Answering Objections to Apple Watch

Whilst everyone is entitled to their own opinion, here are my responses to some common Apple Watch objections.

“The watch needs to be independent of the phone, in the future the watch will replace the phone” Many people have bought into this idea but it is it plausible? The small screen and restricted user interface of the watch can not replace the larger phone.  Many of the things you do on your phone could not be done on a tiny screen. Having something on your wrist is great for a quick glance or a couple of taps but it would be extremely uncomfortable to hold your arm in a fixed position for prolonged use, so the watch can never replace the phone. Making the watch independent would require it to have a cellular radio and we would have to pay to have it on a cellular network. Making the watch independent would put it in competition with your phone. A completely independent watch is a terrible idea. Of course it already has a measure of independent functionality that could be somewhat expanded, but Apple has got it right in making the watch and phone work together.

“Don’t buy the first iteration because in one year the form factor will be thinner” Apple are likely working on adding battery life and more sensors. This makes it unlikely that the watch will get thinner any time soon.

“The watch is big” Actually, it is much smaller than almost all other smart-watches on the market.

“Apple Watch should be round” For stylistic reasons many prefer to see a round watch face. Apple did experiment with round watch screens but they decided against them. Why? They found through usage that they liked to view photos on the watch. Pictures are better viewed in a ‘square’ frame. If you visit an art gallery, how many pictures are in a round frame? If you go to your favorite printer, how many options are there to print on round media? Apple chose a screen shape that would give the best experience when viewing pictures. This also allowed them to maximize screen real estate whilst keeping the overall form factor of the watch as small as possible.

“No one needs Apple Watch” True. At the end of the day we only really need three things – food, clothing and shelter. Still we all have many things that we feel add value. Apple Watch will not really do anything that your phone doesn’t already do, but it can do many of those things more conveniently, discretely and naturally. For example, the watch is a more convenient device than a phone for measuring your activity during exercise, it’s also a more convenient way to use Apple Pay. The watch can notify you of communications discretely and it enables you to read small bites of data (like the time) efficiently and naturally. Most compellingly, it does these things from a piece of jewelry, an object crafted from the finest materials using the finest processes. No one needs jewelry, but if you appreciate jewelry or the convenience of Apple Watch, you might consider it.

“Apple Watch is over priced” If you think so, consider: Apple have created a platform that is far more technologically advanced and powerful than any other smart watch can offer, and this starting at $350. Apple Watch has a build quality that can compete with any watch you will find at a jeweler. It’s both a piece of art and an engineering marvel that excels even Apple’s usual mastery of build quality. For example, in all the thousands of words I have read about Apple Watch barely has there been any mention of the zirconia ceramic back that graces the Watch and Edition collections. Zirconia ceramic is an extremely high quality material, because of it’s great strength it is the material of choice in replacing and reconstructing human teeth. I spent a year of my manufacturing career working with this material at extremely high oven temperatures. It is a very difficult material to work with. The quality and craftsmanship of this ceramic back is superb. This ceramic back alone goes a long way to justify the $200 extra cost over the price of the Sport Collection. When you also consider the sapphire crystal and cold-forged stainless steel and the value they add, the price of the Watch Collection seems very reasonable.

“It makes no sense for Apple to make a gold watch that has the same technology as the $350 version! Really? If Apple put more advanced technology in only the gold watch it would leave 95% of Apple customers feeling that they have been excluded and treated as a lower class because they are not super rich. The appeal of the gold version is not based on tech specs. It is simply that it is gold and very exclusive. It is essential for Apple to cater for this high end market if they are to be taken seriously in the fashion world. If Apple Watch is to succeed they must successfully persuade people to wear it instead of their expensive fashion watch. The very existence of the gold watch establishes Apple as a mark of distinction in the minds of some. It will make some people take the cheaper collections more seriously. It is inaccurate to judge Apple Watch on the basis of the current watch market. People who have never before considered buying a gold watch will buy this one. People who have not worn any watch for years will buy an Apple one.

