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The Apple Watch Arrives
The much awaited Apple Watch went on sale online last week, with deliveries and in-store availability starting April 24. With prices ranging from $350 to over $10,000, the Watch will become the next part of the expanding iPhone ecosystem, which already encompasses iPads and Macs -- particularly Macs with the Yosemite operating system. There are some positive and some negative factors playing into the equation, but in the end I think this first attempt at an Apple wearable will be a weak to moderate success, with much better attempts (and price points) to follow.
To start on a positive note, the Apple Watch is the best wearable we've seen. Good display (not "great" in direct sunlight), best-of-breed user interface, nice looking, tons of models and options, decent heart monitor, and some unique (though possibly "creepy") features like wrist tapping or sending your heartbeat to someone. The trouble with that last one is the worry that if you lose your network connection, will the other guy think you died?
However, there are still a number of major obstacles to surmount, and the market for the Apple Watch will be limited to those who have bought into the iPhone ecosystem. With the exception of wireless headsets, about the only wearable to hit the radar was the activity monitor, and those have been only a moderate success primarily with the health conscious. Beyond that we're looking at things that may get covered in Wired but not in the Wall Street Journal.
One very positive feature of the Apple Watch is that it actually does look pretty good, and even better with the variety of displays that are available. "Fashion" (or the lack thereof) has clearly been a challenge with wearables and was one of the key factors that stymied Google Glass, whose users were not-affectionately referred to as "Glassholes." If there's one ding against it, it's the size needed to carry a battery that is still marginal at best. It's important to remember that battery life was also a problem for the first generation iPhone, but that improved over time.
Apple clearly recognized the fashion challenge and actively courted the fashion industry . In October, Apple Watch made the cover of Vogue China, on the wrist of model Liu Wen.
The company also recruited Paul Deneve, the former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, and Angela Ahrendts, the former chief of Burberry PLC. However, the result is that Apple will now be offering more combinations of the Apple Watch than any other product that they carry, and is reportedly doing some expensive renovations to its retail outlets to accommodate.
The "luxury goods" focus resulted in gold models costing upwards of $10,000, creating a different marketing challenge. Luxury watches are kept for decades (hence the value), while electronics are obsolete in 2-years. The only way a $10,000 Apple Watch makes any sense is if the electronics are replaceable.
On the "utility" front, battery life is the big dig, but the thing isn't waterproof, though it is reportedly "slash-proof." I'm a swimmer, and I'm not buying an Apple Watch. I hope the triathletes remember to take it off before they hit the pool.
Early reviewers like this one and this one found a lot of interesting things you could do with the Apple Watch. The term that keeps popping up is "glimpses." Unlike an iPhone or an iPad, you don't stare at the Apple Watch for extended periods of time. You glimpse at it for the time, to see a new text or email that arrived, maybe to follow directions and you can swipe up from the bottom to see the weather.
So I wouldn't declare the Apple Watch a sure winner yet. I look at it as an imperfect product, but it does signal the official start of the wearables market, just like the iPhone launched the modern smartphone market and the iPad essentially created the tablet market. The naysayers may pan this at the outset, but you have to remember, this is Apple! Apple does the impossible, and does so on a regular basis. The initial wave of sales will be to the Apple faithful and the "incurably fashionable," and they'll be getting a decent, but decidedly "first-generation" product. However, Apple will stick to it and follow on with improvements and refinements, and the market will continue to grow. Rolex and Patek Philippe have little to worry about, but those in the electronics biz are about to get their next lesson in what Apple can do.