Is it the right time for the Apple Watch?
It’s now been few weeks since Apple announced the Apple Watch – a hybrid between technology and fashion – and since then many analysts have come out on both sides of the debate; some supporting the venture, while others are sceptical. The company’s first major product developed without Steve Jobs, the product is already following the traditional Apple cycle – it wasn’t the first to market but already it looks like it’s leap years ahead of the competition. Even so, perhaps the biggest thing that people don’t understand is “Why now?” – in other words, why is Apple releasing an Apple Watch when there isn’t particularly a reason why people should buy one? Yet, the answer is incredibly simple and again follows historical principle: Apple is being ambitious, shooting for the stars and while most current smart watches are designed as accessories, Apple is preparing for a future without the phone.
While the Apple Watch version released early next year will require an iPhone to work, Apple is preparing for a future where the Watch, not an iPhone is the digital hub. First came the computer, now the phone and soon the Watch could possibly be the main device which you use to control everything. It might be a few years down the line, but eventually the Apple Watch will have mobile capability, just like the iPhone enabling it to access email on-the-go and send messages, and crucially, the ability to interact with lots of other connected devices – such as Nest thermostats; fridges; TVs or even hail a taxi with Uber. From Apple’s perspective, the Watch is the long term replacement for the iPhone. It took around 12-14 years for the iPhone to become a digital hub, and now, with the iPhone 7 years old, the Watch might be ready to take on a similar major role in a similar time frame. Again, this won’t happen next year, or even the year after, but it’s likely to happen at some point.
Many have also looked at the device and wondered why it seems to have so many different functions, especially for something that requires an iPhone. Why do I need to setup directions on my Watch if I can just use the phone? Yet, this is a misunderstanding of who the Watch is aimed at. It’s not aimed at people who are already interested in the smart watches that can display notifications from the whole, it’s aimed at people who don’t currently wear watches because their other devices are “good enough”. For the Apple Watch to become a major product for Apple, a $200bn company, it must appeal to a wide audience and be superior enough to the iPhone to justify the additional expense (likely to cost $349-$10,000 possibly), but also charging another device everyday and to encourage people who previously haven’t worn a watch to wear one.
These analysts also tend to believe that the device should have been more like an iPod. Dependent on the iPhone for pretty much everything, with only basic functionality on the Watch, like notifications, music playing or reading messages. Yet, the iPod succeeded in a world where nobody had something to carry music on-the-go, whereas now everybody is already carrying a phone which can do almost anything. Thus, a basic device would only be a niche market and the product wouldn’t be seen as successful. In addition, this device, without third party apps and the digital hub in mind would have to be completely redesigned in the future when the constraint of the phone was removed. In fact, this alone would make it unlikely that the Watch would ever become a digital hub, as the constraint would always exist in some form, leaving Apple open to disruption.
Thus, if you look long term, the product needs to have many fundamental ingredients to build a platform that simply don’t make sense at the moment. When you’re launching a product that is intended to have such a core role, you have to lay the foundations at the beginning or it could throw off the entire future of the product. Hence, the Apple Watch has been designed with this in mind.
Once that’s out of the way, why 2015? Seeing at the ecosystem and technology isn’t ready for a full digital hub yet, why not delay the launch or release a device with all this in mind?
If you waited until all of the technology – which may be many years away – such as the battery or cellular technology was ready you would miss out on two things that a launch next year brings. The first is the beginning of an app ecosystem. Developers will be able to make apps and just like they have on the iPhone, these will bring fantastic functionality to the device – including many things that we’re not even thinking about. However, as with the iPhone, this took many years for this to really take off. Launching now ensures that these apps can develop and will be ready for the digital hub to really take off. Second, Apple will be able to iterate and improve the device and software over time, again ensuring this is all ready. This is evident with the iPhone, which now has many more features and much more polish than when it launched. It probably took until the iPhone 4, 4 years after launch for the interface to be perfected.
In the meantime the fact that the iPhone is required does confuse many people. However, in reality it’s not likely to be much of a problem. There isn’t really a tradeoff at all. How often do people with iPhone’s go anywhere without them? Almost never – the reason why an accessory only Apple Watch wouldn’t be successful. The rare times this isn’t the care will likely be scenarios when the Watch can operate independently anyway, like during runs.
Apple realised they could use this to their advantage. It’s ok for the Watch to require the iPhone for connectivity because it’s always present. Apple is not asking anybody to change their behaviour in this regard, the Watch only adds to your day-to-day experience. From a technological perspective this conflicts with the digital hub, but in reality it’s a non-issue. In return, Apple gets to take advantage of the opportunity to develop an app ecosystem and iterate the software and device for when the digital hub is truly ready.
Over time I believe that we might start carrying the iPhone less and less or keeping them in our bags more and more as the Watch becomes the main device, using it’s portability and personal nature to its advantage. Hence a move towards bigger screen sizes such as the iPhone 6 Plus – great for times when you need the more capable and bigger device. Overall this is great for Apple as yet again they’re disrupting themselves and able to take advantage of the fashion world – the Gold Apple Watch sell for $10,000+ – and become an even more lucrative company.
Even despite this bullish view I do have some problems with the launch. To start with, the presentation didn’t really sell the device and left some people with a lot of questions – one of which that this article seeks to answer. Apple could have done much better, look back at how Steve Jobs launched the iPhone. Apple wanted to suggest that the Watch is a standalone device that would one day be the only device we need all of the time, but they couldn’t actually say that. Yet, perhaps Apple will have another event close to launch to really sell the device, not wanting to give too much away to competitors. After all, the iPhone was five years ahead of the competition so maybe we need to look at this the same way and looking at the device from a 2014 perspective is leading to all the wrong conclusions.