Further Thoughts on the Apple Watch and Smart Watches in General

After spending more time digesting the Apple Watch announcement and talking to dozens of journalists, doing several radio shows, reading many articles, and doing two podcasts, I have some updated thoughts.

If you have read many of my posts on smartwatches, namely this one and this one, you will know it has been a category where the value proposition has not been clear. I’ve been very specific that notifications alone, or at least in their current form, are not entirely useful for your wrist. The value can not and is not in notifications alone. That is the primary value Android Wear has implemented and as myself and many others who have tried every version point out, it is unclear if there is any real value there. So what have we learned from the little bit of information we have on the Apple Watch? Does this product extend the value proposition in any meaningful way? At a high level, Apple brings several assets to the category.

User Interface

As Tim Cook said, in a recent interview with Charlie Rose:

Apple’s goal is to be the best, not necessarily the first, but the best.

This is achieved by their user experience prowess. Apple takes things, related to computing in this case, and simplifies them from the current complex state they are in. If I was to articulate why an average consumer would not like any of the smartwatches I have tried, the word complex would be front and center. For this category to take off, Apple’s user interface and user experience design chops will need to be front and center.


Apple has stated their screen philosophy as “the right screen for the right moment.” This is their argument for not merging iOS with OS X the way Microsoft has with Windows 8. So the interesting question with the Apple Watch becomes, what is the right moment the watch is the right screen for?

Even though I am critical of smartwatches, there are pockets of time where I have found them valuable. All of those instances when I have found value have been when my smartphone is not near me or I’m not in a place where I can use it. For example, when I am at home, I often take my smartphone out of my pocket and leave it on a table near my entry way. With the Android watches, I only get value from the watch when it is in proximity (appox. 15 ft) to my phone. So if I go outside or upstairs or into the kitchen, all my smartwatch is is a watch. Apple’s approach with Wifi will allow the watch to remain smart even when it is not in proximity to my smartphone. The same is true in the car. Personally, I’ve found wrist notifications quite useful during my long commutes. Exercising, bike riding, even walking down the street in the city between meetings, become interesting use cases where arguably a better device than our smartphone could exist to add value to our digital lives.

The right screen for the right moment philosophy is, I think, a key way to think about the role the Apple Watch will play in Apple’s ecosystem. Both for us watching Apple and for Apple itself.

The Evolution of Communication

If we think about it, mobile phones have played a role in the evolution of our communication. Arguably, nothing has had as large an impact on communication as SMS. Hands down, the longest conversations I have with people are when we are face to face. Audibly talking on the phone would come second, but in the digital world, our conversations are shorter and more compact. With SMS, short responses are the norm. Even though a conversation can be engaging or drawn out, it is simply done with shorter messages. Part of me wonders if we are on the cusp of yet another form of mass communication evolution.

Benedict Evans and I discussed this briefly on the Mobile Focused Tech.pinions Podcast, and we mentioned an upcoming iOS app called Popkey. Popkey, in a similar style to Line stickers, is enabling new ways to communicate but through a more visual nature than text. For example, a friend of mine named Ben Thompson who is the author of Stratechery, turned me onto Line. It is one of the seven messaging apps I use, but I only use it to talk to certain people and he is one of them. Our conversation will go along and then I’ll say something like “I’ll email you the details.” He will then follow up with this Line sticker.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 3.44.57 PM

This sticker is his way of saying “Ok” or “sounds good” and it is always this same sticker. It has a style and a personalization unique to him. But these stickers are somewhat static. You can create your own but how many people do that? Perhaps Apple’s doodle type method on the screen will enable similar yet even more creative ways for us to interact as a part of this communication evolution.

