Waxing Philosophical about the Apple Watch

I’ve had the Apple Watch for nearly 45 days and thought I’d offer some updated thinking. Consider this a brain dump for the time being. Be warned this post is also a little lengthy.

I’d like to talk more in a philosophical sense about the product and use that as a framework to see how a wrist-based computer can add value to everyday life.

What is a Watch?

A common strand among many sharing their experiences publicly about the Apple Watch is, at its core, it’s “just a watch”. I believe this thread is being highlighted because, on a philosophical level, this statement is exactly true. The evolution of keeping time was wrapped contextually in information, not just time. The display of “time” was simply the front end. “What time is it?” is a question with deeper context. Time is needed because it is relevant to someone for a specific reason. The entire philosophy behind time at a glance was for efficiency in the context. I need the time because I have to be somewhere. I need the date/time because I need to plant or harvest crops. The information time provides is relative.

Philosophically, the Apple Watch accomplishes this same feat. The information it displays at a glance is relative. “I need to know this because of this.” I need to know who is emailing me because some emails are more timely than others. I need to know the weather so I can dress accordingly. I need to know who is calling or texting me so I know if I need to drop what I am doing and respond. I could name many other uses for the information provided at a glance based on context but you get the point.

The most common response of the naysayers is you can do all of this with your smartphone. Absolutely true. However, it is faster, more convenient, and eliminates the friction of having to pull your phone out of your pocket, bag, purse, or hunt it down from where it sits in the other room of your house. All the little friction points the Apple Watch eliminates add up over time and, as the product evolves, it will eliminate even more friction points. Payments, security, unlocking my home or a car door, and a host of other things are possible.

Ben Thompson mentioned a similar point on his podcast about keyless entry. His story includes a car he purchased that had keyless entry. You can just walk up to the car with your key in your pocket or purse and, without having to push a button, the car unlocks. While it is perfectly possible to use the key, you walk away from that experience wondering why you ever had to use a key in the first place. Similarly with my August smart lock. Yes it is pricey, for now, but my house now automatically locks and unlocks with my presence or lack thereof. You walk away wondering why it hasn’t been like this forever since having to put a key in the door and turn it seems so antiquated after your first experience. These are the kinds of things that mount up with the Apple Watch. I’m washing dishes and having a text conversation with my friend. There are funny emoji and odd words being exchanged. He is typing on his smartphone and I am using Siri to dictate messages. I was not going to stop washing dishes, wash soap off my hands, and then dry them just to have this conversation, as entertaining as it was. Yet, you experience this and wonder where this feature has been all your life. It is all these little short interactions that use to only exist on your smartphone and the burden of having to operate, hold, and even just be in the presence of it to get value. Now many of those interactions move to the wrist and many small friction points get erased.

Philosophically the Apple Watch is a watch. It displays contextually relevant information at a glance.

Apple Watch and Options

Another critical point that stood out to me is how the Apple Watch presents another option to interact and engage with the digital world. If you recall your first iPhone, it likely altered your behavior from your PC which, up to this point, was your primary interaction point with the internet and the digital world. As you settled into the value of a pocket computer, you began to realize you had more options available to you than just your PC. Now, you can leave the confines of your PC and go out into the world and still get email! Profound. The smartphone opened up more possibilities. You can browse and search the web from anywhere, not just your PC. Very similarly, the Apple Watch has given me another option to interact with the digital world via a computer. This is the untethering from my iPhone experience I mentioned in my initial article on the Apple Watch.

A call comes in and my phone is in the other room. Rather than rush downstairs or to the other room, I can look at the Apple Watch and answer or ignore. I have a new option available that didn’t exist before thanks to this smart piece of glass on my wrist.. I need to call or text my wife. Now I just raise my wrist and say, “Siri text Jen” or “Siri call Jen”. Another option is now available thanks to my wrist computer. Oddly, I even prefer notifications on my wrist than on any other screen I’m looking at, including my PC. I’ve turned off all notifications on my Mac. I’ve simply moved the notifications from the upper right of my Mac screen to my wrist. For whatever reason, I prefer this option and feel it lets me focus more on what I’m doing on the PC. Seems odd but I like it.

With each new screen we add to our lives, we also add another way to engage with the digital world. Each screen may shine at certain things. Our TVs are great for long form content and communal viewing because they have large screens. Our PCs are good, and designed for, long form engagements and heavy computing tasks. Our smartphones are good at being the most portable and capable computer we have with us at all times. The smartwatch is good at contextually relevant information at a glance. The more screens we let into our lives, the more options to interact and engage we have.

