Apple Defines Wearables as Fashionable Computing

Apple pioneered the PC, the mouse-driven PC, the digital music player, the modern laptop, the smartphone, and the tablet. Steve Jobs directed the creation of each of these transformative products, collaborating with Steve Wozniak, Jon Rubinstein, Jony Ive, and others along the way. Apple is now entering Wearables without Steve Jobs at the helm – though Jony Ive’s fingerprints are all over the Apple Watch (literally. The Apple Watch is a fingerprint magnet). Along with several other Techpinions columnists and a few thousand journalists, Apple employees, and Apple guests, I attended the launch and got hands on with several Apple Watches.

A Strange Way To Launch a Product (for Apple)

Apple famously limits the number and type of products it works on. When it enters a new product category, like smartwatches or tablets, it explains what it thinks is wrong with the existing products and what role its device will fill. Apple also often curates use cases for a new product, and opens it up for apps and features later. The original iPod had fewer features than the competition; it took years before FM radio was added. The first iPhone was described as a phone, an iPod, and a web browser – the App Store did not come until a full year later. The context portion of Apple’s launch monologue typically explains why a minimalist approach makes sense. The limited functionality allows consumers to understand precisely what the problems the product is designed to solve – even consumers did not realize they had that problem before Apple pointed it out.

That is not how Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced the Apple Watch. Like Samsung or Google or Asus, Tim Cook simply said Apple is building a watch. He then went on to describe endless features – exceptionally accurate timekeeping, interactive watch faces, fitness tracking, notifications, Siri dictation, GPS directions, Apple Pay, hotel access, BMW integration, watch-to-watch communication, and more. Rather than take the less-is-more approach – with more-is-more over time — Apple jumped straight to the more-is-more stage. This part reminded me of the iPad launch. However, the iPad really was “just” a larger iPod touch – and it was fair to say that consumers understood the value proposition of iOS apps on a larger display. That isn’t the case for apps on watches.

Consumers need concrete reason to buy things, especially new things; Apple may try to rectify this closer to launch. Google has not explained to consumers why they need an Android Wear watch, and mainstream consumers are not buying them. Samsung has not explained why consumers should buy one of its Tizen watches, and they are not selling, either (Samsung stuffed the channel with the first generation Galaxy Gear, but many ended up being given away with purchase of a Samsung TV or smartphone). Note: the reason to buy an Apple Watch is crystal clear for early adopters – get the first Apple Watch! I’ll discuss that below.

In Apple’s conception, a smartwatch does not solve a limited set of problems, it is intended to be a computing platform that combines fashion and a unique user interface. While Apple is prioritizing timekeeping, watch-to-watch communication, and fitness, Apple does not really know which watch apps will appeal to consumers – the apps have not been written yet. The Apple Watch will not be available for at least a few months, and it was announced now to give developers time to write apps. (The fact that it stalls consumers from buying rival smartwatches is a really nice bonus.) This launch was as much an appeal to developers as it was a pitch to consumers.

So What is the Rationale Behind the Apple Watch?

Tim Cook didn’t explain why Apple said “yes” to the watch and “no” to all the other things Apple could have built instead. So I’ll provide three:

  1. 1. Apple SVP Design Jony Ive wanted to wear a watch that he and his staff designed. I’m completely serious. Apple is unlike any other consumer technology company in that its products do not always start as ideas from Engineering or Marketing, they often come from Design. Vendors competing with Apple tend to be organized differently, and their product focus and prioritization of attributes within those products reflect it.
  2. 2. Apple strongly believes in the power of new user interfaces to create new categories. Once the design staff decided to investigate watches as a potential product, they not only did research on horology, but on user interface design. The combination of touch, force touch (pressing down harder invokes secondary options), and using the crown for variable zooming is different from any of the existing smartwatches. Does it work? We’ll see. But Apple believes that this opens up new possibilities for small-scale app design.
  3. 3. Apple is capitulating to demand for larger phones, and that opens up the opportunity for limited computing experiences at times when pulling out a large device from your pocket or purse is unwieldy. For example, Apple Pay is built into the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, but it makes a lot more sense on your wrist. Fitness tracking is easier on your wrist. Looking up directions is better on a phone, but following directions on your wrist is fantastic. This is similar to the reason Apple gave for building a tablet, as there are times when a phone is too little and a laptop is overly fixed and complex.