All of that being said, there are still questions I have that will not be answered even after the Apple Watch is released. For example, what is the replacement cycle? Is there a replacement cycle? Benedict Evans had a great tweet the other day that said, “watches replace their owners.” Meaning, a great watch outlives its current owner and is handed down or re-used by someone else. Is this a product category Apple is future proofing like a watch or is it more like a typical electronics product? Is this an annual release cycle of a product or longer? If you spend $2,000 on a watch will you be angry if it is outdated in a year when the new one comes out? I have a long list of other questions to dive into for another analysis but I’ll leave it at this for now. Smartwatches are officially a category thanks to Apple and good or bad, I have a feeling there will be some bumps in the road.

A “Healthy” Strategy For Apple’s Wearables

[pullquote]Some smartwatches are dumber than the sundial. ~ chetansharma (@chetansharma)[/pullquote]

Until recently, wearable computing devices have been fairly uninteresting to me. I’ve read the various articles concerning wearables, but I consider wearables to be in a terribly primitive state — niche, at best, gimmicks at worst.

And Apple wearables? I’ve ruefully nicknamed the rumored Apple watch the “Lazarus Watch” because the rumors of its existence simply will not die. ((The Raising of Lazarus or the Resurrection of Lazarus is a miracle of Jesus, in which Jesus brings Lazarus back to life four days after his burial. ~ Wikipedia))

McCabe’s Law: Nobody has to do anything. ~ Charles McCabe

WatchApple DOES NOT have to do wearables to “survive.” And they most certainly do not have to chase the wearables market just because Samsung, Google and others have chosen to do so. Let me put it this way: Dogs chase cars but that doesn’t mean that they can drive them. Similarly, just because others are chasing the wearable market does not mean that they’ll be able to drive that market, even if they catch it.

Apple’s New Category History

Recently the wearables rumors have taken a twist. Perhaps Apple’s rumored wearables are focused on health, not fitness. This, I think, is worthy of further study. But first, let’s look back to the history of Apple’s new technology categories.

If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge


When the iPod entered the MP3 market, MP3 players were terrible. They were either small devices that held few songs or large, clunky devices that held many. Navigation was horrible and music discovery was virtually nonexistent.

Apple re-thought and completely re-invented MP3 players with the iPod.

One of the biggest insights we have was that we decided not to try to manage your music library on the iPod, but to manage it in iTunes. Other companies tried to do everything on the device itself and made it so complicated that it was useless. ~ Steve Jobs

With the iPod, Apple combined a small form factor yet large storage capacity, with the navigational prowess of the click wheel and the discoverability and music management of iTunes. In other words, they re-thought and re-invented the category.


Prior to the iPhone, smartphones were phones with some very minor and very bad computing features welded on. The iPhone revolutionized the smartphone market by increasing ram and processing size, adding a touch capacitive screen, creating a robust OS designed to take advantage of that touch screen and, later, adding the ability to download and purchase apps online.

In other words, Apple took and existing market and re-invented it in their own image.

You don’t want to be first, right? You want to be second or third. You don’t want to be – Facebook is not the first in social media. They’re the third, right? Similarly, you know, if you look at Steve Jobs’ history, he’s never been first. ~ Malcolm Gladwell

The Pattern

[pullquote]Apple is the favorite of so many analysts because it takes business school strategies and throws them down the drain. ~ Analysize (@Analysize)[/pullquote]

Apple’s fiercest critics look at what Apple’s competitor’s are doing and assume that Apple should match their every move. However, Apple’s strategy has never been built around responding to competitors. In fact, one of Apple’s key differentiators is that they act as if they HAVE no competitors.

Apple has customers, not competitors. Apple’s decisions are not based on what their competitor’s are doing but, rather, on what’s best for their customers.

(Author’s note: The above was inspired by an article written by Ben Bajarin, entitled: What I Love About Apple’s Strategy.)

1) Moving the Needle

Apple is a huge company. Whatever they do needs to be large enough to make a difference to their bottom line. As you can see from the following chart, there are few markets that are large enough to attract and hold Apple’s attention.


2) Re-Invent, Not Invent

[pullquote]Q: What do you call a watch worn on a belt?
A: A waist of time[/pullquote]

Apple doesn’t break new ground. They find an under-developed market, look for the pain points and then re-invent, rather than invent, the category.

