Apple I just want to touch it

Not a Hobby

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.”

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19 Responses

  1. Sam Lawrence 10 years ago

    Typo in second bold heading. These are exactly my feelings, and explains Apple’s close relationship with Burberry during the iPhone 5 release and their hiring of Angela Ahrendts. They see and understand the future of fashion is technology and vice versa, as electronics become smaller, more personal, and more integrated into our lives. This is a bold “Gretzky” move, but one that will surely pay off, and embed Apple products and services into daily life more deeply than ever before. Until now, my iPhone was the most personal device I had ever owned, but this watch will be even more contextual, more interactive, and more present to my consciousness.

    It is a brilliant and wonderful device, and I cannot wait for 3rd party developers to breathe life into it.

  2. CaffGeek 10 years ago

    Had they released something along the lines of a Kairos smart watch, I’d have been impressed. As it is, it’s unimpressive.

    It’s not nice enough to wear when you “dress to impress” no matter which one you buy. I’m also very concerned about durability…battery life, etc. It’s also tied to an iPhone, so a large portion of smart phone users simply won’t be able to use it.

    It doesn’t feel polished to me at all, it feels rushed.

  3. Stefan 10 years ago

    I thought there had to be variants of the Watch and they were too few. Because watches, unlike MP3 players or PCs, are very expressive pieces of fashion.

    People want to distinguish themselves wearing a watch. This is a very new job-to-be-done for a computer company. And I think the reason why Apple enters broadly is, because they understand this.
    These three editions and the bunch of straps should be good for a long list of early adopters. But I believe that for something that “personal” you will need far more variety if you want to hold a significant portion of a market like the iPhone or even the Mac does.

  4. Daniel 10 years ago

    Actually, it’s product ranging structure is similar to the phone strategy of recent years: available in white, space grey & gold which have modular integration with a wide variety of cases. Since there are no storage variants, it makes sense to offer differences in subtle materials or physical size.

    Even with two subtly different chipsets for 38mm and 42mm that’s hardly a new problem for Apple who have extensive custom chip experience across laptops, phones, iPads & iPods and not all of it in large volumes.

  5. Jay Gagnon 10 years ago

    As a happy owner of a Kickstarter Pebble, I think the smartwatch will likely continue to succeed, but this whole thing about how the Apple Watch is destined to be copied seems to be ignoring the existence of the Pebble, Moto 360, and LG G watch. Let’s not act like this is the first time the world has been introduced to a watch with a screen that talks to your phone.

  6. “been dubbed a hobby since it’s introduction” ->
    “been dubbed a hobby since its introduction”

  7. brian grishaber 10 years ago

    My wife was similarly impressed, but more by the features it carries. I’m not sure even the 38 mm (1.5″) size will fit her wrist and not look gargantuan.
    Time will tell.

    BTW, its time for Apple TV to stop being a ‘hobby’. (Using the watch to control it would be amazing.)

  8. Great points all around. One thing I would point out is that the chipset does not need to be two sizes, it only needs to be able to fit into the smallest size Watch. So I think you correct initially that the internals are identical with only the exterior materials varying.

  9. Fashion never mattered in the other categories that Apple entered to the extent that it matters with watches. The looks are a key feature in the watch category in a way that looks never where (at first) when Apple entered key markets like music players, phones, computers, etc.

    If Apple entered the quantified self category (not smartwatch), they would’ve just launched with a single device as they did with the iPhone/iPod. Those devices are not much in the way of statement pieces, outside of saying “I’m a nerd!” or “I’m an early adopter!”

    With Apple Watch, they’re entering a category in which fashion and looks are a key feature. They know from the iPod mini and nano what it takes to become a fashion statement piece – and its the variety of colors/styles that make that possible. Everyone having the one single device says less.

    Think about the white iPhone and the gold iPhones – their looks made them more sought after, they let people stand out. The iPhone would never be the fashion statement it has become without that variety that makes it feel/look more personal. The color you choose says something about you. Apple was acutely aware of this as far back as the rainbow iMacs in 1999. Watch Steve’s keynote intro of these – he speaks at length about how much color selection says about people.

