Prior to the launch of the Apple Watch, there had been rumors that Apple would make a watch for quite some time. In a broader sense, the wearables industry has become an area of significant interest as the next growth market after devices like tablets and smartphones as the high-end market became saturated and much of the growth that previously existed in the mobile space started to level out. This has resulted in a new alignment of markets and technology; the markets are ripe for a new device to recapture the wild growth of smartphones, and in the 8 years since the launch of the iPhone the inexorable march of Moore's Law has seen another 4 generations of improvements in technology. This time is finally right, it seems, to take a crack at something even smaller and more personal than the smartphone: the watch.

About two years ago, we put out our first wearable review, which examined Samsung’s Galaxy Gear. In the time since then, Android Wear has been launched, with numerous OEMs launching some form of wearable using Google’s wearable OS. However, Apple remained curiously absent from the field despite numerous rumors suggesting that Apple would soon launch a wearable. Last year, Apple announced the Apple Watch, but it wasn’t until just a few months ago that it finally went on sale.

Consequently, Apple didn’t get a first-movers advantage getting into wearables, though it remains to be seen whether that would even matter. As the creator of the iPhone and frequently on the cutting edge of technology and design, Apple had enough good will with the public to be late, and at the same time with all eyes on them they could not afford to screw up. The end result is that though by no means a slight towards Apple’s competitors, there is a clear distinction between everything that has come before the Apple Watch and everything that will come after. For the consumer market as a whole, the launch of the Apple Watch signifies that wearables have moved beyond the early adopter phase for techies, and are now being pitched at (and purchased by) the wider consumer market.

Normally, it’s easy enough to jump straight into what the device is and what’s new about said device, but in the case of the Apple Watch it’s really important that we explore the world in which this watch exists. The world is divided into people that wear watches, and people that don’t. Apple faces the distinct problem is trying to sell to both audiences, which have very different desires from a watch. The people that already have watches don’t want to give up the almost infinite battery life of conventional watches, high levels of water resistance, or anything else that is an accepted standard for watches.

The people that don’t wear watches are probably the closest thing to a clean slate that we’ll get when it comes to the wearable market. On a personal note, I fall into this camp, as I pretty much grew up in the age of widespread cellphone adoption. One of the convenient things about a phone is that they usually have the time on them, along with alarm and timer functionality. For me, this effectively meant that there was no point to wearing a watch. I also tended to have problems with the logistics involved in wearing a watch. In general, wristbands had an amazing tendency to either be too tight or too loose no matter how I adjusted the band. These issues were also compounded with any sort of physical exertion, as sweat tended to collect under the band which made wearing a watch noticeably more uncomfortable. These ergonomic issues, combined with the lack of functionality in a watch, ultimately made me stop wearing watches. Even before cellphones, wall-mounted clocks were more than sufficient for me when it came to checking the time, although I suspect I was far too young for time to really matter all that much.

Of course, I have been trying out various wearables over the course of the past few years. Although I didn’t try LG’s G Watch, I have been able to use the Pebble Steel and Motorola’s Moto 360. However, it was really a challenge for me to find anything to say about these wearables. They could definitely tell the time, and they had some extra functionality, but many of the same problems remained. The wearables I tested just weren’t all that comfortable to wear, and due to some technology limitations both weren’t really all that compelling to use. They could manage notifications, but other than that I found the functionality to be rather lacking. I often would forget to put them on at all before setting out for the day, and when I did I didn’t feel any particular need to go back to put it on my wrist. After a few months, I completely forgot about these wearables and stopped wearing them. At the time, I honestly felt like wearables could end up being another passing fad because it seemed most wearables faced similar barriers in terms of getting people to keep wearing them. Wearables like Fitbit suffered from a pretty significant abandonment rate, and given that I did the same for both the Pebble Steel and Moto 360 it increasingly felt like this would be a persistent problem.

In this context, it seems easy for Apple to fail. Generally speaking, no one has really figured out how to solve the problem of wearable adoption, chiefly because the functionality offered often wasn’t very compelling, and broadly speaking these wearables were often not well-designed. One of the first places we can start with the Apple Watch is the spec sheet. We can speak in empty platitudes about how specs don’t matter, but in the case of something like Apple Watch they definitely will. The right components won’t ensure success, but the wrong components can ensure a poor user experience.

  Apple Watch 38mm Apple Watch 42mm
SoC Apple S1 520MHz CPU Apple S1 520MHz CPU
512MB LPDDR3(?)
Display 1.32” 272x340 LG POLED 1.5” 312x390 LG POLED
Dimensions 38.6 x 33.3 x 10.5mm,
25/40/55/54 grams
(Sport/Watch/Gold/Rose Gold)
42 x 35.9 x 10.5mm,
30/50/69/67 grams
(Sport/Watch/Gold/Rose Gold)
Battery 205 mAh (0.78 Whr) 246 mAh (0.93 Whr)
OS WatchOS 1 WatchOS 1
Connectivity 802.11/b/g/n + BT 4.0, NFC 802.11/b/g/n + BT 4.0, NFC
Price         $349/549/10,000        (Sport/Watch/Edition)       $399/599/12,000        (Sport/Watch/Edition)

As we can see, Apple has elected for some relatively conservative specifications. The SoC is relatively low power in nature, and the amount of RAM is probably about right for the kinds of tasks that a wearable will be used for at this time. The display is also of a decent resolution given the display size, and all the necessary wireless connectivity is present. It is notable that Apple is using a relatively small battery, but I suspect that this is necessary in order to fit all of the hardware into the casing of the watch. At least at a high level, it looks like Apple has put the right components into this wearable. However, it's going to take a deep examination of both technology and design to really figure out if Apple has avoided the pitfalls that I've discussed. One of the first and most obvious places to go first is the industrial and material design, which is what we'll talk about next.

