Friday, 19 September 2014

The Apple Watch: Just another watch, if it’s not an iWatch?

The Apple Watch depends on a successful ecosystem. If it does, it won’t be a market creator, but a market disruptor.

The loss of the prefix “i” is quite significant: the Apple Watch is not meant to be an evolution of the existing Apple i-environment, it’s not Apple doing the same thing that it has for the past 7 years. It’s not class-creating, but class-leading. It’s not one-design-fits-all, but hugely customisable. It’s not a feature-packed smart watch, but an update to the classic Patek Philippe that you’ve always lusted after. It’s as much jewellery, as technology. The dropping of the “i” shows that it’s not trying to be uniquely Apple, but individually yours.

If it’s not all of those things, what is it? Here’s where it becomes a bit tricky, because the Apple Watch’s strength is that there isn’t a closed list of use cases that it fulfils. What it does will depend upon how its sensors are used, how it displays data, in other words which apps become important. It’s unclear to me what those apps will be, but we can draw parallels from the evolution of the iPhone.

Its flexibility is its key strength. That means providing sensors and data processing/ display capabilities not hobbled by stock apps. It’s a full computer running a variant of iOS. It has WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, accelerometer, and heart-rate sensors. It has a retina touch sapphire (scratch-proof) screen, speakers, microphone and a taptic (programmable vibration) feedback. It has mag-safe inductive charging, so even powering it up will look cool.

Apple has announced some cool apps (cut-down Apple maps routing + taptic feedback for pedestrian directions without needing to look at your device), some creepy (sharing your heartbeat…), and some genuinely important (making secure payments by not sharing credit card details or even taking out your wallet). It’s the taptic feedback that’s the most interesting to me, the way that the watch can create a unique sound + display + sensation in response to its sensors. However, it’s what developers other than Apple choose to do with all this that creates the magic.

There’s an established precedent of apps emerging over time to improve the range of use cases. Thanks to apps, using my iPhone as a phone is low down on the list of things I want to do with it. As I posted last time, it’s not even the top consideration when buying its replacement. I’m excited to see how creative apps will improve my tech life in ways that I haven’t yet imagined. I’m pretty sure it won’t be just telling the time.

Not knowing what it does best is one of many things not to like about this first generation device. It’s chunky, because of the screen and therefore the battery needed to power it. However, its battery life is projected to only last a day, which means that health monitoring your sleep habits is out. It doesn’t have 3/4G so it many interesting apps that require a data feed won’t work independently of an iPhone (and the Apple Watch will never work with any other phone OS).

Current battery technology means that it’ll wear out in 5-10 years, and it won’t be replaceable so you’ll have to buy another watch, so its amortised cost could be $100 p.a., which makes it even more expensive. (To compare, that $1,000 Omega will outlast you, and a new battery will be $30 every couple of years.) It won’t actually be available until Q1 2015, by which time Pebble and Samsung will have launched new improved versions of their current, market-tested smart watches, in time for Christmas. Oh, and the Apple Watch 2 will be launched in September 2015.

I’m deliberately overlooking the jewellery aspect of the Apple Watch, as it’s the least compelling aspect, at least to me. I’ve read some interesting speculation regarding the pricing. We can all guess that the “starting at” $349 price will be for the least desirable variant: the lowest memory, smallest screen, rubber strap “sport” edition. The price point that the most bling gold (not just plated, but for real life 18k gold) “Edition” edition will be playing at the gold Rolex $5,000 end.

There is a precedent: think Vertu, then sigh in relief that you’re not into wearing a Swarofsky-styled mirror-ball on your wrist. Even though that price is eye-wateringly high (remember, the Apple Watch probably only has a 5-10 year life span), it’s still low in comparison to luxury watches. That gold Rolex is nearer $35,000. Apple will be a disruptor once again, but to a completely different industry. Perhaps that’s what Jony Ive meant when he said that the Swiss watch industry was in “trouble”.

I wrote back in May “The iPhone 1 was also crucially under-featured, only running on GPRS networks rather than 3G. It was a disappointment, when compared to its competitors in most respects, apart from one: the software and industrial design was so strong, its fundamentals are still market-leading today.” It seems that history has repeated itself at the launch of the Apple Watch.

There’s plenty to be confused about regarding the Apple Watch. The first gen may not change our lives as is, but will be the shape of things to come, literally. And it will change both the tech and the luxury watch markets, because Apple’s mojo is still sky high.

No comments:

Post a Comment

It's always great to hear what you think. Please leave a comment, and start a conversation!