Premature Predictions About The Apple Watch

on March 7, 2015

On February 27, 2015, Brian X. Chen penned an article entitled: “Apple’s New Job: Selling a Smartwatch to an Uninterested Public”, and on March 2, 2015, Mark Wilson published “You Guys Realize The Apple Watch Is Going To Flop, Right?” Let’s take a look at their critiques of the yet to be released Apple Watch.

There is going to be an unprecedented level of incomprehension and trolling around Apple Watch. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) 9/30/14

But by all means, write articles that Apple is going to lose. Makes my job easier. ~ Ben Thompson (@monkbent) 10/27/14

Consumers Not Excited About Category

For Apple, the hard part — making a smartwatch — is nearly over.

Soon it will be time for the harder part: selling the long-anticipated Apple Watch to consumers who, so far, are not very excited about the idea of wearing computers on their bodies. ~ Brian X. Chen

Saying consumers are not excited about the idea of wearing computers on their bodies is like saying horse owners, prior to the introduction of the Ford Model-T, were not very excited about being seen in horseless carriages. Mister Chen has it backwards. People are not excited about wearables because today’s wearables are not exciting. Trust me, when wearables become useful — similar to when cars became useful — customers will be plenty excited about the category.

Abandoned Features

Nearly two years ago, the company experimented with advanced health monitoring sensors that tracked blood pressure and stress, among other variables. Many of those experiments were abandoned more than 18 months ago after the sensors proved unreliable and cumbersome, these people said. ~ Brian X. Chen

First, features from prototypes often don’t make it into the final product.

A good design finds an elegant way to put all the features you need in in. A great design leaves half those features out. ~ Inspired by Mike Monteiro (@Mike_FTW)

Second, have we learned nothing from Apple’s history of making products? Apple is famous for creating products that contain fewer features and a better user experience. For example, if you wanted a mobile phone with more features than the iPhone, you could have purchased a Droid.

iDon’t have a real keyboard.
iDon’t run simultaneous apps.
iDon’t take night shots.
iDon’t allow open development.
iDon’t customize.
iDon’t run widgets.
iDon’t have interchangeable batteries.
Everything iDon’t…Droid does.

Verizon Advertisement, 18 October 2009

Valuing features over the user experience is the second biggest mistake in consumer market analysis. ((Valuing price over user experience is the first most consistent mistake.))

Flooded Market

Still, when Apple releases its watch in April, it will enter a market already flooded with smartwatches running Android Wear, a version of Google’s Android software system tailored for wearable computers.

Flooded market? That’s just not so. In relative terms, the number of smartwatches on the market is minuscule and their impact on consumers has been negligible.

Further, although the Apple Watch may share the same category as current smartwatches, that does not mean that they are in the same class. The Apple Watch is as different from the current crop of smartwatches as the iPod, iPhone and iPad were different from the MP3 players, mobile phones and tablets that preceded them.

Measuring the existing market is a mistake because the existing products are hired for different jobs.

For example, were tactile keyboard Smartphones from 2006, below, ever a real threat to the touch-based iPhone? No. They may have been in the same category, but they were most definitely not in the same class and they were most definitely not competing for same customer base.

iPhoneCompetitors

Andy Rubin on seeing the obvious, non-novel iPhone: “Holy crap.” ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

The Apple Watch may or may not succeed, but it is facing virtually no competition for the customers that it is targeting.

Round

Five years from now, we will look back on round shaped smartwatches and view them the same way that we currently view physical keyboards on touchscreen smartphones.

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Unlikely To Be Game Changer

But it is unlikely to be a game-changer for Apple, at least anytime soon. Toni Sacconaghi, a financial analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein research, thinks the watch will make only a modest contribution to Apple’s bottom line this year. He predicts that Apple will ship 7.5 million watches in the second half of the year.

