Apple Watch and the Stakes Falsehoods

March 10th, 2015

All right, so Apple did release a product that might kinda sorta be referred to as a 12-inch MacBook Air with Retina display. Only it was called MacBook, signaling a new product generation, and it made the existing MacBook Air seem positively thick and heavy by comparison. But I get ahead of myself.

Ahead of the event, some members of the media boldly asserted that Apple’s entire future depended on the success of the Apple Watch. Jonny Ive’s reputation was at stake. If you can believe this nonsense, Apple’s record breaking sales in the last quarter were illusory, since no smartwatches were sold. What’s more, the history of the market is limited, and there have been no breakout products so far.

In fact, the definition of success hasn’t been written yet, since nobody out there knows the true potential of the market. It won’t take a huge amount of Apple Watch sales to exceed those of all other contenders, but it’s not as if Apple Watch can overnight exceed the popularity of the iPhone. It make take years, it may never happen, but that isn’t a definition of success. The Mac is extremely successful, with higher revenues than ever, but the division delivers only a fraction of Apple’s total sales.

Facts, however, never get in the way when it comes to media agendas. Apple must fail, and every product, if not an overnight success, must do them in. By that definition, Samsung would have been history ages ago.

But let me get to the MacBook, which is clearly meant as a next generation product. So you can forgive its limitations. Indeed, it’s very likely the new configuration is meant to eventually replace the MacBook Air and possibly, if Apple offers enough display size options, the entire MacBook lineup. Simplify is the name of the game at Apple.

For now, though, the largest benefit is the thinner, lighter form factor. Being just two pounds makes the MacBook less than nine ounces heavier than the fourth generation iPad 4. Remember, the iPad has a 9.7-inch display and no physical keyboard. That makes the comparison even more amazing. In contrast, the iPad Air 2 is 437 grams, or 15.41472 ounces.

In any case, the new MacBook is undeniably attractive, but it’s not all about size. The upgraded keyboard, with butterfly mechanism, is designed to offer a more solid feel, with 17% larger keys, meaning more comfortable and accurate typing. The Force Touch trackpad, with a built-in Taptic Engine, provides haptic feedback and a way to adjust the pressure of clicks to offer additional gestures. I expect a learning curve.

The downside of the MacBook is the predicted single USB-C multipurpose connector that would require a breakout Multipart Adapter cable to offer direct connections to both a USB drive and an external display. And it’s also used for charging from a brick that reminds you of the one that comes with an iPad.

The Core M processor, from Intel’s Broadwell family, is designed to favor power efficiency over raw power, and you don’t expect much from the standard 1.1GHz and the optional 1.2GHz dual-core processors, though both turbo boost to more than twice that number. PCIe-based onboard flash storage should help boost performance.

You’ll likely be impressed with the new battery system, taking up more space inside the tiny case and thus offering up to 10 hours battery life. Sporting the predicted Retina display, it’s $1,299 for the standard version with 8GB RAM and a 256GB flash drive, but that figure is actually much cheaper than the original 2008 MacBook Air. The gold version is a standout, though gray and space gray are sufficiently attractive. You’ll be able to buy one on April 10th, the same day you’ll be able to preorder an Apple Watch.

Force Touch also made its way to a revised 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, which also gets the Broadwell chip, Intel Iris Graphics 6100 and other enhancements. It’s available within 1-3 business days according to the listing at Apple’s online store. The 15-inch model is untouched, possibly because Apple is still waiting for the faster Broadwell processors for Apple’s most powerful note-book. So maybe it’ll arrive by summer.

As previously predicted, the MacBook Air lineup was updated with Broadwell parts, speedier flash storage, and boasts 10 hours battery life for the 11-inch model and 12 hours for the 13-inch model. Prices, starting at $899 for the smaller Air, are unchanged.

I’m curious to see how long these aging models hang around as the new MacBook technology is developed with faster hardware and, one hopes, lower prices.

Now if you were waiting for a ton of additional information about the Apple Watch, aside from the prices and shipping date of course, you may or may not have been disappointed. Battery life is, as previously reported, said to be all-day, estimated at 18 hours for what Apple has determined to be normal use by defining a given number of functions. It can be as little as three hours if you consider uninterrupted talk time.

The real question was about pricing, and most models will be reasonably affordable, I suppose. As previously announced, the 38mm Sport model starts at $349, but the 42mm version is $50 more. The stainless steel model starts at $549 for the 38mm version, and $599 for the 42mm model. Prices for watchbands range from $49 for a Sport Band in various colors to $499 for the link bracelet version.