Key Attributes of the Apple Watch

It is a fashion device first. It is expensive – there are three collections (with six watch band options), and they start at $349. The gold version could be priced in the stratosphere: it’s real gold. No other vendor has paid this much attention to the style of the case and especially the straps, which are simply design masterpieces. There are two sizes – small and large 38 mm and 42 mm, and even the larger model is smaller than most competing smartwatches. No other smartwatch even offers a smaller, more female-friendly option. On the wrist, the Apple Watch looks much smaller than it appears in photos. Apple has also put a tremendous amount of effort into making the watch faces beautiful. Some are interactive. No smartwatch competitor has anything like this.

It’s a computing device second. The user interface combines touches, swipes, “force touch” (pressing harder), a side button, and a side scroll wheel/home button. Creating text is simplified with watch-generated short responses or with dictation (I was not able to get a live demo of this, but if it works well, it will significantly enhance usability.) No one thing is central to the Apple Watch – the concept of apps is the central conceit. This is similar to the iPhone (after the App Store was launched) and the iPad. Timekeeping is not central to the Apple Watch any more than phone calls are central to the iPhone. The Apple watch offers fitness tracking, navigation, notifications, NFC for Apple Pay, and much more. Two users with Apple Watches can send each other drawings and a haptic simulation of their heartbeat.

It is a phone companion (for now) requiring an iPhone 5 or better. The Watch does have its own processor and storage, so it can be used untethered for fitness tracking, music, and some apps. However, GPS, messaging, and anything requiring cellular connectivity will not work when out of Bluetooth range from an iPhone. Battery life is clearly an issue, as the screen turns off when you don’t have your wrist raised, and you’re expected to charge it every night using a magnetic cable. The magnetic connection is elegant, and an improvement on most competitors, though it is another unique cable to pack (and lose) while traveling.

Finally, the Apple Watch indicates the company is moving away from the “i” branding that started with the iMac and became a phenomenon with the iPod. It seems that Apple views the “i” mark as old fashioned and limiting, preferring the Apple mark itself for Apple Pay and Apple Watch.

Assessing Apple Watch Potential

Short term, Apple did not provide mainstream consumers a reason to buy the Apple Watch, but it certainly provided plenty of incentive for Apple early adopters: this is a gorgeous timepiece with a new user interface and endless utility. The pool of tech early adopters has increased significantly over the years; Pebble has sold over a quarter million watches. Apple early adopters are a far (far) larger group than that, and Apple should expect to sell millions of first generation Apple Watches.

Long term, two assumptions must be made. First, that Apple’s user interface works well, and second, that app developers show the value of having computing capabilities on your wrist. Given Apple’s track record with user interfaces and its relationship with developers, both of these conditions are probable. If both are proven true, the Apple Watch will have broad appeal to the installed base of iPhone users. This is a finite pool, though it is large, and some consumers may potentially buy more than one Apple Watch. Apple may make the Apple Watch less dependent on an iPhone in a future version, opening up adoption to consumers who use Android (or Windows) phones.

The biggest driver for mainstream adoption in the second and third generations is likely to be a lower entry price point. However, higher end models – potentially extremely high end – will remain in the line for as long as consumers buy them or they lend the line cachet. Apple could also expand its styles, adding a round design and creating special editions. Apple could also expand the connectivity contained in the watch; while it is unlikely that a watch would replace smartphones for most people, it is certainly conceivable that, sometime in the future, Apple might design a watch that could.

