TECHNOLOGY

Apple’s Real Hit Isn’t the iPhone X but the New Apple Watch

Incremental innovation has let Apple create something new for the wrist.

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BY Erik Sherman - 13 Sep 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Another September, another Apple product announcement. All eyes were on the iPhone X, the rumored-to-be-$999 phone. Many may go for it, although there is the chance that the features don't justify the outrageous price tag.

But if you want to see a real smart move, the Apple Watch is where you should cast your eye. The useful innovation is a significant jump over what the iPhone X offers and could be enough to turn what has been an also-ran product line into a major winner.

Apple's iPhone X.

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Yes, there are some pretty cool features on the iPhone X: the high definition OLED screen, infrared facial recognition to map the 3D surface of the face rather than a flat image like a photo, and improved cameras with image stabilization, and built-in capabilities to support augmented reality apps.

But a number of these things have appeared elsewhere before. Samsung literally makes the display, which suggests that the Galaxy S8 is likely a good match on that front. Samsung also does facial recognition, although not as sophisticated. (Expect that to change pretty soon, although after the Equifax security debacle, people may get skittish in general about how well something really works.) And Samsung already has optical image stabilization in two rear cameras.

That doesn't mean Apple can't add something. It may well have. But while the total package looks good, it's not like announcing Siri for the first time and there's a sense that Apple is on the incremental innovation track. Also, in a note sent by Bankrate.com, many Americans live from one paycheck to another and the iPhone X may prove too expensive.

Contrast that with the Apple Watch Series 3.

The major weakness of the product before has been that it required the presence of an iPhone to provide most of the interesting features. But Apple has finally included built-in cellular capabilities. When one of the watches is away from its paired iPhone, it switches to a cellular connection with the same phone number. You actually can make phone calls with the watch by itself or send and receive texts. There's Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity and an "eSIM" that is a hundredth the size of a normal SIM card and that allowed over-the-air activation. The watch will stream Apple Music, has water resistance to 50 meters, GPS, and an altimeter to measure elevation (to know how high you've climbed, for example). There are plenty of fitness apps.

At a base level, this is incredibly cool engineering, especially if they can deliver the "all-day" battery life they promise. Beyond the design, though, it could be incredibly useful, adding a whole realm of convenience you won't get from the iPhone X.

Plus, it's a fraction of the price of an iPhone X: $399 for the version with cellular (which will need a separate carrier account) or $329 without.

This could potentially become an important addition to Apple's product lines and ultimately have something desirable enough within the budget of many to be a big seller.