Apple TV the beloved stepchild of the Apple product line-up has continuously been dubbed a hobby since its introduction. The label gives Apple optionality. The label allows Apple to say, “Well, we’re serious about this, but we’re not sure about it.’”
While I use my Apple TV every single day, my opinion is the reason Apple calls it a hobby is because it’s a derived product. It’s a bit of iTunes, a little bit of iOS, there’s some hardware there, too, but it’s hardware you shove into a corner and never see. With all respect to the Apple TV team, there was nothing “Apple hard” in Apple TV’s design – that important innovative work has been done elsewhere.
The Apple Watch is not a hobby.
The Big Bang
Apple’s traditional move when entering a new market is to find a sweet spot, innovate the hell out of that sweet spot, and then leverage success there into expanding the product line. Both the iPod and the iPhone started as a single form factor product and with time designed different form factors for different market segments and price points.
In what for me was the biggest surprise of the launch event, Apple released three different product variants targeting different consumers. Why? Apple’s prior design cycle with the iPod and the iPhone allowed them to first release a single product, gauge reaction, and then quickly iterate on the next iteration. Over time, once they’d established a strategic beachhead, they’d diversify. Why the big bang of three products at once? My initial theories:
Apple is getting really good at knowing what is going work. All the prior work on iPod, iPhone, and iPad has given Apple well earned instinct about what is going to work in a new product category. They understand what is and isn’t going to work and are finally using this experience to make not just one big bet, but multiple ones. When you combine this experience with Apple’s limitless cash reserves and their awe inspiring supply chain networks, why not release a fleshed out product line?
Apple is tired of being copied. One of the benefits of releasing Watch, Sport, and Edition as well as the dizzying array of bands at the same time is that Apple isn’t playing a single design card – they’re playing all of them. They’ve established design mindshare for the casual, sports, and high end watch consumer all at the same time. The Apple Watch will certainly be copied, but in a single event Apple has a define a major larger design space that it wants to own – now.
Watch refresh cycles are going to be longer. Another thought is that Apple has done the research and knows that the refresh cycle for a watch is going to be much longer than other devices. The number of buying opportunities they have is lower which means they have to appeal to a much larger audience right out of the gate. As an emerging watch enthusiast, my observations is that watch owners have a completely different relationship with their watches than their phones. I suspect this is why Apple keeps using the words “intimate” and “personal” around their watch messaging – a phone is a tool, a watch is part of who you are. I am aware of no one who has a gorgeous cherrywood box with a glass top on their dresser that displays their various smartphones.
It’s just one product with different attributes and accessories. The major differences between the three categories (which each come in two sizes) appears to be the case and the displays. The internals of the watch, I’m assuming, are exactly the same. This makes it less three products and more a single product with three significant variants and a crap ton of available bands. Even though I’m proposing this theory, I’m not buying it. I’m not a hardware engineer and I’ve never done a smidge of industrial design, but I’m certain that the seemingly minute differences between the categories represent significant engineering challenges and the fact the chipset (which, remember, needs to come in two sizes) is mostly the same and runs a single (brand new) operating system makes these categories more different than alike.
One More Thing
The Apple Watch deserves the introduction of “One More Thing…” because it is the first post-Steve Jobs new product category for Apple. There are many familiar aspects to this launch whether it’s the amazing attention to detail on the hardware, the small delightful moments afforded by the software, and being left with that annoying anticipation, “Dammit… I just want to touch it… just for a second.”
It isn’t a hobby. It’s a new product line – all at once. It’s a large step towards technology becoming fashion, but it’s also classic Apple. My wife said it best last night when we watched the stream, “I feel like I’m watching the future arrive.”