Just ahead of the finalized Apple Watch’s presentation at Apple’s March 9th “Spring Forward” event, sources with hands-on Apple Watch experience have revealed a collection of new details about the device’s features to 9to5Mac. Our sources have offered new information on the Watch’s real-world battery life, health and fitness features, apps, and experiences using Apple’s next-generation touchscreen hardware…
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Power Reserve Mode and Battery Life
The Apple Watch’s battery life has concerned many prospective customers, as Apple said only that the Watch will need to be charged nightly. Earlier this year, we reported that Apple’s development targets for Apple Watch battery life were 2.5-4 hours for heavy app usage, versus 19 hours per day of combined usage between light app access, notifications, and Glances. Sources who have handled the Apple Watch tell us that Apple has improved the device’s battery life, noting that the final Apple Watch should be able to handle 5 hours of fairly heavy application usage, and it and won’t run out of battery during a typical day of mixed active and passive use. However, the source says that the device will still need to be charged nightly, as it will definitely not last through a second full day.
As The New York Times reported, Apple will address battery life concerns with a new “Power Reserve Mode” that cuts optional services to preserve as much of the Apple Watch’s core functionality as possible. Our sources have shared several new details about the feature. First, Power Reserve Mode can be activated via a Battery Glance that’s accessible at any time, or via the Apple Watch’s Settings application. The Battery Glance will show the percentage of battery life remaining, the amount of time since the last full charge, and a large button to activate Power Reserve Mode.
Power Reserve Mode can even be accessed when the Watch has a full 100% charge, and it is not solely activated when the Watch’s battery life is low. The mode noticeably dims the display, slows down communication with the iPhone to an on-demand level, and puts the display to sleep after roughly two seconds of inactivity. One unit tested allowed access to all Apple Watch functions while in Power Reserve mode, while another unit was limited to the Clock face. We’re told that some test units took between four and five hours to charge up to 100% from 0% via the wall-attached MagSafe charger. This is a notable improvement, we’re told, from fall 2014 prototypes.
Unlike the iPhone, when battery life is low on the Apple Watch, the device does not show a modal popup window indicating the battery life percentage remaining. Instead, with 20% battery life remaining, the Battery Life glance turns an orange/amber color as a subtle alert to the user. At 10%, the glance turns from orange/amber to a red color. On the iPhone side, our sources say that they did not see any “meaningful” change to the iPhone’s battery while using the Apple Watch.
Heart Rate Glance
One notable yet-to-be-announced Apple Watch feature is the Heart Rate Glance. Thanks to the device’s heart rate monitor, the Heart Rate Glance will allow the user to see their Beats Per Minute at any time. When accessing the Glance, an outline of a heart will appear, similar to the heart in the image above. After a button is tapped to start measurement, the screen will show the constantly updating BPM reading. Our sources say that the process of reading the heart rate was almost instant and the readings were “seemingly accurate.” Previously, Apple has only stated that the Heart Rate sensor will be used to send other users their heart beat via the communication features and to measure intensity for calorie reading in the fitness app. Of course, heart rate readings could be transferred to the Health application on the accompanying iPhone.
Notification Center, Glances, and Clock Faces
Our sources indicate that the following Glances are installed on the Apple Watch by default, in addition to Heart Rate and Battery Life: Fitness Stats, Activity, Clock, Weather, Music, Quick Settings, Calendar and Maps. As discussed on one of our recent Happy Hour podcasts, sources also indicate that the Apple Watch will have a full Notification Center like the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac. To access Notification Center, a user can swipe down from the top of the display in any screen. The list of notifications will show each app name as well as truncated descriptions of the alerts, akin to an iPhone. Developers will be able to customize which notifications can show up in Notification Center as well as the Apple Watch app icon specific to this view. As for Clock Faces a source says that “the level of detail and customization is insane.” The source also called the quality of faces “incredible,” and said “each face is like an app in itself so it’s [a little curious] is not (yet) allowing third-party faces.” The source also said that the “astronomy Watch Face is smart: in one mode you can use the crown to scroll through time and see planetary alignments for the whole solar system.”