    Watches are the first category they’re entering where fashion is such a key feature:

    Apple II / Macintosh helped establish a consumer market category for the first time. Everything was ugly and niche.

    iPod just replaced portable CD players that all looked/worked the same. They were not fashionable accessories before iPod, the music you put in them was your statement-maker.

    iPhone replaced (crappy) dumbphones that few really liked, and redefined the smartphone category which had little differentiation w/ small screens and physical keyboards. Razr and Blackberry were closest to being any kind of status/fashion icon, but barely. Style/status-wise, Apple instantly blew them away – except in the corporate world – that took longer, but they did it.

    iPad created a new category of personal computing. There was nothing to beat here – they had to establish new behavior among consumers.

    Apple Watch enters a established market with a history over one hundred years of fashion/functional evolution of an iconic and personal fashion accessory. The device they are replacing is embedded in our culture, our families (nice watches get passed on to new generations), and our lives in a way that none of the above device categories ever were.

    Watches are more of a fashion statement than anything else, especially in the age of smartphones. If they launched with a one style fits all watch, it would be tough to win over people who care about making a statement with their image. iPhone replaced inferior devices. Apple Watch replaces personal statement pieces.

  10. Craig Jacobs 10 years ago

    Personally I wanted the 42mm Sport one before I even clued in that it was the cheaper one. That space grey looks great. I’m also betting that there will be tons of awesome aftermarket bands. Hopefully, anyway.

    I suspect that the chipset in both sizes will be the same. But maybe the battery will be bigger in the 42mm? A bigger screen should necessitate a larger battery I think…

  11. Chris 10 years ago

    AppleTV is a hobby because as you mentioned they can’t truly distinguish themselves with hardware and the software is already the best by far but what will make AppleTV skyrocket is more content which they are at the mercy of the providers at.

    Unlike other products that launch… AppleTV is slowly over the years adding more and more channels. For most of us, we only watch a set number of shows so once those shows are on AppleTV we no longer will need CableTV.

    If they launched a Tivo competitor Tivo would be blown out of the water, but Apple doesn’t want to simply be better than the competition they want to reinvent the model. I for one will be very happy the day I can get rid of my tivo and use AppleTV for all things tv but think they day is still a ways off.

  12. Xe Om 10 years ago

    Friendly grammar suggestion: Based on your usage here, it should be “fleshed out” not “flushed out”. Unless you’re suggesting the Apple Watch be sent down a drain.

  13. babauer 10 years ago

    “why not release a flushed out product line?”

    The correct phrase is “fleshed out.”

    Other than that, good points all.

  14. Razilla 10 years ago

    Looking at the Apple Watch Sport product shots shows only one of two faces. Just as apple restricts certain wallpapers for different colored iPods, I wonder if they’ll restrict certain faces between the differently priced versions.

    Also, suppose the home screen app-universe could be a peek at the iPhone and iPad evolution?

  15. mjw149 10 years ago

    I can’t agree with your one thought about the model lineup.

    If this product doesn’t get refreshed much (like, say, their desktop PCs) they should do what the auto industry does: release the car, wait 6 months, release the convertible, wait 6 months, release the performance version. Then you’re already showing off the next model year refresh. In other words, release the basic watch and then wait for the reception to release other versions.

    Apple stuffed so much into these watches, too, I think probably they didn’t need to obscure that with so many models to announce. While they might be getting better at predicting the product’s future, it’s still overload for customers. It’s not Lenovo’s laptop lineup, but it’s more confusing than it needs to be for a gen 1 product.

  16. Jon Hall 10 years ago

    Great article, thanks.

    Even though we get emotionally attached to some smart phones, that’s nothing compared to the emotional attachment to a wrist (or pocket) watch. Ironically, the watch is a timeless personal item: you may wear the *right* watch everyday for 20 years.

    Software isn’t known for its timeless nature, nor the hardware it runs on.

    If you buy an apple watch edition 1.0 are you making a 20-year investment? How can apple watch edition 1.0 be made to last that long? Upgradable internals? And if the edition will get them, will other versions?