Category Archives: Apple Watch

Professor Maslow, your Apple Watch is ready

With reviewer embargoes lifted, pre-ordering started, and thousands of people trying on the Watch every minute, the debate about the need for these devices has become more pronounced. For me, I’m much more interested in whether it actually works.

Probably the best review out there is Nilay Patel’s from The Verge. It uses the day in the life method to show the watch at work across a variety of realistic scenarios. He’s very thoughtful, and they produced a video to go along with it…well worth it.

Of course there is the usual chatter out there about feeds and speeds — and battery life — versus various alternatives, but we all know improvement will not stop, and in five years, smartwatches will be thinner, more capable and possibly dominated by use cases we don’t even know about now. Refreshingly, gadget enthusiasts don’t worry about “need” because that’s totally besides the point. Annoyingly, they aren’t satisfied with simply saying they prefer something, instead insisting on telling you why your choices suck.

“Needs” — beyond, you know, Maslow’s physiological, safety and security categories — are  pretty damn subjective and relative, and I find it amusing that some people seem to be taking a strong stand with this watch.

Take the Incremental convenience provided by Watch: you no longer need to fish your phone out of your purse or pocket to get something done, or to triage a notification.

Yes, it’s only a couple of seconds saved from a task that you could do better on the phone. Yes, you are a pathetic dopamine addict who can’t possibly miss the latest cat video or selfie from someone who matters to you at the moment.

But so what? Did putting a piece of paper between each cheese slice hurt someone? What about the cordless phone? Or automatic buttons in cars? What about the $20,000 for an extra 100 horsepower in a car? Our culture is full of stuff that isn’t needed to survive..but is better.

Per above, my larger concern with the watch is user experience. I don’t mind buying toys, but I want them to actually work. If Apple can’t figure out how to solve the latency of loading data from the iPhone on which it’s dependent, then I’ll probably skip this version altogether. Is it non-optimized code, or does it have to do with the (presumably un-upgradeable) S1 chip?

Apple Watch Bits: fighting the Phone Zombies

Leave it to Apple to build a fat business solving a problem that it played the most prominent role in creating: the now common tic of relentlessly checking one’s phone.

It’s so rampant in my family (see picture), that at times I call the kids “Phone Zombies” — eliciting the desired protests, and briefly halting the behavior.

phonezombies2

Phone Zombies not being in the moment

I do think this is related to the purpose of Watch. Is Apple trying to drive its products into the few moments of waking life that it doesn’t already serve? Or is it intentionally cannibalizing its own customer connection on the iPhone screen in favor of easier, less disruptive Watch glances and touches? Is the Watch a new category, or is it a more convenient and less socially disruptive accessory of the iPhone? I think it’s more of the latter, even though it will be an incremental, multi-billion dollar business.

It’s always been rude to surreptiously check one’s watch in the middle of a conversation: most often you can’t hide it, and at minimum it signals that one’s not paying full attention. At worst it signals boredom. Watch will not solve this issue. But it might bring the zombies back into a more mindful state.

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The 2nd Watch launch event the other day held few surprises. Most analysts had already dissected the tech, the likely use cases, and especially the pricing. @Gruber in particular got pretty close, and I think convinced a lot of people ahead of time that a $10K+ version was not outlandish in the luxury watch / fashion business.

A few notable bits from the event, and the commentary that followed on the web:

Focusing on style

Most people probably thought it a throw away line, but Tim Cook offered something that I think is the primary driver of much of Apple’s effort around design and fashion:

“Apple Watch is the most personal device we have ever created. It’s not just with you, it’s on you. And since what you wear is an expression of who you are, we’ve designed Apple Watch to appeal to a whole variety of people with different tastes and different preferences.”

Geeks are a tiny minority, and most people don’t like wearing hideous things. That’s even more true of geeks that are women. The Android Wear collective will struggle to break into the mainstream.

Various things about the device

Memory: what’s notable is the total lack of focus on specs. There’s some memory aboard, but it’s limited. Nobody knows exactly how 8GB of memory translates into Watch apps or songs songs stored, and frankly few people care right now. Anybody comparing speeds and feeds of the Watch to Android Wear are entirely missing the point.

Metal: Probably fluffery, but Apple made three videos to explain the superiority of their metals. Jony Ive narrated manufacturing porn. Stainless steel that’s 80% harder than what? My fridge door? Or Rolex’s surgical steel?