“Apple Watch Edition is stupid” Initial polls indicate that as many as 4% of those who plan to buy Apple Watch say they will get the Edition. I find this hard to believe, but if true it suggests that Apple could sell something like 750,000 gold watches this year. My guess is that this could generate close to 10 billion dollars of profit! The existence of the gold watch will also drive up consumer desire for the other collections, thus boosting further profit. Actually, I think we will see Apple add further collections. We might see a bulk metallic glass case or we might see a Marc Newson Signature Collection.

“The price of the gold watch is insane” It seems insane that the gold watch costs far more than its estimated weight in gold. However, consider four observations. 1) Jewelry usually costs much more than the sum total value of it’s precious metals/gems. The value of jewelry is usually in artistic expression more than function. 2) If Apple were to price the watch much cheaper they would risk selling so many that they would use much of the worlds available gold and thus drive up the price of gold and then have to raise their prices. 3) Businesses that process large quantities of gold are badly effected by fluctuations in the price. Such businesses have to protect themselves with a complex arrangement of loans and insurance, Apple can avoid this and protect their business by determining a large profit margin. 4) Consider the value of the hundreds of thousands of gold watches that will soon be in store inventories and also the value of gold in process in the factory. This could be the best part of a billion dollars! Since there will be manufacturing and inventory for the life of the product this money cannot be easily recovered. It’s a cost of doing business. In manufacturing theory it is termed “waste”, in fact optimizing production by reducing the number of parts in process (or the number of units in inventory) can recover a little of this money. Basically, it is a huge cost to Apple to have hundreds of thousands of dollars of gold just sitting around, gold that they have bought but not yet sold. Profit margins need to account for this. The price is basically in line with the price of other gold watches and also reflects unique business problems that come with gold.

“The gold watch can’t be passed on to the next generation because the technology will be out of date” The watch will never loose value as a fashion accessory and will likely become very collectable, both for it’s style and it’s history. Furthermore, it will never loose it’s value as a time-piece – even though it will inevitably cease to function with the latest iPhone, it will continue to have the same functionality as other gold watches that are passed on.

“Apple should have put a battery in the strap” This comment is made by a tech minded person and not a fashion minded one. Apple have designed what is arguably the finest collection of watch straps in the world. A strap battery system would destroy Apple Watch as a fashion product.

Why Apple Watch Will Sell in the Millions

In the wake of Apple’s “spring forward” media event which unveiled more details about Apple Watch, many media outlets are voicing deep skepticism over whether this product will sell. They argue ‘very few people have been buying smart watches so there is no market for them’. This reasoning is flawed. Consider:

Something similar was said with respect to iPad. Many ‘experts’ said that it would not sell. Why? They looked at the marketplace and saw that tablet computers were not successful. They failed to understand the powerful differences between iPad and previous tablet computers. This same fallacious market analysis often takes place within companies, it goes something like this: Someone in the company has an innovative idea, the company gets it’s marketing people to assess, and they come back and say there isn’t a market and the idea is killed. The problem with looking at the current market to assess an innovative new product is that innovation is by definition ‘new’ and cannot be directly compared to anything in the current marketplace. Truly innovative ideas can create new markets. Only brave and visionary executives put their weight behind such products. This was the case with iPad and it will also be the case with Apple Watch. Apple Watch will create a new market.

The ‘experts’ seem to fail to understand that Apple Watch is more than a tech device, it is jewelry – it is made out of the finest materials available and has the allure of fine jewelry. People buy watches not just to tell the time but because they are jewelry.

The price of the entry level Apple Watch Sport can be justified in terms of the technological functionality, beyond that one pays, not for additional function, but for finer quality materials and more fashionable straps. Some tech journalists find the prices of the standard Apple Watch collection hard to swallow. Whilst such individuals would happily pay more for extra memory or a faster processor in their iPhone or Mac,  is hard for them to justify spending more for the stainless steel, sapphire and zirconia because those materials don’t make the device do more. They don’t yet get it!

The entry level Sport will likely be the best seller. For most people $350 is a lot of money, so the entry level watch will sell best. Many of the people that care more about tech than fashion will favor it.  In order to save money, some people on tech websites are talking about buying the Sport and a separate stainless steel band – these people obviously have no sense of propriety, the idea of pairing aluminium with steel is like going out wearing odd shoes. You don’t have to be fashion minded to know that it’s wrong. This is why Apple have paired cases and bands in collections, to avoid this. Still, I love that they have given us the freedom to be creative in choosing our own pairings by buying additional bands.

