Apple watch release date, price & specs - out THIS April

Unveiled last year, but not launching until April, will the Apple Watch be a massive success? We find out what it will offer

6 Feb 2015
Apple Watch group shot

The Apple Watch is slightly unusual amongst Apple products, in that we've been shown it back in September, months before it launched. Revealed alongside the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, we were treated to a sneak peek of the Apple Watch (what we thought would be called the iWatch). While that means that we know a fair bit about the watch, Apple didn't reveal everything, such as how apps would work or when it would be launched. In the intervening period, we've managed to fill in the blanks to find out everything about it.

The Apple Watch WILL launch in April, Tim Cook said so

At the time of its reveal, the only thing we knew for certain was that the Apple Watch was due out in early 2015, with people thinking that March would be the right time. We now know that the watch is due to launch in April, as Tim Cook revealed in an earnings call. "Development for Apple Watch is right on schedule and we expect to begin shipping in April," said Cook.

We don't have a final date yet, but we're bound to get that in the next few weeks as Apple gears up for the official launch of the product.

The Apple Watch will be available in TWO different sizes

One of the big problems with a lot of smartwatches is that they're too big and won't fit all wrists, as you can see from big models, such as the Motorola Moto 360 and LG G Watch R. Apple counters that by making its watch in two different sizes. Nominally that means watches specifically for men and women, with Apple catering for a wider part of the market than other smartwatch manufacturers. We have to say that this feels like the right way to go and a watch has to be comfortable to wear as well as providing the best technology.

You can choose between THREE versions

As well as the size options, Apple will sell the watch in three different versions. There's the standard Watch, which will have a stainless steel case; the Sport version that will use a 60% tougher metal allow; and the Watch Edition, which will be made from 18 karat gold and will be suitably expensive to match.

As well as the differences in build quality, each model also uses different glass on the watch face. The standard Apple Watch and Gold Apple Watch Edition both use sapphire crystal glass, which should be able to withstand serious scrapes and scratches (sapphire is second only to diamond in hardness and has long been used for watch faces), while the Apple Watch Sport uses Ion-X Glass. Because sapphire glass isn't particularly resistant to drops, ion-strengthened glass makes more sense on a watch that will be worn when exercising.

Disappointingly, the Apple Watch is not waterproof, not even the Sport version, although according to Yahoo it is water resistant and "Sweating, wearing it in the rain, washing your hands, or cooking with it are fine".

There are LOTS of colour and strap choices

The square Apple Watch is a beautiful-looking wearable with plenty of choices of colour and straps to suit different people. Apple has designed six different straps along with a mechanism for making it easy to swap between them. The Sport band is made from sweat-resistant plastic, but people will be able to choose between a leather quilted loop, stainless steel link bracelet and Milanese loop.

It's good to see this level of customisation as, combined with the choice of models, it means that not everybody will be wearing exactly the same watch in exactly the same colour.

Apple is using OLED for the first time

According to AppleInsider, Apple is said to be using an OLED panel for the first time in one of its products, rather than the company's usual LCD technology. The plastic-backed OLED screen is said to be one of the most expensive mobile displays, but the technology gives design flexibility, excellent contrast and uses less power than LCD: all three things that are incredibly important with a smartwatch.

We still don't know the resolution of the screen, as Apple hasn't released that information. All we know is that this is a Retina display, which means, according to Apple's definition, that you can't see individual pixels when viewed at normal distances. As there's no set PPI for Retina, we can't work out how that translates to the 1.5in screen.

It is a touchscreen, but the DIGITAL CROWN gives more control

The touchscreen display can recognise swipe gestures and can also sense force, so a hard tap can bring up more options than a soft tap. This kind of touch integration is useful for interacting with apps, but controlling smartwatches purely with a touchscreen is impractical, according to Apple, which is why the Apple Watch will be using the oddly-named Digital Crown in addition to touch inputs. The company described this as a "multifunctional input device that lets you zoom, scroll and select without covering the screen". In practical terms this means you can turn a small knob on the side of the watch to zoom in and out when looking at a map, with the same action also used for scrolling up and down through websites. It also doubles up as a home button. There's a second button under the Digital Crown that gives users instant access to their contacts. Press the Friends button and select a contact to send a message, make a call or carry out other functions. You can even send a friend a 'tap', which will make their Apple Watch vibrate.

Of course, there's Siri

Of course, Apple has integrated Siri into its watch. Just as on the iPhone, you'll be able to speak to the smart assistant to ask questions, perform tasks and more. This means that you'll be able to do more with the Apple Watch than the Pebble, which is really just a second screen for your iPhone and doesn't let you interact with your handset to this degree.

You can monitor your heart rate

On the back of the watch is a heart-rate monitor, which is useful for fitness tracking. As you'd expect, this data can be pulled into the Apple Health app, which was introduced with iOS 8. If you really want to, you can also send your current heart rate to another Apple Watch user, although we're not entirely sure why you'd want to do this.

What can the Apple Watch do, and what apps will it have?

