Apple Watch is finally here. It may be a bit rough around the edges and it might not have entirely lived up to the hype. But Apple’s intent is clear. The tech giant has big ambitions and promises to deliver more than what competitors are offering.
Google fired the first salvo with Android Wear and its growing legion of smartwatch hardware from OEM partners. With the Apple Watch set to land in early 2015, Google and others won’t have the smartwatch market to themselves for too much longer. In fact, the search giant is already promising a big 2.0 software update to be released as early as next month.
So how does Apple Watch stack up with Android Wear?
The problem with the first batch of Android Wear smartwatches is that they aesthetically had more in common with the old Casio digital watches than a sophisticated timepiece.
The next wave of Android Wear smartwatches looks set to change all that with Motorola’s Moto 360 and LG’s follow up, the G Watch R, leading the charge. Both watches adopt a more classical design with a round watch face and a choice of leather or stainless steel watchbands.
Other Android OEMs like Asus’s ZenWatch are also putting emphasis on craftsmanship and this will only accelerate as fashion labels like Fossil enter the mix with Android Wear smartwatches of their own later this year.
The Apple Watch design however, is likely to have the widest appeal with the company offering a number of style options. Starting with the physical size of the Watch, Apple will offer two sizes; 38mm (1.49 inches) tall suited to anyone with more petite wrists or for those who prefer smaller watches in addition to a larger 42mm (1.65 inches) tall watch.
Source: Wilson Rothman/The Wall Street Journal
There’s likely to be an Apple Watch to suit almost any taste with Apple offering three different models - ‘Apple Watch’, ‘Apple Watch Sport’ and the premium ‘Apple Watch Edition’ which comes encased in an 18-carat rose or yellow gold.
Each model will come with a range of stylings to choose from including different finishes and watchbands which include leather, stainless steel, aluminium silver and gold. The Apple Watch range alone will come in 18 different variations with each differing in colour and build materials.
Source: Wilson Rothman/The Wall Street Journal
It’s also worth noting that the Apple Watch offers greater protection from bumps and scratches with a sapphire encased display, something we haven’t yet seen from Android Wear makers.
Mobile payments and passes
The Apple Watch’s defining feature may well be the ability to tap the device at any existing contactless EFTPOS terminal to pay for goods in stores using the embedded NFC chip. Apple envisions a wallet less future and it plans to achieve it with Apple Pay by storing your credit card details on the device and utilising the TouchID fingerprint scanner from the iPhone to offer a seamless authentication experience.
The Watch will also provide fast access to Passbook for tickets, boarding passes and loyalty cards. However, you will still be able to use the Apple Watch to pay for goods even if you don’t have your iPhone with you. The Watch will use a one-time PIN for verification but will only need to be re-entered if the watch has lost contact with the skin and been taken off.
Apple Pay should be easy to set up as hundreds of millions of users can simply add their credit or debit card on file from their iTunes Store account.
Google attempted to introduce its own mobile payment system a few years back with ‘Google Wallet’, but it failed to gain traction amongst wireless carriers. Apple on the other hand has the support from all major chains and is likely to push this feature heavily as it’s a feature that competitor Google cannot match with Android Wear.
There is also plenty of financial incentive for Apple as it collects a fee for each transaction, giving the company a share of more than $US40 billion that banks generate annually from swipe fees.
Health and fitness
Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the Apple Watch boasts the ‘most comprehensive health and fitness features’ as the Apple Watch uses the accelerometer, a built-in heart rate sensor, GPS and Wi-Fi from your iPhone to provide a comprehensive picture of your daily activity.
The Activity app measures three separate aspects of movement, calories burned, brisk activity and how often you stand up during the day. When paired with the iPhone 6, it will be able to determine verticality as well like when climbing a flight of stairs, a hill or any other inclining surface you might encounter day-to-day and log accordingly.
The Workout app provides goal-setting and pacing during popular session-based workouts, such as running and cycling complete with comprehensive metrics. The companion Fitness app on iPhone collects your activity data so you can see your activity history in greater detail. Apple Watch uses this history to suggest personal, realistic goals, reward fitness milestones all designed to keep keep you motivated and active.
When it comes to health and fitness tracking, Android Wear is barebones in comparison. There’s nothing stopping Google or third-party developers from creating apps with similar capabilities in the future as some Android Wear smartwatches already have the requisite hardware onboard such as a heart rate monitor, pedometer and GPS but it’s clearly an area where Google will be playing catchup.
The home screen of the Apple Watch displays all the different apps you have loaded on the device. Source: Wilson Rothman/The Wall Street Journal
Both Android Wear and Apple offer similar suite of native apps such as messages, email, maps for turn-by-turn directions from your wrists and music controls. In addition, Apple allows you to use your smartwatch as a remote control for your Apple TV.
As the smartphone market has shown, however, it’s the strong library of apps built by third party developers that will ultimately win over the consumer.
Apple showcased several third-party apps specifically designed to take advantage of the features of the Apple Watch while also addressing a variety of real-world use cases.
Starwood Hotels app allows you to check-in to the hotel and unlock your hotel room door by simply waving your watch in front of the door; American Airlines app allows you to check-in and collect bags; a public transport app that reminds you to get off at the right stops; Pinterest app can remind you when you get near site you’ve pinned, and provide walking directions accordingly; BMW app shows the charge level of your car and a map of where you’ve parked your car complete with directions back to your vehicle; Honeywell app allows you to remotely control the temperature while the Lutron app allows you to control the lighting in your home.
Google claims that there are already thousands of apps that support Android Wear but most of these are just limited to pushing notifications to the watch face. There are exceptions such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, for instance, will now accept responses dictated over voice so you can actually reply to messages from the smartwatch.
As we highlighted in our review there are currently around 40 apps specifically designed for Android Wear but nothing that has blown us away. The potential to do more with Android Wear apps is there, with Google demonstrating Eat24, which allows you to order a pizza entirely from your smartwatch, or request a car pick-up via Lyft but the potential remains largely untapped at least for now.
Apple didn’t mention a word about battery life when it introduced the Apple Watch on stage, suggesting that the device isn’t going to break any industry standards. An Apple spokeswoman confirmed shortly after the event that the Apple Watch will require a charge once a day, putting it in line with every other Android Wear smartwatch on the market.
To conserve battery life, the display on the Apple Watch stays off until you turn your wrist and look at the display whereas Android Wear smartwatches will continuously show the time by default.
Apple Watch will sport a $US349 base price however pricing for the other two models, ‘Apple Watch Sport’ and the premium ‘Apple Watch Edition’, has yet to be announced but will likely be considerably more.
Apple has yet to confirm pricing for the Australian market however based on current exchange rates we can assume a price tag of at least $399, making it the most expensive smartwatch when it hits the market in early 2015. For context, the Apple Watch is a little more than half the price of the new iPhone 6 and $150 more expensive than the asking price of Android Wear smartwatches.
It’s possible that Apple or the carriers themselves might offer discounted bundles for customers looking to purchase both a new iPhone and Apple Watch at launch similar to what Samsung did with their own Galaxy Gear smartwatch.