This column was adapted from a Current Analysis report. The full report includes key competitive comparisons and recommendations for Apple, Google, Samsung, Pebble, and MetaWatch.

What Does This eBay Wearable/Smartwatch Data Tell You

I thought I would do something different and show some charts and let our readers help interpret them and share thoughts on what the data reveals. I found data from a service called Terapeak that provides a range of analytics for products on Amazon and eBay. Since Jan wrote a great article today on wearables, I thought it would be interesting to look at this data from eBay listings separated by product and revenue generated from each product from sales on eBay. Below are the charts and a few points on them.

Total Listings on eBay

This chart shows the total listings, over the past year, by a few select wearables and smart watches.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 9.12.00 PM

Fitbit has the largest number of listings of any of the devices by volume on eBay. There are a few other data points of interest to note with this chart with regard to new vs used listing for each device.

  1. Pebble = 30% of listings were used
  2. Samsung Gear Fit = 8% of listings were used
  3. Fitbit = 22% of listings were used
  4. Jawbone = 13% of listings were used
  5. Mio Alpha = 16% of listings were used
  6. Basis = 23% of listings were used

Total Money Made by Each Product

This chart shows the total volume in dollars made by each product over the past year.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 9.12.09 PM

Google Glass is the most expensive of all the products listed here so it should come as no surprise that it makes a good chunk of money from sales on eBay.

Comparing Categories

Just to add perspective, I’ve included the total sales on eBay of the past year’s iPhones, other mobile phones, and tablets.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 9.12.26 PM

Apparently, selling iPhones on eBay is a half a billion dollar per year enterprise.

Given Jan’s article, and what many others on this forum have shared about the challenge facing wearables, what observations stand out to you with these charts?

Divining Apple’s Wearable Design

Most of the wearables on the market today are an experiment in artificial stupidity. Rather than solve problems, they create them. Using a wearable today is like using a screwdriver to cut roast beef.

A good design introduces enough unfamiliarity to be interesting, but not so much as to be annoying. ~ John Maeda (@johnmaeda)

Don’t get me wrong. Today’s wearables should not be tossed aside lightly. They should instead be thrown with great force. ((With apologies to the great Dorothy Parker)) In fact, that reminds me of a riddle:

QUESTION: If you throw the Samsung Galaxy Gear off the Eiffel Tower and you throw the Moto 360 off the tower of Pisa, which one would hit the ground first?

ANSWER: Who cares?

CAPTION: Today’s Wearable Marketplace

How do I know Android wearables are a terrible idea? China doesn’t even steal them and make knockoffs. ~ The grugq (@thegrugq) 7/10/14

What’s Missing?

Most companies are full of processes designed to solve problems from a long time ago. ~ John Maeda (@johnmaeda)

Today’s smartwatches are going nowhere because they’re using tomorrow’s technology to provide yesterday’s solutions to problems that no one has today. But what about tomorrows’ wearables? Apple is rumored to be bringing out a line of their own wearables this Fall and Apple is well-known for their design prowess.

Will Apple use design to differentiate their product?

“I think a lot of people see design primarily as a means to differentiate their product competitively,” Ive said. “I really detest that.”

Hmm. Maybe not.

Perhaps Apple’s wearables will be better because they will have better technology.

We don’t buy things because they have better technology; we buy them because they’re better designed. ~ johnmaeda (@johnmaeda)

Hmm. Maybe not that either.

Or perhaps Apple’s wearables will be better by design.

Design is so critical it should be on the agenda of every meeting in every single department. ~ Tom Peters

I love it when you can bring really great design and simple capability to something that doesn’t cost much. It was the original vision for Apple. That’s what we tried to do with the first Mac. That’s what we did with the iPod. ~ Steve Jobs

Ah, design. That’s what’s missing in today’s wearables and that’s where Apple shines.

