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U.S. Business Apple CEO Cook unveils smartwatch features, new MacBook

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., on Monday.

LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS

Apple Inc. began making the case on Monday for its first new device in five years, a smartwatch designed to put information on peoples' wrists and break open the fledgling market for wearable technology. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook is unveiling new details about the gadget at an event in San Francisco.

What we know so far:

  • The watch has an 18-hour battery life. It's charged with a magnetic charger that clicks into place when it’s near the back of the watch.
  • Users can use the watch for phone calls; it's connected to your iPhone using Bluetooth.
  • It will be available in nine countries on April 24. Pre-orders begin April 10.
  • It comes in two sizes and three styles with a starting price of $349 (U.S.) for the sports version to as much as $10,000 for a luxury edition.
  • A stainless steel Apple Watch with a 38-millimeter case will start at $549. A watch with a 42-millimeter case will be $50 more.
  • The watch has a customizable face and a feature called “glances” for tools used most often, such as checking weather.
  • It will track exercise, remind wearers of events with a tap on the wrist, and make calls through an electronically tethered phone, since it has a built in speaker and microphone.
  • User can also read email, control music, and manage Instagram photos.

With the watch, Cook is pushing Apple into a new product category that seeks to further immerse users into the company's digital universe. As a health and fitness tracker, the watch opens new possibilities in the health industry. It also expands the number of devices that work with Apple Pay, the company's new mobile-payments system. To fully work, the watch, which has a colour touchscreen, needs to be paired with an iPhone.

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Shares of Apple were up about 1.4 percent at $128.41 (U.S.) after the announcement, but gave back most of those gains by mid-afternoon.

Apple Watch, first revealed in September, marks the first new gadget to be released since Cook became CEO in 2011. The new product, plus new larger-screened iPhones, have helped boost optimism about Apple's growth, sending its shares to a record high in recent weeks.

Apple's Watch sales this fiscal year may reach almost 14 million, according to the average estimate of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The global market for all smartwatches may rise to 28.1 million units this year from 4.6 million, with Apple capturing 55 per cent of the market, according to researcher Strategy Analytics.

The sophistication of the applications available will be key to wooing Apple Watch buyers. Just as the App Store has been a key reason for the iPhone's success, tools for Apple Watch will help determine how customers use the gadget and whether it will be a sales hit.

Apple is gearing up for a strong start. People familiar with the matter said the company is asking suppliers in Asia to make five million to six million Apple Watches in the first quarter.

Earlier in the event, Apple unveiled its thinnest-ever MacBook personal computer, weighing 2 pounds and measuring 13.1 millimeters wide. The notebook, which includes new technologies behind its keyboard and track pad, runs on an Intel Corp. chip, and comes in silver, gray and gold with a 12-inch retina display. Apple will ship the new PC on April 10 and prices start at $1,299.

Cook also announced an exclusive Apple TV partnership with Time Warner Inc.'s cable channel HBO for its stand-alone service. HBO's subscription service will be available outside of a traditional pay-TV package starting next month. Apple also cut the price of Apple TV to $69. HBO's streaming channel will cost $14.99 a month. It will not be available in Canada.

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HBO chief executive officer Richard Plepler made the announcement Monday at the Apple event in San Francisco. The new service would let consumers watch the channel online without paying for a cable or satellite TV subscription. HBO – home to such shows as "Game of Thrones," "Girls" and "True Detective" – has been in talks with at least five companies including Apple and Google Inc. to distribute the Web-only service, according to people familiar with the matter. HBO has said it wants to work with its long-time cable distributors as well as new ones.

By offering its channel outside the cable bundle, HBO could prompt more consumers to cut the cord and threaten the TV ecosystem. The move pits HBO directly against online streaming service Netflix Inc., which has more than 57 million subscribers worldwide.

Plepler has said the new service is aimed at reaching an estimated 10 million consumers who get Internet service but don't subscribe to cable or satellite TV.

Cook also said Apple Pay, the company's mobile-transaction service, is now supported by 2,500 banks. New applications for health and medical research were also unveiled, including diagnostic tools that can help patients with Parkinson's disease and diabetes.

With files from Globe and Mail wire services

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