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First Look at the Apple Watch

Don't call it a geek watch.

Vjeran Pavic

It was the announcement that shocked no one: Earlier today Apple finally showcased its long-in-the-works smartwatch, a sleek-looking, square-faced smartwatch, which will ship sometime next year for $349 and up.

Shortly after the event, special guests and members of the media (often mutually exclusive, the two) were herded into a giant white box for close-up looks and some hands-on action.

There they sat, gleaming in shiny glass cases in the demo area: The larger iPhone 6 and the phablet, which Apple really does not want you to call it (fine, the iPhone 6 Plus). Also, the Apple Watch, with its promise of better health, better communication, faster payments and even — better emojis?

This is my initial reaction to the Apple Watch: It is by far one of the more attractive smartwatches I’ve seen to date. But I wore it for only a few minutes, and each demo unit was set to a predetermined loop of notifications and app features. So to be clear, I couldn’t get a sense of its full functionality today, or even swipe on the touchscreen display.

Also, my head did not explode when I first put it on. I know you are all relieved to read this.

I was able to take a quick look at three different Apple Watch styles:

  • The sport-centric Apple Watch, which has an aluminum case, an ion X-Glass display and a rubbery band with pegs and holes (much like the Fitbit band).
  • The mid-range Apple Watch, which has a stainless steel case, sapphire crystal display and a cool, swappable mesh band with a magnet clasp.
  • And an Apple Watch with an 18-karat gold case, a sapphire crystal display and a stylish leather band.

When I put the last one on my wrist, I was struck by how much it looked like a normal watch and not an oversized concept watch. I would actually wear this out, I thought.

The color contrast of the display was sharp. The home screen was crowded with tiny circular app icons for iTunes, iPhoto, Calendar and Camera, as well as a third-party app: Interestingly, the native phone app was also on the watch’s display, although during the event no mention was made of making phone calls with the watch.

Then came the wave of notifications, which, again, weren’t coming from my smartphone or anyone else’s; they were set on a loop for the sake of the demo. Apple made a point of saying that notifications on the watch were subtle, not jarring.

This was definitely the case — notifications felt like a light buzz on the wrist rather than electroshock therapy — but this is also subjective. My colleague Dawn Chmielewski says she likes seeing her message notifications on a wristwatch while she’s driving, which is less dangerous than looking at the phone. I personally felt distracted every time I received a notification (“Squirrel!”). I imagine there will be preference settings around this.

In addition to notifications, there are a bunch of other features of the watch that will require wireless tethering to the iPhone. These include: Using Siri, running Maps and accessing some health and fitness features, such as GPS and elevation tracking. It’s also still completely unclear how Apple plans to run Apple Pay, its new payment-processing application, on the watch.

So these are elements I can’t offer a reaction to. Until we see how these work, it’s difficult to say how useful the Apple Watch really is when it’s used separately from the iPhone.

I also don’t get the sense it’s meant to be worn to bed, for sleep-tracking, or is fully waterproof. Other wearable products are.

Also, there’s the big issue of battery life. How long will it last? Apple didn’t say. And it isn’t going to ship until next year. That’s after the holidays, in case you didn’t pick up on that.

But what is clear, both from looking at the watch itself and from surveying the celebrity-dotted crowd at the event, is that Apple has taken care with the watch aesthetics — and it intends to appeal to a broad audience.

There are no hard lines to this watch, no obtrusive screws or wristband cameras, nothing that screams “Geek!” aside from its app-laden display and the fact that this is, of course, a wearable tech product.

Another small but significant note: The watch comes in different sizes, which is Apple’s rather indirect way of marketing it to both men and women. I’ve interviewed at least two smartwatch makers that have, at some point in the conversation, had to admit that they’ve really only designed for men. This is obnoxious. The Apple Watch looks like it could fit a variety of wrist sizes. (See the Vine video below for a quick side-by-side of the Apple Watch with the Moto 360, worn by Re/code’s Katie Boehret.)

At some point I really hope to give this smartwatch a rigorous run-through. I especially want to test its health and fitness capabilities. Only then will we at Re/code be able to fully assess how it stacks up — if it’s a “Fitbit-killer,” a category definer or another geek-centric watch that fails to move the needle.

Until now, I haven’t really been convinced that consumers want smartwatches. This could change things.

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