Apple unveiled its long-anticipated smartwatch, a device that combines health and fitness tracking with communications. (Reuters)

I was reporting my story on the new Washington rat race — elected officials and staffers tracking their steps on Fitbits and competing against each other — when Apple announced its new watch.

The announcement, as I note in my story, is not insignificant.

The Apple Watch will track steps and heart rate, much like existing products today. But while tracking steps feels like the new in-thing in big cities like Washington and New York, the fact is that most of America isn’t yet paying attention. Pew stats back this up.

Enter Apple.

“Apple has a way of instantly legitimatizing practices that weren’t very mainstream before it got involved,” says Forrester analyst James McQuivey, an expert on digital disruption.

iPod. iPhone. iPad. These markets — mp3 players, smart phones, tablets — all existed before Apple entered. You know the rest of the story.

The Post's Hayley Tsukayama tries out Apple's much-anticipated new smartwatch, the first new line of devices for the company since its founder Steve Jobs died in 2011. (Hayley Tsukayama and Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

McQuivey thinks Apple will have the same impact on health tracking.

“Apple’s products make people wonder if they should be changing their behavior in a way that others don’t,” he said.

Ease of use is a big factor. Apple designs for the masses. The other factor, of course, is hype. There is no word of mouth like Apple word of mouth.

“It sucks people in to thinking about something they weren’t thinking about before,” McQuivey said.

Apple’s watch will go on sale sometime early next year. Starting at $349, it will be more expensive — and have more features, including apps — than the current devices. How soon until we evolve from a nation of smartphone obsessives to a nation of step obsessives?

“It will start off slower than you think,” McQuivey said, because it really is a new idea, “and then it will grow faster than you think.”