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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!"

About face

Unlike most smartwatches out there, Apple built a watch and worked backward. Everywhere you go, time is never more than a touch away. When you're looking at notifications, the time stays in the top right corner. It's at the center of the home screen. And when you lift your wrist it instantly appears.

It might seem strange that Apple hasn't opened up a time-telling API as part of WatchKit, but Apple Watch's faces are its identity, much more than apps or glances. Just look at how proud the company is of its chronograph face: "Modeled on the very first analog stopwatches, this face measures time in incredibly precise increments. It uses two hands: one for total time and a second for lap times. A customizable timescale measures long and short time periods."

Apple has even made it simple to swap out faces on a whim, but unlike Pebble or Android Wear, it is keeping a tight control over them. A variety of faces is the biggest advantage Apple Watch has over traditional timepieces, but rather than boast dozens of inferior faces, there are but nine to choose from. Most of them are tasteful modern spins on classic designs, like the tap-dancing Mickey Mouse or the Movado-like minimalism, and none of them are over the top. Perhaps the fonts will get more futuristic and the animations wilder down the road, but for the introduction, Apple is paying tremendous respect to the art of timekeeping while still embracing what sets Apple Watch apart. It's modern elegance at its finest.

Infinite loupe

Even the customizable elements — complications, as Apple calls them, another nod to the serious world of watchmaking — harken back to a time when wristwatches were a staple of our lives. Somewhat ironically, the proliferation of the iPhone has made watches somewhat irrelevant, but Apple understands and respects the history of the industry it is entering. The little details are all impeccably designed and thoughtfully placed, and none of them distract from the centerpiece.

We were all waiting for Tim to pull out some killer Apple Watch feature it was keeping under wraps, but that moment never came. As developers sink their teeth into WatchKit and start figuring out how to best utilize the screen and new navigation methods, people are surely going to find all sorts of uses for the latest Apple gadget — but first and foremost, there will always be timekeeping. With Watch, Apple is standing on the shoulders of giants, keeping in the exquisite tradition of Rolex, Tag Heuer, and Breitling to rekindle people's love of telling time.

The iPhone didn't need to be a great phone to succeed, but Apple Watch needs to be a great timepiece, especially if Apple expects to sell many of those five-figure Edition models.

 

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