One Tuesday in September each year, I follow Apple's news event live, and yesterday was no different. Usually, I follow the CNET live blog, but this year was Apple's first ever live-stream of the event. One of the big takeaways is that Apple is getting into health and fitness - a smart move considering the success that many fitness and activity tracking apps, like RunKeeper have already experience on Apple’s own platform. Then, there is the Apple Watch, which is Apple's take on wearable devices. Lastly, Apple gets in on the already fragmented mobile payments space, but there are major obstacles for it to overcome there.
A key theme is that Apple is taking experiences that already exist on other apps and devices and making them into a native Apple experience. Apple's strength has always been its ability to control the user experience. Here's my take on Apple's main highlights.
iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus
As anticipated, Apple announced two new phones - the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. While the current iPhone 5s sports a 4-inch screen, the iPhone 6 will sport a 4.7-inch screen, and the iPhone 6 Plus will boast a huge 5.5-inch screen. Personally, I don't think my phone needs to be any bigger, but I also don't think it will hurt the user experience, so we'll have to see how it plays out. It's obviously a win for those who use their phones for video frequently, but maybe not for those who prefer to keep their devices compact and pocket-sized.
The phone also comes with increased speed, and better camera capabilities, especially for taking live video. As more use their smart phones as their main camera, I think a lot of people will be happy about that. With each new iPhone upgrade, we can expect enhanced camera and speed capabilities though, so let's get into what's really different. What's cool about the new phones are the capabilities and apps that come with iOS 8, which will be available for download on Sept. 17. Here are a few that got me amped:
Health: I own a FitBit activity tracker. I've fallen off the MyFitnessPal calorie/fitness tracker app bandwagon recently, but I see the value in it entirely. The Apple Health app is a way to manage all of your health data. Open to third-party applications, it syncs with your FitBit, MyFitnessPal, etc. so you have one convenient, native place to manage all this health data. I see the value in the native app experience, but I already like my FitBit user experience, so with this alone, there isn't a compelling reason to switch - except maybe the Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake commercial promoting it. However, that wasn't the coolest health-related announcement in Cupertino today, but you'll have to stay tuned for the rest.
CarPlay: I'm not a multi-task-while-you-drive kind of person because I know my weaknesses. Multi-tasking is one of them. Don't tell my Veep Lisa Astor - she might be the most skilled multi-tasker on this planet. But this new CarPlay feature lets you sync your iPhone with your car's built-in display - stuff like directions, calls, messages, music, etc. Many apps and gadgets already enable this, but now Apple is controlling the user experience, even while you drive. If I was one to multi-task, I'd use it, because Apple is king of the user experience, so it's probably fairly seamless.
Mobile Payments: Apple is late getting into the mobile payments game and, while its efforts are admirable, it still has major barriers to overcome. Those who have Android phones have had Near Field Communications (NFC) capabilities for some time now, which, in theory, lets then tap-to-pay at retails stores. But in reality, NFC only works at less than 10 percent of point-of-sale (POS) terminals. So, while Apple's vision may have been to replace your bulky, George Constanza wallets, it's not doing that. You'll still need to carry your cards, unless you exclusively shop at the 10 percent of stores that accept NFC payments, or you're okay with running out on a check. Apple did say that it is working with additional retailers, many who have agreed to update POS systems to accept NFC - Macy's, Walgreens, Bloomingdales's, etc. But the terms of the "agreements" aren't public, so we don't know when those updates will realistically happen. It will likely be a slow process, and many years until NFC is universally accepted. The bottom line is that Apple isn't replacing your wallet.*
*Disclosure: One of PAN's clients is LoopPay -the only mobile payments option that works at 90 percent of retail POS terminals, compared to NFC's 10 percent acceptance rate.
Apple Pay also includes integration with online payments retailers like OpenTable and Groupon, which enables one-tap payments from your iPhone. While Apple has obstacles in mobile payments, its attempt at online mobile commerce may be more successful, especially if they get retailers like Amazon on board.
iWatch - I mean, Apple Watch
I didn't know what to expect with the iWatch, but I did expect it to be called iWatch. Maybe the era of iEverything is coming to an end, because this is simply: Apple Watch. And wow, was I impressed. I've said this for some time now - Apple will not come to the market with a wearable device until they have solved the design issues. It will be sleeker, cooler and more functional with everyday attire than any other smart watch or glasses option on the market. It's still a smart watch. It's not going to look like your dad's rolex, but it is far above what's available on the market today. And, they did what no other wearable contenders has done, by offering what seemed like unlimited color and band design options. Multiple materials for bands, two sizes for watch faces, endless colors, different face designs - I did a small happy dance when I saw a Mickey Mouse face that reminded me of my dad's old pocket watch. The ability to customize the smart watch sets Apple apart form so many other bulky options that come in one or two standard options.