We’re the only company that owns the whole widget — the hardware, the software, and the operating system. We can take full responsibility for the user experience. We can do things that the other guy can’t do. ~ Steve Jobs

Dieter Rams’s Design Principles

Steve Jobs and Jony Ive were admirers of Dieter Rams, a famous designer for Braun, who had a number of mottos and aphorisms about design. Let’s look at seven of his design principles and see how they apply to current and potential wearable devices.



A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it. ~ Dieter Rams

Today’s wearables are not very useful. In fact, they’re more work than they’re worth. Surveys show most of today’s wearables end up in a drawer after about three months of use.

If notifications are to be useful on your wrist then they can’t just be a mirror of the ones on your phone. ~ Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin)

At best, today’s wearables duplicate the functionality of a smartphone on a form factor not well suited for performing smartphone functions. Now what does that remind me of? Oh yeah, trying to cram a desktop operating system into a tablet form factor. How’d that work out?

Tablet PC Specification

CAPTION: The first public prototype of a Tablet PC (2001). It ran the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition ((You’ve gotta love Microsoft’s naming conventions.)) operating system ((Bill Gates of Microsoft showed the first public prototype of a Tablet PC (defined by Microsoft as a pen-computer allows hardware in accordance with the specifications made by Microsoft and running a licensed copy of the operating system “Windows XP Tablet PC Edition”) at COMDEX.))

Good design isn’t about being pretty, it’s about solving a tangible problem. Today’s wearables are answers searching for a question. If wearables are to have any tomorrows, it will be because they provide a startlingly good answer to the unidentified, undefined, unmet needs of today.

If we want to forecast what Apple is going to introduce in wearables, we need to stop thinking about what is on the market today. In 2007, what we wanted was an iPod and a phone. What we got was an iPod and a phone and an internet communicator and (a year later) an app store. What we got was a computer in our pocket. The iPhone didn’t give us what we wanted, it gave us what we needed. The same will be true of wearables.


It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory. ~ Dieter Rams

Below is the remote control that came with the Sony Google TV.


— Not understandable.
— Not self-explanatory.
— Not good design.

A well designed product doesn’t merely do your work, it also works the way you do.

There was a debate [on the Lisa] team about the mouse. Was it going to have a mouse, and how many buttons should it have? Steve and I wanted one button, because if there’s one button, you never have to think about it. One of the former Xerox guys argued for six buttons. He said, “Look, bartenders have six buttons on those drink dispensers, and they can handle it.” But that was a failure to understand what Steve was trying to do with user experience. ~ Trip Hawkins, excerpt From: Max Chafkin. “Design Crazy.”

If you’re designing a product and your customer has to think about how to use it, then you’re not done designing.

Design makes what is complex feel simpler, and makes what is simpler feel richer. ~ johnmaeda (@johnmaeda)

If we want to forecast what Apple is going to introduce in wearables, we need to stop thinking smartphone interface on a watch form factor. Think monitor on a computer (Apple II), a mouse on your desk and GUI interface on your screen (Macintosh), a shuttle wheel in your hand (iPod), and a touch interface on glass (iPhone and iPad). If wearables deserve to be a separate category, then they deserve a form of input uniquely suited to their size and form factor.


Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression. ~ Dieter Rams

Good design gets design out of the way. If it’s done right, it seems inevitable. The best designs feel almost as if they were undesigned because they’re just the way you would expect them to be.

The word that comes up over and over again when describing good design is “disappears”. Here are some quotes, to illustrate:

The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don’t really even notice it, so it’s part of everyday life. ~ Bill Gates

I like things that do the job and kind of disappear into my life. ~ Steve Jobs

If it disappears, we know we’ve done it. ~ Craig Federighi

Technology is at its best and its most empowering when it simply disappears ~ Jony Ive

Herein lies another clue for us all. If we want to forecast what Apple is going to introduce in wearables, we need to stop thinking in terms of what the device can do and start thinking in terms of what the device will allow us to do. A well designed wearable will not make us do more. Instead, it will allow us to accomplish more while we do less. It will not impose its way of doing things upon us. Rather, it will allow us to impose our way of doing, upon those things, that we need done.


