Apple Tackles Wearables

Mobile Displays, User Interface – As expected, Apple revealed their new Apple Watch during the firm’s September 9, 2014 press event in Cupertino, CA.  In making their announcement, Apple has raised the bar for developers hoping to compete in the wearable consumer electronics marketplace.

The physical design of the Apple Watch is perhaps the feature set that most distinguishes the product from competitors’ smartwatches.  Compared to other available and announced smartwatches, the Apple Watch is available in a relatively wide range of models (Watch, Watch Sport, and Watch Edition), sizes (38 mm and 42 mm height cases), materials and finishes (stainless steel, aluminum, 18 karat yellow and rose gold) and wristbands (six styles, some in multiple colors).  The number of Apple Watch permutations is considerable.  The Apple Watch shown below is described by Apple as: APPLE WATCH, 38mm and 42mm Case, 316L Stainless Steel, Sapphire Crystal Display, Ceramic Back, Milanese Loop, Stainless Steel, Magnetic Closure.

Apple Watch

Source: Apple

The Watch user interface incorporates a touch sensitive display capable of distinguishing between taps and presses.  Concerning that display Apple states:  “A Retina display is the primary surface for every interaction with Apple Watch. And it’s clear why. The incredibly high pixel density makes numbers and text easy to read at a glance, even while you’re moving. Images and graphics render with remarkable sharpness and contrast, including finely detailed ones like the rotation of a hair-thin second hand on a watch face. And the display is extremely energy efficient, critical for a device you wear throughout the day. On most Apple Watch models, the display is laminated to a machined and polished single crystal of sapphire.”

So now we know where Apple will apply the firm’s sapphire manufacturing capacity.  What we don’t yet know however is what nature of display the Apple Watch incorporates.  Apple has not yet stated what display technology (LCD or OLED), or pixel count or density, the device will utilize.  Rounding out the user interface is the Digital Crown which Apple describes stating: “Every new product we’ve introduced has been defined by a unique input device. With Apple Watch, it’s the Digital Crown. On mechanical watches, the crown has historically been used to set the time and date and to wind the mainspring. We reimagined it as a versatile tool that answers the fundamental challenge of how to magnify content on a small display. Pinching to zoom, as you do on iPhone, is impractical. But rotating the Digital Crown allows you to zoom and scroll nimbly and precisely, without obstructing your view. You can also push it like a button to return to the Home screen, making it an integral part of the Apple Watch experience.”

Apple has also left uncertainty concerning the actual date for availability of the Watch saying only that it is “coming in early 2015.”  Another unanswered question is the matter of battery life per charge.  Analysts are taking some of these uncertainties to mean that various aspects of the Apple Watch display, design and specifications are still undergoing change and currently await finalization.  Of course time will tell, but Apple clearly wished to announce the long awaited Watch at this time.

It’s interesting to compare Apple’s just announced Watch to recent products launched by Samsung, LG and Motorola.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that Samsung announced in August 2014, and will begin shipping October 2014, their sixth smartwatch product offering – the Samsung Gear S (illustration below).


Source: Samsung

The Gear S, which is 12.5mm thick and incorporates a curved 2-inch AMOLED display (360 x 480 pixels, 300 ppi)  and a cellular radio, is not directly comparable to the Apple Watch but is a useful contemporaneous benchmark.

While Apple, Samsung, LG, Motorola, Pebble and other firms continue to explore the wearable device space, consumers are still grappling with the specifications, options, capabilities and utility of these products and have not yet committed to wearable consumer electronics in a big way.  – Phil Wright

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