This week Apple released their long awaited smartwatch, the simply-named Apple Watch, to great fanfare from the Apple faithful. Journalists and Apple employees alike gave the watch a standing ovation – or perhaps that was just for Tim Cook’s use of “One more thing….” – and then they were treated to an overview of the watch, which will be released sometime early next year.
Despite the fact that the Apple Watch requires an iPhone and therefore likely precludes most of you from owning it, we wanted to do a quick overview of some of the features and choices that Apple has made versus the Moto 360. It’s important to remember that the Apple Watch software shown at the even was far from final and that Android Wear will be in a much different place about 6 months from now when the Apple Watch is likely to launch.
Obviously there are many Android Wear options out there and more coming before the Apple Watch launches, but we are going to use the Moto 360 as the comparison point since it is has been one of the most anticipated Wear devices.
Shockingly, we weren’t extended an invitation to Apple’s event, so we have to take hands on impressions of the device from those that were there.
Most indicated that the watch and its bands feel well-constructed and expensive, and at least the aluminum version is reportedly remarkably light. The Apple Watch comes in two sizes, 42mm and 38mm, compared to 46mm for the Moto 360. There are no other official specs related to the size or weight of the Apple Watch, but it appears thicker than the Moto 360 in pictures.
The body of the watch is fairly standard: a rectangular screen with a thick body constructed of stainless steel, anodized aluminum or 18-karat gold, depending on which model you choose. While the basic design isn’t a huge departure from what we’ve seen in other smartwatches, the majority of journalists seemed to agree that the fit and finish is superior. With that said, I think the Moto 360 and its circular face remain the more striking design.
The single unusual hardware element found on the Apple Watch is the “Digital Crown” located on the side of the watch. This functions as a rotating dial and home button and is the primary means for navigating the device other than touch.
Apple made a big point of the Watch’s Digital Crown and how much more logical it is versus a watch relying on pure touch. As no one has true hands on time with the Crown, save for Apple employees, it is impossible to say how well this will work. For Apple to stick with something this skeuomorphic after steering the entirety of their OS away from it, they must think it’s a winner. This is the aspect of the watch I’m most curious to see in practice as it could be make or break for the ease of use.
image credit: FastCompany
I think that this and a few other aspects of the watch may point to a fundamental misunderstanding of how people will want to use a smartwatch. Apple shows you navigating through dozens of apps or hundreds of photos by zooming in and out with the crown and then panning around the screen with touch. This all seems like far more than I want to be dealing with on my watch. If you’ve moved past the 10-15 second mark in any activity with your watch, I feel like you should have just pulled out your smartphone instead.
Android Wear takes a very different approach here and is instead designed to surface what you need without having to ask for it. There are apps that allow you to pull them up, but for the most common uses you are simply given the information you want and you can deal with it quickly and move on. This makes considerably more sense for a device on your wrist and with the screen size that is able to rationally fit on your wrist.
This is one area that I have to say Apple knocked out of the park. The Apple Watch allows you to easily slide new bands in and out without any special tools. Prior to seeing their announcement, I had already written my Moto 360 early impressions post and said that I wish it had an easier mechanism for swapping bands to deal with different use cases. I really enjoy the Horween leather band on the Moto 360, but I can’t easily change bands and I’m not inclined to wear the watch while working out due to that nice leather band.
The Apple Watch will offer leather, polymer and metal bands with either a magnetic closure or a more standard buckle closure.
Reports are that users should expect about a day out of the Apple Watch, so it’s likely a dead heat with the Moto 360 in this regard. And like the standard setting for the Moto 360, the Apple Watch powers the screen down most of the time, only lighting up when you turn your wrist to look at it or interact directly with the watch.
Apple went with a MagSafe-like wireless charging method for the Apple Watch. It simply attaches magnetically to the back of the watch to charge. It appears more portable than the Moto 360 dock, but a less useful implementation. Given that the Moto 360 uses the Qi standard, it is also offers less flexibility than the 360 in terms of third-party charging solutions.
Both platforms have apps coming from hundreds of developers so I’m not going to try to cover that, but I do want to touch on the Apple apps as they are interesting to say the least.
As you would expect there are messaging, mail, maps and phone apps. They all look pretty well done, although the maps app looks like it could be better tailored to the small screen experience. There is also a Friends app that is accessed by the hardware button located below the digital crown and takes you to your most frequent contacts.
Then Apple got a little crazy with things, and I’d love to hear your reactions to these apps in comments.
The first is Sketch, and the best description I’ve come up for it is “Draw Something: Watch Edition”. You draw on the screen with your finger and send that directly to your friend.
Walkie-Talkie, as you might guess, is just a quick way to chat using the microphone and speaker on the Watch without resorting to an actual phone call.
Tap literally allows you to tap your watchface and have it vibrate that pattern on the other watch.
And finally Heartbeat records your heart rate using the sensor and then sends that to your loved one.
Honestly I don’t think these are all terrible ideas for apps, but the amount of attention given to them again shows me that Apple is perhaps not entirely sure that they should be doing with their watch. I’ll just go ahead and compare these to Google Now on Android Wear, which surfaces relevant information for you from around the web based on your interests and location. The central concept of Android Wear (and Google Glass before it) is to deliver information to you, but ultimately try to keep the technology out of your way rather than burying you in it, Apple appears to have gone the opposite way with their watch.
No surprise that Apple is setting the high water mark for price on a smartwatch. The base model will start at $349, so $100 beyond the Moto 360 asking price. They have not indicated what the “Sport” or “Edition” models will cost, but suffice to say they will be significantly pricier than any Motorola option.
As Android Wear is dependent on Android and the Apple Watch requires an iPhone, I don’t expect this to really be a decision for any of you. But as we have learned over the past several years, there is substantial “borrowing” of ideas that goes on with both sides, so it is worth paying attention to what Apple thinks a smartwatch should be.
Is there anything here that you would like to see an Android Wear spin on either from a hardware or software perspective?