In California, I held the new Apple Watch in the palm of my hand. I saw its face fill with pixels of colour that morph into myriad butterflies, jellyfish, flowers…
I stroked its straps, from warm rose gold to bright, sporty rubber facing off an aluminium frame.
I tried to absorb the vast possibilities of personalisation and a fantasy of functions.
And I still don’t know whether the fashion world will embrace this smartest of watches, or whether a new generation that has its phone as a timepiece will find the wristbands compelling.
Apple’s long-awaited announcement today in Cupertino, California, at the same Flint Centre for the Performing Arts where the original Macintosh was launched 30 years ago, in 1984, is a symbolic gesture and a highly emotive one for Jony Ive, Apple’s senior vice president for design.
The ghost of Steve Jobs, the genie of digital, who died in 2011, hovers over the memory. For Ive, whose 17-strong design team has been working on the watch in secret for three years, this is the moment when an online global audience, projected at 60 million, has stopped following the countdown on Apple’s website and will rush to digital judgement.
But not until this watch, its function embedded within the smartphone, goes on sale in early 2015 will Jony and his team know whether their minutely studied gamble will pay off.
Already there is competition. Samsung launched its own multifunctional timepiece, the Galaxy Gear S, on August 28. This week in New York, I slipped that around my wrist, and listened to a seminar in which Samsung’s Younghee Lee, Executive Vice President of Global Marketing for Mobile Communications, and Howard Nuk, Head of Industrial Design, invited the fashion gurus Carine Roitfeld from Harper’s Bazaar,Stephen Gan from V Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar and Andrea Rosso, Diesel’s licensing director, to debate the bracelet’s form and function. While admiring its technical aspects, Roitfeld admitted that she would not wear one for its aesthetics.
Tory Burch has taken a digital step forward by collaborating with Fitbit to produce a wristband that is about exercise and health.
Apple’s credo is – and has been since the global success of its smartphones – to make technology personal.
For Jony Ive’s team, the ticking heart of this timepiece is that it is not purely functional but becomes part of each person’s identity. Their hope is that an entire generation of under-thirties who abandoned the wristwatch will take up the smart bracelet challenge.
The essence of the Apple Watch, which comes in two sizes, is that its face has four lenses with two emitters, two sensors – and infinite choices.
First you select the externals: one of seven different straps – including stainless steel, rubber and quilted leather.
Then you turn to the face, where, by using the watch crown, there are Apps to download, as with a smartphone.
Your watch face can already be personalised, making the brutally functional into an aesthetic decision. That can mean Mickey Mouse or something subtly nuanced.
The timepiece itself offers myriad visual possibilities, so in London your screen may show the sun rising and setting over Big Ben while in Bali it rises and sets over an idyllic beach.
It has synthesised sound, sports functions, medical apps that help you keep healthy and, for the first time in the smart gadget world, style and self-expression are built into the functions.
I did not have long enough with this awesome object to grasp more than the basics: that the wrist watch works only in tandem with an Apple smartphone and has no phone of its own; and that the price will start at $349 for a sport watch and presumably rise up to Swiss watch prices for the rose gold.
I also experienced how the powerful technology allows you to make the tiny display zoom in and out; that there are four lenses, two emitters and two sensors; that there are maps, calendars and other apps that seem, to me, to replicate a smartphone’s content and capabilities.
The Apple Watch could tell me to stand up and stretch – without my setting it. Let’s just hope it doesn’t read my blood count and then tell me to stop eating chocolate!
Who knows how watch collectors will respond to this Twenty-First-Century digital object, which will be constantly updated rather than savoured and passed on to the next generation?
From a fashion point of view, the external aesthetic seemed neutral: neither super-stylish nor repellent. I would imagine that geeks would love it more than aesthetes.
Yet smartphones have already transformed the fashion world in a way we never imagined, bringing backstage to the wide world and turning shows into a forest of phones and instant images and videos.
The phone and the computer have been responsible for bringing fashion to everyone.
I suspect that I, as a non-digital specialist, would fail to use this device to its full capacity. But I like the idea of setting the visual aspects according to my mood. And perhaps my wardrobe.
A bunch of violets to set off my purple outfits? Why not look at my watch – and dream.