3) Apple starts with a clean sheet of paper.

Most companies build upon their own product successes. Not Apple. They start over from the beginning. The advantage of this is that they create new products that meet customer’s needs. The disadvantage is that they routinely cannabalize their own successful products.

  1. The Mac didn’t build upon the Apple II;
  2. The iPod didn’t build upon the Mac; and
  3. The iPhone didn’t build upon the iPod.

I think that one of the mistakes that both Apple critics and supporters are making is to assume that Apple’s Wearable products will be some variation of what exist’s today. If Apple follows its historic pattern, Apple will not stand upon the shoulders of what exists today. Instead, their wearable product will be as different from what is currently on the market as:

— The Mac was from DOS
— The iPod was from MP3 players
— The iPhone was from Palm, Windows Mobile and Blackberry Smartphones; and
— The iPad was from Windows Tablets.

4) Controlling the Key Technology?

[pullquote]The secret of business is to know something nobody else knows. ~ Aristotle Onassis[/pullquote]

Apple is patient. They will wait until the technology is ready. And one of the keys to Apple — which they state over and over and over again — is their desire to control the key technology.

(We) look and ask, can we control the key technology? ~ Tim Cook

If we’re trying to foresee Apple’s future, one of the first questions you need to answer is: What key technology does Apple think they can control?

5) Significant Contribution

[pullquote]A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others. ~ Ayn Rand[/pullquote]

What is Apple’s mission? To make the very best products in the world that really deeply enrich people’s lives. ~ Tim Cook

Apple targets markets that matter to their clients but, just as importantly, they target markets that MATTER TO THEM.

Can we make a significant contribution far beyond what others have done in this area? Can we make a product that we all want?” ~ Tim Cook at AllThingsD


Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. ~ Albert Szent-Györgyi von Nagyrapolt

[pullquote]We are never prepared for what we expect. ~ James Michener[/pullquote]

I don’t know what’s coming in wearables, but I seriously doubt that it is what is currently being envisioned.

Would the Fitness market “move the needle” for Apple? I doubt it. But health care? Now that’s far more intriguing. Let me put it to you this way: How many fitness centers are there and how many hospitals are there and how much money is being spent on each? If you look at it that way, you can see that health is the far, far larger market of the two.

What if the more important market — the one that’s ripe for disruption and big enough to warrant Apple’s attention — is people for whom things like pulse oximetry are a matter of life and death? People whose health costs are on a trajectory to bankrupt the U.S.?

Real-time triage. Long-term observation. Correlation with hospital records. With the baby boom generation about to move en masse into government-subsidized health insurance programs, nursing homes and hospice care, those are serious growth markets. ~ Phillip Elmer-DeWitt

The health care rumors have opened my eyes. The fitness market is neither large enough nor suitable for a new Apple category. But there isn’t a bigger nor more important market than health care. We may still not know the shape that the future will take. But we may have just discovered the direction.

Go as far as you can see; when you get there you’ll be able to see farther. ~ Thomas Carlyle

The Challenge of Wearable Computing

I’d like to start out with a question I have been asking myself. Why does Google Glass need to be on my face? More importantly, to get the benefits of Google Glass (whatever one deems that to be) why does it need to come in a form factor that goes on my face? The answer is that it likely does not.

The same question will need to be answered by any potential existence of Apple’s iWatch or any smart watch. My favorite line of critics of the iWatch, or smart watches in general for that matter, is that no one wears watches these days. My standard response is: and those that do don’t wear them to keep time.

I absolutely agree that the wrist is prime real estate, but I’d add that it is also highly valuable real estate. Therefore for a consumer to put something on their wrist, their face, or any other part of their person, there must be a clear value proposition.

In Search of a Value Proposition

This is why to date the only real wearable success stories we have are devices like the Fitbit, Nike Fuelband, Jawbone Up, and others in the wearable health segment. The industry term for this segment is “Quantified Self.” These devices track our activity and give us insight into how many steps we have taken, calories, burned, quality and quantity of sleep, etc.

