Design

With a new form factor comes the need to deeply analyze design, and in the case of a smartwatch it really becomes more important than ever before. Like clothing, watches are deeply personal in a way that smartphones weren’t. The most immediate aspect of the Apple Watch is the size. I’ve used the Moto 360 before, and while I didn’t think it was too big for me, people with smaller wrists can look rather ridiculous wearing the Moto 360 or many other smartwatches. Even in the 42mm variant, the Apple Watch is surprisingly small for a smartwatch. The 38mm variant is definitely sized for people with smaller wrists.

Outside of height and width, the thickness of the watch is definitely a bit more than what one might expect from a regular watch, but it isn’t really all that noticeable due to the rounded curves of the casing. When looking at the display, the display’s cover glass also blends seamlessly into the metal case of the watch, which really looks impressive indoors, although the illusion is somewhat lost in strong sunlight as it becomes obvious where the display ends and the bezel begins. This really helps with analog watchfaces, but in practice I found I was never really bothered by rectangular watch displays. If anything, I’ve found round watch display to lack information density; round watch displays just aren’t pragmatic for general purpose computing.

In order to really give a sense of what the watch looks and feels like when it’s on the wrist, I’m going to start by assuming that most people will wear this watch on their left hand. This places the side button and digital crown on the right. If you read nothing else in this entire article, you should know that the digital crown is probably the best solution I’ve seen to the smartwatch input problem yet. The digital crown manages to have just the right amount of friction to the knob so input feels deliberate without being difficult. The notches that surround the crown really help with gripping the crown and improve the precision of input with the digital crown. Both the digital crown and side button have a solid, clicky action, but it’s probably not a surprise at this point given that Apple seems to consistently nail down details like button feel on their iPads and iPhones.

On the left side of the watch, the only notable interruptions are the speaker and microphone holes. As far as I can tell there’s only a single microphone hole, but it seems that Apple has some form of noise cancellation as background noise is generally well-muffled.

The top and bottom of the watch are just the attachment points for the bands of the watch, but from a design perspective this is probably one of the most crucial. The interchangeable bands work incredibly well because of just how easy it is to attach and detach bands. Attaching a band is as simple as matching with the slot and sliding it in, although it is possible to get it wrong by putting a band in upside-down. The fit and finish of both the Milanese loop and sport band that I received were both essentially perfect here, and the Milanese loop band has a glossy finish on the side that helps the band to blend in with the casing of the watch.

The bands themselves are probably the most important aspect of the Apple Watch's design. While Apple definitely hopes that users will be purchasing bands in addition to the one that comes with their watch, it's a safe bet that most users will be using the fluoroelastomer bands that ship with the Apple Watch Sport and the entry level Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition models. Because the fluoroelastomer band ships with the Sport version of the watch and has to fit every wrist size the fluoroelastomer band actually is more like one and a half bands. Included in the package is the section of the strap with the metal pin, and two pieces of different lengths with holes in them. The longer one is meant for users with larger wrists, and the smaller one for users with smaller wrists.

As for the band itself, the feel of it can be difficult to describe. When they were first revealed, my initial thought was that they would have a somewhat firm and rubbery feel. It turns out that the bands are very flexible, and also very soft. The best description I could give is that it feels similar to the soft touch back of the black Nexus 5 and Nexus 9, but much smoother and very resistant to smudges. Water also tends to roll right off of it which makes it very well suited to fitness activities. Since it's not infinitely adjustable there's always a small mismatch between the size of the band and the size of your wrist, but there's not much that can be done to solve that with a pin and tuck design.

In the case of the Milanese loop, the infinitely adjustable design has basically solved the teething issues I have with wearing most watches. The band manages to deal with the issues I’ve always had with wristbands that always seemed to be either too tight or too loose. The fabric-like pattern of the metal links also helps to distribute pressure while allowing for ventilation, so I don’t feel the need to constantly take off the watch due to trapped sweat or some similar issue. It’s also easy to clean the metal bands if they get dirty, although I suspect the leather bands will be rather difficult to deal with in this regard. There is some potential to pinch hairs, but in my experience this is pretty unlikely and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve noticed this problem in the past few months. As a result, this is probably the only watch I’ve ever worn that is consistently comfortable regardless of weather conditions. Independent of how good the wearable is from a digital logic/software standpoint, I’ve noticed that these aspects of the design are far, far more crucial than anyone seems to notice. In the case of Apple Watch, the bands are pretty much as good as it gets.

Moving past the bands, the back of the watch is somewhat unremarkable. There’s a rounded crystal that houses the heart rate LEDs and sensors, and serves as an attachment point for the MagSafe wireless charger. In practice, the only notable issue here is that the crystal seems to act as a pressure point when wearing the Watch, but it’s likely that this is done to ensure proper contact for the heart rate monitor.

Overall, Apple has pretty much nailed the design of the watch. The controls are well-executed and placed in a pragmatic position, in a way that I haven’t really seen anyone else achieve yet. The only real objection I have to the design is that the stainless steel casing seems to be a magnet for small scratches. They’re tough to see in most conditions, but with strong lighting it becomes pretty obvious that it’s pretty easy to scratch the watch casing. I suspect the only solution here is to regularly buff out scratches from the casing like most any stainless steel watch. As for the Apple Watch Sport, the 7000 series aluminum seems to hold up to daily use without any sign of scratches or chips on the casing of the watch. At 25g and 30g for the 38mm and 42mm respectively it's also lighter than the 40g and 50g masses of the stainless steel models. Since the Sport edition uses Ion-X glass like the iPhone 6 instead of the Sapphire crystal of the normal Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition, the display cover glass is much more susceptible to scratching. While I haven't encountered any scratches at this point, the sapphire glass editions will undoubtedly better stand the test of time.

