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Here We Go Again

August 23rd, 2014

I am beginning to believe that with most articles written for the web, it’s not just the links which are shamelessly designed as click bait, but the articles themselves. And they work: if you say something stupid enough, people will come and gawk at your idiocy.

One example which brings up just enough topic matter which deserves discussion by way of thought-deprived commentary can be found in this article about why the iWatch is “never going to happen.”

While the idea of an iWatch is intriguing, especially for those of us in the tech world, this is a case where the idea of a device trumps the actuality of it. Sadly, we may never see an iWatch and here’s why.

Oooh, I just can hear the author thinking, “That’ll bring the flame wars!”

Seriously, though, the “reasoning” used to support this statement is very representative of the naysaying and lack of foresight displayed virtually every time a new category of Apple devices is introduced.

Vapid “Reason” #1: There Are No Add-on Sales.

Unlike Apple TV with it’s iTunes connection and iOS devices with the App Store, the iWatch would have very little add-on purchases that could be made after the device it bought.

Yes, because the iWatch will not run apps. Or, no, that’s stupid—of course it’ll run apps. And the platform brings the apps. I said it when I analyzed the iPad when it was announced in January 2010:

Apple’s mission was very simple: make a platform, and they will come. … Remember, ground-breaking innovations are not always appreciated or understood when they come out.

An Apple watch device could be home to a plethora of apps which will have special utility on a wrist-mounted platform. Communications, health, productivity, mapping—any number of categories come to mind. I imagine that app developers will find no end to mining all the possibilities.

And then there’s the fact that Apple does not need add-on sales. Apple does not make most of its money from App Store or iTunes Store revenue, these are well-known as draws for people to buy the devices. I know several people who would buy the iWatch just for the health monitoring features alone. But if it could also be a display for map information, calendar events, weather information, or updates on traffic or travel data?

And then there’s connectivity. The watch will obviously link to and interact with the iPhone, iPad, Macs—what about Apple TV? How will AirPlay figure in? And who believes that iBeacon technology was developed with only the iPhone in mind? I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that iBeacon and the iWatch are being released at roughly the same time. How about the latest ability for an Apple device to handle iPhone calls remotely? Why couldn’t the iWatch do that?

Even if one could not run any apps on the device, the list I have just given would be more than enough to sell tens of millions of the devices.

Vapid “Reason” #2: Good Design & Functionality Are Not Possible.

The problem with smart watches hasn’t been their functionality, but instead their looks.

Yes, and Apple has a horrible record of entering markets famous for design shortfalls and making a breakthrough device. </eyeroll>

To add in all the features that would make a smart watch worth the purchase, it generally has to be large enough to house the components as well as a battery that will give the iWatch enough life to last more than a day. This size is a major turn off, and one of the reasons that smart watches haven’t caught on with the enormous iPhone market yet.

And that’s exactly why Google Glass weighs two and a half pounds and requires a backpack in order to… oh, no, wait, that’s incredibly stupid. So much of the iWatch will depend on connectivity that a great deal of the device’s components will be stored elsewhere. If the author’s point were applicable, then the iPhone would have to be the size of a laptop in order to store and run all that is needed for Siri, mapping apps—and hey, what about the Internet?! That won’t fit on an iPhone!


Vapid “Reason” #3: People Won’t Buy Upgrades.

It’s all we can do to wait for our cell phone contracts to be up so we can get the new and substantially more powerful iPhone, but do we really want to trade watches in this quickly too?

Yes, because people don’t buy iPhones outright. OK, well, some do, but who would buy a device that costs $500 every 2-3 years? I mean, remember when the iPod came out and cost $500? Nobody ever bought a new-generation device after a few… um, no, wait, they did.

Seriously. People buy new laptops worth $2000 every 3 years. I’m one of them. If the device is useful and attractive enough, people will buy it. Nor would the life cycle have to be 2 years like an iPhone, or 3 years like a laptop. I could imagine buying a new watch every 5-6 years. I bet Apple could profit plenty from a cycle like that.

On top of this, the iWatch would ideally have an expensive price tag on it, making it fit more into the long-term purchase category instead of the short-term as other iPhone add-ons do. All this together means that the iWatch could actually hinder iPhone and iPad upgrades, further hurting Apple’s bottom line.

Huhwha? Aside from him likely being wrong about the “long-term purchase category,” how exactly would that affect iPhone and iPad upgrades? What, are people going to think, “Hmmm, I don’t need to buy a new iWatch, so despite longing for the latest iPhone, I’m gonna hold back”? Seriously? Do people hold back from refreshing their iPhones because their iMac has several more years of usefulness?

This also comes back to the interconnectivity point he missed: people are probably going to want to buy new iWatch iterations because of iPhone and iPad refreshes. If Apple comes out with a new iOS and iDevices which work well together (such as the connectivity features in iOS8 and Yosemite), there will be added impetus for consumers to buy the latest iWatch which will have the ability to use those new features best. In short, he’s got it ass-backwards.

And then there’s his “ideally” high price. I can easily imagine Apple having 2 or 3 models, the bottom-end device selling for $299, but lacking a camera and a larger array of health monitoring sensors, with maybe $399 and $499 versions adding more and more functionality. Say, you would get a camera and iPhone call answering at the $399 price, and stuff like blood glucose and other special health sensors at the $499 price point. I bet Apple could make that work with healthy enough profit margins. They probably would not lose too many sales at price points starting $100 higher.

Like I said, his analysis is pretty unimaginative; I have little doubt that he chose his topic first, before having any ideas or content, primarily because the troll-like fatuousness of the headline would attract people like me. (Mission accomplished! Except I use ad-blocking software! Sorry!)

However, like I also pointed out, there are a lot of people who really do miss rather important principles regarding the design and marketing of technology. Microsoft has never understood why people use tablets, for example; instead, like Samsung and so many others, they simply believe that if you make the specs robust and add a shiny plastic case, people will of course want to buy it—nary a thought to the user experience.

This is a big part of the secret to Apple’s success: they really do understand why people use the products that they make. That’s how they are able to make stuff that people didn’t even know they needed—or stuff which people don’t actually need, but would really love.

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  1. Troy
    August 24th, 2014 at 08:37 | #1

    I can easily imagine Apple having 2 or 3 models, the bottom-end device selling for $299

    Less than that I would think. A WMD (wrist-mounted device) has a lot less stuff than an iPod or even AppleTV.

    It’s a beautiful engineering challenge, figuring out what to put in and what to cut out, how to wedge maximal utility in the minimal amount of space and weight.

    As you say, one use case is that the watch’s display is just another NSView/UIView for apps running on OS X and iOS to display their UI on (via bluetooth natch).

    Not having to fish out your phone to make/take phone calls or control your music is a good use case, too.

    One thing it’s gotta be is unbricklike. Back in the 1980s Armitron had this really thin model that was just my all-time favorite watch. It was kinda fragile so I went through 3 or 4 of them over the years before they stopped making them, here’s a picture kinda showing how thin it was:


    when the watch was on the wrist it wasn’t any thicker than the band. I loved that watch!

    One obvious way to extend battery life would be to embed the battery cells in the wristband itself. Apple’s got over $150B in the bank, they have no excuse for not making another piece of technology as mind-bendingly advanced as the iPhone was back in 2007.

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