When the Apple store came back online yesterday after a nearly two-hour keynote presentation, there wasn’t actually anything new to buy. The iPhone 6 preorders start Friday. The Apple Watch won’t be available until next year. The U2 album is free.
But there was one thing missing from the redesigned digital storefront. You might have missed it, but the iPod Classic, the last remnant of Apple’s pre-multitouch music dominance, was no longer for sale. Gone were the once-revolutionary Click Wheel and its once-impressive 2.5-inch color display.
In the age of touch interfaces and multi-function devices, the iPod Classic was a dinosaur, and it’s not at all surprising that it’s gone. What’s interesting is that Apple would choose to retire it on the same day Apple Watch was released. They might not share many similarities in their designs, but as I watched Tim Cook introduce the Apple Watch to the world, I couldn’t help but think of the original iPod.
An Apple Watch interface
Of course, Apple has come a long way since the days of the iPod. Unveiled on Oct. 23, 2001, it was the first non-Mac product since the doomed Newton and the only one in its lineup at the time. It was essentially a Mac accessory, and an expensive one at that. Its initial appeal was limited to hardcore music fans, but its beauty was undeniable, entering a market filled with clunky interfaces and even clunkier syncing. It didn’t necessarily do anything the Nomad Jukebox or Rio 800 didn’t do, but it boiled digital music players down to their essence and polished the experience in wonderful new ways.
Apple Watch is remarkably similar in scope. It’s a standalone product that requires an iPhone to work. It introduces a novel method of navigation and an entirely new interface and operating system. An app called ApplePay will allow you to input your credit cards and use the Apple Watch to pay at checkouts at more than 220,000 stores. It is an undeniably niche product that oozes sex appeal and brings a level of fit and finish unseen on any of its competitors. And it’s expensive ($349).
The watch will enable texting, call alerts and email viewing
But much like the iPod was the first part of Apple’s digital strategy, Apple Watch is the beginning of something bigger. Apple’s first-generation products typically make sacrifices for performance—the iPad was missing a camera, the iPhone didn’t have 3G—but the iPod was a fully realized device. Over the course of its lifetime, Apple really didn’t change all that much about it. Even if it didn’t exactly fly off shelves at the time, Jony Ive got it right from the outset, and each subsequent generation was more about refinement than reinvention.
And I suspect Apple Watch will follow a similar path. What you see on Apple’s website is the foundation for years of upgrades and enhancements, but the svelte square body is key to the experience. I suspect there are a variety of prototypes of all shapes and sizes littering Apple’s laboratories, but everything about the interface, from the watch faces to the custom font, were designed and engineered to complement each other. It’s a stunning, gorgeous interpretation of our iPhones that rests elegantly on our wrists.
The Apple Watch might not blow away its competitors like the iPod did, but it’s clearly in a class by itself. Smartwatches from the likes of Samsung, Motorola and LG all did their best to mimic Apple’s development process, but in trademark fashion, Ive trumped them all, distilling the landscape of wearables into a sleek, intuitive package that’s as simple as it is stunning. It might not be for everyone, but with a choice of sizes and materials, Apple is making sure the people who do want it get a model that specifically matches their tastes. It’s so personal, in fact, it’s a wonder they didn’t call it iWatch.
A workout app can track calorie expenditure and exercise duration
Apple Watch is also a typical first-generation Apple product. It will attract eyeballs and sell well enough for a press release, but, most importantly, it will redefine our expectations for smartwatches. Apple will certainly refine the design over future revisions, but like the iPod spawned generations of minis, nanos and shuffles, Apple Watch is the first member of not just a new product line, but a new product family. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an Apple Band and Apple Glasses in the not-so-distant future, as wearables become the centerpiece of our digital lives.
Someday we’ll look back at this original model and remember how we felt when we first tried one on and wondered if it was worth the price tag. Even without using one, you can see how Apple Watch will dramatically affect the way we interact with our phones and our friends throughout the day, offering a flexible, instinctive design that adapts to our lifestyle.
The first-generation Apple Watch is a start. The price will come down. The face will get thinner. The apps will get more powerful. But what you see is a launchpad for a new revolution. Maybe even a bigger one than the iPod.