Is The Apple Watch A Winner Or Loser?

Cue the prognosticators: now that the Apple event is over, we get to be entertained by all manner of predictions, good and bad. Many won’t be grounded in reality, and will rely on suppositions and guesswork, or worse will be based on the suppositions and guesswork of others. There was no guarantee than any home-run hit by Apple was going to be one when they stepped up to the plate, but neither was there a guarantee of failure. Will the Apple Watch succeed? It depends on who ends up buying it and why they do.

Let’s be clear about something: legions of Apple fans will line up to buy at least one. The price doesn’t matter. The question of actual usability won’t matter. The matter of the battery life won’t matter. There is a contingent of Apple loyalists that will buy one and wear it, come hell or high water. But once those 10 million or so people buy one, who is next? That’s a good question, because the Apple Watch, like many Apple Products, comes with value and a price.

But some things are no surprise, and anyone acting indignant about them needs to get a grip. Of course it will only work with iPhones. What did you expect? That Apple would suddenly decide to support Android phones? Except for iTunes and Quicktime, Apple basically avoids non-Apple platforms like the plague. Apple is not going to take something that could become the new face of the brand and support something without an Apple logo on it. Deal with it.

But will it succeed? Has Apple “changed the game” as implied by some? Or will this be their first failure? Questions abound, particularly now that we know the price and battery life. But there are also lingering questions that I have about usability.

The touch interface (plus the side button and rotating crown) look promising. It is a far richer way to interact than the Pebble’s more minimal “three buttons” approach. But seeing a demo done where the watch is essentially bolted to an immovable table is one thing. Trying to touch a tiny target whilst maintaining an upright stance on a subway beneath Manhattan is something else. I fully expect a mixed bag when it comes to app, ranging from the insanely great to the completely unusable. Having three obvious buttons may be more limiting, but it is also more “stable” for how the thing is really used.

The price is good and bad. The good is that, when compared to other premium watches, the Apple Watch isn’t all that outrageous. People spend hundreds, even thousands, on “everyday” watches. Someone looking for the $19.99 special at Walmart isn’t likely the target customer here. The bad is that, for a premium price for something that is both functional but also jewellery, people will expect the device to last them a long time (which could also mean prolonged time periods between purchases). Replacing a smartphone or tablet every 2-4 years isn’t a big deal. High-end watches are typically expected to last decades.

A premium price has not been an impediment to Apple’s success so far, and has helped bolster their bottom line. If the Apple Watch does fail, I don’t think the price is what will kill it. The battery life may be a bigger issue. Sure, 18 hours sounds like a lot (which presumably means 6 hours in the charger). When you spend most of your day within an hour of home or a hotel, that’s not likely an issue.

Where I have a concern is admittedly a bit of a niche use case, but one I care about: international travel (heck, even travel on a bad day within North America). 18-hours isn’t “all day” for trips that can take 2x that duration (with limited access to power to charge things during the trip). If anything gets charged, its the laptop, the phone or a tablet. The watch probably stays in the bag, or is replaced by a Timex whose battery lasts for years, because when I travel I really need to know the time. Again, an edge case, but I expect there are others with similar conditions, albeit in different situations.

So how does the Apple Watch do in the market? I’m not sure. Yes, I will be getting one. It looks intriguing, despite some questions and limitations. But whether it gets a full-time gig on my wrist, or the Pebble I have now stays (or maybe just a plain old “just tells time” watch gets the job, or I banish them all again) is an unanswered question. And whether it sustains sales beyond the hardcore fans is also an open question.

I won’t go out on a limb here. I will stay firmly on the fence to wait and see what happens. If it flops spectacularly, I won’t be surprised. If it succeeds beyond anyone’s expectations, I will also not be surprised. This is untravelled ground, so anything can happen.

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