or iPad.)
Peter: I hope to see the Mac operating as an accessory for the Apple Watch.
Ally: The watch is an accessory!
iPhone interactions and iOS 8.3
Ren: We've gotten very little from Apple on how the Apple Watch interacts with the iPhone so far; as such, we may hear a bit about the Apple Watch companion app coming in iOS 8.2/8.3. Speaking of those two iOS betas, I'm guessing we might skip right over iOS 8.2 and get iOS 8.3 on the Watch's launch, with companion app and new emojis and all — though if it's not yet be stable enough for general release, iOS 8.2 will likely be the release that sees the light of day.
Peter: Here's a chance for Apple to remind people how great the iPhone and iOS experience is, and to tell lots of new people too. Count on this being at least part of the message during this event.
Rene: iOS 8.2 was all about the Apple Watch features. It's been in beta for months... but also hasn't seen a beta update for months. Instead, developers got the iOS 8.3 beta, which integrated the watch team's updates with the rest of the iOS team's ongoing fixes and patches. That's in its second beta now. Could Apple have made iOS 8.2 solely for WatchKit developers to play around with, and be planning to launch with iOS 8.3, or will they want to get 8.2 out so they have more time to work on 8.3? Whichever version ships, we should see the Apple Watch companion app, the Fitness companion app, and how we install WatchKit extensions from the iPhone to the watch.
Ally: This is all a mystery to me since I haven't played with either iOS 8.2 or iOS 8.3 betas, but I'm assuming some of this will be talked about. At least in terms of how the two talk to each other.
Rene: iPhone announcements have typically proceeded launch by 10 days. Other hardware announcements have been day-and-date with launches. Since there's never been a watch event before, it's hard to predict. My guess is that Apple will want a launch for the Apple Watch. Given that Tim Cook said 'April' before, there's a chance we might still be waiting a while. I'd love it in mid-March, but I'd rather have Apple take their time. Better good than soon.
Ren: I agree that day-and-date doesn't sound right for me — if there's any new piece of hardware that demands Apple Store launch day lines and publicity, the Apple Watch would be it. Traditionally, we've seen launch day celebrations on Fridays, so I'm going to postulate that this trend continues. But I'm doubtful we'll see the Watch in March, given Cook's prior "April" statement and all the prep-work the retail stores have to do. The earliest I can see this happening is March 20; more likely, we see the Watch go on sale April 3.
Peter: Beware the ides of March!
Ally: There's no way it will be March 13th because the day after is my birthday, and Apple knows better than to make me work on my birthday. (Hear that Apple?)
So I'll say March 20th.
Rene: We know the Apple Watch Sport will start at $349. Presumably that's for the 38mm model. Watch pricing isn't like smartphone pricing; it's really open to whatever upper range the market will support. Again with the guessing, $349-$599 for the Apple Watch Sport. $599 to $999 for the Apple Watch. $4999 to $9999 for the Apple Watch Edition — perhaps even more if there are additional, more expensive bands announced — like a gold bracelet.
Ren: I'm thinking the 42mm watch face has to have some sort of surcharge — $50 - $100 for the extra screen real estate. I agree with Rene's $599 base Apple Watch price, though I think we'll see ranges of up to $1200 for specialty bands; as for the Edition, that's the real question mark for me. At bare minimum, the Edition would have to be priced around $2500 to account for component costs and a reasonable profit margin, but I suspect we might see pricing range far beyond that. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Edition's base model start at $4999 and range all the way to $14999, depending on bands (and how much gold exists within those bands).
Peter: $349 and not a penny more. Not for me, anyway. Y'all can spend your money whatever way befits you. And as I've said, I'm still not convinced that $349 is going to be worth it for me to buy this thing.
Ally: $349 is the most basic entry pricing. But since this is new territory for Apple, I won't pretend to guess what a few extra mm of screen real estate costs, or gold accent. Apple seems to like increments of $100 though, with the exception of the iPad which cellular costs an extra $130, such an odd number.
One more thing?
Peter: One more thing has been a cute gimmick, but let's let it go now.
Ally: APPLE TV APPLE TV APPLE TV APPLE TV APPLE TV
Rene: Like I said at the beginning, there are all sorts of rumors about all sorts of products. It's one of the most potential-rich springs in a long time. New Apple TV, Retina MacBook Air, iPad Pro, Apple Pen, Apple Espresso Machine — the possibilities are endless.
It'd be nice to see the Apple Watch control a new Apple TV. It'd be nice to see Photos for Mac shown off in launch-form on a Retina Air. It'd be nice to see a lot of things. But this feels like watch's time. (Sorry. So sorry.)
Ren: Much as I would like to hear a little bit more about Photos for OS X (like a release date for the public beta, perhaps), I just don't think there's going to be time in this event. There's a lot about the Apple Watch we still haven't seen or heard about, and between demos and feature lists, I think we may have to wait a bit longer to hear about Apple's other products and applications.
Bonus question: Let's do some event invite Kremlinology
Ren: I hate Kremlinology and think it's stupid… and yet, I included this question anyway. Well, we've got a lovely crystalline flower pattern on the invite, so that OBVIOUSLY means that there's a secret Apple Watch Edition yet to be revealed… the Crystal Sapphire $50,000 version with Milanese Diamond Band.
Ugh. I kind of want to slap myself now.
Peter: I said my piece at the start.
Rene: The graphic design team doesn't get to spoil surprises in the invitations. Even when a 5 shows up in shadow, it's because Apple marketing wants it there. So, take the invitations for what they are — visually interesting ways to set the mood. In hindsight, maybe some colors or forms will seem to fit, but that's about as far as it will go.