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With new iPhones -- and a watch -- Apple moves on from Jobs

Ryan Faas | Sept. 11, 2014
Apple certainly had a lot to announce and preview during its almost-two-hour media event for the launch of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which included not only new phones but the company's new mobile payments system known as Apple Pay and the first preview of the Apple Watch -- set to debut sometime early next year.

That same innovative fire was particularly evident in the previews offered up of the forthcoming Apple Watch. Note that innovation isn't cheap. The Apple Watch will sell for $349.

Doing the smartwatch right

The most Apple-like and innovative part of the Apple Watch isn't that the company built a smartwatch. It's that it went back to the user interface (UI) and experience (UX) drawing board. Delivering a clear jab at Samsung (and Android Wear devices in general), Cook noted that Apple deliberately didn't try to shrink an iPhone and put a strap on it. That's what most of Samsung's watches are like, particularly the original Galaxy Gear and the Tizen-powered Galaxy Gear S announced last week.

Instead, Apple looked at how people would use a smartwatch and actually developed a device with a unique mix of UI elements. Yes, there's a touchscreen, but it's not the only input mechanism. Although I think the term "Digital Crown" is a little ridiculous — it's nothing more than a tiny knob — it is something unique in smartwatch design. The closest comparison is the Pebble's brilliant four-button approach that allows you to scroll, select and go back a step without having to touch the screen — an approach that more closely matches what people might do on a watch, though it is a bit basic and limited.

By combining the Digital Crown with a touchscreen, Apple took the best of both types of interfaces — touch and swipe when it makes sense, scroll or zoom or return to the homescreen using the Digital Crown when that makes sense. The ability to integrate a press along with a touch or swipe thanks to a pressure-sensitive screen adds another intuitive input option. Each alone would deliver a subpar user experience — the Pebble is limited because its interface is scroll-and press-based (like Apple's Digital Crown, albeit with buttons and not a knob or scroll wheel).

In order to be truly functional, many touchscreen watches already on the market need to be larger than most people feel comfortable wearing. Size and style were clearly on Apple's list, which is why the Apple Watch will come in two sizes, both sporting the same intuitive experience.

Apple also recognized that a watch or wearable needs to be less geeky and more fashionable than its competitors. The Apple Watch is, in many ways, the antithesis of Google Glass. It's designed to look fashionable, yes, but it's also designed not to draw attention to itself. It actually looks like a high-end watch. Even the taptic notification experience allows the user to be aware of an incoming message or other event while not making noise or vibrating loudly or obviously, something that people in meetings and restaurants the world over will undoubtedly appreciate.

 

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