Five Years Ago, Tim Cook Unveiled the Apple Watch 

Five years ago, Apple announced several products in its annual September event:

The keynote is on Apple’s official YouTube channel, which is handy:

I remember watching this keynote at work in the conference room with several of my co-workers, and the news of two bigger iPhone was a big deal, but that section was only 36 minutes long. Everything felt rushed. Then, an hour in, we got to the Apple Watch.

The segment opened with Tim Cook resurrecting an old Steve Jobs slide, as his voice broke announcing what he believed would be “the next chapter in Apple’s story.”

After an introductory video of swooping shots slowly revealing the Apple Watch, Tim Cook came back on stage to great applause. His sleeves were rolled up to show off what many believe to be the first new product under the post-Jobs Apple.

Cook was clearly emotional as he settled the crowd down for what would be a 50-minute announcement and walk-through of the device. The excitement in the room can still be felt when watching the video five years later.

The way Cook introduced the Apple Watch is super interesting. Trying to recapture the “It’s a phone, it’s a widescreen video iPod, it’s an Internet communicator!” bit from the original iPhone announcement, Cook walked the audience through the central tenants of the Apple Watch:

  • A precise, customizable timepiece
  • An intimate way to connect and communicate
  • A comprehensive health and fitness companion

Needless to say, all of that didn’t really roll off the tongue like Jobs’ repeated mantra from 2007, but Cook kept going, introducing the Digital Crown, putting it in the same Input Device Hall of Fame as the Macintosh’s mouse, the iPod’s click wheel and the iPhone’s Multi-touch display — again, echoing the Macworld 2007 keynote.

At the time, this really jumped out to me. 2014 Apple was clearly trying to channel 2007 Apple, and for good reason: Jobs’ iPhone keynote is perhaps the best product announcement of all time. The Apple Watch, the company was subtly saying, was going to be a big deal.

After showing off the basics of the UI and the Digital Crown, Cook leaned into the fashion angle of the Watch, praising the Apple Watch’s looks, before playing a Jony Ive video about the device’s design.

This 10 minute video introduced key features, including Raise to Wake, several of the built in apps and the inclusion of Siri.

Digital Touch was a huge deal in this early version of the Apple Watch’s software. The side button launched a list of your friends1, allowing you to sketch a little design to them or send your heartbeat. I wrote this about Digital Touch in my original Apple Watch review:

With Digital Touch, you can doodle a little picture to a friend, send a tap or — if you’re sure they won’t take it the wrong way — a representation of your heartbeat, which will play out via the Taptic Engine in their watch.

These communication methods are only available to people wearing an Apple Watch, and that may be why this hasn’t really taken off in my life. Sure, it’s funny to send Myke Hurley my heartbeat or draw a stick figure to Federico Viticci, but I’ve never used it to seriously communicate or get someone’s attention with a tap.

I suspect that I might feel differently if my wife had an Apple Watch, but as she’s opposed to that, Digital Touch will remain a funny thing to do with friends, and not evolve into the private, intimate, communication method Tim Cook promised on stage.

As predicted, Digital Touch hasn’t really taken off for most users. In fact, the side button of the Watch now loads the Dock, not a circle of heartbeat-worthy friends and family.

The Ive video also walks through the technology that made the small device possible, including the Taptic Engine, Force Touch, heart rate sensor, gyroscope and more.

The three Apple Watch “collections” were also laid out in the video. It seemed that the stainless steel “Apple Watch” was thought of by Apple as the default option, complete with its sapphire screen. The aluminum “Apple Watch Sport” used hardened glass to cover the screen, and was assumed to be less expensive with its cheaper materials and less-fancy bands.

Then there was “Apple Watch Edition,” made of 18-karat gold. The world didn’t know about the $17,000 price tag for these models yet, but at the time, it sure felt out of line to many of Apple’s nerdy fans.

These details — as well as information about the bands — were repeated in Apple’s press release:

Apple Watch comes in three distinct collections—Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch Edition—available in two different sizes, 38 mm and 42 mm. The beautifully designed and durable enclosures are crafted from custom alloys of polished or space black stainless steel, space gray or silver anodized aluminum and 18-karat rose or yellow gold. Apple also created an entire range of watch straps: the high-performance elastomer Sport Band; the Milanese Loop in a flexible magnetic stainless steel mesh; the Leather Loop in soft, quilted leather that conceals magnets for quick fastening and adjustment; the leather Modern Buckle, which closes with a solid metal clasp; the leather Classic Buckle; and the stainless steel Link Bracelet. Apple Watch comes with a unique charging system that combines Apple’s MagSafe technology with inductive charging for a quick connection that snaps into place.

After Ive’s video wrapped up, Kevin Lynch took the stage for a lengthy demo of the Apple Watch’s software. He showed off the customizations available on the watch faces and bounced around between first and third-party apps.

Of course, some of the software features — like Glances — have simply gone away over time, but in re-watching this, I was surprised to see how much of watchOS is still the same as it was when announced.

It’s clear to me now that Apple initially thought of the Apple Watch as a smaller iPhone. Even though the WatchKit development tools were pretty hamstrung at first, Lynch pitched a future where just about anything you could do on your phone, you’d be able to do on your wrist.

As the Apple Watch has matured, so has Apple’s way of talking about it. Today, the Watch is sold as a fitness and communications device, with more general-purpose tasks best left to the phone, even as Watch apps have become more powerful.

Apple doesn’t share sales numbers, but it’s clear that the Apple Watch has done well, and its evolution over the last five years has been relentless. The Apple Watch is a lot faster, and a lot more useful, than it was at launch. That should not surprise anyone, but sometimes it’s fun to see how quickly things can change.


  1. In this video, friends were shown off in a grid, but it was replaced by a circular UI by the time the Apple Watch shipped in 2015.