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  • mjh483 - Friday, July 24, 2015 - link

    Amazing review. Really great. I think this review is a perfect blend of geeky and non-geeky explanations about why the Apple Watch exists. Simply amazing. Thank you so much.
  • bernstein - Monday, July 27, 2015 - link

    once again: amazing review! love the thinking about having to sell people on watches again.

    where among the 35+ crowd wearing a watch is still very common, in the in 30- crowd its become very uncommon...
  • alexb1 - Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - link

    OMG, are you KIDDING ME? I knew Anandtech will not be the same after it was sold off.

    Here's the deal, you FOROGT COMPLETELY about the COST of this thing... Apple Watch maybe one of the better attempts at SmartWatch, but it costs easily $700-1000 for a nicely setup one (like the reviewed item), and it does ZILCH for that $1000 without an iPhone...

    I got one through work, and used it for a couple of weeks, then forgot to charge it and went back to my regular watch and haven't looked back. It's an ACCESSORY, and as an accessory can't possibly cost $700 or so, if it was $250, it'd be a fantastic item and would have sold a lot more and they would have not had to HIDE the #of watches sold.

    Here are my Top10 biggest problems with Apple Watch:

    1. 42mm is too small, and I have a medium wrist, my index covers half the screen. It's way way too small! It should have been 42, 48 to fit on everyone's wrist, yet readable/usable
    2. 18hrs battery life is too short - It's too short in case you forgot to charge it one night (needs 2 days to be acceptable)
    3. If it can't do 2days, 18hrs battery life is not needed - They achieve 18hrs with ridicolous battery saving, making the use of the watch very challenging, like you can't look at the screen over a cpl of seconds as it will go away, like when I was biking, it was almost impossible to turn the screen and look at what time it was, had to bend the wrist in an awkward way while on the move. The battery saving should be customizable, as I rather have 14hrs of full use with longer display times than 18hrs, as I would never wear it 18hrs straight, usually after 12-14hrs, it's being charged
    3. It does NOTHING that your iPhone doesn't do
    4. Heart rate monitor works only while you are sitting still! Like seriously?
    5. If you get a lot of notifications, it becomes very very annoying, no way to make it selective
    6. It is NOT waterproof
    7. It is UGLY, UGLY, UGLY... I am sorry, I AM a watch wearer, and this thing is just a black screen on a band! Again due to the crazy battery saving, it's almost always off, so nothing on the face of the watch which is THE key for looks of a watch, and this is always black. Now, I admit, nothing else I've seen is that great either (Moto360 maybe), but coming from Apple, this thing is just ugly
    8. Apps, there's no app that does anything better on the watch than on the phone
    9. Weak processor, capabilities. We developed 6 apps for the watch, and it couldn't even render basic business charts, and installation would take minutes! We had to completely do all of the processing on the phone and just send the completed data/visuals to the watch. It's absolutely inadecuate for any serious computing, plus having a terrible SDK!
    10. Last, but not least, It's damn too expensive! I really find it hard to believe not more reviewers have taken an issue with the cost, it's absolutely ridiclously priced, and PLEASE do NOT try to compare it with hand-made Swiss watches made in small numbers or with stuff that lasts forever, this is a consumable accessory, that will be obsolete in a year, and will not work after 2-3yrs. It has a FRACTION of the functionality of an iPhone, costing almost the same (not considering contact prices).

    Overall, weakest Apple Hardware release in recent memory!
  • piasabird - Friday, July 31, 2015 - link

    Watches went out with the bathwater it seems since smartphones. If you have a phone you dont need a watch. They are dinosaurs. It is taking a step backwards.
  • clouddew - Saturday, August 1, 2015 - link

    The review read like a magazine article with a bit of tech in the middle and the device seems to be a polished piece of unimportant kit for people looking for something to spend their money on.
    It will likely appeal to a few and seem pointless to most others.
    Me? I have a watch, its solar powered & waterproof. Guess which category I'm in? 😉
  • OFelix - Saturday, August 1, 2015 - link

    Taptic Engine > finally a good reason to learn Morse code!
  • nosirree - Tuesday, August 4, 2015 - link

    Disclaimer: current android user.

    I like watches, and own mechanical " automatic" ones alongside cheap Timex'es and even one with gps. and being a geek was always interested in smart watches.
    I've played around with this one, and the build is impressive. But it's too first version, as the battery doesn't last enough for a watch, there isn't an always on display. Sony watch v3 does have always on display but it's not very good, while it's battery lasts longer that's not enough either. The pebble does both well but the display isn't good enough, haven't seen the new one.
    So, this is too expensive for what it does in my opinion. Will keep on waiting..
  • mystilleef - Friday, August 7, 2015 - link

    Did you guys even review the Moto 360?
  • hukaite - Thursday, June 14, 2018 - link

    Dear,I'm confrimed that that apple watch used the X-axis LRA NOT Z-axis LRA
  • hukaite - Thursday, June 14, 2018 - link

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