Apps

Many have pointed out some things I’ve been addressing since the beginning of my Apple Watch experience. Most apps have not been re-invisioned for the small screen. Apps add a great deal of value and there are certainly experiences from Yelp, Uber, CityMapper, Bloomberg News, and others where they did focus on the “seconds of interaction” paradigm. Many developers rushed to get an app out to capitalize on the initial Apple Watch app gold rush and didn’t have time to live with the Watch and see how it integrated into their lives and their app experience. I expect this to get better but I’m also intrigued by the outcome of this developer exercise.

To make a solid Apple Watch app, developers will need to trim the fat. Narrow their app down to the very basics. Chipotle did this with their burrito button for fast ordering of your pre-set favorite burrito. Uber similarly did it with the one button press to request a car. These apps narrowed their small screen experience to the basic essentials to get value from their service. What is interesting to think about is, as developers go through this exercise, might it impact their iPhone apps as well? Will this exercise perhaps make their iPhone apps even better and more efficient? Perhaps these minimal, yet useful, interactions, which the Watch shines at, will have positive impacts on the efficiency of iPhone apps making them better and the overall experience even more delightful and useful. Furthermore, as these developers focus on the interactions that matter, and perhaps maximize efficiency, we may waste less time in the app. Less time in the app is not good for adverting supported models which means there is a possibility these improved apps may not extend to the Android ecosystem where many make money on built-in ads. Perhaps the wedge driving further between the app models of iOS and Android. This is pure speculation but an interesting reality to think through.

Living with the Watch

What strikes me about the Apple Watch is what I feel many public reviewers got wrong. My friend Benedict Evans and I were discussing this and he made the point that, to truly grasp the value of the Watch, you have to stop trying to review it and let it blend into your life. Ben Thompson made a similar point on his podcast and I fully agree with both of them. It isn’t until you stop trying to think through every part of the Watch but let it integrate into your everyday life that you start to grasp the value. What this points out, however, is how this process takes time. The challenge that lies within is how difficult it is to experience in a short demo at an Apple Store. You need a week or more to truly grasp its value and this is not accomplished in 15 min. The sharpest comments coming out from folks with the Watch are the ones who share their experience after many weeks of use.

What this observation signals to me is how the adoption cycle of the Apple Watch will simply be slower. I have written about this here, but the basic point is this product will likely ramp slower than the iPad, which took off like a rocket. More like a slow steady growth curve. Perhaps it will look more like this.

IMG_0039

A slower adoption cycle also fits my initial thesis about the Apple Watch. Traditionally when brand new, I mean really brand new, experiences come to market they take a while to trickle down the adoption curve. There is debate about the viability of the adoption cycle logic. Sometimes it applies and others times, it doesn’t. However, something truly new does take time for consumers to grasp its value. This is why I feel it may apply to the Apple Watch and the cycle may be more of a slow burn than a fast one like iPad.

The argument about tech and gadget reviewers and their influence on the mass market is a sound debate. My wife, a traditional late adopter, and many of her friends never read gadget blogs. They do however, influence each other. The interest of our close friends in the Apple Watch is already more than I anticipated. But their interest is due to her sharing her experience and what she likes about it. Many of them can relate to her stories and hence they see the value, since they can see themselves in her use cases. This is how this product will move into the mass market. Word of mouth is the primary source of network effects.

While this post was a bit long I still, surprisingly, have a lot to say about the Apple Watch. Particularly around how social and familial groups integrate it into their lives. More Apple Watch philosophy for another time.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

17 thoughts on “Waxing Philosophical about the Apple Watch”

  1. The most meaningful point I’ve heard yet on the value of the Apple Watch is what happens when you forget to put it on. I empathize with your sentiment and can identify with just about all of your use-case scenarios. When I step back and think about it, the Apple Watch stands alone in terms of how fast and how deep it embedded itself in my daily routine. I’ve come to rely on it for texting, directions, reminders, my calendar, and managing my tasks. My iPhone stays in my pocket upwards of 90% of the time yet I’m more informed than ever. It’s almost alarming how well the Apple Watch plugs holes you didn’t know were there.

  2. I’d like to hear if you have any thoughts on how the fashion aspect will affect the adoption speed of Apple Watch.

    My observation is that because you are wearing it on a very visible part of your body (especially as we go into the summer in the northern hemisphere), lots of people notice. Even non-techies, women and children. Interestingly, more than half of the people call it an “iWatch” instead of an “Apple Watch”, so they clearly aren’t paying close attention, but are only casually hearing about the device.

    Additionally, since fashion tends to have fast cycles (or so I think), I am wondering if these kind of things could push the adoption curve forward.

  3. “…but my house now automatically locks and unlocks with my presence or lack thereof. You walk away wondering why it hasn’t been like this forever since having to put a key in the door and turn it seems so antiquated after your first experience.”

    I can think of a few scenarios but I’d need to know more.

    When the power goes out do the door default to “locked” or to “unlocked”?

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