For many this is a clear value proposition and a compelling reason to place an additional object on their body. The value proposition is also a simple one: wear this object and it will give you details about your activity and general health which for many is valuable information. When a segment like wearable computing is in the early stages of adoption, as we are in now, simple value propositions are key to getting initial consumer adoption.

Google’s Glasses challenge lies both in the value proposition and the form factor. Google hopes to flesh out the value proposition with the public research and developing happening with its early adopters. The form factor however, is a larger question. While its true that many people wear sunglasses, or eyeglasses, most would tell you they do not always want to or even enjoying having glasses on their face. There is eye surgery for those who need glasses so that they no longer have to wear glasses. Given behavioral observations around glasses, one would need to conclude that to keep an object on ones face, there must be a good reason.

Whatever the longer term benefits of something like Google Glass turn out to be, it is likely that they will show up in other objects not necessarily glasses. Like displays in our cars, or more intelligent screens on our person like our phones, or perhaps even a smart watch.

Similarly, any smart watch will also have to make its case for existence beyond the techno-geek crowd. Here we come back to my earlier point that those who wear a watch don’t do so to keep time. I wear a watch. I like my watch and besides my wedding ring it’s the only piece of jewelry I wear. I intentionally selected this watch for a variety of reasons. It is not on my wrist because I need it to keep time. It is a fashion accessory for me. I’d argue that for most watch wearers this is the case as well. This is exactly my point on why the wrist is valuable real estate. It is valuable because those who place it there do so for more than just its functionality.

Why Should I Wear This?

Objects we choose to put on our person and go out in public with are highly personal and intentionally selected. The personal and intentional reasons that we wear objects are the things that wearable computing devices don’t just need to overcome they need to add to as well.

A smart watch needs to add to the reasons I wear a watch. Smart glasses need to add to the reasons I put glasses on my face. Addressing these things are the challenges of those who aspire to create wearable computers that are worn by the masses. I am also confident it is where much innovation will happen over the next 10 years.

We have ideas on how this shakes out. Things like relevant, contextual information at a glance, or notifications for example. All the exact value propositions of wearable computing are not yet fully known. Even with so much ambiguity around wearable computing, I am optimistic and looking forward to the innovations that will take place to create wearable computers that add value to our lives.

Apple iWatch vs Google Glasses and the Next UI Battle

iStock_000021284452XSmallRumors of the Apple iWatch continue to sprout. Google Glasses will soon be for sale. The “Internet of Things” and wearable computers are quickly transitioning from the realm of science fiction into our everyday reality. Very soon, sensors throughout our homes, on our pets and possibly inside our bodies, all monitored or even controlled by our smartphone, will be the norm. Imagine now if these were ad-subsidized devices, like Android or Kindle, offering no escape from the latest marketing pitch or sponsored social media update. Is this a tolerable future?

While many analysts doubt the ability of Apple to maintain its margins in the face of stiff competition from the likes of Google and Amazon, companies that sell hardware at cost and make it up on advertising and ‘content’, I think the opposite is true: We are on the cusp of a world where personal computing hardware will become increasingly more important and more profitable. This favors Apple. Moreover, as hardware and computing become increasingly smaller and more personal, the Google business model, which fully relies upon advertising, may simply become too intrusive to tolerate.

Tim Cook recently said Apple is not a hardware company. With iTunes and iCloud, retail, services and accessories revenue, Cook is technically correct. Nonetheless, Apple makes most of its revenues directly from hardware. Google CEO Larry Page prefers talking about “moonshots” and driving “10X” changes in our thinking. He doubtless understands, however, that his company makes nearly all its money – and has from the beginning – on advertising. Following the money helps us not only to properly value these companies, but serves as a lens into their future. I suspect we will quickly witness fundamental differences in the design philosophy and user experience from the new wearable computing products coming out of Apple and Google.