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  • cknobman - Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - link

    Tell me what I was wrong about.

    In regards to it being a flop here are some links (from very recent articles) that prove outside of initial launch sales and preorders it is selling poorly:
    http://www.cnet.com/news/apple-watch-sales-sluggis...
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/07/20/appl...
    http://techcrunch.com/2015/07/21/apple-watch-sales...

    In regards to its features, please discredit my claims. It is big, its user interface sucks (not only in my limited use but the actual users who have it have explained to me why they think it sucks), it does not do squat without an iphone tethered to it, and it is expensive.
    Reply
  • mrochester - Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - link

    This is all speculation, not proof. We won't know anything official until/if Apple start announcing Watch sales separately from their 'other' category. Reply
  • thomasguide - Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - link

    I hear that argument a lot from people and this is little Timmy's comments about that “We don’t intend to provide insight that could help our competitors,”

    Yet they seem to provide a lot of insight that could help their competitors by releasing iphone and ipad sales figures. Why is that? Is itbecause iphones are selling like hot cakes and it makes the company look good? They don't release watch numbers because sales have been dismal. Had they sold 20 million units, you bet your ass little Timmy would separate smartwatches into their own category rather than lumping them in with ipods. This way they can blame the lackluster sales on declining ipods instead the flopping watch.

    Looks like all the fanboys bought their i-toy in April, now what Timmy?
    Reply
  • S2k15 - Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - link

    It's so sad that you need to disrespect Tim Cook by calling him "little Timmy" in order to make yourself feel better, as well as your no doubt empty life. So very sad.

    Oh, and ignore the fact that Apple announced that they would not break out Watch figures MONTHS ago, it's not a decision they made after they found out sales. Your entire argument is moot.
    Reply
  • S2k15 - Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - link

    Uh, Tim Cook stated as a fact that Watch sales were higher in May than April, and higher in June than May. Another rabid Apple hating lying troll caught in their lies. But this is the internet, so cowards like you will never admit they're wrong. Reply
  • hlovatt - Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - link

    Apple announced today that the watch sales were over $1 billion. I guess it's going OK :) Reply
  • darwinosx - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    Nobody but Apple knows what Apple watch sales have been like and you sure don't The Slice report has already been widely discredited.
    Battery life is not terrible at all further indication you have no idea what you are talking about.
    Reply
  • Galps - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    First off, sales haven't been announced so none of us really know how successful or not it really has been but the last estimates I heard put sales close to 3 million. In comparison, only about 720,000 smartwatches sold in 2014 total. So if more than tripling smartwatch sales in 3 months is a failure, then I need to start failing at things more like Apple. Second, design taste is completely opinion but I think I'll trust Vogue and Beyonce for fashion advice over some neck beard commenting on a tech article. Don't know what "owners" you've talked but anecdotal evidence is still anecdotal evidence. I could tell you about how all Android phones suck because me and my 4 friends each had a Galaxy S3 and our battery life was terrible and the UI was buggy and laggy. But that wouldn't matter because there are many other people who loved their S3s regardless of my anecdotal evidence to the contrary. In my opinion, I don't find the watch to be bulky or thick at all. To the contrary actually. I find it to be a lot smaller than most other smartwatches. Lastly, it will do plenty without the phone. You can go on a run and it will still track calories, time/pace, and heart rate. You can still use all the watch functions without the phone. When Watch OS 2 comes out, you'll be able to update all your apps via wifi independent of the phone. You can listen to music independent of the phone as well. Really the only thing you can't do without the phone is get notifications. And battery life is great. I have yet to make it through a whole day with less than 45% battery by the time I go to bed and my 6 Plus has been pushed to 3 days without a charge. Granted those are my experiences so I can't speak to everyone else's experience but I haven't had a single battery issue or any trouble getting my watch and phone to last me at least a day and half at minimum.

    Also, expensive is a relative term based off of your own income. I'm not trying to sound elitist (although this is going to sound really elitist so I'm sorry) but I have no issues spending $400 on a smartwatch. I have enough disposable income that spending a few hundred bucks on a watch isn't going to set me back in any significant amount what so ever. Maybe you have a hard time coming up with an extra $400 but some of us have money and don't really look at $400 as a large amount. Again, I know it sounds elitist and I'm not judging you if $400 is too much, I'm just trying to get the point across that a lot of people don't look at $400 as a lot of money.
    Reply
  • navysandsquid - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    her you need some lotion for your butthurt lol its ok pal we know you don't have any money you don't have to tell us. hate on brother Reply
  • name99 - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    "Apple watch has been largely a market failure so far"
    What do you define as a market failure? Especially in a new market?
    Apple have apparently sold around 4x as many watches as the entire Android Wear sales. That would seem to indicate a success.
    They have apparently matched the internal Apple sales targets. Again indicates success.
    Almost everyone who actually OWNS and has USED an Apple watch (as opposed to simply bitching about it) loves it. You see this both in reviews and in the most recent customer survey from Wristly research.

    So where exactly is this failure you speak of?
    Reply

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