10 Mar 2015

Apple surprises with new MacBook, confirms Watch details

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Perfectly balanced? The new MacBook Perfectly balanced? The new MacBook Apple

Index

Red Shark's Apple expert, K. Stewart, details the new ultra-thin 12-inch MacBook, the Apple Watch pricing and all the other announcements from an extremely packed and internet-breaking Apple keynote.

The first new product category of the Tim Cook era enjoyed its second keynote outing with a full reveal of the intricate, high fashion-oriented pricing matrix and launch date, but not too much in the way of new features despite speculation beforehand that Apple had been holding back killer-apps for competitive reasons. If the first keynote hadn’t sold you on Apple Watch, this wasn’t going to change your mind.

But let’s get the numbers out of the way first. Pre-orders start April 10th, with availability from the 24th. Pricing starts at £299 (38mm) and £339 (42mm) for the entry-level aluminium Apple Watch Sport with fluroreslastomer band, while the mid-range Stainless Steel Apple Watch starts £479/£519 with the same rubbery band and rises to £899/£949 for a Space Black model with Steel Link bracelet. The 18-carat gold Apple Watch Edition starts at £8,000 (with rubber strap!) and rises to £12,000 for a 42mm version with Midnight Blue Classic Buckle. Individual straps range from £39 to £379, but not all straps are available individually.

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The higher level pricing was below some of the wilder estimates and is, in fact, comparatively cheap for a luxury watch… while still quite a way from any other digital watch to date. In terms of functionality, we basically got a rerun of the last keynote. To recap in the way that Apple would put it:

Apple Watch is the most advanced timepiece ever created, accurate to 50 milliseconds and with elaborately customisable faces, from traditional to digital, including an animated Mickey Mouse and a considerable range of notifications - the latter tied into Apple Watch aware apps such as, say, CNN for news alerts.

Apple Watch is a revolutionary new way to communicate, with the Taptic Engine allowing you to literally tap a friend on the wrist from the opposite ends of the Earth. It also has a microphone and speaker, to you can use it to answer the phone. At home, you can use your WiFi network to extend the range compared to Bluetooth - so your phone could be downstairs charging and you answer a call upstairs on your phone.

Apple Watch is like a personal trainer on your wrist. An elegant three ring display monitors your physical activities, with different setting for different gym equipment. It can even send you a weekly update to propose how you might improve your performance for the next week.

There’s an app for that

Normally, a major new product or even a significant iPad upgrade would see developers on stage to talk about exciting new apps. Given that the Watch is all about glimpses, about tiny little interactions maybe that wasn’t appropriate. We instead got Apple Technology VP Kevin Lynch giving us a ‘day in the life of Apple Watch’ with a range of small interactions such as call a cab with Uber, using Siri to set reminders, looking through Instagram, reading and responding to emails. The Wechat messaging popular in Asia worked well here due to its reliance on stickers to communicate.

Battery life had been a concern and Cook was happy to reveal it should do 18 hours before needing a charge - from an elegant magnetic charging device. Apple actually devotes a lot of space on the website to this issue, which is to say carefully managing expectations. 18 hours equates to - '90 time checks, 90 notifications, 45 minutes of app use, and a 30-minute workout with music playback from Apple Watch via Bluetooth.' If battery life gets too low, a Power Reserve mode should provide 72 hours of simply checking the time. Charge time is 2.5 hours to 100%.

As to water-proofing, Apple Watch has an IPX7 designation which means it can survive immersion in water up to 1 metre deep for up to 30 minutes. So getting caught in the rain or even having a shower will be fine, but swimming definitely isn't recommended.

In some early adopter reports, there’s been somewhat hyperbolic talk about the transforming impact of Apple Watch in lessening the need to pull out your iPhone and instead simply live through tiny glimpses of info on your wrist. Different people will have different usage applications, of course. There have also been questions about how well reliably turning your wrist turns on the screen — which unlike Pebble’s epaper display is high-resolution, full colour and needs to be off when you’re not looking at it.

In hands-on usage, the much vaunted digital crown (the faux winder on the side of the watch) seemed to be used less than expected — touching, scrolling seemed to work fine with force touch as an additional input. Some reported feeling the Digital Crown confused the UI more than it helped, although that may be due to limited time to get used to it.

Adding new apps will all be done via iPhone and iOS 8.2 appeared at the time of the keynote with an un-deletable new app to manage the Apple Watch you can't yet buy. What it does do is provide an entry into lots of Watch promotional material.

The most compelling use cases come from health, extending the increasingly powerful fitness apps from iPhone. Early on in the presentation, we had an insight into this from a new Research Kit framework for patients to self monitor and administer tests whenever they wanted - a key point being that disease symptoms vary over time and do not always present handily for a doctor's visit. The short film made a powerful case for its utility from doctors who normally struggle to get this sort of data and, to Apple’s credit, they’re open sourcing it to other platforms.



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