Category Archives: Apple

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?

If the iPhone were a car, what kind would it be?


My vote: an Audi A4. Why? High-endish design and performance but not out of reach for a large group of people in the markets they serve. Technology infused brand. Not exotic. Not a spaceship. Dieter Rams would probably approve.

The dam burst this week with rumors that Apple has jumped into the car making fray. Some of it was sparked by images of weird, sensor-encrusted minivans driving around parts of the Bay Area. There were also reports of Tesla and Apple aggressively poaching staff from each other. But the real confirmations came from the WSJ and Reuters, including reports of 100+ Apple people already working on it, with Tim Cook apparently having giving the green light after (presumably failed) M&A conversations with Elon Musk.

The other rumor is that this will be an automatically driven car (which both Google and Tesla are reportedly working on). Perhaps, but I think a robot car is a much more difficult concept for people (and regulators) to embrace than, say, an electric. Just imagine how drivers in Boston would treat one of these robot cars when it doesn’t respond well to one of their crazy ass moves. Naturally, these robot cars would do real well in this.

Of course, Apple has been in the car “business” to varying degrees for years. A small industry of connectors, chargers and mounts has grown up to make the use of phones in cars a bit more convenient (and, maybe, safe). Apple Maps is a major driving use case, as is much of Siri (which still seems odd to use in public when one has two hands available for typing). Perhaps most directly there are Apple’s various efforts at integration, from putting a physical button on the steering wheel to invoke Siri, to full blown CarPlay — essentially an Apple approved in car screen experience (example from Ferrari here).

But making an Apple Car, or an Car, is something else entirely.

It’s one thing to be the maker of a tool that’s distracting a driver. It’s another to make the 3000 lb. vehicle that’s going 80MPH. It’s one thing to make sure that iPhone batteries don’t catch fire. It’s another to crash test a car. If I go into an Apple Store with a defective iPhone, they’ll just give me a new one (because they’re selling 575 per minute per day). Impossible with a car. It’s one thing to adapt an already high design Apple Store to sell watches, and another to stock, sell and maintain cars (electric or otherwise).

For a company with infinite resources, one hundred people qualifies as a toe in the water. Reuters used the term “studying.” For fun, let’s assume that an Car in some form is full go.

One option I suppose is for Apple to do what L.L. Bean did with Subaru, a kind of trim package on an otherwise well established product. Partner with a manufacturer that can provide a chassis + body with sufficient quality/performance to match well with an Apple experience built on top. It would arguably need to be near best of breed but capable of selling very broadly. The supplier would also have to be willing to subordinate its brand to Apple’s. I don’t see a long list of candidate partners, let alone it being a compelling product.

Another option of course would be to go full on Tesla mode, offering a car that is 100% Apple. This appears to have been Tim Cook’s Plan A, and apparently Musk didn’t like the offer (note to self: buy TSLA).

While they have enough cash parked offshore to buy both BMW and Daimler, I just don’t think that Apple would bother with a company whose assets and expertise are mostly around internal combustion engines and everything needed to support that. I can’t see Car Version 1.0 being anything other than an electric vehicle.

And merging a legacy car company with Apple would make the Google:Motorola deal look trivial from a culture fit perspective. Yuck.

So what does that leave? I think Apple may have to build this one from scratch. If the iPhone theoretically maps to an Audi A4, will Car v1.0? I don’t think so. I think they’ll take a page (actually quite a few) from the Tesla playbook, and initially bury the costs of their learning curve in a very expensive category of car. Something like a BMW i8. Could they sell 5,000 Cars/year @ $150K apiece (a tidy $750MM business in year one?). Easily. The question would be whether they could build them.