Apple's long awaited smartwatch, dubbed iWatch, is set to launch this year. At least that's what the evidence suggests, and we're certainly convinced. Here, we investigate the latest analysis, evidence and rumours to bring you our predictions of the iWatch release date, price, specs and features. For iWatch rivals, see: the best smartwatches of 2014.
Will Apple launch an iWatch? Will the iWatch succeed?
There's been a lot of speculation about Apple's intention with regard to wearable tech. Much of it wrong-headed and hopeful. But the fact is that all the usual tell-tale signs are there for a major new product line from Apple. Indeed, in May 2013, Apple CEO Tim Cook told attendees at All Things D that "the wrist is interesting". That in itself doesn't mean much, but the level of rumours springing from usually reliable sources tells us that Apple will launch an iWatch, and it will be this year. (For more evidence see Apple can't run from its own job listing as iWatch evidence builds and Apple seeks 'iWatch' trademark in Japan.)
That's not the only time Apple has hinted at an iWatch, either. Cook has hinted on multiple occasions that Apple is working on a new product line. He's spoken about "new product categories" that the company is working on behind the scenes, and has said that Apple aims to be the best, not the first, with everything it makes. Apple certainly wouldn't be the first company to launch a smartwatch. In fact, the wearable tech market has been flooded with new smartwatches from the likes of Samsung, Sony, Pebble and more already this year.
If you're still not convinced, there are two more pieces of evidence that we think my sway you. The first is that Apple actually owns the rights to the iWatch name in several countries, and the second is that there's an Apple patent that describes a wearable computer with a flexible display that can snap around the wrist to become a smartwatch.
Whether the iWatch will be a success is another matter. Much analysis points at the market-making successes of the iPod, iPhone and the iPad. But in each case there was an established need, and a nascent market. Apple simply made much better products than those that had gone before.
It's also worth pointing out that success is relative. By any metric the iPod, iPhone and iPad are hugely successful product lines. But their levels of success differ markedly: at its peak more than 50 million iPods were being sold each year. By contrast 70 million iPads were sold in 2013, and more than 116 million iPhones. Wearable tech is clearly a growth market, but whether it can hit any of those figures remains to be seen.
iWatch concept above by Martin Hajek.
What's the point of an iWatch?
The aim of the iWatch would probably be to add a connected interface to your wrist, acting as a middle-man between you and your iPhone. Smartphones have replaced watches as our key informational tools, offering much greater functionality. But the form factor has taken us back to the time of pocket watches. We have to pull out our phones to tell the time, never mind all the other great information we can access.
That alone doesn't mean that smartwatches or even smartglasses such as Google Glass are going to be a success. You could argue that adding a tablet to our arsenal of connected devices is already one device too many (the dream of one-device-to-rule-them-all is further away than ever). But there is a market for anything Apple makes, and if anyone can create a smartwatch that is worth having it is Apple. Apple will launch an iWatch, and here is what we know and what we think we know.
We'll update this story as more information becomes available. (See also: Sony SmartWatch 2 review.)
Apple iWatch release date: When is the iWatch coming out?
The smart money is on a Q3 iWatch launch - that's Autumn 2014 for you humans out there. Apple Insider is reporting this as fact based on a research note written by trusted analyst KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, and seems to confirm heavy industry rumours.
"We believe the rumored iWatch will be Apple's most important product this year, carrying much more weight than iPhone 6," Kuo writes, adding, "as market feedback for the product should reveal whether Apple still has the ability to continue making game-changing products with Tim Cook at the helm."
Apple has in recent years settled in to a rhythm of updating its iPhones and iPads in two separate events in the autumn each year. We'd expect the iWatch launch to coincide with the iPhone 6 launch, expected September or October 2014. This gets the iWatch out in time for the all-important Thanksgiving/Christmas shopping season.
There was an outside chance that Apple will launch the iWatch at WWDC 2014, where iOS 8 was announced. However, there was no wearable iWatch unveiled in San Francisco this year.
