Four Factors to Consider when Judging the Apple Watch

During the earnings call this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated the Apple Watch would ship in April. That means we are a few short months away from getting our hands on this important new product and being able to come to some conclusions about its role in our lives and, more importantly for Apple, if it will be successful.

I have worn and tested nine smart watches and have a pretty good idea about what I believe should be in a smart watch I would purchase. Using these smart watches has given me insight about this category and helped me create strong opinions about them. One important observation is that to date, not one of them had what I call a killer app that made them indispensable to me. Most of the apps I have used, whether it is fitness tracking, text alerts or even the ability to read email if needed on a tiny screen is not enough to make me want to put down hard cash for a smart watch of any kind today.

So as I prepare to analyze and judge the Apple Watch when it hits the market, I have come up with four key factors I and others may want to use in order to come to unemotional conclusions about Apple’s entry product in the wearable market.

When Apple introduced the iPod, iPhone and even the iPad, I knew from the beginning they were game changers. With the Apple Watch, I am conflicted. I am actually excited about it since I like its design and what it promises to deliver. On the other hand, I have seen too many mediocre smart watches that have colored my viewpoint on the smart watch category in general, which causes me to be skeptical about Apple’s success with the Apple Watch at this time.

With that in mind, here will be the key factors I believe all of us need to use when we judge the Apple Watch once it hits the market.

1) The Apple Watch has to be seen as version 1.0

The other day I was looking at the original iPod, iPhone and iPad that sit in my office museum and compared them to the corresponding products of 2015. Those versions seem crude by comparison. I see the Apple Watch as a work in progress that will follow a similar path over time. The Apple Watch will be much different even two years from now. However, Apple has to start somewhere and will use this first version to put their stake in the wearable ground. This model will embody all of the current functions and features Apple has available to them at this time. They will make the best watch they can given the state of today’s technology, manufacturing process and physical designs possible in 2015. For me, this will be the first key thing I have to understand when I start putting the Apple Watch through its paces.

2) Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

The Apple Watches we saw at the launch event were clearly stylish and much better looking than most on the market today. However, style and beauty as we know it is in the eye of the beholder. What is stylish to me may not be stylish to others. The same goes for functionality. The initial functions it will offer may be enough for some, but not enough for others. The Apple Watch falls into a category in which it will be hard for Apple to please everybody. The iPod, iPhone and iPad by comparison were products that, while personal, had appeal and a mission out of the box that worked for most people. That is not the case with the Apple Watch. Watches are fashion items and are used differently by people. For example, one of my watches is simply for telling time. But I have a dive watch I use when scuba diving and another waterproof watch I use when I am body surfing or swimming. I also have a high end watch I use when going to formal events and one that tells time in three locations when I travel internationally. The Apple Watch will not be all things to all people and we need to understand that from the beginning.

3) What will the App community deliver in the way of innovative applications?

As I stated earlier, I have not seen a killer app for smart watches. However, what may be a killer app for me may not be a killer app for others. While the hardware is critical to this category, it will be what the software community brings to it by way of innovative applications that will make an Apple Watch sing and dance.

We have to view the Apple Watch as a new platform for software innovation. Apple wisely created an SDK for their developers and has challenged their imagination with a small screen device and given them the tools needed to hopefully create stellar apps that will attract people to the Apple Watch. When the original iPhone was introduced, Apple marketing head Phil Schiller put it on the table in front of me and asked me what I saw. I said I saw a piece of glass on the table. He said that is true but once you turn it on you have access to a world of applications he believed Apple developers would create to make the iPhone come alive.

I see this happening in the same way. At first, the apps may be basic and functional and somewhat creative. But I have real faith the creative and innovative imagination of the software community will eventually kick in and create apps we can’t even imagine today that will make an Apple watch indispensable to many in the near future.

4) What will the service ecosystem be that makes it indispensable?

