Without an ounce of research to back up my assertion, early watches were round, and date back about 500 years. Why round? Why not a rectangle? Electronic wristwatches didn’t show up until the middle of the last century and heralded the popularity of the rectangular design, though most still had a round watch face.
Apple’s Watch is a rectangle. Why not a round design? Since most watches sold today are round regardless of price, why did Apple choose rectangular instead?
Differentiation is a key component of product marketing, so it’s possible that Apple wanted to make Watch look obvious but elegant and understated. There are plenty of rectangular wristwatches on the market (three of my six non-electronic watches are rectangular) so it’s not as if Apple is blazing a new trail with Watch.
That differentiation is important explains why Pebble, LG, Motorola, Withings, and others have launched their own smartwatch designs. Most of them are round, not rectangular. If most wristwatch owners prefer round designs, then why did Apple go with a rectangular design?
A round smartwatch mimics the traditional wristwatch design but Apple was faced with the need to cram plenty of advanced circuitry, battery, and screen into the smallest space possible, and the most efficient use of space is rectangular, not circular. For now. Watch 1.0.
Apple has a long history of making changes in design. Look at the original Mac and compare it to the current line. The changes in design through the years have been disruptive at times, but mostly iterative. Ditto with the iPod and iPhone. Spread out over time Apple made massive changes to iconic designs, so why would we expect a rectangular Watch design to remain forever?
That brings me to a few issues with the first Watch. The app icon layout is a waste. Siri works much better. App icons are not easily identifiable, they’re circular on a rectangular screen (vs. all rectangles on iPhone and iPad), and don’t have text to identify the app by name. That must change. Second, navigating between Glances and apps on Apple Watch is a bit convoluted. Flick down to view notifications which are up, flick up to view Glances which are down. Navigating Glances left and right is acceptable, but requires an extra tap on the app’s Glance screen to open the app.
Watches are an odd combination of utility and fashion, a mashup that ranges from stark utilitarian design to luxury. Apple Watch bridges the gap by adding tremendous functionality in a timeless design, but we should not be trapped into thinking that the rectangular Watch design is the only way Apple will roll.
After using Watch for five months I would buy a round Watch in a heartbeat.