The next design battle will almost certainly not be about “skeuomorphism” versus “flat design”. Rather, monetizing hardware, the Apple way, versus monetizing data and advertising, the Google way, will set the stage for this next great battle.


As hardware becomes ever-more integrated with our physical self, will we dare rely on lesser hardware that is subsidized by advertising? Maybe. While many may reflexively assume that advertising is always bad, this need not be the case. The promise of Google is that it will provide us with the right information at the right time in the right format for the right device. In some cases, this may be an ad. The problem, of course, is that to succeed with such a mission, every user must hand over to Google an exponentially larger set of personal data, more personal than ever before: where we are, who we are with, what we are doing, how high is our blood pressure, how sad is our mood, how many calories in that muffin we weren’t supposed to eat. When will this become too much?


Advertising is not merely built upon data collection. It also requires interruption – what I call the “intrusive business model”. I think the most potentially intractable problem that Google faces in its quest to create connected, personal hardware devices, one that Apple is liberated from, is the fundamentally intrusive nature of its business model. We may all “search” for information, but that does not necessarily mean we want to be bombarded with ads. Ads are already everywhere, it seems; within our (free) apps and games, on Google maps, scattered across web pages, inside YouTube videos, and more and more on the Google search page. Where does this end?

I don’t want my Google Glasses, for example, to pop up ads right in my eye, nor have a commercial play some catchy jingle into the sensor I keep in my ear. I don’t want my iWatch clone, for example, to vibrate every time it thinks I might be interested in some deal or datapoint – when in fact, it’s really because the sender – the intruder – is making money off stealing my attention. As computing becomes increasingly more personal, there is a very real chance that Google’s business model becomes increasingly more intrusive.

Apple is almost the exact opposite of intrusive. What is iPad but a beautiful pane of glass that we operate with the touch of a finger. Complexity vanishes. We are free from intrusion. This is the case for Apple software as well. Consider that both iOS and Mac OS place the focus squarely on, well, focus – and not on multitasking, alerts, notifications and other intrusive messaging forms.


There is an obvious tension here, and it may favor Google. With Apple products, when you want data, you swipe the screen, for example, or beckon Siri. Consider Android versus iPhone differences. Notifications, reminders, alerts, home screen messages and the like are all much more readily presented and visible with Android. Apple’s model favors waiting for the user to seek and request data. For advertising, I absolutely favor the Apple way. But not all data is advertising. In many instances, we want immediate ‘glanceability’ for real-time information. Sometimes, when the data is truly what we need, we want to be intruded upon. I want my maps app to tell me that the road ahead is jammed – even if I am on the telephone. Or, as in the case of a Fitbit bracelet, for example, I may ultimately want to be reminded over and over again to do my exercise for the day. This form of data intrusion favors Google.

The question for Google, though, is can they truly intrude upon our personal space only when we really want or need the intrusion? For a company that has made all its money over the years by flashing advertisement upon advertisement across every one of our screens, I have serious doubts.

Through patent filings, we know that Apple has been working on wearable computing devices for at least several years. Such devices can continuously record our heart rate, monitor our environment, potentially know us better than our friends and doctors. As our devices learn more and more about us, know more of our likes, habits – and needs – there will be a great debate on when and why to ‘intrude’ upon the user. Google plasters extraneous information across all their products and services because their business model demands this. Crossing that ‘intrusive’ line will likely become too enticing for them, I suspect, pushing more and more users to Apple and its “expensive” hardware. Apple, however, needs to understand that sometimes, in some cases, intrusion is good.

The Opinion Cast: The Future of Smart Watches

In this opinion cast, Bill Geiser the CEO of MetaWatch and I have a candid conversation about the future of smart watches. Bill is a smart guy and has quite a history in the connected watch business and he shares some great perspectives about the space.

In this discussion we talk about why the wrist is prime for a connected screen, the role of the smart watch, and what it may take to get smart watches onto the wrists of mainstream consumers.

