The new Apple Watch has whipped up a frenzy in the wearable tech market. More than one million devices are said to have been pre-ordered during the first weekend of its availability last weekend, and there’s still a week and a half to go until its official release on April 24.
As the buzz around the new device gathers momentum, I popped down to Selfridges on London’s Oxford Street where the Watch is on display to see what all the fuss is about – and I have to admit, I’ve been converted.
Not only is it sleek with a strong designer element (unlike many of its wearable tech competitors) making it the most fashionable of the wearable devices yet, but it also has the potential to have a significant future impact on the way we shop, with its potential to be used for contactless payments.
The device comes in three distinct collections: the standard Watch range (£479-£949), a cheaper Sports collection (£299-£399) and the more premium Edition range (£8,000-£13,500).
The functionality of all the Watches remains the same across the collections, but the materials used for the glass and straps changes, with the sports watches using more resistant glass.
From a fashion perspective, I would place bets on the Apple Watch being a game changer for wearable tech. The modern design (with options including leather, metal link and plastic straps either with metal buckle or magnetic fastenings) means these devices mark a distinct departure from the image of smart watches as sports watches – these watches wouldn’t look amiss alongside a tailored suit or dress.
And Apple has set out to create this image for its new product from the outset, referring to it as a “time piece” rather than a smart watch. It has since featured on the cover of Vogue China.
At the Selfridges Apple store today, men and women alike were hovering around the display tables to try out the new Watches, with many likely to buy and wear them as much for their noticeable Apple style and design element, as for the technology they offer.
Once strapped on the Watch feels more lightweight than it initially appears and, crucially, is easy to navigate. A customisable home screen highlights all the apps available and users can either touch the screen to select their chosen app or use the crown dial on the side to zoom in on the one they want to open.
But, despite the watch face coming in two sizes, 38mm and 42mm, for those with larger fingers the app icons are quite small and could prove difficult to select, leaving only the option of the side dial to navigate between them. For this reason, for regular users, the 38mm feels slightly on the small side to me.
With the Watch’s key functions matching many of those found on the iPhone, including making and receiving phone calls, text messages and emails, calendars, health apps to monitor workouts and general fitness, Siri-based voice recognition, maps, weather updates and music, it is clearly one of the most comprehensive smart watches available.
And it feels like it has the balance just right. Despite being attached to your being, it is far from intrusive; when notifications come through, such as an incoming call, message or map directions, the Watch gently pulses or ‘taps’ (with the style and strength of this alert changing depending on the type of notification) so while attracting your attention it acts as a personal nudge that is not distracting.
Another element of the Watch which is intriguing from a retail perspective is its ability to be used for contactless payments.
The Watch, like the iPhone6, will be able to use Apple Pay, meaning it can use near field communication technology to make contactless payments. This is currently only available in the US, but the tech market widely expects this to also be launched in the UK imminently. Once enabled here in the UK, this has the potential to be big news for retailers here.
Via Apple Pay, the Watch will store Visa, Mastercard and Amex card details and enable wearers to make purchases by double clicking the side button and holding the device in front of contactless till point readers.
Showing the strength of uptake for Apple Pay in the US, retailers already signed up to the payment system there include American Eagle Outfitters, Bloomingdales and FootLocker.
If shoppers don’t have to root around in their bags or pockets to find wallets, cards and phones but can wave their wrists in front of a scanner to securely pay, this will surely prove popular.
But even without Apple Pay enabled, the Watch can still be used for contactless payment using QR codes. Using the Apple Passbook app, QR codes can be sent from paired iPhones to the Watch so store cards like a Starbucks card, can be uploaded to the devices to make payments.
So we could increasingly start seeing the Apple Watch being used for payments and huge numbers of consumers are expected to invest in these devices.
Annette Zimmermann, research director specialising in wearable tech at technology research and advisory firm Gartner, tells Drapers that she predicts 40 million smart watches could be sold in 2015, of which as many as half could be attributed to Apple.
So contactless payment is likely to become increasingly important in stores and is something retailers should consider investing in.