Water resistance: it turns out that it’s IPX7 certified..which means you can submerge it in your bathtub for 30 minutes. All those people who were insisting a smartwatch must be shower proof should be ok now.

Battery: if you were expecting Apple to ship a watch that wouldn’t, with normal usage, get you through a day, then, well, no one can help you. It turns out you’ll be fine if you sleep 6 hours or more every night and plug it in during that time (as I do with my iPhone). I don’t sleep with a watch on, but some people do, and so maybe this is a show stopper for them. Also, Apple announced that the battery would be replaceable, pushing off obsolescence just a bit. (I still wonder whether the chip — and even the sensor pack — might be upgradeable).

Weight: depending on the type of metal and case size, the Watch weights cases span 25 to 69 grams, with the aluminum 38mm Sport being the lightest, and Edition the heaviest. I have a stainless steel mechanical watch, and the case weighs roughly 50 grams…just like the Watch in stainless. A Polar exercise watch, including the integrated strap, weighs 56grams.  I’m guessing a little, but I think the Watch Sport will be on the light side for a fitness watch given what it does (if you don’t count the iPhone you need to schlep along). I hope no one is planning on running with a gold watch for other reasons.

Pricing: tons of coverage out there of the various permutations, and no need to go over it in depth here. Suffice it to say that if you want to try the Version 1.0 Watch (which will relentlessly get thinner, lighter and more capable over the next couple of years) then you’re looking at $349. That is what I think I’ll do.

Any press is good press (Pebble knocks-off Watch)

You have to love how scrappy Pebble is in the face of Apple’s Watch deluge.

Via Techradar

If I’m Pebble, I’m probably trying to get across several hard-hitting points relative to Apple:

  • We are more affordable
  • We have excellent battery life
  • We have great integration with the apps that matter to you
  • We are pioneers in the space with true geek cred
  • The delicious self-righteousness you felt about those status-obsessed losers with their Rolexes you’ll be able to feel when you wear your Pebble
  • Sure, we do “fashion” to a point. Beyond this point you are trying too hard.

I think it’s brilliant David v. Goliath marketing.

“Sitting is the new cancer”

“A lot of doctors believe sitting is the new cancer” — Tim Cook, Apple, February 10, 2015

So much for Apple having a difficult time simplifying the basic need (not want) of the Apple Watch. Buy this or die.

Maybe Apple Watch it isn’t about providing a better experience for the .001% of iPhone users who (actually) use Strava or Endomondo.  Those are highly involved apps/services that enable the already super motivated to quantify their awesomeness. From Neil Cybart’s awesome piece about Apple spending the last several years building a wearable device with a wide moat:

The fitness industry had been one of the leading purveyors of the wearable industry. Nike exited the space in 2014, most likely in recognition of moving beyond a core competency and spending resources on not only the wrong bets, but at the wrong casino. The primary problem facing fitness companies and wearables is that fitness is niche. Appealing to fitness tracking limits the use case even further.

Fitness is a much smaller market than health. Maybe Apple Watch is about keeping the large percent of the 650MM+ people in the Apple ecosystem from becoming sedentary and fat as in the movie Wall-E. If 90% of Apple owners who don’t stand up frequently enough do so because the haptic tap tap reminder, that’s pretty cool. Also a good way of keeping customers….around.

Apple Watch Bits 1.15.2015

The design and developer community is beginning to really dig in as we get closer to Apple Watch market release, and cool concepts are being floated. A lot of people were skeptical about the watch around its launch, not really understanding its utility differentiation from the phone and tablet form factors.  But I think Apple was right to trust the development community to come up with far more creative ideas than Apple could itself.  I’ll try to highlight some cool things as I see them:

A calendar watch concept by Alex Deruette. In line with whole theme of information glance-ability, this design does one thing very well…it is optimized for the use case of needing to quickly figure out when you have a schedule gap.  Simple, useful.

AppleWatchCalendar

 

His idea is to provide meeting detail in the swipe screens.

Apple Watch Bits 10.18.2014

Full disclosure: I like mechanical watches, and have since I was a little kid. My Uncle Fritz had an Omega Speedmaster that he let me wear a bit when I was eight and living in Germany. I own a couple of nice automatics: both beautiful, wildly inaccurate, and daily doses of non-digital “old” tech.