Based on what we know right now we strongly predict a September or October launch for the iWatch, with new iPads and iPhones, and updates to the Apple TV and MacBook lines.
The latest report via Sydney Morning Herald, from Japanese newspaper Nikkei, states that Apple will release the iWatch in October. It also backs up rumours that the device will have a curved screen to rival that of the Samsung Gear Fit.
Kuo's latest report states that Apple iWatch will enter mass-production in November, later than the original September prediction. "We have pushed back our estimated time of iWatch mass production from late-September to mid-/ late- November. We also lower our forecast of iWatch 2014 shipments by 40% to 3mn units," wrote Kuo putting it down to more complex hardware and software engineering.
We'll update this article as we know more.
Apple iWatch specs and features
Above: iWatch concept by Todd Hamilton
This is where the facts end and the speculation truly kicks in. We understand that there may even be two iWatch models, with different, curved screen sizes of 1.3in or 1.5in. It's possible these will be male- and female-styled watches – after all, watches are as much about fashion as they are about technology in many cases. We expect flexible AMOLED displays with Sapphire crystal glass to prevent scratching. Apple owns a Sapphire crystal glass factory in Arizona, and it's recently believed to have begun production of the material. (See also: Apple iWatch to come in two sizes, analyst claims.)
Rumours point to an unusually large 250mAh battery - lengthy battery life will be a key battleground for wearable tech, and Apple is often a market-leader in this respect. Expect the iWatch to last more than a day between charges. It's possible motion charging may be introduced, to keep your iWatch battery topped up.
Unlike other smartwatches, we expect the iWatch to be able to operate on its own, like a tiny connected iPod. Clearly an important element will be the ability to offer an additional display for your iPhone, but offering a standalone product will allow Apple to keep in, and attract new Windows and Android users to its ecosystem.
We expect Apple Maps to be a key feature, along with a Mail app, simple browser and Siri. And you should be able to make and answer calls via the iWatch, as well as sending- and receiving text messages.
It's thought, though, that the biggest focus of Apple's iWatch will be fitness and health-tracking. It's rumoured that Apple is planning to introduce a new app called 'Healthbook' this year, which will work closely with the iWatch. Together, the app and smartwatch will be able to collect and collate data such as how many steps you've taken, how many calories you've burned and the distance you've walked. They'll also allegedly be able to monitor blood pressure, hydration levels, heart rate and more.
The health and fitness rumours are backed up by some of Apple's recent hires from the medical field, and also the recent talks of a partnership between Apple and Nike, which is believed to be discontinuing its FuelBand line.
Expect Bluetooth to connect the iWatch to your existing iOS device, meaning the smaller device doesn't need standalone Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity, but limiting its standalone capabilities. (This fits in with current Apple policy on the Bluetooth-based iBeacon, which makes it both more likely, and also more likely to be a rumour based on the facts as we know them.)
We've seen screenshots purportedly of iOS 8 that show an app called 'Watch Utility' running on an iPad and on an iPhone, so expect the iWatch to be compatible with both smartphones and tablets.
Again, we'll confirm or deny these rumours as we know the facts.
Apple iWatch price: How much will the iWatch cost?
At the time of writing anyone that tells you they know the price of the upcoming iWatch is either lying or telling you something they shouldn't. We've heard everything from $150 to thousands of US$. We can only speculate as to the truth of the matter. So here goes...
Although Apple is a premium manufacturer that operates at the top of the market, the price of current smartwatches gives some room for manouevre. Given that the Samsung Galaxy Gear launched at a hefty £299, we'd expect Apple to be in that region. In some ways that feels expensive, and in others cheap. But it is worth remembering that at the time of launch the iPhone and iPad felt cheap - even though they were at the top of their respective nascent markets.
We will see. Stay tuned to this page for further updates as the iWatch release gets closer.