Apple Watch: Why its time has come at last

Smartwatches aren't just shrunken smartphones tied to your wrist - they're something different and far more interesting.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Apple Watch, in pictures

One of the oddest things about reporting on technology is that I know roughly what's going to happen - I just don't know when.

Tablets were a product waiting to happen for decades, pretty much since they appeared in Star Trek. They instinctively made sense at first sight: we just had to wait a few decades for the technology to catch up with our imagination.

It was the same with smartphones, and now finally it may be the turn of the smartwatch - after at least a decade of the industry trying to get it right (see the gallery below). Because this week the first Apple Watches will start arriving with their owners.

True, it's a low key kind of launch, especially for Apple. No queues snaking around the Apple Store; no camping out to be first in line, as with the iPhone; nobody jogging out triumphantly, waving their purchase jubilantly over their head like they've just won a marathon or something, while the Apple Store workers look on and applaud.

But low key doesn't make it any less important for Apple, or for the wider tech industry.

An estimated 2.3 million Apple Watches have been ordered so far (roughly 85 percent of those being the Apple Watch Sport, 15 percent the Apple Watch and one percent the pricey Apple Watch Edition).

Pre-orders alone will make the Apple Watch the most successful smartwatch around. Admittedly, given the rather underwhelming competition, that's not as big an achievement as it sounds. But still, it's an impressive debut.

And there's plenty that makes the launch of the Apple Watch a fascinating prospect. First, can Apple mange to perfect another product, following the smartphone and the tablet, that its rivals have been working at for years with little success?

Perhaps - and actually it's likely that even Apple's rivals will be hoping it can. The smartphone industry is running out of people to sell to, and if Apple can make smartwatches a must-have purchase, then all smartphone makers will benefit.

Second, will the Apple Watch prove to us that smartwatches really are the next generation of personal computing?

I think the answer is almost certainly yes. And I'm certainly not convinced by the people who scoff and insist they have no need for an Apple Watch, or any smartwatch at all.

They're the same people that five years ago were insisting to me that they would never buy a smartphone. These are the spiritual descendants of the people who thought the world would only ever need five computers.

Just as the smartphone created new needs and fulfilled them, so will smartwatches. And don't try looking for a killer app because I don't think there will be one single one. Even if there were right now, it will change, just as it has for the smartphone. I'm expecting the smartwatch to develop into a more profound way of connecting us with our digital lives than smartphones ever managed.

That's because a smartwatch isn't just a smartphone shrunk down and strapped to your wrist. It's something new and different. More personal, more intimate. For example there's a persuasive review of the Apple Watch in The New York Times which says the Apple Watch 'builds the digital world directly into your skin'.

Clearly much depends on Apple's implementation, and one of the most important details is not how many pre-orders there are, but how many people are still wearing them in three months time, after the honeymoon has ended. And it may be several years yet before the wider impact of wearables becomes apparent. But I think it's almost certain that the real era of wearable computing starts this week.

Agree? Disagree? Tell us me what you think in the reader comments below.

Before the Apple Watch, a history of smartwatches, in pictures

Apple Watch and beyond: The strange history of smartwatches, in pictures

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

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