It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept. ~ Dieter Rams

Here is Steve Jobs, describing the iMac in 2002:

(Why not) let each element be true to itself? If the screen is flat, let it be flat. If the computer wants to be horizontal, let it be horizontal.

Now compare that sentiment to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, in one-handed operation mode. Ironically, in the image below, the one-handed mode is being demoed with the use of two hands.


— Not honest.
— Not true to itself.
— Not good design.


Abraham Maslow said: “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.” The same is true of devices. Good design doesn’t make a device better than it is. It doesn’t even make a device better. Good design fulfills a device’s destiny. It makes it what is and what it was always meant to be.

If we want to forecast what Apple is going to introduce in wearables, we need to think about allowing a wearable to be true to itself. A wearable will be small. A wearable may be in contact with our body. A wearable will be persistent. A wearable will be proximate. Does a monitor — which is large and battery draining — work within the constraints of small and persistent? I doubt it.

We need to stop thinking “watch” and start thinking sensors (which are small and in contact with our body) ID (which is persistent) information, payments and security (which is proximate). In fact, we need to stop thinking about what a wearable can DO and start thinking about the WHERE of wearables. Wearables may not need to DO anything at all. They may just need to be in the same place and space that we are. That may be their true calling. And that may be more than enough to make them invaluable.


It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society. ~ Dieter Rams

There has been much talk in the tech press of Apple becoming more of a fashion shop.

Might Apple have a future as a fashion conglomerate? – CNET

Apple Has Gone Full-Fashion With Its Newest Executive Hire – Refinery29

Apple Looks to Fashion as it Preps for iWatch – Esquire

I think this talk is misguided.

The following epitomizes fashion:

Fashion is something that goes in one year and out the other. ~ Denise Klahn

Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months. ~ Oscar Wilde

Fashion is made to become unfashionable. ~ Coco Chanel

Apple is a Design Shop. Design is about style. Design is about aesthetics. Design is about long lasting.

Fashions change, but style is forever. ~ Anonymous

Fashion changes, style remains. ~ Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel

Good design doesn’t date. ~ Harry Seidler

Design IS beautiful, not because it tries to be, but because it MUST be:

When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty … but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong. ~ R. Buckminster Fuller


CAPTION: If it looks well, it flies well — aesthetics and performance relate.

I think this may provide us with the biggest clue as to what Apple is NOT going to do in wearables. If we want to forecast what Apple is going to introduce in wearables, we need to stop thinking “watch” and we need to stop thinking “fashion.” Apple will not create a device that is decorative and a slave to fashion. Fashion changes far too quickly. Apple will seek, instead, to make something that is long lasting and enduring. That most probably means an Apple wearable will be restrained, unobtrusive, barely noticeable, virtually invisible.


Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity. ~ Dieter Rams

Robert Browning said, “less is more” ((Popularized by the German-born American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe)) and there is a lot of truth contained in that pithy paradoxical platitude. However, when it comes to design, I much prefer Dieter Rams’ “less, but better”. It encapsulates — in three words — the concept of good design being as little design as possible.

Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures. ~ Tom Peters

What is left out … is as important as, if not more important than, what is put in. ~ Katherine Paterson

See it big, and keep it simple. ~ Wilferd A. Peterson

‘Think simple’ as my old master used to say – meaning reduce the whole of its parts into the simplest terms…. ~ Frank Lloyd Wright

[pullquote] Good design subtracts features yet increases functionality[/pullquote]

Features add complexity. Complexity adds functionality. Good design is paradoxical. It subtracts features while simultaneously increasing functionality. A good design finds an elegant way to put all the features you need in. A great design leaves half those features out. ((Inspired by Mike Monteiro (@Mike_FTW)))

A work is perfectly finished only when nothing can be added to it and nothing taken away. ~ Joseph Joubert

Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away… ~ Antoine De Saint-exupery

The philosophy (at Apple) was never stated, but it was this: Get rid of all the junk you didn’t need. ~ Tom Suiter, director of Apple creative services ((Excerpt From: Max Chafkin. “Design Crazy.”))

