Do you remember how the media responded to the release of the original Bondi blue iMac in 1998? It was for its time regarded as severely underpowered, containing what was essentially the innards of a PowerBook with a CRT display. Apple’s decision to ditch most legacy ports in favor of USB was regarded as a huge negative.
Despite the skepticism, the iMac was successful enough to breed PC imitations; imitations that were so close in form factor that Apple had to go to court in one case, that of the E-Power, to halt the practice. Few remember the E-Power.
In 2001, the iPod was regarded as overpriced, with little chance for mass-market success. At $399 for 5GB of storage, it may have indeed seemed too expensive, but that didn’t stop customers from making it successful. Over time, Apple added Windows support courtesy of the release of iTunes for Microsoft’s platform, and soon owned the digital music player market. iPod killers came and went and none, not even Microsoft’s Zune, managed to dent Apple’s dominance.
Don’t forget how many industry and media pundits touted the Zune as inevitably destroying the iPod’s dominance, and how almost none of them backtracked when that didn’t happen.
In a move typical of the skepticism about new Apple products, don’t forget the initial reaction to the iPhone launch in 2007, and the guffaws from the likes of Microsoft’s then-CEO, Steve Ballmer. Today, the iPhone is Apple’s most popular product, and demand for the new models is off the charts.
All right, iOS doesn’t have the market penetration of Android, but no single Android smartphone outsells the top-of-the-line iPhone.
And do you remember when the iPad was regarded as little more than a larger iPod touch?
So it stands to reason that there will be plenty of skepticism about the Apple Watch. What does Apple know about wearables anyway, and about watches specifically? Of course, similar questions were raised about the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, so this is nothing new.
It’s also curious how the media wants to use the arrival of a new Apple gadget, in a new category, as fuel for their flames. Sure, it’s perfectly legitimate to question whether there is a large audience for a smartwatch, even Apple’s variation on the theme. You have to wonder whether people who get cheap watches, or no watch at all, will want to buy one. At the same time, will connoisseurs of fancy timepieces be tempted?
Certainly it seems clear Apple comes to the fight well prepared. New designers and other executives from the fashion industry have come aboard, affording a wider scope of talent with which to create the product and enter a new market.
It’s also true that some of the early comments are based on sheer stupidity. Take the one that Apple shouldn’t be limiting the ability to connect an Apple Watch to recent iPhones. Isn’t the iPhone a minority player in the market? Why not follow the iPod playbook and make it available for Android users too?
Why indeed! But let’s bust the speculative bubble with a little logic.
The iPod required iTunes, so Apple made iTunes available for Windows. That app kept you within Apple’s ecosystem, and Apple switched the connection scheme from FireWire to USB for synchronizing content to smooth the way.
Now with Apple Watch, it is designed to work with an iPhone and iOS, and the integration is carefully designed to be as seamless as possible. Before you consider the obvious problems of adding Android support, such as the lack of comparable apps and features, there is also the annoying fact that most of the people who own handsets with Google’s mobile OS are not up to date and will never be up to date.
You might as well suggest that Apple’s Continuity feature, designed to integrate OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, be expanded to include Windows, Android and BlackBerry. It’s a preposterous idea, since it works against a tight and reliable ecosystem. Even if it were possible in theory, it would present huge problems with execution. Start with HealthKit for iOS 8, and go from there. Do these uninformed commentators expect Apple to simply take all the unique features of OS X and iOS and port them to rival operating systems?
Oh, sure, some of these people still blame Apple’s decision not to clone the Mac OS from Day One as the reason Windows became dominant. They do forget what nearly happened to Apple when they finally relented on cloning. The fact that Apple is a hardware company that makes integrated software, and that Microsoft, for the most part, is a software company eludes them. Despite Microsoft’s failed forays into the hardware business — aside from the Xbox that only became profitable after huge losses — it’s still a company that profits most from software and services.
It is fair to state that the prospects for the success of the Apple Watch are still unknown. The market for a smartwatch no doubt hasn’t been fully tapped, but getting people to pay $349 or lots more for any watch will still be a hard sell.