Apple Inc. jumped into its first new product category in more than four years on Tuesday as Chief Executive Tim Cook tries to move the technology giant from desks, laps and pockets to wrists.
Apple unveiled a line of customizable smartwatches, called Apple Watch, at an event near its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. The device comes in two sizes—38 millimeters and 42 millimeters, diagonally, or about 1.5 inches and 1.65 inches—and three versions: Watch, Sport and Edition.
Apple is offering several different straps and 11 faces, allowing multiple designs. The devices are made with polished or black stainless steel, gray or silver anodized aluminum and 18-karat rose or yellow gold.
Apple said the watch will start at $349 and will be available in early 2015. It works through a wireless connection to Apple's new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and the older iPhone 5, 5c and 5s.
Mr. Cook called the watch the most-personal device Apple has created that will "redefine what people expect from this category," kicking off the next chapter in Apple's history.
Some analysts were less optimistic, citing concern about the device's battery life and a look that is similar to other smartwatches already on sale from companies including Samsung Electronics Co.
Apple didn't discuss the battery life of its watches during the company's presentation, but an Apple spokeswoman later said the company will recommend that devices be charged each night.
"It's a little surprising to me," said Daniel Matte, an analyst at technology research firm Canalys. "I thought they were targeting at least a couple of days of usage."
Tim Spencer, an analyst at ABI Research, called the rectangular, mostly flat design "underwhelming," and said he was hoping for a curved screen, which would have increased the size significantly and allowed for a larger, longer-lasting battery.
"Battery life is likely to be an issue in a device of this size," Mr. Spencer added. "It is a problem for people interested in sleep monitoring."
Mr. Cook has been under increasing pressure to show that the company's run of inventive, hot-selling gadgets, including the iPhone and the iPad, can continue without the company's legendary and creative leader, Steve Jobs, who died in 2011.
The iPad, unveiled in January 2010, marked Apple's last major move into a new product category. Now, Apple is looking to wearable devices as a potentially big new growth market. The combination of multiple sensors, wireless connectivity and attachment to the body has the potential to create a new generation of gadgets that collect and process data from daily life.
Apple is entering a crowded field, with smartwatches and other wearable devices made by big companies including Google Inc. and Samsung, as well as startups such as Pebble Technology Corp. and Jawbone.
Sales have so far been disappointing. World-wide shipments of wearable devices—including smartwatches and activity trackers—totaled about 2.9 million units in the first quarter, according to ABI Research. That is about 1% of the 300 million smartphones shipped during the same period. Apple alone sold 43.7 million iPhones in that quarter.
However, Apple has helped define emerging technology categories before, and there is a lot of hope in the wearable sector that the company's entry will encourage more consumers to buy and use these gadgets more.
"If anyone can do this, it's Apple," said Brad Gastwirth, head of independent research firm ABR Investment Strategy. "But Samsung has not sold many smartwatches and there have not been very many other successful smartwatch players."
Mr. Cook said the device allows new ways for users to communicate from their wrists. The watch includes sensors that can detect a pulse and elevation and count steps, and an app that suggests fitness goals.
The watch will work with the company's new Apple Pay mobile-payments system so that users can make purchases in stores including McDonald's, Walgreens and Macy's by tapping their wrist on a point-of-sale terminal.
"The pay use case is big," Mr. Gastwirth said. "If your phone is in your pocket, using your watch to instantly pay is a nice function. That's more important than the watch itself and the most important takeaway from today."
Apple Watch also comes with a new dial called a digital crown that controls a lot of the device's operations. By twisting the dial, users can zoom the display in and out or up and down, Mr. Cook said.
The watches are charged with a magnetized charger and they let users communicate by touching the screen and sending faint vibrations to other users' wrists.
The watches also feature message alerts, replies by dictation, Maps, the personal assistant technology Siri and photos. Independent developers will create their own apps: Apple showed off watch apps from Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc., and Nike Inc., among others.
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