Whether it takes off like the iPad or fails miserably, the Apple Watch is bound to shake up the mobile industry. But most of us can’t exactly imagine the ways our experience will change just by wearing a watch that plays second fiddle to our phone. The weeks and months leading up to the Apple Watch release are taking us way back to 2010, when when tech journalists were trying to explain how an iPad wasn’t just an oversized iPod Touch. The question in both cases seems to be: How exactly will my experience change with Apple’s newest product?
Related: Apple Watch: Everything we know
A lot is on the line for Tim Cook and Apple. Apple doesn’t really have the leeway to experiment like Samsung. Apple has always emphasized getting it right the first time, and championed the experience over software. But what will it take for the Apple Watch to succeed where others have failed? Here are six important boxes it will need to check.
1. It needs to be cool
The watch market is driven by style, not function. Apple has made a real effort to make the smartwatch genre stylish (just look at this guy!). By most accounts, it has succeeded. The Watch appeared on Vogue China and is offered in two sizes (38 and 42 millimeter), three styles, and a variety of different band and face options.
Apple has always made “cool” gadgets. But this is the first time that Apple is explicitly entering into a market driven by fashion and personal expression. The watch needs to reflect that. Making a watch that can appeal to women will be especially important. According to First Insight research, women are especially turned off by chunky timepieces. Apple Watch’s smaller 38-millimeter model could help, at the very least, with that issue.
2. Anticipating your every move
For the Apple Watch to excel, it can’t just be capable of things, it has to anticipate your needs based on location and context.
Take the Watch’s Contextual Awareness feature. It functions like Android Wear’s “context stream,” but the Apple Watch will distinguish between a “short look” and a “long look.” The watch will determine when you’re going in for a long look, and buttons will appear that allow you to interact with the content further. Apple needs to execute it better than Android Wear’s context stream by offering a better curated list of relevant info. It will need to suggest apps based on your location and activity, possibly using iBeacons located in stores, businesses, and gyms. It may even alert you to the location of products in stores, or give you information about interesting landmarks nearby.
3. Longer battery life
Battery life is a common drawback of the smartwatch genre. Every true smartwatch on the market today needs a daily charge. At best, these reports suggest that the Apple Watch could last two to three days between charges.
The charging mechanism looks pretty slick too: It uses to magnets to snap onto the rear panel of the watch face, and inductive charging so no electrical contacts are necessary.
4. Simple syncing and standalone features
Yes, it makes sense to your let iPhone do the heavy lifting for most features, but it shouldn’t be completely useless when used alone. Unique standalone features will propel the Apple Watch above competitors.
We already know the Apple Watch will be able to do some things without a tethered iPhone, like tracking your fitness, making Apple Pay payments, and playing music via Bluetooth. And third-party companies, like DexCom, have created devices that can pair with the Watch to perform essential health-related tasks like monitoring glucose levels.
5. Take NFC to a new level
Many existing smartwatches can be used to locate a tethered device, and even warn you when you stray too far from your phone. The Apple Watch is taking Touch ID to a new level with mobile payments via Apple Pay.
Apple Pay will, no doubt, be an asset to the Watch. It will store your credit cards in the Passbook app and allow you to make purchases by scanning the timepiece at designated Apple Pay locales.
NFC will also make it possible for the Watch interact with smart-home devices, or even start your car. Apple has also patented methods to recognize you through your movements and other sensor data. If the Apple Watch can authenticate you reliably, then it could serve as a universal key and cash card.
6. Killer apps from the get go
Whatever the Apple Watch can do, it has to be able to do it well. That means having a suite of apps from the launch that look great and are very simple to use.
The iPhone’s initial success was driven by the high-quality apps that came on it, but it expanded exponentially as third parties got involved. Slick and useful apps — maybe some partnerships to get polished release-day apps for big-name services — could make all the difference for the Watch. Even just one killer app on release could drive sales.