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6 minute read

Internet of Things

What Top Designers Think Of Apple's New Smartwatch

Gadi Amit, Brett Lovelady, and Dana Krieger weigh in on the watch and the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

Today, Apple unveiled three new products: the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and the Apple Watch, Cupertino's first (and long rumored) foray into the wearables category. We asked three top industrial designers their thoughts about the new products: Gadi Amit, of New Deal Design, which designed the Fitbit and Lytro; Brett Lovelady of Astro Studios, which did the Nike Fuelband and Xbox 360; and Dana Krieger formerly with Teague, now with the Minus 8 watch brand. Here's what they had to tell us.

How do you think the design of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus compares with previous models?

Lovelady: Compared to the iPhone 5s, the regular and super-sized version of the iPhone 6 seem solid and reflective of their next-gen smartphone status. I think for content-hungry consumers, Apple has fed us a range of improved utilities and features in the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. The curved glass edge and material flow of the top surface seem to invite you to touch it; it has a slimming effect overall. The controls migration also seems like an improvement, which will likely need some time to prove itself, but seems smart. And the back side also attracts attention, with those exaggerated gaps on the top and bottom giving the product a sliming, athletic effect: it seems custom-designed for fashionable, color-blocked combos in the future.

Krieger: The new iPhones are a natural evolution of the previous models. At this point Apple's design language doesn't offer any surprises. The design is always super neutral and the execution is exceptional. The standout elements all lie in how Apple has responded to features established by other devices—primarily larger screens and NFC (near field communication).

iOS's user interface has been enhanced to deal with larger iPhone screens. What do you think of this implementation?

Lovelady: It seems necessary. It's a nod to the way content has continued to migrate from laptops and tablets to the hand, and also brings the iPhone 6 up to date with the competition. It's also a nod to the need to continuously improve all user interactions, as well as the delivery of iOS's visual content, for a diverse and aging demographic of users. We'll see how things play out over time, though; the proof will ultimately be through rigorous use.

Krieger: It is really hard to comment on this without using one, but having experience with Samsung devices at this screen size, it makes sense to treat a larger screen as its own interaction model, and custom tailor a UI to suit.

What do you think of the design of the Apple Watch?

Amit: Very well-executed. It's a very Apple-esque design. Beautiful, harmonious and amazingly crafted—yet, unfortunately, quite expected and even plain? Given the Marc Newson news [industrial designer Marc Newson has joined Apple's design team], it looks very familiar, even too similar to the Ikepod watches he designed years ago.

The big question is will a well-designed Apple Watch be enough to make it a fashion icon? And I think the answer is probably not. The Apple Watch lacks a certain overt, distinct character that would allow it to rise above the constraints of the already saturated smartwatch category. Compared with both the Motorola and Asus watches just introduced, the Apple Watch is not a clear winner. Without actually using it, though, Apple's UI seems like it might be superior. Time will tell.

Bottom line? For me, the Apple Watch is, quite surprisingly, just not exciting enough.

Lovelady: The details and controls are very clever. There's an amazing commitment here to blending both fashion and tech elements into one device.

Sure, it's an iPhone for your wrist, but Apple still has ways to find our individual identities through a range of colors, materials, and finishes in the band and housing. If you want people to wear something, then they need options to express their social personas, especially over time.

I know there was a small army of creatives and developers involved in this design, but the Apple Watch has a sense of familiarity to its design to me. Or maybe it just feels like Jony Ive let his best friend Marc Newson whisper into his ear about the Apple Watch's overall aesthetics.

Krieger: Though they were obviously developed separately, I think the appeal of the Apple Watch will be similar to the appeal of the now Apple-owned Beats brand of headphones. Both will be purchased because of the larger brand appeal, as the product design doesn't get in the way of that.

I think it is very significant to hear Apple talking about how their smartwatch will offer millions of options through strap changes, and the way they have even engineered a custom solution to allow for more quickly changing straps. This is a major evolution in tone for Apple design. Not long ago the announcement of even a second color option for an Apple device was a major event. I hope this evolution continues.

How does the Apple Watch compare with the competition? Is this a game changer for wearables?

Lovelady: The Apple Watch pushes the smartwatch category forward on a few fronts. First, it is broadly integrated with Apple's family of products. It's got a halo of options, flexible software, quality hardware, design-centered vision, addictive utility, and hipster must-have status.

That makes it harder for others to compete with, but good for the game overall! So yes, I think it's a game changer. It's the new odds-on favorite.

Krieger: Apple entering any market is a game changer, but major questions still remain. For example, how long does the battery last? Today's presentation mentioned the elegance of the charger, which is good because this smartwatch will likely be visiting its charger often. But I think this device raises serious questions about what level of interaction is desirable on a wearable.

Watches have thrived in the modern technological world because they do one thing and do it reliably. They don't need charging, they don't zoom or pan, and the only time you need to update the software is for Daylight Savings Time. So while the Apple Watch offers customized emoticons and exploring the solar system on your watch face, that's not going to appeal to everyone. It's a radically different approach. And personally, I have to say that managing the "push notification" settings for my watch is of pretty low appeal.

Amit: Whether or not the Apple Watch is a game changer will ultimately be decided through its interaction with the software ecosystem. But as far as just the physical design is concerned, I'm not convinced it's a clear winner. It's possibly not even the leader.

I think many companies breathed a sigh of relief when the Apple Watch was unveiled. All those stories about rounded displays, exotic glasses, liquid metal housings, and superior sensors were overblown. The Apple Watch is a very good, extremely well-crafted object, and it's one of the leaders of the smartwatch category. But for Apple to be merely among the leaders is not what I had expected.

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