If we want to forecast what Apple is going to introduce in wearables, we need to stop thinking “features”, need to start thinking essentials and need to focus on minimalism — doing the most with the least. That’s why I think an Apple wearable will be more like a band than a watch. But no matter what form the Apple wearable takes, look for it to be less than you expect, yet do more than you might initially anticipate.


There are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for. – Milton Glaser

There are no “wow” wearable devices on the market today. In fact, I’d venture to say our initial reaction to today’s wearables has been closer to “Yikes!”

The future lies in designing and selling computers that people don’t realize are computers at all. ~ Adam Osborne

Let me repeat that, because I love it so much. The future lies in designing and selling computers that people don’t realize are computers at all.

That about says it all, so I’ll say little more. We won’t have to guess when wearabables get it right. We’ll simply know, because we’ll stop thinking about how much better wearables have become and start thinking, instead, about how much better our lives have become.

Post Script

Thoughts on my thoughts? Leave a comment, below, or contact me on Twitter @johnkirk.

Our Wearable Future: Lessons Unlearned

On June 27th, Tim Bajarin wrote an excellent article on wearables entitled “Understanding Apple’s Wearable Strategy“. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to take the time to read it, or re-read it, now.

trap Tim’s article got me thinking. We’ve been down the “new categories” road before but we always seem to get it wrong. I wondered why. So I took a step back and drew up an ad hoc list of lessons unlearned from the past in the hope that — as we peer into the future of the wearables category — we might avoid falling into the same traps as we have before.


Let’s start our examination of wearables with a joke:

Three tech pundits walk into a forest and soon find a pair of tracks.

— The first pundit says, ‘I think they’re deer tracks.’
— The second pundit says, ‘No, I think they’re bear tracks.’
— The third pundit says, You’re both wrong! They’re bird tracks!’

Then they got hit by a train.

Despite all of their bravado, most pundits haven’t got a clue as to what’s coming in wearables and they won’t know what’s coming until it figuratively hits them. I mean, did they get the iPod right? The iPhone? The iPad? No, no and no. I rest my case.

Lesson #1: Don’t Get Distracted By Pundit Predictions


We think the future will be a linear extension of the present. It won’t be.

Which reminds me of another joke.


No! Not that joke. This joke.

Q: What do you call a dog with no legs?

A: It doesn’t matter, it’s not going to come anyway.

Follow-up question:

Q: What do you call the current crop of smart-watches?
A: It doesn’t matter, they’ve got no “legs” either.

I’ve heard people say some really nice things about the recently released Android smart watches. Shame! Shame on them! Those smartwatches are not magic, they’re tragic! Today’s smartwatches will have as much in common with tomorrow’s smart solutions as Cro-Magnon man has in common with today’s Homo Sapiens. Today’s smartwatches are the tablets of 2001; the smartphones of 2006 — doomed to extinction the moment we’re shown how it’s properly done.


Lesson #2: The Future Will Look Nothing Like The Present


So how about yet another joke?

Give me golf clubs, fresh air and a beautiful partner, and you can keep the clubs and the fresh air. ~ Jack Benny

Sometimes less is more. Jack Benny was wise enough to know what was important and he discarded the rest. The same is true in wearables. Wearables will become essential when designers focus on the important and discard the rest.

Today’s wearables are trying to be everything to everyone. They’re a watch and a notification center and a camera and a voice communicator and a health monitor and a payment center, etc, etc, etc. I may not know what the future of wearables will be, but I know what it won’t be, and that is all things to all people. Further, wearables will not be both a floor wax and a dessert topping.

