This is the third in my series about the Apple Watch. Read the others:
Apple previewed their 2015 Apple Watch this week, and I’m not entirely convinced that they have a hit on their hands. Rather than a transformative punch, Apple showed an unfocused product that can’t figure out just what it’s supposed to be. The software side can improve dramatically before launch, but what about the physical design?
The Fashion Function
A watch is a piece of jewelry, not a timekeeping device. People wear jewelry both to edify themselves and to tell the world something about them. “I’m a rich guy with a gold Rolex!” “I’m engaged; see my diamond?” “This bracelet has beads representing my kids!” “My dive watch says I’m James Bond crossed with Jacques Cousteau!”
One thing seriously lacking in current smart watches is design. The Pebble and Galaxy Gear are actually pretty cool, functionally. But what they say is this: “I care more about what this thing does than how it looks.” This is great for nerds but a total non-starter for the larger population.
This is why Apple hired fashion and jewelry veterans over the last few years and why the Apple Watch’s most important feature is its interchangeable strap system. Apple knows people will want to express their individuality by customizing the look of their Watch, and they’re making this possible and seeding the market with a few well-designed options.
I expect a dizzying assortment of Watch straps to appear in short order, with the most prestigious fashion houses leading the pack. Expect Hermes, Gucci, and Coach straps, Tiffany bracelets, and a whole raft of silicone and nylon sports options. And plenty of cheap knock-offs besides! The iPhone case market is only the tip of this iceberg.
It was absolutely critical that these fashion straps connect with a desirable centerpiece, and this is where I feel Apple fell short. The Watch itself is a rectangular blob that sits too high on the wrist. It has a quality feel by all accounts, and this was critical for success. But that doesn’t make up for a general “meh” look.
Compared to the current leaders in High Horology, which universally incorporate lines and creases for accent, the Apple Watch looks like a melted popsicle. Jony Ive and company really missed the mark in terms of styling, and the Watch is simply too large to overlook this aspect. Apple could easily have done a Bauhaus cylinder, Zaratsu facets, or asymmetry/techno, but they chose “bland and round” instead.
Interestingly, the hardware engineering is perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Apple Watch. The slide-in strap system is a wonderful enhancement over the pin bar system currently used for watches. And the electro-mechanical crown is a real gem. But it’s the lovely ceramic back that steals the show for me. It’s gorgeous in the way that the best watch case backs are gorgeous. Not that anyone will see it, though.
None of this is insurmountable. Apple is an iterative company, not just an innovative one, and the Watch will be refined and updated as its core use case becomes clearer. But this will not happen without solid sales, and sales of a $350+ smart watch are the company’s biggest challenge. In my next piece I’ll address how Apple can steal a page from the luxury watch industry to start an avalanche of sales.