MetaWatch launched a new project on KickStarter today. So be sure to check out the MetaWatch STRATA smart watch launch on KickStarter which went live today.

You can also subscribe to our opinion cast in iTunes here.

Should Apple Create an iWatch?

Last fall, I wrote an article on our site here suggesting four industries Apple could disrupt and one of the industries I mentioned was the watch industry. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad Nano, he mentioned that one of his board members said he was going to find a way to strap it on to his wrist and use it also as a watch. And shortly after the Nano was released, a cottage industry of Nano watchband makers started to emerge and today you can find over 100 colorful watchbands that turn the Nano into a watch.

But in this article I stated that for the Nano to be disruptive, it would need a Bluetooth connection to the iPhone and serve as kind of a visual companion by showing on the Nano who might be calling, iMessages, news alerts, etc that would come through the iPhone and not make me take it out of my pocket to see these alerts or key bits of information unless I needed to act on them.

To date, Apple has not added any of these features to the Nano but even if they do, they will now not be the first to take this idea and concept and run with it. Last week there were two announcements of watches that would work as companions to smartphones and both show a lot of promise. One is coming from Sony and the other is coming from a small start up called Pebble Technology.

Sony’s Watch is basically like the Nano but with Android’s OS inside and works in a similar manner. It uses a color OLED and connects and serves as a companion screen to Android smartphones. It sells for $149 and is on the market now. But the Pebble Smartwatch is the one that is the most interesting to me since it can be used with Android or the iPhone. And while it’s screen is not a color OLED like Sony’s, its eInk screen means this product has a very long battery life and can be even thinner then Sony’s version. Both connect to smartphones and deliver info on calls from a phones caller ID system, messages and other alerts that can be programmed into the watch and tied to a smartphone.

While Sony’s smart watch is coming from a major company, Pebble Technology’s approach to creating their smart watch is quite unique. Instead of raising funds to build this from friends and family as many start-ups do, they appealed to the public for pledge funds that will be turned into actual shipping orders of their smart watch when it ships in September. They are not the first to try this approach but their pitch seems to have struck a nerve, especially with the early adopters. They had hoped to raise $100,000 from these pledges but in their first week, they actually got order/pledges worth over $2.6 million.

With all of this interest in the Nano being used as a pseudo smart watch and these new entries from Sony and Pebble, as well as earlier models from Motorola and others, is it time for Apple to create their own iWatch with iOS on it and tied directly to the iPhone? Given this competitive pressure, you would think the answer should be yes. But if history is our guide, doing something just to counter the competition at this early stage of smart watch interest is not their style.

We have solid examples of how Apple actually looks at these market opportunities and eventually responds. For example, Apple did not invent the MP3 player. But once these devices had become established as a product with major potential, Apple then brought out the iPod and today it owns 75% of the MP3 market. Now consider the iPhone. Apple did not invent the smart phone. But once these took off, they brought out the iPhone and today their smart phone owns a major position in this market. And Apple did not invent the tablet. But their model with this, as well as with the iPod and iPhone, is to look at the fundamentals surrounding each of these products and then apply their genius of design, eco system and marketing to any category of devices they feel that they can make better.

While they may not be first in a new product category, their approach to making them better and then using their design and marketing prowess to take very strong positions in these markets is at the heart of the way Apple works. Today, Smart watches tied to smart phones are in their very early stages and show promise. But don’t expect Apple to respond in kind just because the competition in this space is heating up. Instead, look for Apple to glean from these early smart watch trail blazer’s and once they believe they can create something that is very sleek, elegant and innovative, then, and only then would they bring out an iWatch.

One side note to this is that watches on a whole have been on a decline since cell phones have come out. This is especially true with Gen Y users who rely mostly on their cell or smartphone to find out what time it is. But if the watch is tied to their smartphone, this could actually reverse some of this decline in watches and even Gen Y and those younger than them just might start wearing watches again.