Apple Watch: Gadget or Fashion Statement

September 12th, 2014

The first logical question one considers when evaluating the Apple Watch is not Apple’s new naming convention, which gives up on the “i” prefix. After all, there is the Apple TV. The key question is: who is going to buy them?

Therein lines the difficulty in predicting the potential for massive sales of the Apple Watch. You just know that most everyone needs a mobile handset, and some are doing fairly well, though compared to any single model on any platform, the iPhone remains tops. That’s true even if the overall iOS share is but a fraction of Android’s share.

The key issue with the Apple Watch — and I suppose the same was true with the original iPod in 2001 — is that the media and industry analysts really haven’t a clue how well these products will do once they go on sale. When the iPod came out, it was panned, and regarded as a curiosity. Hundreds of millions of units later, the best that can be said is that the world has now moved on.

This isn’t to say Apple is fated to sell hundreds of millions of Apple Watches. But it’s interesting to note that the most favorable comments originate from fashion-oriented publications as opposed to the mainstream and tech media. It is obvious, after all, that the Apple Watch is an accessory and not the main device. Some critics point to the fact that just about all the functions can be done on an iPhone, though clearly not as conveniently.

But Apple isn’t selling to the “geek” audience that has bought a few million of those other smartwatches over the years. Apple clearly put a huge amount of time and money into developing the Apple Watch. There’s a lot of thought and attention to detail. The digital crown seems so obvious and simple when you see it in operation, but none of the other companies ever considered such a clever use for a traditional component of a regular wristwatch.

Even for people who buy watches, you have to wonder whether they’d pay $349 or more for one with an Apple logo. Are all the extra features and nifty looks so compelling as to make it indispensable, or will Apple cater to a niche audience of a few million that will keep the product alive over the years? Is there even a mass market for a smartwatch regardless of the design and functions?

I’m not sure I have the answer. For me, I’d have to decide whether it’s worth the expense for my needs. I have generally bought watches at discount stores for about $100 or less. They are mostly for telling time, though I don’t mind the chronograph features that include stopwatch capability. Of course, I can do that on an iPhone, though a watch is more convenient for just checking the time.

One thing is certain, though, and that is that the Apple Watch appears to have been built from a clean slate, without regard to what Pebble, Samsung, Motorola and other companies have done. Apple’s smartwatch reportedly went into development after the passing of Steve Jobs, so it’s being regarded as Tim Cook’s debut as a product visionary. Cook says he’s a fan of wearables, and he is known to exercise regularly.

There are legitimate questions, of course, about such matters as battery life. Having to recharge the thing every night might be a huge inconvenience for some, considering that my Guess or Casio watch will operate a couple of years before the battery need to changed. Of course anyone with a smartphone, tablet and note-book computer is accustomed to recharging every day, or maybe even twice a day, so maybe this won’t be a serious limitation. One expects that Apple would love to lengthen the cycle as technology improves.

The other question is longevity. People may buy a new smartphone every two years, at the end of the typical wireless contract. But they will keep their tablets far longer. It’s too early in the game to estimate a replacement cycle, and this may be one of the reasons sales have flattened. But you might keep a watch around for many years, assuming it still functions, so someone who buys an Apple Watch in 2015 may expect it to work perfectly in 2020 or even 2025. So Apple might have to consider the product’s longevity in a different way, particularly for customers who are buying them as fashion accessories and don’t care about getting an OS update on a regular basis.

I fully expect that Apple has considered many of these questions as much as I expect that Pebble, Samsung, Motorola and the other companies who build smartwatches are mostly focused on selling as many as possible now. How long they hold up, and how quickly they might be replaced, is a secondary consideration.

In any case, the Apple Watch launch has sucked the air out of the market. Many people who might have bought one for the holiday season may now be waiting until 2015, so they can try out Apple’s gadget first.

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5 Responses to “Apple Watch: Gadget or Fashion Statement”

  1. Jase says:

    When the original iPhone came out, it was quite expensive for the phone market, you could not add apps to it, and the amount of things that it did was pretty limited. This watch, on the other hand, can do many things, and I expect that App developers will extend its utility farther still. If the only thing that the Apple Watch does is to shore up the market share of the iPhone and add to the image of Apple as being on the cutting edge of technology and design, thus justifying a price premium of Apple devices over Android based competitors, then the Apple Watch will have been a success.

  2. Macduff says:

    I stumbled onto your podcast. Quite good BTW. I look forward to perusing the site. Moving along, who the fuck cares what the fashion world says about the Apple Watch? One should care about what the industrial design world thinks because design leadership is an important hallmark of Apple products. A signature part of the brand identities of both the company and its customers I would think.

    That being said, the Watch seems “not fully baked” product. From the keynote presentation, its operation appears klugey and the functionality mostly silly. It certainly feels more like a Siri-like endeavour rather than a well-executed product.

  3. MacDuff says:

    @Gene Steinberg,

    I’ll try to write slower for you.

    1. The Siri reference I made was used as an analogy. When Siri first launched (as a “beta” feature, remember?) on the iPhone, it was “very beta-ish” as Woz remarked. I feel the Watch as demonstrated with two hands (awkward) by Kevin Lynch has the same beta-ishness.

    2. There’s no need to sign your comments. Your name appears already in the reply heading. Unless you just want to make certain your readers doubly understand that the reply is from Gene Steinberg, Gene.


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