This is the second post on Apple’s Watch. Also read:
Although it won’t be available for purchase for months, Apple just announced the new standard in smart watches and wearable computers. The Apple Watch is not yet a transformative product, at least on first look. Instead, it’s the leading entrant in the existing smart watch market.
A Hodgepodge of Features
Is Apple’s Watch transformative? Will it change how people live and interact? Will it be the platform of the next ten years’ innovation? Or is it a punt on Apple’s part, a first-generation idea?
Read Apple Watch: Asking Why and Saying No by Ben Thompson for more on this topic
Apple is apparently not clear on what the Watch will be. Their pitch focused on the portable display and time-telling aspect, communications, health monitoring, and fashionable design. It is unclear if any of these are truly interesting to the mass market, which has many other choices in all these areas. In fact, most consumers happily use an iPhone to perform all of these tasks!
Let’s set aside fashion for a moment and focus on function. The Apple Watch tells the time in amusing and colorful ways, but this isn’t really a compelling function in our modern clock-filled world. It’s perverse that Tim Cook chose to lead off his presentation with timing accuracy, since this is about the least-interesting aspect of the Watch for most people!
Software and Interface
The Apple Watch has an intriguing interface based on a combination of touch, tap, voice, and mechanical controls, including a novel electro-mechanical crown and “taptic” feedback. This combination looks like an excellent advance in the segment and puts it a generation ahead of competitors from Pebble, Motorola, and Samsung. But it remains to be seen how accurate and usable this interface will be with real applications.
The graphical interface and included applications are a hodgepodge of functions uncharacteristic of Apple. The “home screen” is an eye-test of tiny colorful icons that give no sense for the “tent pole” applications. Without the dock to highlight frequently-used apps (as on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac OS X), the Watch sends a message of uncertainty. “Buy this and use it for stuff,” is all it says. A simple interface more like the iPod Shuffle would have been much more usable.
The demonstrated communications applications aren’t all that compelling to me. Only lovesick teenagers are likely to use the heartbeat and sketch sharing functions. The AI-driven text message response system is innovative, but ideas like this rarely work in practice. Then there’s the custom giant emoji. Really, Apple?
Health monitoring is one area that has “worked” for wearables. Lots of normal people buy and use FitBit health monitors and the like. And integrating these into a daily-wear watch is a good idea, especially with the innovative triple-circle daily monitor concept. But the Apple Watch is so large, heavy, and expensive I wonder if people will use it for real exercise. And the battery likely won’t last all day anyway.
The current Apple Watch doesn’t look that great. Apple previewed an unfocused product that needs quite a bit more development to be “insanely great.” Perhaps the software situation will improve by launch time, with Apple figuring out just what this thing is supposed to be and focusing on that. But it’s doubtful that the physical design will be altered much. That’s the topic for my next post in this series: The Fashion Function.