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Wearable Tech

Apple Watch arrives in April as 'most advanced timepiece ever created'

Apple is making an ambitious foray into high-end jewelry that wires bodies and our health to the Web. The device's price will range from $350 for the lowest-end model to $550 for the middle-tier steel model and at least $10,000 for the gold high-end model.

The Apple Watch Edition version of the company's wearable contains an 18-karat gold casing that elevates its price to a minimum of $10,000. James Martin/CNET

It's Apple Watch's time to shine.

After months of speculation following the company's September unveiling of the gadget, Apple dished out more details about its smartwatch Monday at its special "Spring Forward" launch event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on Monday. Apple Watch -- slated to ship April 24 -- is the company's first device in a new product category since the iPad tablet was introduced in 2010.

"Apple Watch is the most personal device we have ever created," Apple CEO Tim Cook said onstage, repeating themes from the company's September event. "It's just not with you -- it's on you. And since what you wear is an expression of who you are, we've designed Apple Watch to appeal to a whole variety of people with different tastes and different preferences."

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Cook called Apple Watch "the most advanced timepiece ever created." Pre-orders for the device start on April 10. Yet the most important question going into Monday's event, however, was how much Apple Watch is going cost. The company partly answered that question onstage, while particular configurations are available to inspect online.

The aluminum and glass Apple Watch Sport with a plastic band starts at $349 or $400 for a model with a larger casing, while the stainless steel mid-tier model will start at $550 and go as high as $1,100 depending on what band it's paired with. The highest-end model, the 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition, will start at $10,000 and goes as high as $17,000 when paired with Apple's gold-laden buckle.

For Apple, it's key to expand beyond its current iPhone franchise. The company is more reliant on its smartphone than ever before, with about 70 percent of its December quarter sales coming from the device. It has looked to Apple Watch and Apple Pay as new products with strong potential, and it also is exploring ways to revitalize its struggling iPad business.

The Apple Watch also marks the company's first new push under Cook's tenure. Cook had promised for over a year that Apple in 2014 would introduce iting new product categories beyond its wildly successful smartphones, tablets and computers.

Cook, introducing the Apple Watch in September before more than 2,000 people, called the smartwatch a "breakthrough" product. He described it then as a "comprehensive" health and fitness device, walkie-talkie and remote control for the Apple TV streaming-box. Those factors alone set the Apple Watch apart from other smartwatches on the market, which tend to simply track steps, provide notifications, and run very basic apps.

"It's like having a coach on your wrist," Cook said of Apple Watch on Monday. Apple trotted out Jeff Williams, the company's senior vice president of operations, earlier at the event to announce a new software hub for medical research, called ResearchKit, to highlight Apple's focus on both fitness and long-term health.

Tim Stevens/CNET

But Apple went even further in Apple Watch's creation -- developing what Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty called a "Swiss Army Knife" sort of wearable. The device includes a Near Field Communications, or NFC, chip in the watch to enable mobile payments. It also has a haptic feedback engine in the device so that it vibrates when receiving an alert or a being given a direction in programs like Maps. Apple included a digital touch feature to allow two people to communicate quickly through taps, drawings, and by sharing their heartbeats.

Apple Watch is also part of the company's growing software platform for mobile payments. Apple Pay, which let's users of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus use their fingerprint to make purchases, works with the company's smartwatch thanks to its NFC chip. Because Apple Watch does not contain a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, Apple lets you authenticate the Watch once with a passcode or your paired iPhone and you can then continue to use the watch to make purchases so long as you do not take the device off.

Cook clarified Monday that Apple Watch will have a 18-hour battery life. The device charges with a magnetic cable that snaps onto the watch's back. The gadget is also water-resistant, but not waterproof, so no swimming with the Apple Watch after all.

The company also placed a big emphasis on design, making sure the watch is fashionable and something people actually want to wear. While at first glance it resembles Samsung's Gear smartwatches and other wearables already on the market, it provides more ways the wearer can customize it. Apple will provide a range of bands in various materials -- including leather and metal -- so users can tailor the product to their style. And there likely will be bands from third-party vendors in the future, as well.

Apple has made a conscious effort to promote Apple Watch among the fashion community, showcasing the gadget in a Paris pop-up shop and promoting it during high-profile designer events. Apple has also made strategic executive hires in the field like former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts, who now leads the expansion and operation of Apple's retail business, and Paul Deneve, the former CEO and president of fashion house Yves-Saint Laurent. Numerous models have also been seen sporting Apple Watch on their wrists in the pages of in US magazines like Vogue, Self and Style.

The Apple Watch comes in two sizes -- 42mm or 38mm -- and three designs -- the aluminum-cased Apple Watch Sport, stainless-steel-cased Apple Watch and the 18-karat-gold-cased Apple Watch Edition. The aluminum comes with silver or space gray options, while the stainless steel comes in its namesake color or a space black version. The gold watch is available in 18-karat yellow gold or 18-karat rose gold.

There also are a variety of bands that can be easily swapped, including a Milanese loop of metal mesh with magnets, a leather band that auto-attaches, a segmented metal link band, a classic leather watch band, a leather loop band and a more plasticized sport band in bright colors. Individual prices for the bands span from $50 to $450.

We already know some apps that will be on the Apple Watch. Ones made by Apple include the Activity and Workout fitness tracking apps, Maps and Weather. Third-party apps announced so far include a Starwood Hotels app to unlock your hotel room with your watch, an American Airlines app to check in for and track your flights, and a Lutron app to turn your lights off with a tap on your wrist. There also are social media apps like Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram; fitness tracking like Nike+; and entertainment and sports apps like ESPN and MLB.com At Bat.

Onstage Monday, Apple VP of Technology Kevin Lynch detailed new app partnerships as well. Those apps include ride-hailing service Uber, song-spotting software Shazam, photo-sharing social network Instagram and a dedicated app for Starwood Hotels & Resorts for checking in and unlocking your room.