Having now digested the watch’s introduction and read a fair bit of very smart analysis (in particular @Gruber, @GTE’s Debug Podcast, Horace’s War of Attrition, Benjamin Clymer’s great post on Hodinkee) a few things strike me about Apple’s massive new play:

  • I want one, even though it will be a Version 1.0 of something for which I have adequate substitutes.  At this point it’s not 10x better than anything, so congrats Apple.
  • I like the stainless line the best, even though when I jog the weight will feel like I’m running with a Rolex. On the other hand, since I’ll need to bring my iPhone to have GPS and Spotify, maybe I’ll just leave the watch at home. Will Beats introduce a BT headset before the watch arrives?
  • As the reigning priests of “focus” and saying no, Apple may have managed to do something incredible: appeal both to watch snobs and to young people who haven’t felt compelled to put a clock on their wrist. The expensive materials and finishing; the slightly-visible-when-worn engraved text on the bottom; the super high quality bands; the moon phase and solar system watch face “complications”…all nods to fashion and mechanical nerds and important to people who like to express themselves with watches. Apple Pay with a wrist wave; heart beat messaging; Taptic engine; Camera View Remote; health sensors…all tech nerd certified, and perhaps enough to get young people wearing watches. Nice pincer move.
  • Did they actually “miss” the holidays? On one hand, this seems like something they would have avoided at all costs, given that the watch is the most purely consumer device they’ve created since the iPod, and the holidays will be the dominant selling season. On the other, maybe they think Holiday 2015 is the big blow out, and they want to take the time necessary to have a sense of demand by “edition”. Why build 10,000 rose gold watches if you may not sell them?  But all that said, I bet they did miss their original plan.
  • To the extent there is a native watch app business for iOS and Android, I think this may widen the fragmentation gap between iOS and Android.
  • Listening to Horace Dedieu’s Critical Path podcast, the watch’s likely margin structure is very robust. I guess this should be no surprise. Apple revenue is ~$40B a quarter right now, and attractive markets — that are both big enough to matter, and where they can differentiate — are rare. Why jump in with a strategy that’s low margin?
  • Apple left a lot of open questions of course (ahem, battery life). But I think perhaps the single biggest question mark for me is the extent to which people will buy accessories, and whether the device will be upgradeable.
  • Apple has never been shy about charging shocking amounts for plastic accessories, and I’ve no doubt that their bands will have healthy margins, across all price points. I bet the “Milanese Loop” will go for $399 at 80% margin. The “elastomer” bands will yield nice margin (I’m guessing a $79 price at 90% margin).
  • My curiosity about upgrades is driven by the fact that a hunk of gold shouldn’t be obsolete in two years:

1) Why would they have a completely “resin coated” system on a chip if it wasn’t designed to be handled and swapped out by somebody who doesn’t need jeweler’s tools? In two years, you go into the Apple store, and simply swap your S1 for the S3.

2) Do we think that the industry and Apple will improve sensors, or invent new ones, within the next few years? I do, and wonder whether the whole sensor pack can be swapped out. This is more of a reach, but it seems like a pretty core piece of the platform that people are writing to.

  • If you believe that there will be an upgrade business, then Tim and team had to make a really nervy call on the shape/dimension of the watch two plus years ago, knowing they’d be constrained by it for years.
  • And if you believe this, Angela will have her work cut out for her to reengineer the Apple retail experience. I guess it’s possible that Apple would leave the distribution of $10K gold watches to luxury retailers: it would seem weird and awkward to have this bling being sold side by side with what are essentially tools. On the other hand, I’m not sure that Apple would want to sacrifice the hundreds of dollars of margins needed to feed the Wempe and Tourneau’s of the world.

From a financial contribution standpoint, it could be remarkable. Here’s a very amateurish estimate of prices, costs and resulting margins:

awatchmargins

 

If one assumes low single-digit, but growing, penetration of the current iPhone base, then we might see something like this on the top line:

awatchrevenues

 

 

Tim Cook is fond of pointing out that “only Apple” can do the kind of hardware:software integrated design and business model that’s distinguishes its product line these days. The Apple Watch strategy may be far and away the best expression of this to date.

  • Silicon design to yield 24-hour battery life well ahead of the competition
  • Form factor discipline in screen size, sensor uniformity, watch housing, etc. to enable upgrades, accessories and a homogeneous platform for app developers to target
  • Retail innovation, including online configuration, that allows for efficient delivery of an incredible variety of offerings

Even if upgrades are not in the plan, I’m excited to see if they can execute this incredibly ambitious strategy.