Onboard Storage and Music
As Apple has announced, the Apple Watch will be able to store music that can be played while unlinked to an iPhone. Prototype Apple Watches within Apple are said to include 8GB of storage; it is yet to be seen whether the shipping versions will all include 8GB. As we noted yesterday, the internal units also include Lightning connectors, which won’t be on the shipping models. Users will be able to specify individual songs, albums, and playlists to be loaded to their Apple Watches via a panel in the Companion app for iPhone. Users will also be able to stream music from the Apple Watch to external speakers or headphones over Bluetooth.
iPhone Companion App
As we extensively reported earlier this year, the settings for individual Apple Watch applications will be controlled by a Companion application on the iPhone. The Companion app has a dark black user interface with a glyph of the Apple Watch as the app icon. In addition to controlling various settings and music storage, the Companion app allows users to re-arrange the icons on the Apple Watch’s Home screen. This can be done from the Watch itself as well via a long press, just like on the iPhone and iPad. When a user downloads an iPhone application from the App Store with a WatchKit component, the Watch app is automatically installed on the Watch. Users can remove the WatchKit applications through the Companion app without deleting the app from the iPhone. Interestingly, if the iPhone is not connected to the Watch, third-party application icons will remain on the device’s Home screen, and the applications will still work for a period of time with cached data.
Force Touch, Digital Crown + Voice Control
Sources have praised the Watch’s next-generation force-sensing touchscreen interface, saying that “the screen feels like a giant button than you just want to press in the manner needed for Force Touch.” A source added that the feature “feels natural” on the small screen. Also, the Digital Crown input device is required to use the Apple Watch, as the Watch differs from the sixth-generation iPod nano in lacking pinch to zoom capabilities: it registers touches and movements up, down, left, and right. There is no keyboard at all on the device; all forms of input are handled with pre-populated options and voice dictation. Speaking of dictation, the menus within the Apple Watch label all voice control features as “Voice Control,” rather than as Siri. As we reported earlier, this initial version of the Watch OS does not support replying to emails, even by voice. Users will need to access the Mail app via Handoff on their iPhone to conduct replies.
Speed, Display, and Bands
People who have used the Apple Watch say that the device feels very fast overall, which is in line with our report that the S1 chip is comparable with the current iPod touch’s A5 chip. But there are limits. One source said that an Apple Watch with over 200 WatchKit applications became noticeably sluggish on the Home screen. It is unlikely that the majority of users will ever install 200 WatchKit applications, so this should not be a typical concern. The sources say that the display will light up when the iPhone is locked for all of the phone’s notifications, but if the iPhone is unlocked, the Watch will not light up for new alerts.
A designer familiar with the quality of mobile device screens who has used the Apple Watch says that the “screen is the best [smartwatch] screen I have ever seen,” noting that “it’s like vibrant digital paper, and does not look rendered,” with especially “great” black levels. The source thinks that the smaller, 38mm version is “tiny,” but of course this will differ between users of different sizes. Apple’s Sport Band, the default on the $349 aluminum Apple Watch, is said to “take time” to get used to as it is somewhat difficult to put on at first due to the pin-based closure system. As for the stainless steel link bracelet, a source says that “Apple have seemingly got around [hair getting stuck between links] by having the case expand the links flexibility from the outer rim only.”
Powering Off, Force Quitting and Settings
Some users have wondered how the Apple Watch will be powered off without a dedicated power button. Our sources say that it’s turned off by long pressing the large “communication button” on the right side of the Watch. When this is pressed, a confirmation slider akin to the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch is shown, letting a swipe finish the shut down. Users can also Force Quit an unstable application by accessing the shut down screen and then quickly pressing the button on the right side. The Apple Watch also includes a Settings application that includes various toggles including Bluetooth and Airplane Mode. There is not a dedicated Wi-Fi settings panel, which instead will likely be controlled by the accompanying iPhone.
Apple will officially announce Apple Watch pricing and availability on Monday, March 9, starting at 10:00AM Pacific/1:00PM Eastern Time. 9to5Mac will offer coverage of the event in the hours leading up the keynote, during the presentation, and afterwards, so please join us for more news and commentary then.