As well as displaying notifications (on screen and via vibration) and letting you make and receive calls, the Apple Watch gives you a fair amount of interaction with your iPhone, with the iPhone 5, 5C, 5S, 6 and 6 Plus all supported. The Apple Watch uses Siri for voice control and dictating messages, dealing with notifications and controlling nearly all apps. Users can customise the watch face with different colours, designs and features.

Apple will include a range of its own watch faces with third party developers expected to add many more. There's even a Mickey Mouse watch face, presumably so that Dan Brown can write a new book featuring Robert Langdon, whose only defining character trait is his original Mickey Mouse watch.  

Watch faces will be customisable with onscreen monograms. This will allow users to embed their initials or any combination of up to four letters directly onto their chosen clockface. The companion app will allow users to tailor much of the Apple Watch interface, including the choice of clockface, the placement of app icons, and whether to enable phone notifications. A "subtle red dot" on the clockface can be switched on to alert users when a new notification is received on their iPhone. 

Rather than customise the UI on the watch itself, it appears users will be able to tweak its appearance, install apps and adjust settings using an iOS companion app. Information leaked to 9to5Mac has revealed the app's existence, along with screenshots showing exactly what features can be customised. You'll be able to drag and drop apps around the screen to put them within easy reach on the Watch homescreen, install and uninstall third party Watch apps as you like and set a four digit PIN code for locking the watch - presumably to prevent Apple Pay payments from being taken from your credit card accidentally. Finally, you should be able to automatically unlock the watch when you unlock your iPhone.

Apple has also said the Apple Watch can be used to control Apple TV and act as a remote viewfinder for a paired iPhone camera. It will also support Apple Pay for contactless payments, without having to fish your smartphone out of a pocket or bag. The new iOS 8 Handoff feature extends to Apple Watch, letting users dismiss notifications from their wrists to remove them from all connected iOS and OS X devices.

Apps can be installed on the phone and accessed from a home screen. We don't have a full list of apps that will be available, although some announcements have already been made. Two health and wellness apps, Fitness and Workout, will track a user's daily movements and measure performance when out on a run or cycling. The Apple Watch must be paired with an iPhone to track GPS location. Both will be compatible with the Health app on iOS, for tracking fitness and wellness data throughout the day.

The best example of an Apple Watch app we've seen to date has been the, admittedly unofficial, Tesla car app by Eleks Labs. The app uses the Apple Watch development kit and the Tesla's open web API to create an app that can control many of the cars functions. You can lock and unlock the doors, open the sunroof, see the amount of charge remaining and estimated range, and even honk the horn if you've misplaced your incredibly expensive electric car in the car park. See the video below for a demo.

Apple uses the CUSTOM S1 SoC

the Apple Watch will run a cut down version of iOS, currently code-named SkiHill, and will be powered by an Apple S1 chip. This will allegedly be able to deliver the same kind of performance levels as Apple's A5 processor, which is currently found in the iPod Touch. Full specs and clock speeds have not been released and we don't know if this CPU is 32-bit or 64-bit.

Battery life could be an ISSUE

Apple's already said that the Apple Watch will need to be charged daily, but so far we've had no indication of just how long it expects the battery to last. However, 9to5Mac has managed to obtain Apple's estimated battery life targets from its sources close to the project.

At first, Apple was reportedly aiming for a battery life of one day of mixed usage, which combined a small amount of active use with longer periods of passive use. More recently, Apple changed this goal to roughly 2.5-to-4 hours of active application use, 19 hours of combined active and passive use, three days of pure standby time or four days of sleep.

This may come as a disappointment to anyone hoping that Apple might be able to solve the battery life problem that's been plaguing smartwatches such as the Motorola Moto 360 and LG G Watch R, but 9to5Mac suggested that the 2.5 hours figure of 'heavy' use will likely mean intense, processor-heavy gameplay, while standard app use will likely garner around 3.5 hours of continuous use. Strangely, Apple seems to be expecting better battery life figures when using its fitness tracking software, which is targeted for nearly 4 hours of straight exercise tracking. 

If you're not interested in using apps and only want to use it as a time piece, then Apple's figures suggest that it will be able to display its watch face and ticking animations for three straight hours as long as you don't use it for anything else. However, like most smartwatches, you're unlikely to be looking at it this long, as the display will turn itself off when it's not in use, prolonging the battery much further. Therefore, it seems most likely you'll be able to squeeze a full day out of the Apple Watch under normal use, but you're less likely to be able to stretch it over multiple days. 

9to5Mac says that the ongoing battery concerns were one of the main reasons why Apple pushed back the launch of the Apple Watch from late 2014 to early this year. As Apple continue testing the device, it's believed that around 3,000 watches are currently in circulation for real-world testing, mostly consisting of the stainless steel model. 

How much will the Apple Watch cost?

Prices for the Apple Watch have been officially announced to start at $349 (at least £220 in the UK) for the standard model. However that really doesn't tell us very much at all, as a watch is as much a fashion accessory as a practical device. If you've always worn gold watches, for example, then the 18-carat gold versions of the Apple Watch could easily run into thousands of pounds; a lot of money for a bit of tech but not all that much for a high-end watch. 

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