A Brief History of the Revolutionary Apple Watch
From the early rumors circulating about its development to its splashy introduction to the market and its current definitive dominance of its corner in the product category, the Apple Watch has taken over the horological world and forced even the haughtiest watch snobs to sit up and take notice.
The History of the Apple Watch
But how exactly did the Apple Watch—initially greeted with raised eyebrows and skepticism and predicted to be a flop—prove even the most hardened doubters and haters wrong? Let’s trace the trajectory of the smart watch that would go on to rule all smart watches back to its early days, from the improvements, adjustments, and fine tuning it has already undergone in its brief history thus far, and the other ways in which it could go on to revolutionize the wearables category and the way we tell time.
1| From Rumors to Reality
The Apple Watch is notable because it was Apple’s first major product introduction in the post-Steve Jobs era. Plans to launch were first announced to the public in 2014; Jobs passed away three years earlier, in October 2011.
But was Steve Jobs on board with the idea of Apple moving into the watch category? There are conflicting reports—Apple analyst Tim Bajarin claims Jobs had knowledge of the product in the development stage, but Apple’s chief design officer Jony Ive says he only dreamt it up after Jobs’s death and never got to discuss the idea with the company’s late co-founder.
By early 2013, Kevin Lynch of Adobe was brought on board as vice president of technology. Among the conditions, however, was that Lynch wasn’t allowed to tell anybody what exactly he was working on, his only brief being that he needed to create a revolutionary device to be worn on the wrist. A short year-and-a-half later, Tim Cook would announce the arrival of the Apple Watch on September 9, 2014 at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, California. It was the same venue where Jobs had announced the reveal of the first Mac back in 1984.
2| First Look: September 2014
The Apple Watch announcement was reserved for the very end, as just “one more thing”—the same phrase Jobs liked to use when he was about to unveil something truly groundbreaking. (The “one more thing” of Apple reveals past included the introduction of the iPod Shuffle, FaceTime, and iTV, which would later be renamed as Apple TV.)
This time, it was Tim Cook who was repeating the phrase, to be greeted with applause, cheering, and wolf whistles from the assembled crowd. “We love to make great products that really enrich people’s lives,” he started, before segueing into a video that would give people a preview of what this new smart watch could do.
The first Apple Watches wouldn’t start rolling out into the market until the following year, in June 2015. There were three models available: Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport, and Apple Watch Edition. The initial emphasis was on the watch as a fashion accessory and an object of desire; in fact, the first people who were able to get an in-person peek were the likes of Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld, as Ive and industrial designer Marc Newson hosted a preview for fashion designers and journalists at French boutique Colette during Paris Fashion Week in late September 2014.
3| Apple Watch Series 1 and the Early Adopters
In line with this, the price differences in the earliest editions of the Apple Watch were mostly attributed to the materials, with price points starting at $349 but going as high up as $17,000 for metals that ranged from steel to aluminum to 18k gold.
But people got a kick out of the features, too, as it could be used to send messages, monitor fitness, and make wireless payments—aside from, of course, being able to tell time. It was lauded by Time as one of the 25 Best Inventions of 2014, and soon began to dominate the smart watch category.
The Apple Watch Hermès was introduced in September 2015, pairing covetable leather cuffs and bands with the stainless steel case, again tapping into Apple’s ability to create technology that doubles as a status symbol.
4| Apple Watch Series 2 Gets More Features
The second generation of the Apple Watch was announced in September 2016, with additional features: GPS, a brighter display, water resistance of up to 50 meters, and a dual-core processor. Nike got in on the act by offering a Sport Band, boosting the smart watch’s credibility as a fitness companion.
5| Apple Watch Series 3 Overtakes Rolex
By the time Series 3 made its debut in September 2017, the Apple Watch had overtaken Rolex as the world’s number one watch brand. For this edition, LTE cellular connectivity was introduced, allowing additional functions like music streaming, taking calls, and interacting with Siri.
6| Apple Watch Series 4 Focuses on Health
Apple Watch Series 4, launched in 2018, further emphasized its focus on health and fitness, with features that include Fall Detection, Emergency SOS, and an electrical heart sensor. There are aesthetic upgrades as well, as it boasts a larger display and an improved digital crown.
7| Breaking Records: An Exponential Growth
Most important of all, though, is that Apple has truly accomplished what it set out to do: reinvent the smart watch and wearables category. As of the fourth quarter of 2018, the Apple Watch has accounted for half of global smart watch sales, cornering 50.7 percent of the market. Since the Apple Watch made its debut, smart watch sales hit a record high of 18 million units sold in the last quarter of 2018—compare that to just 6.8 million units sold in all of 2014, proving Apple’s ability to provide exponential growth to a product category.
8| Into the Future: 2019 and Beyond
There are still many areas where the Apple Watch could evolve, possibly expanding into sleep tracking and maybe introducing new materials for the straps and case. It’s safe to say, though, that Apple’s reputation as an industry disruptor is sealed, and the Apple Watch is a testament to that—all you need to do is casually glance around the darkened studio during a spin class and notice people’s wrists lighting up on display.