That is peanuts compared with the tens of millions of iPhones that fly off the shelves every quarter. ~ Brian X. Chen

With all due respect to Mister Chen, this analysis of what constitutes a “game changer” is wrong on many levels.

First, contending that a product has to outsell the iPhone in order to be considered a “game changer” is setting the bar at an impossibly high level. After all, the iPhone, by itself, brings in more revenue than such tech luminaries as Microsoft or Google. Suggesting that a product has to be bigger than Microsoft, or bigger than Google, in order to be considered a “game changer” is unrealistic.

Our goal isn’t to make money. Our goal absolutely at Apple is not to make money. This may sound a little flippant, but it’s the truth…Our goal and what gets us excited is to try to make great products. We trust that if we are successful people will like them, and if we are operationally competent we will make revenue, but we are very clear about our goal. ~ Jony Ive

Second, the term “game changer” and “money maker” are not one and the same. The Macintosh was surely a “game changer”, yet Apple is only the fifth largest maker of PCs in the world today, and it took them thirty years to rise to that level.

We’re not focused on the numbers, we’re focused on the things that produce the numbers. ~ Tim Cook

Third, aren’t we employing a double-standard here? Google Glass, for example, was widely considered to be a “game changer” — right up until the moment when it was discontinued. And is it going to outsell the iPhone? Not hardly.

What’s the over-under on how long it will take Apple Watch to outsell Google Glass? A minute? No, seriously… a minute? Less? ~ Frank Boosman (@fboosman) 11/18/14

Jonathan Ive’s New Newton

The Apple Watch is Jonathan Ive’s new Newton. It’s a potentially promising form that’s being built about 10 years before Apple has the technology or infrastructure to pull it off in a meaningful way.

As a result, the novel interactions that could have made the Apple watch a must-have device aren’t in the company’s launch product, nor are they on the immediate horizon. ~ Mark Wilson

The next Newton? Hmm. Why does that sound so familiar?

I’m more convinced than ever that, after an initial frenzy of publicity and sales to early adopters, iPhone sales will be unspectacular… iPhone may well become Apple’s next Newton. ~ David Haskin, Computerworld, 26 February 2007

A product ahead of its time. Hmm. Why does that sound so familiar?

I added it up and … like 800 people are going to buy the iPad. . . . It’s not that the iPad is a failure. It’s just a product ahead of its time. No one should actually buy this iPad — between its inevitable first-generation bugs, fulfillment problems, and buyer’s remorse over added features and price drops, it’s heartbreak waiting to happen. ~ Molly Wood, CNet, 31 January 2010

JetsonsHow is the Apple Watch ahead of its time anymore than the iPhone was ahead of its time? The iPhone had WAY less support than the Apple Watch does. The iPhone didn’t even have native applications during its first year of existence and even after they were added in 2008, Apple didn’t have the base of developers that it does today.

Even if it is opened up to third parties, it is difficult to see how the installed base of iPhones can reach the level where it becomes a truly attractive service platform for operator and developer investment. ~ Tony Cripps, Ovum Service Manager for Mobile User Experience, 14 March 2007

I owned the original iPhone. Compared to today’s phones, and even compared to the second and third generation iPhones, it couldn’t compete. But compared to what came before it, it blew the competition away. I suspect that the same will be true of the Apple Watch.

You want to wait? Go ahead. But I, for one, still don’t regret having owned the original iPhone and I doubt whether those who buy an Apple Watch in April will look back and regret their purchases either.

Just Another Fitness Band

(R)eports suggest that Apple has pulled a lot of the power-draining specialty hardware from the watch—namely sensors to measure “blood pressure, heart activity, and stress levels, among other things.” That’s deep health mining stuff—much deeper than the heart rate and accelerometer-based movements the Apple Watch that ships will offer. In this sense, the Apple Watch will no longer stand out from any other fitness band on the market. ~ Mark Wilson

With all due respect, I have to vehemently disagree. The communication tools alone — including smart replies, emoji, dictation, voice messaging, walkie-talkie, glances, digital touch, sketch and doodles, Siri, taptic engine, and heartbeat — will be more than enough to distinguish the Apple Watch from all other fitness bands.

