The bar for wearables isn't set particularly high at the moment.
Pebble got the ball rolling in early 2013 and Samsung and Qualcomm followed with their own takes on the smartwatch later that year. Android Wear arrived in the middle of 2014, but shipments are hardly on fire. With the Apple Watch, Cupertino has a chance to redefine the role wearables are meant to play in our lives. Apart from mastering some basics, the Apple Watch will need to offer something current wearables don't. If we're to believe Apple CEO Tim Cook, it will.
The Apple Watch won't be available until April, but Apple has already nailed some very important elements to boost the wearable's appeal with consumers.
To start, the Apple Watch will be sold in two sizes. The 38-mm and 42-mm sizes are just varied enough to make a difference. Neither is particularly small, but people will be able to pick the model that best suits their wrist. No other smartwatch on the market can make the same claim. Most of them are rather bulky, which turns off some shoppers.
The wide range of finishes and straps are another advantage for Apple.
The device itself will come in light and dark stainless steel, light and dark aluminum, and 18-karat gold. Apple claims its metallurgists have created gold that's twice as hard as normal gold. No other watch offers five finishes from which to choose. At best, the Motorola Moto 360 offers two (stainless steel and black). In addition to the finishes, the Apple Watch will come with an incredible array of straps. The basic options include plastic, leather, and metal. Each of these three materials will be available in assorted colors and designs.
Apple's competitors do offer a few extra straps for their wearables, but not in the Watch's varied numbers. Right out the gate, the Apple Watch is by far the most customizable and personal wearable available.
Apple is counting on the device being a partner in keeping wearers fit and healthy. It will track steps, calories burned, and even how often the wearer stands up. These features aren't unique to Apple's device. Android Wear smartwatches all track activity and work with Google Fit to help manage that data.
The devil will be in how effectively the Watch performs -- and how it presents information to users. Based on information provided by Apple, the Watch has a much richer user interface and can be used to do far more than Android Wear when it comes to maintaining health and fitness, despite the fact that Apple reportedly had to back away from some healthcare features.
Battery life is really, really important and some have cast doubt on the Apple Watch's stamina.
[ Read about these Apple Watch alternatives. ]
A handful of reports last month suggested Apple was targeting about 19 hours of battery life per day, but may only be able reach 16 or 17 hours. Why is the battery life so limited? The Watch has a full mobile processor with RAM and storage; Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi radios; a bevy of sensors for tracking purposes; and of course the screen itself. Android Wear smartwatches consistently deliver just over a day of battery life. It's hard to say right now if the Apple Watch will offer enough up time.
Apple Pay matters
Perhaps the biggest differentiator will be Apple Pay. People who own both the iPhone 6 (or the iPhone 6 Plus) and the Apple Watch will be able to use their watch to make payments everywhere Apple Pay is accepted. Users won't even have to dig their smartphone out of their pocket.
Pricing will be key in spurring adoption. The only price point shared by Apple is the starting cost for the low-end model: $349. That's already $50 more expensive than the priciest Android Wear smartwatch. You can bet extra straps will cost a pretty penny (Apple-made accessories are never cheap). Numerous reports have suggested the Apple Watch Edition model (read: gold) will cost upwards of $4,000 -- making it one of the most expensive devices ever sold by Apple.
Apple is bullish that the Watch will be a hit. It has placed orders for between 5 and 6 million units for the first quarter of availability. Cook believes it will be transformational. Maybe it will be, maybe it won't. One thing is certain: With a rabid fan base and several distinct advantages over its competitors, the Apple Watch has a real shot at success.
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