It’s going to take some time for people to figure out Apple Watch. Even seasoned tech journalists are a little blinded by their geekiness and unable to grasp what Apple Watch is as a fashion item.

People that see Apple Watch as jewelry will focus in on the standard and Edition collections, they will appreciate the value of sapphire crystal, zirconia ceramic and Apple’s high quality custom alloys of stainless and gold. These products will sell extremely well. Some will think of it as a gadget that is well made others will think of it as jewelry that happens to have cool functions.

As people use the watch they will find that it will revolutionize the way they use their phone. No longer will people pull out their phones hundreds of times a day. When your connected to home wifi you will be able to leave the phone in one room but utilize it through the watch via the wifi network.

Some are saying that they will wait 12 months for the 2nd generation, hoping it will have better ‘specs’. They assume that Apple will update this product yearly. I’m not certain of this. I think this product will have a user upgrade cycle of 4-6 years (and be updated by Apple every 2 years). When people start to realize this the price of the watch will be diluted and it will seem to be very good value. It is also assumed by many that the second iteration of Apple Watch will be thinner. I doubt we will see a thinner Apple Watch any time soon. As people use the watch in the wild, certain usage scenarios will quickly drain the battery. I suspect Apple engineers are right now focussed on increasing battery life and I think that means the watch will keep its current thickness. It might be four years before we see a thinner Apple Watch. After a year or so of use the Apple Watch Sport is going to acquire dings and scratches and start to look tired. So in time people will come to appreciate that the materials used in the stainless collection are superior and a watch made out of them will look great for longer. So, whilst I live on a tight budget, I’ll be saving for the stainless steel Apple Watch and I’ll expect to use it for 4-6 years.

Apple Watch Expectations

As the hours count down to Apple’s spring event the media is rife with speculation about Apple Watch.

There is no doubt in my mind that it will be a huge success. Apple has got the user experience right, they have a product that is personal and familiar with warm human appeal. It’s the only product I can think of that is equally a tech and fashion design masterpiece. How many will Apple sell? I think there must be something like 350,000,000 compatible iPhones in use, if just 5% of users adopt Apple watch before the end of 2015 we will see Apple sell 17,500,000 units. That is far more than most expect, by I think it is reasonable. Most tech industry commentators can’t get there head around paying a lot of money for a watch but this is also a fashion accessory and they underestimate the value of that. Many people buy Apple products because they serve as a status symbol and Apple Watch will be the ultimate status symbol. At the same time it is by far the best smart watch.

What about onboard memory? Since it will be possible to store data on the Watch such as music or pictures there will certainly be onboard memory for the user to manage. I think we will see 8GB of memory across the range. I think that is plenty to facilitate the Watch’s intended use. Apple already have to handle a variety of different units accross the collections, adding memory tiers would greatly complicate supply and inventory challenges.

Sport. The Apple Watch starts at $349 for the 38mm Sport. Will the 42mm cost more? Quite likely. Perhaps $379.

The stainless steel Apple Watch. This version is probably going to be significantly more. It has a sapphire crystal display (vs the Sport’s glass), ceramic back (vs the Sport’s plastic) and the space black version is finished with a quality Diamond-Like Coating. I think the stainless watch will start at $599 with the sport band. Other band options will push the price up considerably. The link bracelet may increase the price to $999 or more.

The Edition. The pricing of the gold collection is anyone’s guess. It seems possible that Apple may use a unique Metal Matrix Composite 18 caret gold. Such material may be less dense and more durable than other 18 caret gold alloys. This material will be far harder to scratch and may also be machinable. So the advantage to the wearer would be a lighter more durable gold and the advantage to Apple might be that it is easier to mass produce compared to other gold watches. However, Apple might not choose to pass these savings onto consumers. I think that the “experts” that have estimated the case to have about $1000 of gold are wrong. I have three tiny gold coins that are together worth about $2,500 and that does not seem like enough gold to me. I expect to see the Edition start at $6,499 with the gold pinned sport band. The edition with the modern buckle may cost closer to $9,999 since there is more gold work in the buckle. This is a wild guess, we will find out the actual pricing very soon.

