While there were not just one, but two shiny new iPhones to drool over at Apple's traditional September product launch earlier this week, it wasn't the larger screens or new features that were hogging the limelight. In fact, it wasn't anything on the phones that stole the show, as the Cupertino-based company finally confirmed what we've all suspected for a while and introduced its first smartwatch.
Dispensing with the usual "i" prefix in favour of the simpler Apple Watch moniker, the company is promising the gadget will be its "most personal device ever". And after letting other brands such as Samsung test the waters of the smartphone market, Apple – which will no doubt have been paying close attention any mis-steps – will be hoping that the unique features will give the market a kick start.
Information at your fingertips
One of the common challenges with the first generation of smartwatches has been how to display the right information on such a small screen, while still making it easy and intuitive to find your way around. Apple is confident it's solved this dilemma with a new navigation tool called the Digital Crown. This will let users scroll, zoom and select apps and Apple is touting it as the most revolutionary input device since the iPod's famous Click Wheel and the iPhone's Multi-Touch screen.
Jony Ive, senior vice-president of design at Apple and the man responsible for the design of the iPhone and iPad, explained: "With Apple Watch, we've developed multiple technologies and an entirely new user interface specifically for a device that's designed to be worn. It blurs the boundary between physical object and user interface."
The firm's Digital Touch technology helps ensure that users have access to timely information that can be viewed at a glance. As well as viewing notifications in incoming messages, swiping up from the watch face quickly brings up information you care about, whether this is your current location, stocks or your next meeting.
Meanwhile, pressing the side button brings up a list of friends, so you can contact them with just a couple of taps. Digital Touch allows you to send a sketch, a gentle tap, an audio message through Walkie Talkie or even monitor your own heartbeat.
Your watch, your style
Apple has also clearly taken note of criticism of some of Samsung's early efforts, which were derided by some commentators for appearing chunky and deeply uncool. As you'd expect from Apple, it's placed good design at the forefront of its strategy and has really made an effort to shake off the perception of smartwatches as poor fashion accessories.
To start with, the watch is available in a choice of three designs – Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch Edition – each of which also has the option of a 42mm or 38mm size, so it won't look out of place around slimmer wrists.
All the watches come with a durable enclosure crafted from custom alloys of polished or space black stainless steel, space gray or silver anodised aluminium and 18-karat rose or yellow gold. There are also a choice of straps, including the flexible stainless steel Milanese Loop, quilted leather Modern Buckle and high-performance elastomer Sport Band – so whether you're using it in the boardroom or the gym, there'll be a design to suit your lifestyle.
What's more, whichever watch they opt for, users can also choose from 11 different displays, ranging from traditional analogue watch faces to digital timers, an Astronomy option with a real-time 3D model of the Earth, Sun, Moon and planets, or even a modern sundial.
Late to the party or changing the game?
The fact Apple is far from the first company to offer a smartwatch shouldn't be taken as an indication that it has been ignoring the sector and is now scrambling to catch up. In fact, the delay may well have given Apple time to iron out any teething troubles with the device and learn from the mistakes of its rivals.
Indeed, some analysts have noted that the company's strategy with smartwatches is entirely consistent with previous new product launches. The BBC, for instance, observed the firm has a history of waiting for others to pioneer new tech, before leapfrogging the competition with new innovations.
And some are suggesting Apple's entry could be just the shot in the arm the smartwatch market needs. Tim Coulling, senior analyst at research firm Canalys, told the BBC: "I'm sure that for many people, waiting to see what Apple did was a first step before going out and [buying] a wearable technology product, whether or not it's an Apple one they get."