Apple Watch: Does The Emperor Have No Clothes?

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAIvAAAAJDQzYWVhMzdlLWJkYmYtNDllZS05MDFjLTMxNmNkMjNhZDA3MwMany of the Apple Watch’s features were shown off during its original unveiling in September 2014, but the company had not specified a launch date or the device’s pricing.  Two weeks ago those remaining details were made public at an official Apple press conference.  The world was watching.

Below LinkedIn editor John C Abell, who attended the event, discusses the launch of the Apple Watch, assessing the likely outcomes for such a trumpeted product in an article which first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse (reblogged here with permission).

Apple’s Tim Cook did his absolute best to tout Apple Watch last week, but the routine is wearing a bit thin. This second Watch performance by Cook didn’t really answer the existential question to my satisfaction. And as I reported in my live blog, the room wasn’t all that animated either.

For Apple watchers (lower case “w”) it’s not hard to see why. Those of us who are fans of the company, and endure endless debates in the comments of posts like this about how biased we are or against Apple, know the fundamental truth:

Apple’s form of innovation is seldom invention. Apple’s strength is taking an ugly duckling and convincing the world it’s a swan.

Mind you — it’s no small achievement taking an OK idea (the portable music player) or an already read-hot idea (the mobile phone) or a failed idea (the tablet) and turning them all into the kind gold Apple has reserved for its high-end Watch.

But Apple has done so on a scale which grew the company from a left-for-dead, smaller-than-niche player in 1997 into the largest company in the world, one that analysts tout as potentially the world’s first trillion-dollar baby.

The tech press are no strangers to waiting game hype. Gizmodo’s Brian Lam snarkily dubbed the still-unannounced iPhone “The Jesus Phone,” and it stuck unsarcastically. When it was the iPad’s time to be an open secret tech writers were wondering who would really buy an iPad with one half of their brain and with the other imagining Apple‘s tablet would save the media (one of the few predictions thatdidn’t pan out).

So far, the interregnum isn’t working out so great with Apple Watch. There has been a more — a lot more — Emperor Has No Clothes articles in my own unscientific observation than Apple has ever endured with a flagship product (Forget about Apple TV, which Apple itself forgot about a long time ago).

Some of the invective relates to the decision Apple has made, for the first time, to differentiate a product line based on non-performance options. In other words, you can buy an Apple Watch for $350 or $17,000, and the only difference is the packaging. This has Apple — which has always expensive, but equally expensive to all — espousing an entirely different kind of elitism. Influencer David Kirkpatrick said this was “painful to watch“:

It’s distressing and maybe a little worrisome to see a company that has achieved its extraordinary scale and influence by those means now devolving back to thinking about luxury in such a conventional and even pedestrian sense. Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with golden beautiful luxuries. But many companies can make such products. Hardly any can make an iPhone or iPad or MacBook Air.

Buzzfeed will be Buzzfeed, of course, but nobody wants a story headlined “What Type Of Rich A-Hole Who Buys A Solid Gold Apple Watch Are You?” It’s a mock survey whose questions include “PIck an endangered species for a pet” and “Pick a location for your third home.” Andre Spicer, in the newly profitable NewsWeek, proclaims “The Apple Watch: The Perfect Gizmo for the Narcissist.”

Google Glass users were called “GlassHoles” for sporting an elitist device which had no sex appeal whatsoever from company with no design or even hardware esthetic. But Apple doesn’t want to be compared to that former frenemy. Unless you are a Kardashian who doesn’t really care what the little people think, do you want to be associated with conspicuous excess?

The marketing strategy makes Apple an easy target this time, but it’s beside the point. If Apple sold no $17,000 models and tens of millions for between $350 and $1,000 they would have a rousing success on their hands. So it’s the sort of blunt assessment of the kind by Fast Company’s Mark Wilson — “You Guys Realize The Apple Watch Is Going To Flop, Right? — that might be the most telling:

Few analysts or writers will outright say it, but I will: the Apple Watch is going to flop. And I bet a lot of other people are thinking the same thing for many good reasons.

Wilson hedged a little bit in the one (CNBC) interview of him I saw (it depends on your definition of “flop”). And this was before the March 9 event. But that’s the kind of click bait that will severely jeopardize your career if you are as wrong as Apple hopes Wilson will be. And he hasn’t taken a word back.

Interestingly, Apple Watch pushback isn’t a repudiation of the smart watch per se. Quietly benefitting from all the attention Apple had whipped up is Pebble (of which I am also a long-time fan and customer). Darrell Etherington reports for Techcrunchthat the Kickstarter campaign for Pebble Time nearly tripled in the hours after Apple’s Watch event:

“… drawing in funding at a rate of around $6,000 per hour on Sunday, March 8, which rose to $10,000 per hour on Monday, March 9 (when the event took place), and capped out at $16,000 per day on average during March 10, the day following Apple’s press presentation.”

These two companies can’t be compared exactly, as I’ve written. A good day for a company the size of Pebble would be a disappointment for one with the ambitions of Apple.

John Edson, president of the design firm LUNAR, threads the needle in a way that doesn’t exactly predict failure, but suggests that the success of the Apple Watch itself is less relevant that what it teaches us about wearables. Which sounds a lot like a Google Glass concession speech. Which also isn’t exactly the kind of help Apple needs:

It’s possible that the developer community never produces the Apple Watch equivalent of Angry Birds. It’s also possible that Watch’s style options miss the mark and fail to gain critical mass. (Not likely, given Apple’s loyal fan base, but possible.) Even then, Apple could still win the wearables war.

11e27e8 John C Abell

 Senior Editor


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The early polling about Apple Watch purchase intent hasn’t been very heartening, either. One, by Reuters in the five days after last Monday’s event, contends that fewer about 25% are very or somewhat interested — and 70% are not.

Full disclosure: I have all sorts of Apple products, including an iPhone 6. But I currently have no intention of buying an Apple Watch. I could be swayed by the device itself or by future iterations, but so far it doesn’t seem to innovate better or be a better value proposition than the cheaper alternative that is Pebble.

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