The limited production Edition version falls at the high end of price estimates, with the cheapest model coming in at $10,000 for the 38mm configuration, but rises to $17,000 for the 42mm version with the most expensive watchband. Unfortunately expectations that Apple would offer a way to future proof the device with low-cost upgrades to the core module are as yet unfulfilled. Since it’s likely not many Editions will be sold, maybe it won’t make a difference, but I can see how some potential buyers might just prefer to wait till next year. If you preorder on April 10th, prepare to wait at least two weeks for delivery.

And, remember, Apple Watch is, for most functions, little more than an iPhone companion.

Early in the press event, Tim Cook announced a price cut for the Apple TV from $99 to $69, no doubt to boost sales until a new model is ready. HBO’s cord-cutting service, HBO Now, will debut exclusively on Apple TV in April for $14.99 per month. This move may herald the future direction of Apple’s streaming media device by offering exclusive content compared to the competition. But none of that will manage the growing channel clutter with the existing interface, and it can only get worse.

And not a thing was said about the rumored iPad Pro.

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4 Responses to “Apple Watch and the Stakes Falsehoods”

  1. dfs says:

    Let me grouse a little about the Apple Watch and why I think it may be a disaster on the market. I’m not talking about the functionality and usefulness of the product itself, that remains to be seen, but rather about the pricing structure, and why I think it’s going to prove a major turnoff to prospective purchasers. The two examples that bother me the most are, first, the price differential between the aluminum case and the stainless steel one. The cheapest sport model is $349 and the cheapest stainless steel model is $549. Two hundred bucks difference between aluminum and stainless steel? Really? Is stainless steel that much more expensive than aluminum? Even worse, the least expensive stainless steel model, which comes with a cheap-looking plastic band, is $549 and the model with the link bracelet (which looks about a thousand times better) is $949. Four hundred bucks for a stainless steel link bracelet-style band?? Jeez, that’s just insane — spend five minutes on the web and you can find plenty of such bands for less than fifty bucks. As a matter of fact, I don’t see why I can’t buy the cheapie and add my own third-party bracelet. Probably companies like Speidel will be quick in bringing out affordable bands specially intended for the Apple Watch, which will leave Apple with a warehouse full of its own unsold, unsellable $949 ones. I can see the lower end of Apple’s sport line selling well enough for customers who are content with aluminum cases and cheap plastic bands, but I think Apple’s insane pricing scheme is going to kill its prospects for competing against serious traditional watches. Especially since if I’m going to lay out serious money on a high-quality normal watch I’m buying an heirloom I plan on hanging onto for a good long time and might end up leaving to a favorite nephew in my will. To spend serious money on something that’s going to be rendered obsolete by an Apple Watch 2 in a very few years? Again, the only word that comes to mind to describe an expectation like that is insanity. The folks up in Cupertino just aren’t thinking straight about their pricing structure, and if they can’t figure out how to manufacture stainless steel cases and link bracelet bands at a reasonable price then they ought to stay out of the watchmaking business and leave it to companies such as Seiko and Citizen, for which such manufacturing issues are entirely non-problematic.

    • @dfs, It’s well known that Apple users state-of-the-art construction techniques for many of their products. When it comes to an item of jewelry, price doesn’t always matter.

      I’m making no guess as to how many units Apple will sell or expects to sell. We’ll just have to see.


  2. DaveD says:

    Price is what a market is willing to bear. Apple doesn’t play the commodity game, but it does come close with the Apple TV. On the Apple Watch we will have to wait and see if those “special buyers” come which I am not one.

    However, I’m more interested in the new MacBook. It is like déjà vu when the first MacBook Air came out over seven years ago. It was a pricey machine with one USB port, one display port, and a power port. I am wondering how to connect to USB device(s)/display while on AC power to the new machine.

    At least I know that Apple is still a “Think Different” company with their new products. I have a pile of old Apple cable/adapter technology.

  3. Kaleberg says:

    “And, remember, Apple Watch is, for most functions, little more than an iPhone companion.”

    For now, it is an iPhone companion, but in five to ten years the Apple Watch will be a full featured network device and not need a phone any more than a modern iPhone needs a Mac or PC. This will require some changes to the way mobile phone companies work as people aren’t going to pay $50 a month for each of the many mobile devices they might have, but pushing other companies – music sellers, movie makers, mobile phone suppliers – is something Apple is good at. I expect the Apple Watch to succeed, but in a limited fashion, but I also expect it to grow into an entirely new category of device, dragging the mobile phone companies into the future with it.

    P.S. I’m not buying one, because I haven’t worn a watch in 45 years. They irritate my wrist, and I’ve tried every type of band ever made. On the other hand, if they come out with a model that clips to my belt, I’d consider it.

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