Thoughts on Apple Watch and MacBook

Earlier this week, at Apple’s Spring Forward event, Apple announced the final launch details of the Apple Watch and unveiled a brand new MacBook. This was one of the few events I’ve been able to watch live from beginning to end. Typically I’m stuck at work when Apple is making their announcements, but I was able to sit comfortably on my couch and watch the stream on my Apple TV while making the occasional comment regarding the event on Twitter.

I’ve already linked to some of the smaller announcements, but wanted to chime in on the rest of the news and thought it was worth waiting a couple of days to digest it before publishing.

It was an exciting event from beginning to end with only a few spots that I thought could have been tightened up. I thought Kevin Lynch’s demo went a little bit longer than it needed to, especially considering much of what he demoed was already shown off at their event in September. I also wasn’t much of a fan of the Christy Turlington Burns bit — it started out strong but ended with an awkward moment between her and Tim Cook in which she did a poor job of explaining how the Apple Watch helped her during her marathon in Africa.

Apple Watch

We finally have launch details for the Apple Watch and can start swooning over the new MacBooks (more on that later) instead of speculating about pricing, release dates, and battery life. Apple will begin accepting preorders on April 10 and start shipping on April 24.

They’re doing things a little differently with the launch of the Apple Watch. Instead of expecting customers to fork over $349+ for a new gadget sight-unseen, Apple will have the Watch available to preview in their retail stores starting on April 10. This is an incredibly clever idea.

I’ve been more than willing to preorder iPhones and iPads in the past without ever touching one, but a watch is different. It’s something you wear, something that’s strapped to your body for hours a day. You can’t be expected to make a purchasing decision about such a personal object without being able to wear it first to ensure that its comfortable. And, imagine the publicity Apple will receive for all of the inevitible lines waiting outside  Apple Stores on April 10 just to get their hands on one — without even being able to walk out of the store with it.

Pricing has also been officially announced for the Apple Watch, confirming that Apple will charge more for the 42mm model (starting at $399 for the Sport model) and ending our collective speculation about the cost of the steel and gold models.

The Apple Watch (proper), built with a steel enclosure, will start at just $549 for the 38mm watch face and $599 for the 42mm. I never actually published my speculation regarding the pricing for the steel edition, but if you were to ask me on Sunday I would have guessed something in the neighborhood of $700. I just didn’t think it would have enough breathing room to be worth existing with the Sport models being so close in price. But I suppose Apple will have a much easier time upselling customers to a watch that’s only $200 more, than they would if it was twice as expensive as the Sport model.

Tim Cook also briefly mentioned the higher end Apple Watch Edition saying that it will start at $10,000 and will be available in limited quantities in select retail locations. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I pressume that if you’re in the market for a $10,000+ watch you’ll make an appointment at one of their locations that stocks the Edition and will have an employee with you in a quieter location (off the sales floor) to try on the watch and actually make your purchase.

The final bit of news regarding the Apple Watch is that during normal usage Apple is quoting 18 hours of expected battery life. This should get the vast majority of potential owners through a day’s worth of usage, only having to charge it at night time. Apple’s own Watch battery page does note that the 42mm models typically experiences longer battery life than the 38mm models do.

MacBook

Apple also debuted a brand new Mac notebook on stage at the event. An ultra-slim, extremely portable machine that revives the name “MacBook” that had in recent years always been accompanied by the “Air” or “Pro” qualifier. The new MacBook is the thinnest and lightest laptop Apple has ever shipped — at just 13.1mm thick and weighing only 2 pounds.

Apple packed a lot of technology into this tiny notebook, clearly learning a lot from their development in miniaturization with the iPhone and iPad. It sports a 12-inch 2304×1440 Retina display that Apple designed to minimize electronics on each pixel, widening the aperture, and resulting in a screen that uses 30% less energy without sacrificing brightness. This, and Apple’s newly developed terraced batteries help achieve 9 hours of battery life on such a thin and light device.

