2014: the year of the wearable? From Google's Glass to Android Wear and all manner of fitness trackers in between, mobile devices will be slithering out of the primordial soup that's splashing around in your pocket, and most will be making their way onto your wrist.
Rumours of an Apple iWatch predate this latest wearables craze by years. With Apple's tablet line established, the iPhone facing stiff competition and iOS 8 looking to extend Apple's health credentials, the stage finally seems set for the entrance of the iWatch.
With the rumour mill churning, here's everything we think we know so far about Apple's tech-heavy timepiece.
Sensors, sensors, sensors. It will come as no surprise, but Apple's smartwatch will be less concerned with telling you the time than telling you precise details about the workings of your body. It's going to be all about health and fitness monitoring, as suggested by the focus placed on those sectors during the iOS 8 reveal.
10 sensors in all are said to feature in the device, and many of those will be biometric: one is rumoured to measure hydration by analysing your sweat, another would help weightlifters track repetitions, another would keep the beat with your heart. There's even been talk of a barometer tucked away inside.
In more general hardware terms, everything from a 1.3-inch to a 2.5-inch display has been suggested, along with wireless charging capabilities. Apple Insider points towards a 200 to 250mAh battery being included, while the NYT suggests battery power could also be supplemented by kinetic or solar power. However, with a device that small and so loaded with sensors, even Apple's own employees are said to have urged buyers to set "low expectations" when it comes to battery life.
Though supply chain leaks can give us a rough idea of what the hardware may look like, the software side of things is more like guesswork. Though Apple is expected to have full (yet tailored) iOS 8 on the iWatch, it's in lockdown -- don't expect to see any software leaks until the iWatch enters production, if ever before release.
But, given rival smartwatch capabilities, the rumoured sensors onboard and a few extrapolations from the iOS 8 reveal, we can make a few educated guesses. First, the obvious stuff. Linked up to an iPhone (likely over Bluetooth), it would be outrageous if the iWatch didn't offer some sort of customisable notifications system, alerting the wearer of incoming message and calls, perhaps even letting you answer directly from the watch using the iOS / OS X ecosystem's new Continuity and Handoff features.
Paired up with Apple's new HomeKit API, iWatch apps could be central to an Apple home automation system -- even if that proves to be less fully-featured than some Jetsons wannabes would hope for. But it's the health and fitness monitoring stuff that seems Apple's main focus, built with a level of depth that would set it apart from the competition.
iOS 8's Health app will feature in some form on the iWatch, with the wearable device likely providing much of the data that the app relies upon through the wristwatch sensors. There's the potential here for everything from blood sugar level to heart problems to be monitored, alongside standard fitness and wellbeing metrics such as steps taken and how settled a sleeping session has been. In the US at least it seems Apple ultimately wants to partner with health practitioners, letting them remotely monitor patient data from the iWatch, taking the strain off overstretched medical staff.
Apple is already said to have courted a number of prominent third-party app designers for the iWatch, so expect the big boys like Twitter, Facebook and Nike to have stuff ready for launch. All iWatch apps are also expected to be fenced off into their own dedicated iWatch App Store, making finding new stuff for the timepiece to play with easy.
With the iPhone 6 said to be featuring an NFC payments system, the iWatch is also thought to be a physical component in two-factor payment authentications. If true, anyone who pairs their iPhone 6 with the iWatch will have the option of only allowing payments to go through if both devices are within close proximity of each other, making it more difficult for thieves to swipe your phone AND your bank details (unless they chop your watch-wearing hand off, too).
Our own Eric Limer shared his detailed predictions on what life with an iWatch would be like:
It will be interesting to see how Apple translates its iOS 8 operating system into a form that's digestible on a smaller wearable device. Arguably, iOS 7's push towards a flatter, cleaner look for the operating system paved the way for the iWatch's tailored version of iOS -- the last thing you want on a tiny screen is busy skeuomorphic designs.
Google's Android Wear interface is a good jumping off point if you're at a loss as to what to expect from a wearable UI. The hardware design is a little easier to predict -- you're relatively certain to get either a circular touchscreen display or a square one. Or maybe Apple will offer both -- it's been suggested that two different iWatch models will launch, one with a rectangular screen and rubber strap aimed at sports enthusiasts, along with a circular "Designer" model sporting a stainless steel link band.
Talk of a curved touchscreen display has quietened down recently, but given how lovely Samsung's Gear Fit looked (even if it didn't perform that well in use) Apple may consider following suit. Expect to see sapphire glassprotecting that display too.
Apple has also filed patents for something called iTime, with the details of the patent suggesting the display may be a modular unit which could be swapped out and placed inside different straps. With Apple hiring former executives from luxury watch specialists Tag Heuer, expect the iWatch to look a little more fashion conscious than other smartwatches out there.
Recently, Apple's design guru Jony Ive has been indirectly quoted as saying that Switzerland, the land of the premium watch, "is in trouble" thanks to just how swish the iWatch is looking. With Apple flying out top fashion journalists and bloggers to its September 9th iPhone event, it's looking increasingly likely that a style-conscious wearable will launch.
Regardless, there have been plenty of concept designs from enthusiastic Apple fans knocking around to give some indication as to what an iWatch may look like. Here are a few of the best: Credit: Martin Hajek (2) Credit: Thomas Bogner
Seeing as it's going to be so reliant upon a connected iPhone device, it's a safe bet to imagine that the iWatch will be announced alongside the iPhone 6. According to the latest rumours, the smartphone is set to arrive at Apple's press event tomorrow on September 9th.
It's standard timing for the Cupertino company, allowing Apple to build a buzz around the devices just in time for the Christmas present buying rush. Deutsche Telekom has suggested that September 19th will be the exact date that the iPhone 6 will hit stores, and its possible that the iWatch would land alongside it.
However, reliable Apple analyst John Paczowski is reporting that the iWatch will land in October, while others have suggested the iWatch may slip back to 2015. Either Apple is giving the iPhone 6 some retail breathing space in that case, or perhaps production has been a little tougher than anticipated.
Now that's a good question. Apple's gear always carries a premium, so it's tough to even gauge against the rumoured pricing of Google's first wave of Android Wear devices (the Android wearables hover around the £180 mark).
Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty predicts that the iWatch could rake in as much as $17.5 billion for Apple during its first 12 months on sale, at a selling price of $299. Directly converted, that price tag would be £176 in the UK. But for Apple, that seems low. Expect to see it selling closer to the £250 mark.