Unless the expectations of Apple watchers turn out to be wildly off-base, we’re about to learn about Apple’s first wearable device–the first all-new product category the company has entered since it announced the first iPad more than four years ago. My colleague Alice Truong and I will be in Cupertino to live-blog the news on Tuesday, starting at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, with color commentary from some of our Fast Company compatriots. We hope you’ll join us.
Assuming that the wearable gadget is a principal topic at Tuesday’s event, years of speculation–and a few weeks of plausible-sounding rumors–are about to be rendered obsolete by actual facts. Here’s a list of big questions–and some possible answers. Many of these questions–and maybe all of them–should be more definitively answered by Tuesday afternoon.
1. What’s its name?
The world has been calling Apple’s prospective wearable the iWatch for eons now. I have no idea whether that name is a real possibility, although it seems awfully specific to time-telling, a function you don’t need a smartwatch for. Me, I like “iWear.”
2. When will it be available?
2015, according to Re/code‘s trusty John Paczkowski.
3. How many versions will it come in?
Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities–whose record isn’t good enough for us to take new predictions as gospel–expects two sizes: 1.3-inch and 1.5-inch. What that translates into, if it’s true, I’m not sure. Could there be a man’s version and a woman’s one?
4. How much will it cost?
Paczkowski and his colleague Dawn Chmielewski say that Apple has considered a $400 pricetag–but that we should expect multiple versions of the product at different price points. It’s possible that Apple might unveil wearable(s) but wait to talk about the cost until they’re about to ship, though the company has a pretty good track record of disclosing prices right away: In January 2007, Apple announced how much the original iPhone would cost even though it didn’t go on sale until that June.
5. Will it require an iPhone to work?
Presumably. (The chances of it being Android-compatible seem so tiny that I’m not even going to bother asking about it.)
6. If it does, what models will it work with?
“Any recent iPhone” would be a more pleasing answer than “a new iPhone.”
7. What operating system will it run?
iOS, says ace Apple reporter Mark Gurman of 9to5Mac.
8. Will it run third-party apps?
Yes, Gurman reports.
9. Will the wearable have its own App Store, or rely on the iPhone App Store for software?
Not clear, says Gurman.
10. What’s it going to look like?
This is both one of the most interesting questions and one which you can’t answer no matter how smartly you piece together all the evidence at hand. Will it come off as bigger or smaller that you’d expect? How thin is it? How does it fasten onto the wrist? What sort of materials is it made out of? We don’t know, which is one reason why Apple’s event hasn’t been spoiled by all the leaks.
11. Will it feel like a watch?
Apple is hiring folks from the watch industry. Jony Ive is supposedly saying that Switzerland is in trouble. That could indicate that Apple sees what it’s created as a device which will do to the watch industry what the iPhone did to cell phones. Or maybe not.
12. What screen technology will it use?
OLED, according to a Wall Street Journal story by Lorraine Luk, Daisuke Wakabayashi, and Greg Bensinger. It would be the first Apple device with OLED–a technology widely used on Android phones, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S5.
13 .Will the screen be curved?
Yes, according to that WSJ story. Whether that will leave it looking anything like existing curved wearables, we don’t know.
14. Will it use sapphire to protect the screen?
Yes, says the New York Times‘s Brian X. Chen. It’s a new material for consumer electronics but a familiar one in high-end wristwatches, with lots of benefits.
15. Will it have a touchscreen?
Everybody’s certainly assuming so.
17. How about wireless technologies?
Bluetooth, presumably. Less likely: Wi-Fi and/or cellular.
18. Will it have NFC?
All the evidence indicates that Apple is finally embracing Near Field Communications, the tap-to-communicate technology which it’s spurned for years. It’ll be handy for payments and possibly other applications.
19. Will it do Siri?
Voice input isn’t a miracle feature for wearable devices: There are lots of instances in which talking is an inappropriate or ineffective way to interact with a gizmo. But as one of several options, Siri (and dictation) could be mighty handy.
20. Will it have any means of entering text other than voice?
It’s a little tough to envision Apple giving the thing a microscopic on-screen QWERTY keyboard, like the one on Samsung’s Gear S. But you never know.
21. Will the display stay on when it’s not actively being used?
I hope so. Alternative approach: Using a motion sensor to wake it up every time you lift it toward your gaze.
22. What will the battery life be like?
In a story lurking behind a paywall, The Information‘s Jessica Lessin says that Apple employees are trying to temper expectations about how long the device will run on a charge. That makes sense, because no smartwatch with an OLED or LCD screen has delivered battery life that deserves to be called impressive. If Apple’s wearable runs for less than a day, it’ll be a major downside; if it does one to two days, it’ll meet the current bar of adequacy; if it goes for three or more days, it’ll be a happy surprise.
23. How do you recharge it?
Wirelessly, according to the NYT‘s Chen. That’s not a dazzling smartwatch feature in itself–Motorola’s Moto 360 has a no-wire charging dock, for instance–but it does leave lots of opportunity for Apple to incorporate the technology in a particularly clever and/or stylish manner.
24. Will it have a flagship feature?
Samsung’s Gear Fit is a smartwatch with an emphasis on fitness. Every Android Wear watch stresses notifications. It’s not clear whether Apple’s wearable will be primarily about one or two things–or whether it, like an iPhone, will be about everything.
25. How will payments work?
A lot of scuttlebutt about Apple’s plans to let you use its wearable (and the iPhone 6) as a digital wallet is out there. But for me, at least, it hasn’t gelled into a clear idea what the experience will be like, or how it will be radically better than theoretically-good-ideas such as Google Wallet.
26. What fitness features will it have?
Some stuff, like the ability to count your footsteps and monitor your sleep patterns is obvious. In fact, those are already almost baseline features for a wearable device.
27. And further health-related ones?
There are rumors of Apple wanting to get its wearable certified by the FDA. If true, they’d indicate uncommonly ambitious plans.
28. What else?
Mapping is one of the most underappreciated applications for a smartwatch–it’s especially handy when you’re walking around an unfamiliar city.
29. What are the third-party possibilities?
There’s a decent chance that Apple will invite a developer or two onstage to show off an early version of a wearable app. If it does, whatever the company chooses to show off will make a statement about how it wants the device to be perceived.
30. How much access will those third-party apps have to the device’s various capabilities?
We’re talking Apple, so it’ll be careful about permitting access in a manner that isn’t insecure and doesn’t make the wearable susceptible to crashes.
31. What don’t we know?
There may be fundamental facts about the wearable device which Apple has managed to keep entirely secret. Or what we think we know may add up to a misleading picture.
Okay, that’s enough for now. After the event is over tomorrow, I’ll revisit this list and tally up exactly what we learned, or didn’t learn. Feel free to speculate in the comments, and see you tomorrow.