The Case for a Smaller Phone

True innovation does not simply give people what they ask for – it shows them a better way, it shows them something they have not envisioned. What people actually need is often completely unexpected by them. Apple does this beautifully. No one expected the Digital Crown but instantly we know it’s a better solution. Actually, it solved a problem we didn’t even think of. Great innovation does that – it solves problems people didn’t even realize they had.

I applaud Apple for listening to consumer demand and making larger iPhones, this was a great business decision and fills a certain need. However, I would like to set out an argument that Apple should make a move in the opposite direction toward a smaller iPhone. I have long believed this is an opportunity for Apple to further distinguish itself by doing something unexpected that people will actually love much more.

The current trend is to have larger screens. Why? Large screens make for a more immersive experience. They also are more practical when it comes to creating and reading documents. A phone with a large screen reduces the need for a tablet. It’s a best of both world’s product, a compromise, loved by people that find one device more convenient than two. I contend that such phones are more impractical and less personal.

The tech world is becoming a place where each person has multiple devices and which device they use depends on task and convenience. Each device should in it’s own way feel intimate. The watch is most intimat – an extension of the person. The phone is carried everywhere and kept close. The iPad is far more intimate than the desktops that it has largely replaced but it’s more removed than the watch or phone, sometimes carried, sometimes left behind. A key observation is that with increased display size the device becomes more removed from the person, less personal. The key to the ongoing success of the iPhone is for it to be a device that is very personal, one you carry with you in your pocket everywhere you go. Given the choice, the consumer of the future will choose the phone that feels more human, the one that feels more intimate and natural – This will be the one that is easier to carry on their person.

A key to good design is watching how people interact with technology. If we contrast Apple Watch with Google Glass what do we see? A natural device verses an unnatural one and a human device verses an inhuman one. The human element is key to good design. If we observe the behavior of people, what can we learn? We will notice that there are times throughout the day when they take their phone out of their pocket and set it down, this is often the first thing people do when they get home. Why? It’s uncomfortable to have a large hard object in your pocket. Smartphones are uncomfortable to carry and it’s uncomfortable to sit with one in your pocket. This fact is almost unconscious and people don’t complain about it, none-the-less it is true. The fact that a few iPhones even got bent in some people’s pockets testifies to the potential forces involved. A device that cannot comfortably stay on the person when one sits or bends is less personal. This is a problem most people are unconscious of. When I have my iPhone 6 in my trouser pocket I can’t bend my knee to tie my shoe or pick something off the ground, neither can I naturally sit into my car – this is a problem!

I share Apple’s vision of a world without a wallet (and I would add – keys). What makes this so appealing? There are advantages in terms of security but what I find most appealing about this vision is – freedom. The human element is most important. Every time I leave home I have to do a mental check – Wallet? Keys? Phone? We are enslaved to these things, we must take them everywhere we go. I want freedom! I don’t want bulging pockets. If you take a look at fashion magazines or store displays, how many models do you see with bulging pockets? It’s ugly looking and ugly feeling! When the phone replaces my keys and wallet I’ll feel a huge sense of liberation.

Before the invention of the smart phone, cell phones were getting smaller and smaller (especially in the European market) and people responded very positively to the greater sense of freedom that the smaller phones gave. To think, you could actually forget which pocket your phone was in! You could even carry it in your shirt pocket or some other small pocket. This gave a subtle sense of freedom, this device that your enslaved into carrying everywhere – you now don’t notice so much that you have it! People were excited about this. I believe it would be liberating to have a smaller iPhone. This would make the phone feel more personal, something that doesn’t cause discomfort every time you sit, a device practical to carry with you everywhere (even if you’re going to exercise), something that, like a watch, you are less conscious of.