The engineers behind the MacBook also spent some time redesigning Apple’s notebook keyboard which now uses a newly developed butterly key mechanism that increases stability and allowed them to shrink the depth of each key. They also changed their keyboard backlighting system by placing an LED behind each key to give more precise and deliberate illumination.

Apple has made some enhancements to their trackpad in the new MacBook adding preassure sensitivity (which their calling Force Touch, as they do in Apple Watch), and their Taptic Engine. This means it no longer has a physical clicking mechanism, instead relying on the Taptic feedback to give you the tactile sensation. And, Apple has debuted Force Touch gestures in OS X which gives you quick access to Wikipedia lookups, calendar entries, file previews, and more.

Force Touch gestures do worry me a little. I still get questions from family members about the right-click menu that they accidentally bring up from time to time — they don’t know why it appeared, how it happened, or why they’d ever want to use it. It’s always dangerous to add functionality that could be accidentally invoked by the user. I hope Apple has it turned off by default or, at the very least, prompts the user to turn it on alongside an informative animation that explains what it is in the first place.

Apple has removed nearly all external ports from the MacBook save for a headphone jack and a single USB-C port. The new USB-C port offers all of the connectivity you’d expect on a notebook computer (USB, HDMI, power, etc.), but unfortunately requires the use of dongles or adapters if you want to connect any current accessories.

The new MacBook will begin shipping on April 10 and comes in silver, space gray, and gold with pricing starting at $1299.

Conclusions

I still don’t expect I’ll be purchasing an Apple Watch any time soon — I’ve never worn watches and would need something a little more earth shattering in order to convince me otherwise. But, I have to admit I’m a sucker for a good hardware release and this is certainly one of them. At this moment, there’s nothing I want more than to spend hours playing around with an Apple Watch, just to see how it works — I want to see how the digital crown feels when you spin it, I want to see how bright the screen is in sunlight, I want to see how the Taptic Engine feels on my wrist.

But, I have a strong feeling that my interest would quickly wane if I had one of my own. I just can’t see myself putting an Apple Watch on every morning and actually interacting with it throughout the day. I would probably keep it up for a week or two. But after that first day I forget to wear it, I think I’d start to question why I spent so much money on something that I don’t need.

Whenever I’m asked about the Apple Watch I always say that I’d have to wait and see what developers come up with before I pass judgment on it. And, I still think that’s the case. If someone comes up with an amazing killer app for the device that blows my socks off I’ll be more than willing to purchase one. But, until that happens I’ll simply be passively interested in the entire smartwatch market.

As for the MacBook, I’m extremely interested. My MacBook Air’s trackpad has been sporadic lately and I wouldn’t mind upgrading to one of these newly announced machines. I almost never connect accessories to my current MacBook, so the lack of connectivity wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me like I’ve seen others claiming it is for them.

I don’t think I’ll end up buying one, though. The iPad Air 2 has quickly become my primary computing device and I’ve only used my MacBook Air a few times since the iPad was delivered nearly a month ago. At this point I think I’m far better off just getting my MacBook’s trackpad replaced and saving the MacBook purchase for a later date.

I didn’t mention it above, but I am happy to see that Apple has finally designed a completely fanless notebook computer. I can barely do anything on my MacBook Air without having to hear the fans whir up to full speed. I still have some overheating concerns, but I doubt Apple would be willing to pull the trigger on such a move without being confident in it.

It is ironic that the MacBook Air is no longer the thinnest and lightest notebook in Apple’s lineup, but that just leaves me wondering what Apple could do to the MacBook Air to make it worthy of its moniker. And who knows, maybe Apple will move to a similar sales approach as they have with the iPad and iPhone — selling last year’s model at a reduced price when they release the next revision. Maybe we’ll see the MacBook Air disappear completely when they announce the next MacBook and drop these current models to the Air’s price points.

I also want to give credit where credit is due, Mark Gurman nailed the MacBook all the way back in early January. His sources are incredible and everyone should be paying attention if you aren’t already.