In January of 2007, I owned a touchscreen smartphone that let me surf the web, navigate the streets of my city, communicate via threaded SMS, and silence my ringer with a single switch. No one really cared. Then Apple announced a smartphone that could do all the same things, and the world went crazy.
In January of 2010, tablet computers were a decade-old reality. High-end laptop manufacturers offered convertible variants of their standard notebooks, almost all of which ran modern, powerful operating systems like Windows 7. Then Apple came along with its own take on the tablet: despite being brushed off by some as an “oversized iPhone,” the world went crazy again. The iPad went on to dominate and redefine the category.
In March of 2015, wearables are already “a thing.” Right now, there are scores of smartwatches on the market offering notifications, health tracking, phone calls, and voice interaction right on your wrist (and of course, they all tell time as well). But with the Apple Watch, the world is about to go crazy yet again.
For the wearable category as a whole, that’s a really good thing.
While watching the Apple Watch livestream, I was struck by how many Apple Watch features I already take for granted on my Motorola Moto 360 (and which I formerly enjoyed on 2012’s Pebble). When you factor in review devices like Samsung’s Gear Live and Gear Fit, plus the just-announced Pebble Time, the features Tim Cook praised the Apple Watch for having are ones we’ve seen on smartwatches for a long time:
- Rich notification support
- Haptic/vibration alerts
- Customizable watch faces
- Changeable bands
- Voice calling
- Voice assistant interface
- Exercise tracking with dormancy timer
- Heart rate monitoring
- Battery life of a day or greater
- Various finishes and styles at various price points
None of this is to say that Cupertino didn’t innovate with the Apple Watch. The presentation and packaging of the above looks markedly better than the competition in some cases, and Apple has added its usual personal touch as well: it’s easy to see how sending quick sketches to your Apple Watch-toting friends, or sharing your heartbeat with your Apple Watch-wearing lover, could become hot new messaging trends for the high-income set.
But really, Apple is just doing what it always does here: delivering existing features in a more appealing, more polished package. And that’s awesome for wearables for the same reason the iPhone was super for smartphones, and the iPad was terrific for tablets: it’s shining a light on the category in a way that Pebble, Samsung, and even Google couldn’t.
While the Treo I mentioned at the top of this article could indeed do all the things the 2007 iPhone could do (and much more) it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable product to use by comparison. Ditto for the Windows-powered machines that dominated the tablet world at the iPad’s release in 2010. The modern wearable landscape is similar: no matter what platform or manufacturer you look at, there’s always a caveat, an implied “but” that encourages you to maybe wait for the next generation unless you absolutely need to have a smartwatch right this second.
The Apple Watch won’t solve these problems entirely. (Indeed, one of the best pieces of advice concerning Apple products is that first-generation versions are the ones to skip.) But it will likely be a more enjoyable product to use than the majority of smartwatches available today. And that will legitimize the concept of the wearable for a very influential segment of the population: iPhone users. I’ve maintained for a while now that smartwatches inherently improve the experience of using a smartphone, but it’s going to take winning over the Apple audience to convince the mainstream. And it’s not just about convincing the users: Apple seems primed to give developers all the tools necessary to build the kind of experiences that let the Watch do more, so the phone can spend more time in the pocket.
The Apple Watch isn’t an earth-shattering redefinition of the smartwatch; it’s the original iPhone. It’s the original iPad. It’s a refinement of all the competitors that came before, distilled into a single product bearing a premium price tag and put onto the most visible retail shelves in the entire world. The Watch itself won’t be interesting to everyone (personally I have no interest in buying one) but wearable fans of every stripe should applaud it for the kick in the pants it’s about to give the whole industry. After all, the iPhone didn’t destroy the smartphone; it made it better. The iPad didn’t eliminate all other tablets; it forced them to up their game. And the Apple Watch will do the same exact thing for every other smartwatch out there.
If you ask me, it’s about time.