The iPhone 6 created a user interface problem – the screen is so large that even a man with fairly large hands can’t easily touch the entire screen whilst holding the phone in one hand. As a result Apple added a new feature – a double tap on the home button shrinks the screen. This is terribly un-Apple-like! How so? Apple’s philosophy has always been to have such an easy user interface that the user does not have to think about anything other than their content. The use of this new feature is an interruption of the users thought and flow through the app. I would urge developers to avoid to the extent possible using the navigation bar because of it’s position out of reach at the top of the screen and rather to prefer where possible the tab bar, which is much easier to reach with your thumb. Users will then be able to navigate your app easier.

Many iPhone owners are relatively light users of their device. Some heavy users have loudly demanded larger screens and longer battery life. Is it any wonder that these heavy users who might spend 12 hours a day on their iPhone also want bigger displays? A larger iPhone satisfies this group and this inhuman behavior. I believe most of the rest of us are better served by a smaller iPhone (perhaps even one with a little less battery life) in exchange for convenience, intimacy and freedom.

small phone concept, relocated home button, screen same size as iPhone 5, screen touches bottom of phone

On an Apple Car

On June 12 2014 Elon Musk opened up all of Tesla’s electric car patents for anyone to freely use. Why? Because he wants more electric cars on the road than Tesla can possibly build and the big auto companies are not doing enough to make this happen. I’m confident that Mr Musk is excited at rumors that Apple are exploring the possibility of making an electric car.

Apple as a company seems to have a keen sense of their responsibility toward the environment. I expect Tim Cook was deeply impressed and inspired by Elon Musk’s grand gift to the world. Could this have been the moment that prompted Apple to expand it’s research into electric cars?

Some journalists are talking about how Apple could not pull this off. One objection is that Apple would need to do much research and create patents. However, the fact is that Tesla have done much of the work for them. Another objection is that Apple has no experience making cars. The same was said of Tesla and look what they have done. A third objection is that Apple could not compete in a market that has such slim margins. Again this objection falls flat when we consider the fact is that Apple is already in a market that has slim margins – other phone and computer manufacturers have very slim margins but Apple takes away most of the profit because they have great products, user experience and business model.

Apple’s business model is in some resects well suited to the auto industry. For example, Apple focusses on a relatively small number of products (which is only growing as they grow as a company). Most big auto manufacturers have a bewildering array of brands and models, they even produce different models for the U.S. than Europe and different models still for Australia – this is extremely wasteful in design, manufacturing and maintenance. Apple’s business model minimizes waste and that helps the bottom line. If Apple can make a great car and get the user experience right they will really shake up the auto industry.

What is the right user experience for a car? There is much talk in the media about self driving cars. Is that the ultimate solution? I don’t think I’d really enjoy having a car that is in total control, all the time. I’d love a car that I can ask to take control for long journeys on the highway. I’d also like to have a car that can intervene to avoid an accident but for the most part I enjoy driving and I believe a car should be great to drive. Somehow, it seems that if the car is in complete control it would take away a sense of freedom that we are perhaps not currently fully cognizant of because we are so used to it. Many Tech journalists that I listen to (mostly also big sci-fi fans) can’t wait to buy a self driving car but to me it seems somewhat inhuman. When we drive a car it becomes an extension of our body in a way that empowers us, and seemingly enhances us. A self driving car does not have this human appeal, it’s not something we can love in the same way. Furthermore, since no one has ever seen a computer that never crashes, few people would be willing to put their lives fully in the hands of a computer.

A self driving car will feel less personal. What matters most is how a product feels. Ultimately the tech products that feel personal and human will prevail. This is why Google Glass and other augmented reality headsets will ultimately fail as products for everyday use – they are to inhuman. Google Glass for example comes in-between it’s wearer and other people. In contrast Apple watch is discrete and familiar in a way that makes people feel more comfortable. Tech companies continually underestimate the human element that is required of products that people will love. A tablet with capacitive buttons that are inadvertently activated as a user handles the device, machines pre-installed with unwanted software, invasive advertisements, ugly and confusing user interfaces – these all ignore the human element. What differentiates Apple is that they usually get the human element right. If Apple were to design a car they would likely take a fresh look at the user interface and reinvent it. Their focus would likely be on getting a decent range out of an electric battery and hitting a price point that is within reach of more people, they would likely see this as ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘leaving the world better than they found it’.

– Robert