The Apple “iWatch” has been built up to mythical proportions. We don’t know when it’s coming. We don’t know if it exists in the form factors some have envisioned. We’re not even certain it will be called “iWatch.”
We do know that Apple has had plenty of opportunity to observe the efforts of other companies — hits and misses. And we at Re/code have had plenty of time to test and review the first rounds of wearable technology, as well. (See bottom of the article for a full list of the products we’ve reviewed.)
I don’t consider myself an expert, but like a person who has spent a lot of time dating before settling down, it definitely helps you figure out what you do and don’t want. So, if Apple does unveil a wearable in the coming weeks, here’s what I hope it will include.
I’ll start with something basic: Battery life. Battery charge should last least five to seven days.
Most companies in the nascent wearables space have told me that sacrifices are often made when designing small pieces of hardware that are expected to do so much. But having to charge a watch every one to three days is a nuisance. It becomes another item, along with smartphone, laptop or tablet, to always think about.
Is it possible for a wrist wearable to last even longer than that? Yes. The Garmin Vivofit activity tracker lasts for an entire year. However, it is powered by coin-cell batteries, and I have a hard time believing that Apple will use coin-cell batteries in its smartwatch, for a lot of reasons.
In addition to tracking the basic stuff like daily steps and calories expended, I want the iWatch to track and record heart rate. This could be directly from the wrist, using something like an optical heart-rate sensor — but only if the reading is immediate and accurate.
I’ve been wearing the Basis B1 Band a lot lately, and I like having the ability to see my heart rate by simply tapping on the watch face. But when I wear it during workouts, there can be delay in getting a reading — it might say my heart rate is down at 58 for several minutes, then suddenly shoot up to 139.
In these instances, I’d almost rather wear a heart-rate strap (or heart-rate earphones?) that work with the wrist device. In either case, I think heart-rate tracking is a key feature.
I’d like the iWatch to be waterproof, both for showering and swimming.
If I were feeling really futuristic, I could think of a whole bunch of metrics I’d want iWatch sensors to detect. I’d love it if the iWatch could tell me how much sleep I’d need based on my activities, if my blood pressure was too high, if I should be drinking more water, if I’ve reached the limits of my daily caffeine or alcohol intake and if the air quality is particularly poor around me. But I don’t know if we’re there yet.
Really, the biggest differentiators between the iWatch and other devices could have to do with user interface and software, not hardware. If the iWatch is tied to other products in the Apple ecosystem, like the iPhone, the options for connecting and sending data between the two should be fast and seamless.
Ideally, the iWatch itself would be a platform for optimized apps, not just a notification system for apps that already exist on the smartphone. So HealthKit, which Apple gave developers a glimpse of in June, would exist not only on the phone but also on the wrist, so that any data shared from either sensor set would end up in the same place.
The same goes for third-party apps. For example, I frequently use Strava, a niche fitness app that appeals mostly to cyclists, but also lets you manually log other activities. For a walk or run outdoors, I’d likely have my phone on me. For other activities, I might not — but I’d wear a watch. So I would want an app like this to work on both devices.
Then there’s price. I hope the hypothetical iWatch is priced somewhere around $199. If it’s much more than that, I would hope to see tiered pricing for less feature-packed models at some point, as with iPod.
Here’s what I don’t want:
I don’t want two or more separate smartphone apps for controlling the watch. Case in point: Samsung’s Galaxy Gear Fit requires that the wearer use a “Gear Fit Manager” app to control device settings, while the activity data recorded on the wristband is sent to another mobile app called S Health. This is not intuitive.
I don’t care if there’s a camera on the iWatch.
I also don’t want to conduct entire phone calls through my watch. I just don’t. I know this has been the promise of the smartwatch ever since “Dick Tracy.” But I’ve tried talking to people through a smartwatch (when it was connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth) and I found the experience, appropriately, comical.
I could see using voice dictation on the watch to summon Siri, or cue up maps, via a connection to the iPhone. The iWatch could maybe even allow you to control music and accept or reject calls from the wrist. But it would have to work perfectly, and in a way that makes perfect sense.
By this point, you might think I’ve forgotten about aesthetics. I haven’t. Design is hugely important when it comes to something that’s going to live on your wrist.
Most existing smartwatches look incredibly geeky. In the past, we have called some of them “celibacy bands,” a phrase Walt Mossberg gets credit for. I don’t want to wear these.
On the other hand (Get it? Other hand?), some smartwatch makers have taken a fashion-first approach and created more attractive watches that happen to pair with a smartphone to show notifications. One example is the Meta M1, designed by a group of people who previously created Bluetooth-connected watches at Fossil.
But this type of smartwatch doesn’t appeal to me, either.
First off, something like that doesn’t offer many health features. Second, mobile technology evolves way more quickly than the standard wristwatch does, which has been around since the 1860s. So there’s a high likelihood that the connected tech inside a fashion-first watch will require updates or even become obsolete in a matter of years, leaving you with a $449 watch that is neither technologically up-to-date, nor a timepiece you’d want to hold on to forever.
And for many people, their watches mean something to them. They’re not even about telling time — they are finely-crafted mechanical instruments that some people wear as mementos or statements.
So I don’t want a super-geeky smartwatch, but I also don’t want a $500 fashion watch that sends notifications. I’d like something that is a powerful, health-focused smartwatch, but also has enough sleekness to wear most of the time.
Apple is incredibly well-positioned to introduce this. It carries a cachet that few other consumer electronics brands have. But it’s a new category for the company, and new categories are risky. It has to get it right.