Apple piled on new product announcements today, unveiling two larger, thinner iPhones, a new payments service, and a long-awaited watch.
Apple CEO Tim Cook was giddy on stage, and for Apple fans, it was an exciting day. The new iPhones look nice, with rounded edges that harken back to the product's early days. They'll be available at the end of next week.
The new Apple Pay service had an impressive number of launch partners including major nationwide chains like McDonald's, Macy's, and Walgreens. It allows an iPhone 6 user to quickly pay with a wave of the phone while holding its fingerprint sensor. Apple claims the security and privacy of its method is superior to other companies, though let's keep that firmly in the claim column until security researchers have had a chance to check things out.
The Apple Watch, which starts at $350, drew the largest reaction from the crowd (by far). It had been rumored since (!) 2010. And today, the industry could finally gaze upon its square face and consider its novel user interface.
The watch-winding mechanism known as "the crown" plays a major role in the touchscreen interface, as do voice and touch.
"What we didn't do was take the iPhone and shrink the interface and strap it on your wrist," Cook said.
At least from the video and demonstrations, the Apple Watch looked like the kind of polished, smooth, intuitive device that we've come to expect from the maker of the iPhone. Gadget reviewer David Pogue exclaimed, "This is by FAR the richest, deepest, most elaborate smartwatch OS ever."
It was a big event. This, more than any other Apple event since the death of Steve Jobs, presented Apple's vision of the future. If recent history is any guide, that vision may become the dominant one in the technology industry. Here are six things we learned.
1. The watch is a big deal. Not because of the watch but because of the user interface: Get ready for an entirely new way of interacting with your devices.
The combination of the crown wheel, standard touch, harder presses, haptic feedback, and voice commands was novel. The user interface also tries to anticipate what a user is trying to do. It is not easy to describe how it works because it is employing a new vocabulary of actions. While we can now talk about a "pinch zoom" on a touch screen, that's just not something that made sense in 2007 when the iPhone was revealed. If the watch works as well as it seemed to in the demonstrations, we'll all develop a new sense of how to use and talk about the interface.
2. The watch will become a wand or remote for the world.
Before the event, we anticipated that a key function of the Apple Watch would be to control things all around you. Indeed, cars and HVAC systems and music players and Apple TVs and credit cards—all of these things can be controlled from the wrist. While people might say, "Can't my phone do all that?" It's worth noting that this new Watch operating system has been designed for these kinds of functions. It's got "remote" built in, not tacked on, as it has been with iPhones. The watch becomes the center of the Apple ecosystem.
3. Haptics is going to the next level.
Right now, phones can provide physical feedback in one way: they buzz. But the Apple Watch can provide different kinds of haptic feedback and buzzing directionally to provide subtle directions or tapping lightly when a friend wants to say hello (or Yo, as it were). This now suddenly seems inevitable.
4. Apple is making a crazy, animated, haptic, sonic messaging play.
Apple showed off a series of messaging options on the Watch including sending one's heartbeat to a friend, animated emoji, and drawing little pictures. These things are baked into the watch at the OS-level. They also snuck in, almost under the radar, that voice messages back to someone could/would be delivered as sound. Maybe that's just high-speed voicemail, but to that way of thinking, text messages are just short emails. Designed properly and into the UI, does voice messaging become a thing again? Messaging can be beautiful and haptic and aural and multimodal. It's the most Apple-y response possible to WhatsApp and Snapchat.
5. Apple reestablished its dominance as an innovative user-interface company.
The iPad is a really big iPhone, so the interaction paradigm doesn't need to change much. The watch, with its tiny screen, requires new ways of interacting. And coming up with user interfaces must now be seen as the core of Apple's business. Even if the Apple Watch doesn't work precisely as well as advertised, the ingenuity in the watch interface reestablishes their dominance when it comes to UI.
6. Batteries are still the key constraint for mobile computing.
Apple left one big, huge thing out of its Apple Watch announcement today: how long its battery will last. What we do know is that it's designed to be worn "all day," and to be easy to charge at night. How will that hope that translate into real performance? No one is quite sure. But the fact that Apple completely declined to talk about the battery may be a bad sign. Even having to charge a wearable device every night seems like a hassle. While batteries have improved a lot in the last 20 years, they are not on the kind of trajectory that processing speed or storage space have been.