Besides, the Apple Watch isn’t about being a fitness band, it’s about being a platform.

We never saw ourselves in a platform war with Microsoft, and maybe that’s why we lost. ~ Steve Jobs

[pullquote]It is platform, more than anything else, that will matter most.[/pullquote]

I would contend that Apple — both with the iPhone, and now with the Apple Watch — very much see themselves in a platform war. And it’s a war they intend to win.

Will the Apple Watch have more sensors in future models? You betcha. But that will not be what makes or breaks it. The Apple Watch is a platform and the foundation for that platform is being laid now. Focusing on missing sensors is like focusing on the missing cut and paste feature in the original iPhone. It is platform, more than anything else, that will matter most.

Not For The Masses

When I look at the Apple Watch, I’m not seeing an empathetic creation for the masses. I’m seeing what the New Yorker’s more than 16,000-word story on Jonathan Ive would only hint at—that Apple may have built out the watch to satisfy the urges of a designer who has become more obsessed with Bentleys and Rolexes than making attractive, functional technology that will actually make life better for the 99%. ~ Mark Wilson

What? When the heck did Apple become the company that made products “for the masses”?

The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. ~ Matthew Lynn, Bloomberg, 15 January 2007

Hasn’t the knock on Apple always been that they make high-priced products for those who have too much money and too little sense?

(O)n some level, (Apple is) failing consumers when only 18% of the global smartphone population has an iPhone. ~ Jay Yarow, Business Insider, 24 May 2013

No Jay, you’re wrong. In fact, you’ve gotten it exactly backwards. Apple is the integrated solution that creates markets, not the modular solution that expands markets.

We’ve always believed that our role in life is to make the best, not the most. ~ Tim Cook

Apple created new product categories with the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. They are the cutting edge that clears the path for others to follow. If you question that statement, simply take a look at the operating system you are using on your desktop and notebook computers, the operating system on your touch devices, and the physical design of your notebook computers, your smartphones and your tablets. They were all inspired by Apple designs.

You know its driven Apple from the beginning… This compulsion to take incredibly powerful technology and make it accessible. ~ Jony Ive

Conclusion

As it happens, I think the Apple Watch will be a thing. Others do not. But we don’t know. Let’s come back in six months and see. ~ Benedict Evans

Yeah, I too think the Apple Watch is going to do all right — actually much more than just “all right”. I think, with Apple’s track record, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. But that doesn’t mean that I KNOW the Apple Watch is going to do well. Because I just don’t know. And I’m willing to wait and see how it plays out before jumping to any premature conclusions. But the one thing I am not willing to do is to sit here and listen to a lot of nonsensical guff as to why it won’t work out.

You’ve got a good theory as to how it will all turn out? Bring it on. But if all you’ve got is the weak sauce people like Brian Chen and Mark Wilson have been serving up, then shut up, get some popcorn, sit down, and wait in silence for the curtain to go up, like the rest of us. It promises to be one hell of a show.

BONUS CLAIM CHOWDER: Why Apple’s Upcoming Presentation Will Be A Failure

Steve Jobs’ blockbuster keynote address at last week’s Macworld was brilliantly and powerfully delivered — one of his best ever. It was also a colossal mistake. I think Jobs blew it. Here are my six reasons why:

1. Jobs raised buyer expectations too high.

2. Jobs raised Wall Street expectations too high.

3. Jobs gave competitors a head start.

4. Jobs undermined Apple TV hype

5. Jobs put iPod sales at risk.

6. Jobs wrecked Cisco talks.

Mike Elgan, Computerworld, 18 January 2007

Thanks for your insight, Mike. I can’t wait ((Actually, I can wait. I can wait forever.)) to hear the many reasons why the upcoming Apple Watch presentation “blew it” too.