The other unknown at the moment is what service model Apple will have with the Apple Watch. For the iPod it was iTunes. For the iPhone and iPad it included iTunes but, because of the camera, it added iPhoto and iMovie to the service layer. For the Apple Watch, we know Apple Pay will be a key service. But since it is a platform, what other type of services will Apple create for the Apple Watch that makes it a must have product for many? This is an area that a company that owns the hardware, software and services can really innovate around and, while we don’t know what types of new services Apple could bring to the watch now, I am willing to bet they have some interesting things in the works that will add a powerful service link to the Apple Watch over time.

With what we know about the Apple Watch at this time it is really hard for me or anyone else to judge its success. However, once it does come to market and I can test it, these four factors will be a key part of my analysis. I believe they will help me create an objective opinion on whether Apple has another big winner on their hand or it is just another wearable that eventually gets cast aside as I have the nine other smart watches I have already tested.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

3 thoughts on “Four Factors to Consider when Judging the Apple Watch”

  1. Hey, I’ll do Counterpoint

    1) Smartwatches are about at rev 3.0 right now, rev 1 being the pre-Android ones, and rev 2 the Android (and similar: Tizen…) efforts, which are already iterating once. Today’s models are significantly sleeker and more useful that 2013’s, let alone 2009’s Watch Phone and 2003’s Palm OS one. Apple are entering late as usual, but this is by no means a new market.

    2) Watches are objects and mostly useless ones at that, but yet not art, and as such cannot really be beautiful, if only because of the values they represent: vanity when fashionable, waste/misallocation of resources in all cases except the most technical ones (I’ll grant you dive computers), dubious working practices… The iWatch in particular I find rather ugly: thick, shiny, conspicuous… plus I’ve got a thing against non-round and asymmetrical watches, but that’s very personal.

    3) Indeed, right now they’re pretty useless unless you’re addicted to notifications, but not addicted enough to act on them which requires a phone. see 2). Other smartwatches do act as full phones or full smartphones at least.

    4) Indeed. Only sure thing is: there will be lock-in.

  2. Just subscribed, so I’m a bit late to comment.

    1) Yes, this will be the worst watch Apple will ever make. I think most everyone who will buy the 1st gen Watch understands that it’s the first. That’s part of the appeal. These early adopters are likely very happy with their iPhone and are excited to see what Apple can do for them with another product.

    2) I agree that beauty is highly subjective. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that Apple has hit the mark in what will appeal to a broad section of the consumer market. The easily interchangeable bands are brilliant. I wouldn’t be surprised if the traditional watch makers copy that functionality. The market for Watch bands is going to be as huge as the one for iPhone cases, with probably some very high-end brands represented.

    3) I’m not a believer in the “killer app” theory. As you point out, the app that might be crucial for me will not be the same as what is most important to you. I agree that the developer community is critical and Apple seems to attract (arguably) the most creative and inventive software developers.

    4) I agree Pay will be important in selling the Watch. As an iPhone 5s owner, this capability alone will make it worth my while to buy the Watch. I’m not sure you can categorize it as a “service”, but the entire secure identity feature that enables Pay also enables many things that will show up with HomeKit devices and HealthKit services.

    I think Apple is held to a different standard of “success”. Pebble proudly announced sales of 1 million watches…in 2 years. I think 1 million Watches in the first weekend will be considered a disappointment to the blogosphere. Pundits have been disappointed in the iPad, the 5 year old product generating $25-30B of revenue each year for the past 3 years. So “success” for Apple is, like beauty, highly subjective. They could sell 20 million watches the first year and a good number of people will criticize it for not “moving the needle”.

    My 2¢ opinion is that the Watch will eventually be the 2nd largest contributor to Apple’s total revenue. More importantly, it will be a catalyst for steadily increasing the wave of Android-switchers (was this the first time Tim Cook used that phrase?). In the short term, Watch’s most important contribution will be to help keep iPhone sales growing. As with many things, time will tell. 2015 is going to be very interesting.

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