Today’s smartwatches are like yesterday’s failed netbooks. Just as PC manufacturers tried to cram the functionality of a full sized PC into a smaller, cheaper netbook, today’s smartphone manufacturers are trying to cram a full sized smartphone into a smaller, cheaper watch. They’re not creating new features, they’re duplicating the old features (notifications, picture taking, etc.) and implementing those features on a smaller and harder to use device. What’s the sense in that?

The key to the iPad wasn’t that it duplicated the functionality of the PC. It was that it did some things much, much better than the PC and it did other things well that the PC did poorly or did not do at all. What do today’s smartwatches do much, much better than a phone? And what do today’s smartwatches do that you couldn’t do just as well and just as easily on a phone? Absolutely nothing.

Technology is at its best and its most empowering when it simply disappears ~ Jony Ive

Exactly. The technology in today’s smartwatches is intrusive. The technology in the iPad disappeared. With a smartwatch, we have to learn how to use it. With an iPad, we already knew how to use it. A smartwatch seems more like a burden than a boon. An iPad feels more like a delight than a device.

Re-read Tim Bajarin’s article and look at the manner in which the Disney smart bracelet was used. It didn’t have to be learned. And it wasn’t intrusive. It was just there, present, almost invisible — patiently waiting to be utilized at exactly the moment when its utility was most useful. And then — like magic — it seemingly faded into the background and disappeared — until it was needed once again.

Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products. ~ Steve Jobs

The smart-watch — like the iPad — will do much less than we imagined. And it will, therefore, do much more than we could ever have imagined. As world-famous designer Braun Dieter put it:

Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.

Lesson #3: Good design is as little design as possible

Time To Learn Concept


Which reminds me of one last joke:

A MAN WALKS INTO A BAR in Cork, Ireland, and asks the barman, ‘What’s the quickest way to get to Dublin?’

‘Are you walking or driving?’ asks the barman.

‘Driving,’ says the man.

‘That’s the quickest way,’ says the barman.

As Bertrand Russell put it:

The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

Most smartwatch companies are doing it backwards. They’re preserving the problems to which they are the solution. What they’re SUPPOSED to be doing is starting with the customer and working their way backwards. And even then, they have to be careful not to become so focused on the solution they overlook opportunities to reconsider the problem.

We’ll know they’ve cracked it when they come up with something we don’t need, but can’t live without.

Lesson #4: The Smartwatch Will Not Solve Today’s Problems, It Will, Instead, Present Tomorrow’s Solutions.

Rebuttal: Why Android Wear Is Not the Beginning of the Wearable Devices Era

Molly Wood, writing for the New York Times, thinks that Android Wear is the beginning of the wearable devices era.

I doubt that.

The Line Of Reasoning

This is Woods’ argument in a nutshell:

1) Nascent technology needs a platform to be successful.

2) Android Wear gives wearables that platform.

3) The availability of an operating system for wearables will lead to an almost immediate boom in device development.

4) The hardest thing about creating a platform is creating the software.

5) By offloading the development of the platform to Google, the smart watch makers can get down to making devices people actually want to wear.

6) The mockups are hot…

7) Ecosystems matter and Android is currently the most popular ecosystem in the world.

8) Android Wear will jump-start the wearables industry in a meaningful way.

9) Apple just fell a little farther behind.

There are, in my opinion, lots of holes in Woods’ argument, but let’s just focus on two: First To Market and the Job To Be Done.

First To Market

First, let’s address the ludicrous argument that “Apple just fell a little farther behind.”

It’s not who’s “first” that matters, it’s who gets it right first that matters. Microsoft was ten years ahead of Apple with their tablet solution but none of that mattered because the iPad was the first to get it right. Smartphones were years ahead of Apple’s iPhone but, again, it meant nothing because they were on the wrong path. Their supposed “lead” in smartphones evaporated seemingly overnight as first Palm, then Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, then Nokia’s Symbian and finally RIM’s Blackberry rode off into the sunset.

