After months of fanfare, Apple finally announced a date for its smartwatch: April 24th. The timepieces are one of the riskiest ventures Apple has made in years, and they’re going to play a big role in either making smartwatches the new smartphones or sending them back to the panels of Dick Tracy. They’re a push towards blending fashion and tech, with customizable bands; multiple models made of steel, aluminum, and gold; and price tags that range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. And they take Apple's personal computing to new, sometimes slightly creepy levels. Or, as Tim Cook put it, “Apple Watch is the most personal device we have ever created. It’s not just with you, it’s on you."
Update: Read our Apple Watch review.
Besides the watch, Apple also wrapped up a couple of other long-rumored announcements. While the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are still around, there’s a new 12-inch laptop known only as the MacBook. It’s absurdly thin and light, and it strips out pretty much everything that’s not a screen, trackpad, or keyboard. And there was a surprise announcement for, of all things, HBO: come next month, you’ll finally be able to watch Game of Thrones without a cable subscription. This wasn’t necessarily Apple’s biggest event, but it was one of the more satisfying ones — a chance for the company to finally show off some significantly new hardware.
The Apple Watch is coming next month
As we learned last year, the Apple Watch comes in three models: the Sport, the Apple Watch, and the Apple Watch Edition. The sport is the cheapest, starting at $349 for the 38 mm and $399 for the 42mm. Cases are made from anodized aluminum. The Apple Watch is stainless steel, starting at $549 for the 38mm and $599 for the 42mm, but going as high as $1,099 depending on the band. Finally, the Apple Watch Edition, the 18-karat gold version, starts at a whopping $10,000. Preorders begin on April 10th, and watches will be available on April 24th.
There are a bunch of new watch apps
Third-party developers have had access to WatchKit tools since November, and today Apple highlighted the ways watch-based apps would make interacting with real world easier — summoning a car using Uber, checking in for flights using Passbook, opening garage doors using Alarm.com. The first Apple Watch presentation highlighted health and fitness tracking, but Apple's ambitions there have been scaled back somewhat. The version presented today can monitor the wearer’s activity levels and send a report at the end of the week. There were also some media apps, including Shazam and Instagram, though why you would browse Instagram on such a tiny screen is unclear.
The watch has an 18-hour battery, supposedly
Without a good battery, a smartwatch is nothing — they’re supposed to stay on your wrist, not in a dock. But Apple promises that this isn’t going to be an issue with the Apple Watch, because it's supposed to have an 18-hour battery life. That’s a lot shorter than super-low-power products like the Pebble, and won't necessarily outshine some Android Wear gear, but it’s not bad.
ResearchKit will let you become a medical test subject
Apple's health and fitness system now includes ResearchKit, a framework created to advance medical research. The kit will include several apps targeted at different diseases, including Parkinson's and breast cancer, essentially turning the iPhone into a diagnostic tool. Users will be able to complete tests and surveys to make it easier for researchers to recruit them for clinical trials. With permission from users, ResearchKit can access data measured by third-party apps about its users' weight, blood pressure, and glucose levels. Some of this was already possible with HealthKit, but now Apple's partners, like Oxford University and Mount Sinai Hospital, will have access to the data. Apple stressed that it will not have access to the data unless it is shared by the user. Five apps are available today, but ResearchKit will be released next month as an open source platform.
There's a hyper-minimalist gold MacBook
After a few minor updates, the MacBook Air is getting a long-awaited refresh, and it’s a big one. The new, 2-pound, 12-inch Retina device is just called the MacBook, and as rumored beforehand, it’s about as stripped-down as a laptop can get. The body is now barely wider than the keyboard — which has also been redesigned with shallower keys — and there’s a new trackpad with haptic feedback and more gesture support. Virtually every port has been removed except a versatile USB-C connector and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. The fan is gone, and Apple promises nine hours of web browsing on a single charge. And did we mention it now comes in "space gray" and gold? Like a lot of Apple’s older products, the Air and MacBook Pro aren’t going away — they’re both getting a specs bump, and the updated models are available today. The MacBook, meanwhile, is coming out on April 10th for $1,299 and up.
One cable for everything
Apple’s new 12-inch MacBook will ditch several ports from its 13-inch MacBook Air in favor of a single USB Type-C connector. The USB Type-C, a small, reversible connection, started making its way onto phones and tablets this year. This input simplification doesn’t come as a surprise; we discovered in January that Apple had assigned 18 engineers to work on the USB Type-C. You’ll primarily need to use wireless connections to exchange files instead of plugging USB accessories or USB keys straight into the new laptop, though Apple is selling a special cable that splits into a separate charger and data ports.
HBO is cutting the cord and coming to Apple TV
Apple is helping HBO make a play for cord-cutters with HBO Now, a standalone streaming service announced today. HBO CEO Richard Plepler took the stage to describe the new service, launching in early April, with Apple as an exclusive partner. "All you need," CEO Tim Cook said, "is a broadband connection and an Apple device." HBO will also have a channel on Apple TV. It’s $14.99 a month, with early subscribers getting the first month free. Apple TV's price fell to $69.
CarPlay is coming to more cars
Tim Cook touted CarPlay’s progress during the event today, saying that it would be coming to 40 new car models this year, and that "every major" manufacturer was now signed on. Though the level of commitment among carmakers may vary — Toyota hasn’t committed to a release timeline, for instance. CarPlay is competing with Google's Android Auto, both of which make phone features easier to use while driving.
Luxury smartwatches have officially arrived
One of the big surprises is the price of the gold watch, the Apple Watch Edition, which starts at $10,000. Going into the event, $10,000 was at the very high end of guesses. It represents a serious move into the luxury market, and will be available in a "limited select retail stores" on a special designated table.