Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thoughts on the Apple Watch

Some thoughts on the new Apple Watch.  With the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad I could see that they were going to be very successful products, but with this I'm more conflicted.  On the one hand it's a beautiful product from one of the world's most loved brands; on the other hand it's a ridiculously expensive gizmo ($17,000 for a gold one) that doesn't address any need that people have...

What's the point?  I'm not alone in questioning the purpose of the watch.  It's had the hardest reception for an Apple product in recent memory.  It has to be said that the iPod wasn't greeted enthusiastically by a lot of the fans back in 2001 - e.g. this wonderful comment:

"It's now at the online Apple Store! 

$400 for an Mp3 Player! 

I'd call it the Cube 2.0 as it wont sell, and be killed off in a short time...and it's not really functional.

Uuhh Steve, can I have a PDA now?"

The price: As with the iPod in 2001, the Apple Watch seems expensive - unless you wander round somewhere like the watch department of a store like Selfridge's where a £10,000 watch would be one of the cheaper ones on offer.

The Emperor's new clothes:  Was there anyone in the senior team working on the Apple Watch who wasn't a millionaire?  I really believe that the genius who coined the word 'glasshole' did more to kill the Google Glass than anything else - was there anyone in the team who was removed (& funny) enough to say it wasn't a brilliant idea?

Battery life:  The battery will keep it going to 18 hours - but this means that 18 hours is as good as it will get.  After a few months it'll be down to 14 hours.  Plus, if you're charging it when you go to bed then you're not wearing it in bed, and it can't act as well as a health monitor than something that you can wear 24/7.  

The need:  Often products are created to address a problem - but is there a 'problem' with current watches?  Or is it a problem with phones?  Part of what the watch does is to give you alerts so that you don't need to look at your phone so often, but is this a need that many people will be willing to pay hundreds of dollars to solve?

Apps & killer apps:  There are a few apps like Facebook, Instagram, and WeChat (see China, below) already working on the Apple Watch, but it's the ones that come out in 6 months time, that use the unique qualities of the watch that will be most interesting.  Angry Birds was so successful because it was designed for the iPhone, with new capabilities like a touch screen, rather than just adapted from other hand-held gaming consoles.  Same for Instagram.  Apps like these made people want iPhones because of what they could do, not because they were attractive objects.  The apps released later this year might create a genuine need to get the watch, rather than as a shiny bit of hardware.

Obsolescence:  My 2010 iPad doesn't really work any more.  The OS won't update, most apps won't run on it, and all but a few web sites crash.  It seems likely that the Apple Watches bought this year won't really work well in 2-3 years.  Maybe they'll still tell the time.  

First Edition:  Related to this, Apple puts out products when they're ready at a minimal level of performance.  The first iPhones didn't have 3G, and no apps, but they worked as phones and pocket internet machines.  These are going to be the worst Apple Watches to buy

Tethering:  Watches need to be connected to an iPhone 5 or above, so no one who doesn't have an iPhone will buy one.  It's a good get-out for me, as an Android user, to say why I haven't got one.

China:  Lots of people in China have got an iPhone though - maybe 100m of them.  There won't be another significantly different iPhone until 2016, so maybe a lot of them will buy watches.  If the newly rich middle class want a luxury watch, the Apple Watch is probably the most desired already, over traditional brands like Patek Philippe or IWC (with little to differentiate themselves in usability).

The Newton:  The Newton was Apple's first handheld device, first shipped in 1993.  It was a flop, but many of the things that weren't right in 1993 are assumed normal now - a device completely independent from the desktop, that was personal to the user, and capable of being used on the go.  At the time it was mocked as being pointless 'Why replace a $5 notebook with a $700 computer' (sound familiar?).  So...  Maybe the proof of this will only come in a few years.

To summarise:  Yes, it's mad, yes, it's pointless, yes, it's expensive, but for several reasons - especially the Chinese market - this might not matter.  I'd expect Apple to sell 25m or so this year, but for it to remain niche, but to make better and better versions over the next few years.

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