If it feels like the promise of an Apple smartwatch has been looming forever, that's because it has. And its shadow helped birth the army of other smartwatches that we have today. But now, finally, the near mythical iWatch is rumored to arrive very soon. We'll be covering today's announcement live right here, but in the meantime here's what we think we know.
What's it called?
Colloquially, Apple's upcoming watch has been referred to as an iWatch, though there's not evidence that this might be its name outside of it following Apple naming conventions. Information about the size of its screen and the bevy of health features it will include suggest it might be actually be more of a "health bangle" anyway. Apple has acquired the trademark to "iWatch" in a number of countries, though that's pretty soft evidence.
Apple has filed patents for a wearable device with swappable screen modules that makes a reference to something called iTime, so that's a possibility as well, though Apple would probably be wiser than to blow the real name in a patent.
For our purposes, we're going to keep calling it the iWatch and hope that Apple has something more clever up its, er, sleeve.
One of the big (rumored) differentiators for the iWatch is design. That is to say, the iWatch is supposed to look good, unlike most of the other, grosser-looking options that are available right now. (Excluding the Pebble Steel and the Moto 360, of course.)
Evidence of this is backed up by a number of hires that Apple has made in the past few years. Hires like former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent Paul Deneve and Senior VP of Retail Angela Ahrendts, who helped revitalize Burberry as CEO without abandoning its heritage. We're talking legit fashion people, as opposed to tech people with an eye for pretty things.
What will all those expensive salaries come up with though? That's a much bigger question. We've seen concepts left and right, and although some of them look nice, none of them quite has that Apple flair. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a lot of information on what the iWatch will look like. No physical leaks of any sort. In a broader sense that iTime might offer some clues, as it shows a watch-type band with modules that can snap in and out. It's similar to the WIMM One from WIMM Labs, a recent Google acquisition.
These sketches are broad, though, as patent sketches are, and it's meant to cover functionality not design, so it's of little help. Not to mention that patents aren't necessarily indicative of actual products; companies patent things all the time with no intention of ever actually making them. A slightly more substantial and interesting pair of reports came from Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, suggesting respectively that the iWatch could have a 2.5-inch screen, and that it might come in different sizes.
A 2.5-inch screen for a traditionally-shaped watch is nuts. The clunky Galaxy Gear clocked in at a mere 1.63-inches. So if the 2.5 inch screen rumor is true, it suggests something either more like a curved bracelet, or a giant hunk of Apple on your wrist. What does seem like a sure thing is that the iWatch will have an unscratchable sapphire glass watchface, due to recent evidence that Apple is producing "jewelry-grade" slices of the stuff. But other than that, the options are still pretty excitingly open.
Update: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the options might be even more open than we thought; the iWatch could very well come in not one but two different form factors. Maybe one larger one like a bangle and a smaller one that looks more like a traditional watch, or maybe something even wilder. There's no telling how different these two different versions might be, and they could range anywhere from subtle changes to practically different products.
Specs and features
The iWatch will undoubtedly do all your standard smartwatch things, like show notifications and other handy data on your wrist. You've already seen that in Android Wear. But assorted rumors, as well as a number of hires over the past year or so, suggest that iWatch's big differentiator is going to be fitness and health. Apple's recent announcement of "Health" app—which is just begging for a watchlike sensor device to supplement it—makes those differentiating features even more plausible.
Apple's iWatch will almost certainly include the full suite of existing fitness tracking capabilities. We're talking an accelerometer plus a gyroscope plus a magnometer plus an altimeter, all the (somewhat precedented if also extravagant) guts it would take to accomplish accurate step-tracking, sleep-tracking (Apple has a sleep specialist on staff), golf-swing-tracking, etc. And when it comes to fitness tracking, it's worth noting that Tim Cook is a big fan of the FuelBand and sits on Nike's board. Then there's the part where Nike seems to have jettisoned its whole FuelBand team. Maybe to go in on something with Apple? Who knows.
But the iWatch will likely go beyond "fitness" and on into straight-up "health." The WSJ reports that the iWatch has no less than 10 different sensors. What those might be isn't known, but possibilities include things like a (high quality!) heart rate monitor; Apple hired the Chief Medical Officer at a company that made a pulse-tracking iPhone app. It could even get as serious as blood sugar measurement, as Apple picked up a few medical researchers with experience making devices that read glucose levels by looking at sweat. Not to mention that Cupertino's health monitoring ambitions are probably serious, considering high-level Apple officials have recently been chatting with the FDA.
As for hardware specs—battery life, chipset, charging method, screen resolution—we're pretty up in the air. No hard specs have leaked, though it's reasonable to assume that the iWatch will rock an Apple chip (duh), something involving the M7 or its successor.
Hopefully the battery life will be in the neighborhood of "long as hell" considering that a ~1 day life is a problem nearly all current smartwatches deal with. Wireless charging would also be a smart move, just for ease of charging and the ability to eliminate an unsightly port, though Apple's shown no real interest in wirelessly charging gadgets before.
Update: A report from the Wall Street Journal has helped flesh out specs information a bit. The iWatch will apparently have NFC, not only for the purpose of pairing the device with the new iPhones (which are also rumored to have NFC), but also so you can use an iWatch to do things like buy your morning coffee, or unlock the door of your hotel room. The WSJ also says the iWatch will have a curved OLED display. Both the NFC and the curved OLED have since been confirmed by the NYT, which also mentions the inclusion of wireless charging for the iWatch, a little surprising since wireless charging is still up and coming, but if anyone can solidify the field by staking a claim, it's Apple.
Another Update: Over at 9to5Mac, the steadfastly reliable Mark Gurman tells us that the iWatch will be able to run wearable-optimized third-party apps, downloadable from an iWatch section of Apple's App Store, making the iWatch slightly more Samsung Gear than Android Wear. Gurman reports that Apple began handing out the iWatch SDK to notable iOS app makers very recently, and that Apple's wearable will use iOS 8's new features to exchange content between iPhone and iWatch. Meanwhile reports from the Information hint at a "disappointing" battery life. No specific numbers are floating around but the Information reports that Apple employees have "set low expectations" for the wearable's battery.
Probably expensive. There have been no particularly strong leaks on pricing, though analysts have thrown around a $300 figure (which does not mean a whole lot). Currently, the smartwatch market is filled with offerings hovering around $200, with "luxury"-type watches like the Pebble Steel and the Moto 360 reportedly hitting highs of $250.
But if Apple is looking to combine fashion with aggressive monitoring, it seems unlikely that it would attempt to compete on price. Beyond that, if the iWatch really does contain the ridiculous amount of sensors it's rumored to have, production costs are going to be high. Sapphire glass alone is expensive. But with a good enough look and and impressive enough functionality though, it's possible to see how Apple could put out a $400 or $500 device $400 and still sell plenty.
Probably not right away. Until just recently, the iWatch reveal was expected to happen in October, as opposed to during the September iPhone event. The announcement may have been pushed up, but it's seems pretty unlikely (though still possible) that the iWatch would be available day-and-date with an announcement on September 9th. Still, if we do get our first glimpse of the iWatch in two weeks, it seems almost certain that it'll hit shelves before the holiday season.
Update: Sources tell Re/code (specifically the historically reliable John Paczkowski) that the iWatch will actually not be available until early 2015. Ouch.