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Apple Watch's killer feature just may be telling time

Michael Simon | March 12, 2015
When Apple introduced us to the iPhone, there was a lot to absorb: Inertia scrolling, pinch to zoom, slide to unlock, predictive text, not to mention desktop-caliber web browsing, email, and maps on a 3.5-inch screen. But even with 15 apps, advanced sensors and the greatest iPod the world had ever seen, Steve Jobs was most proud of its most basic function: "What's the killer app? The killer app is making calls!"

When Apple introduced us to the iPhone, there was a lot to absorb: Inertia scrolling, pinch to zoom, slide to unlock, predictive text, not to mention desktop-caliber web browsing, email, and maps on a 3.5-inch screen. But even with 15 apps, advanced sensors and the greatest iPod the world had ever seen, Steve Jobs was most proud of its most basic function: "What's the killer app? The killer app is making calls!"

As I watched Tim Cook put the finishing touches on the Apple Watch demo he started in September, I half-expected to hear him say, "What's the killer app? The killer app is telling time!" Everything you can do on Apple Watch — from the notification glances to the heart rate monitor and answering calls — is meaningless if it's not an exceptional timepiece. It's far more important to Apple Watch's success than the iPhone's dialing capabilities ever were. I can go days without using my iPhone to talk to someone, but I expect the lion's share of my interactions with Apple Watch will be no different than they are with the watches I already wear: Checking the time.

Precision movement

For the better part of two years, Apple's competitors have all been doing their best Jony Ive impressions. Ever since we first starting hearing rumblings that Apple was working on some kind of wrist-wearable device, we've been flooded with a steady stream of smartwatches, all trying to beat Apple at its own game.

The first out of the gate was Samsung's Galaxy Gear, a clunky, bulbous affair that tried to shrink a 5-inch Galaxy S4 into a 1.63-inch screen. It was filled with the sort of things we expected a wearable to do, like fitness apps and notifications, but none of them actually improved on the common wristwatch. Case in point: Its grand innovation was a camera built into a strap, and one of the marquis software features was its ability to remotely control your Galaxy phone.

It was a classic case of doing too much. Apple's philosophy has always been "a thousand no's for every yes," but a lot of the smartwatches on the market try to cram as many functions as possible without focusing on the one that matters: the clock. Even Motorola and LG, which went with classic circular designs for their Moto 360 and Urbane smartwatches, don't offer as refined an experience as their enclosures would suggest.

Apple Watch is different. It might not have as many watch faces as Pebble Time or even Android Wear, but the ones Apple has crafted truly take horology to a new level. Apple isn't just making an iPhone companion; it wants to stake out a claim in the annals of watchmaking history. Apple Watch doesn't have the handcrafted perpetual motion mechanism of a Rolex Oyster, but in place of those tiny wheels and gears is a precision and customization not possible on a traditional timepiece.

 

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