But let's move past the design. As you'd expect, it has a lot of the similar apps and features as your iPhone or iPad. But, as Tim Cook pointed out, it's hard to navigate a touch screen on one that's so small. So Apple included the Digital Crown, which looks similar to the little wheel on the edge of your non-smart watch that you use to adjust the time. This makes it easier to scroll through, and it acts as your home button. While we won't know until we get our hands on one, it seemed fairly easy to use and navigate.
The Apple Watch syncs to all your Apple devices, much like you would expect, and it includes Siri. It works with iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 5, 5c and 5s. And, it comes in three different versions - Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch Edition. For the most part, it works how you'd expect a smart watch too, but here are a few other quick, cool features, (before I get into my favorites):
- Taptic Engine - sends a subtle tap to your wrist when you get a notification (you choose which ones), and when you lift your wrist, it opens the notification.
- Magnetic charger for easier nighttime charging.
- Text analysis - analyzes your texts to make texting easier on the tiny screen. If someone asks me if I want pizza or sushi, Apple analyzes that and I can quick reply by clicking on pizza, sushi, or not sure.
- Includes Apple Pay built into it.
- Glances - choose which features you want to be most accessible - Music, Calendar, etc. and they are easily accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.
Get Healthy-My Favorite Features
Whether you just need to get out of that office chair or you're training for a marathon, Apple wants to help you reach your health goals with two different features of the Apple Watch.
Fitness App: This is by far my favorite aspect the Apple Watch - it's also an activity tracker that, much like FitBit, tracks your movement throughout the day. It measures total body movement, tracks heart rate to measure intensity and uses GPS to track distance. Here are a few examples:
Calories you've burned
Exercise ring - tracks any activity from a brisk walk to a bike ride
Stand ring - shows how often you stood up to take a break from sitting. This is a huge benefit for anyone who works in an office setting and is sedentary most of the day - in other words, me. Even if you regularly go to the gym, sitting at a desk all day takes a negative toll on your body and health.
Workout App: This one's for the more intense athletes that want to track results or train for specific events and goals. Some available features include:
Select workouts and set goals based on distance, time or calories.
Earn rewards for achievements, see workout history and share data with Health app. This might be a good way for Apple to pair up with other companies - earning rewards like free fitness classes, entry into a 5K, etc. when you reach your goals.
Apple Watch gets to know you to deliver intelligent reminders and suggest personal goals. And of course, there are tons of unnecessary bells and whistles, which are still cool. You can zoom out from your current location to the moon, and then see the entire solar system as it is at that moment in time. They also created a new set of custom emoji's, and you can draw back-and-forth with your friends from the Apple Watch. While these aren't necessary, they're certainly cool perks for the Geeks out there.
iPhone 6 starts at $199, and iPhone 6 Plus starts at $299. The Plus is too big for me - if you're in between, go for the 6. But if you're not due for an upgrade, don't rush to pre-order this Friday, when it begins. Like most Apple updates, a lot of the new features will also come in iOS 8, available to all of us 5, 5s and 5c users on Sept. 17. Test that out first, and then when you really need a new phone, for the 6.If you have a birthday coming up, or you feel like splurging - get this. It's the best option available today. What remains to be seen is, will Apple re-define wearable devices like it defined the smartphone market? Time will tell, and I'll be paying close attention to the user experience once it enters the market early next year.
The Apple Watch is priced at $349 and isn't due out until early 2015 -hopefully in time for my birthday in March. I'm a fan. That doesn't mean I'll rush to get it, because that is a hefty price tag, and I still have questions about it. GPS, for example, is linked to your iPhone's GPS. So, if I got for a run, do I need to bring my iPhone with me, too? Not having its own connection could be a huge downside.
Apple Watch's SDK is open to developers, and I'm excited to see what new things third-parties come up with. Until then, Apple did a pretty great job of innovating all on its own. The health aspect is by far my favorite feature, and I'm eager to see how it all integrates and works together to create, hopefully, a unique user experience.