A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five. ~ Groucho Marx

I mean, seriously, why are we still having this sort of discussion? The press is so damn anxious to see who’s first, they never seem to bother to ask themselves: “First at what?” And that reminds me of a joke:

    A shark comes home covered in fresh blood. Pretty soon all the other sharks smell the blood and begin to hassle him about where he’s been hunting. He told them to go away and let him get some sleep but they persisted until finally he gave in. “OK, follow me” he said and swam out with hundreds of sharks behind him. Farther and farther and farther they swam. Finally the bloody shark slowed down and all the other sharks excitedly milled around him. “Now, do you see that boat over there?” he asked. “Yes”, they all responded as one. “And do you see that propeller on the other side of the boat?” “Yes, Yes, Yes!” the sharks all screamed in a frenzy. “Good” said the bloody shark, “Because I sure as hell didn’t!”

MORAL: Being first is not always best. If you smell blood in the water, it may be your own.


[pullquote]Confound those who have made our comments before us. ~ Aelius Donatus[/pullquote]

At this point I was going to ask a bunch of questions, but the inimitable Jean-Louis Gassée beat me to it with his Monday Note entitled: “Wearables Fever.”

As Monsieur Gassée so aptly put it:

    “Smartwatches and other wearables produce more pageviews than profits.”

So let’s turn our attention away from the many questions that dog wearables and focus instead on the one question that really matters:

What Job Are Wearables Being Hired To Do?

Let’s return to my summary of Molly Woods’ argument:

    “5) By offloading the development of the platform to Google, the smart watch makers can get down to making devices people actually want to wear.”

That sounds very, very backwards to me — a problem seeking a solution.

Do you remember Google TV? Well neither does anyone else. Google TV was supposed to revolutionize TV viewing. Google made the software and its partners made the hardware. It was perfect except for the fact that no one in their right mind wanted it or needed it.

largePundits get so caught up in technology, that they forget that the technology has to serve a purpose and that the purpose is defined by the user — not the creator — of the technology. The dog at right is standing on a “platform.” It’s an amazing trick. But so what? It’s just a trick, not a sustainable platform. Amazing is not enough. Amazing is a novelty, soon to wear thin. For a product to be successful, it has to be both useful and desirable.

Steve Jobs reminds us of what matters:

The technology isn’t the hard part. The hard part is, what’s the product? Or, who’s the customer? ~ Steve Jobs

So again: “What job is the wearable being hired to do?”

Vendors want to sell features, but customers want to buy benefits. For example, hardware stores try to sell us drills, while we, the potential customers, are trying to buy holes. We don’t care about a products features, we only care about its benefits.

The question then is, what “hole” in our lives does Android Wear seek fill? Again, Steve Jobs gives us a clue:

It’s really great when you show somebody something and you don’t have to convince them they have a problem this solves. They know they have a problem, you can show them something, they go, “oh, my God, I need this.” ~ Steve Jobs

If you can tell me what job Android Wear Is going to be hired to do and by whom it is going to be hired to do it, then I may well change my tune. But if Android Wear is Google’s answer to wearables, then I think Google may need to change their question.

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions. ~ Naguib

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

Is It a Watch or Something Else?

I was asked to come onto the CNBC Closing Bell segment to discuss the smartwatch hype and rumors. I’m on with my friend and analyst colleague Roger Kay, so that is why he took a friendly jab at me. I’ve been all over the world with Roger and have some detailed stories to tell about him during our travels to Amsterdam *evil grin*.

My main point is that this whole smart watch hype is being thought about all wrong. Time keeping is not the core value proposition. We have brought this up a number of times here at Tech.pinions so to our regular readers that will not be a surprise.

If you have a few minutes and want to see the dialogue, here it is. Would love to hear what everyone thinks.