As you might remember,
last year I questioned whether smartwatches make any sense to own.
Since then, there has been no shortage of new models from many different manufacturers. Even so, everyone has really just been waiting to see if Apple, possibly the most successful tech company in history, could bring something to the table that would once again change the game completely. They did so with the iPhone, and arguably with the iPad as well. Can they make a smartwatch that finally makes sense to own? We’re about to find out as the Apple Watch was formally introduced a few days ago.
It was always going to be difficult for Apple to live up to expectations with their smartwatch. Not because they’ve lost their innovative edge with the passing of Steve Jobs but simply because expectations are now unrealistically high. With every new product, they are supposed to re-invent the wheel in a way no-one ever thought about previously. Clearly this is not something even the biggest company in the world can pull off all the time.
Their job was made even more difficult by the fact that they had to re-invent something which until now has been an effectively useless gadget. When they made the iPhone, they were re-inventing something which was already useful to begin with. Everyone already had a mobile phone. When they made the iPad, they created a much more convenient way to browse the web from your couch to name one thing. Smartwatches, as I’ve said before, appear very much designed to fix a problem that simply does not exist. It’s up to the people in the marketing department to get this rocket off the ground, and they have a hell of a job ahead of them.
What smartwatches are trying to do is replace jewelry with technology. I believe the concept is extremely flawed for this reason alone. People don’t wear watches to know the time. And you don’t need to be a watch enthusiast who collects dozens of vintage timepieces (what a wonderful word, that) to appreciate the look and feel of a hand-made mechanical watch. You cannot replace «Swiss Made» mechanical jewelry with a «Made in China» miniature computer in a gold case. Yes, I know, it’s «designed by Apple in California». They’ve been re-inventing the concept of manufacturing origin as well. Though I suppose it was marketing who was doing the inventing for a change there.
I really wish Apple wouldn’t have gone so far in creating an alternate universe where this watch is something really worth owning never mind paying thousands of dollars for. I also wish they would have kept it more simple. As it stands, there are thirty eight different models on their website. Thirty eight! Of the exact same watch with a slightly different appearance. Sure there are two sizes — 38 or 42mm — but the technology inside is exactly the same. It’s a lot more Swatch than Rolex in this regard. Which is fine as long as you present it for what it really is. A range of 5 or 6 Apple Watches from 300 to 600 dollars would have been just fine. They’d still be fairly pointless like all the others but at least there would be a hint of realism about the whole thing.
Right now, the cheapest Apple «Sport» watches are reasonably priced but they are made to look the cheap option compared to the regular Apple Watch and the «Edition» Apple Watch. I don’t usually concern myself much with roses and the names they are given but my word what a stupid name «Edition» is. It’s just so un-Apple of them. We’re used to get simple, elegant products from these people and look at the mess they have created here. Should be fun to walk into an Apple store and ask them to explain the different models to you.
And I’m not done yet with these «Edition» watches. They cost anywhere from ten to seventeen thousand dollars for no obvious reason as they are basically the same technology as the cheap entry level model at 349 dollars. The same internals, the same battery, the same screen. This is worse than the time they asked you to pay 200 dollars more for extra flash memory which cost them five bucks. They may be «going after the Swiss luxury market» but what they are really going after is fools. Because you’d have to be a fool to spend that kind of money on an item which in one or two years will be outdated and even less useful than when you bought it.
These watches only have an expected 18 hours of normal battery life when they are brand new. That’s all right, as you can charge it once a day. But lithium batteries start dying the minute they are made. They get worse and worse over time and after a few years and over a thousand recharges they will simply stop working altogether. Will Apple provide a Watch repair service? It’s not like them to repair obsolete technology, but who knows. Either way at that point there will be newer better models of your watch being sold in stores. So even if you had friends who were impressed rather than embarrassed with your Apple Watch «Edition» the glory wouldn’t last very long.
By contrast, a luxury Swiss watch remains a functional, beautiful item for decades. You can have it repaired next week or your grandson can have it repaired in 50 years. Taking on Switzerland with a Chinese made gadget is like a throwaway holiday camera trying to take market share from the professional photography market. You can only really wear one watch at a time, unless your name is Diego Maradona, and I don’t believe many in the upscale segment are willing to swap their beautiful rare timepieces for a gadget just yet.
At this point, you might be curious to know what exactly you can do with an Apple Watch. The answer can be either quite a lot or hardly anything. If you have a fairly new iPhone with you, the watch can do quite a lot. All on its own, it can’t do much at all. So if you like a phone that isn’t made by Apple, you’re out of luck. Once wirelessly connected to your iPhone you can see all kinds of messages and notifications on the Watch. If that’s what you’ve been waiting for, here you go.
The question I have to ask — again — is whether there is any point in moving functionality from your phone to your wrist? At least I have two hands available to operate my phone. And people are already holding their phones all the time anyway. Just look around you sitting in a restaurant. That’s not going to change because you can’t really type a message on your watch. There are certainly some things which can be convenient to see displayed on your watch, no doubt about it, but the majority of useful functions appear to be fitness related. There are plenty of gadgets for that already and they are rarely worn for longer than a week before people get bored with them.
I do like the fact that you can change the appearance of your watch on a daily basis. But that’s hardly a unique feature. I suppose Apple’s apparent failure to re-invent the smartwatch means that the concept just isn’t ready for prime time yet. The small size of a watch presents too great a limitation on present day technology. I’m starting to wonder if Apple even wanted to make this watch. I’m sure some engineers were shaking their head when they were forced by the public’s expectation to come up with something impossible.
But it is what it is, and Apple will still sell millions of these at least initially. The sheer number of units produced does also mean there is no hope of these ever becoming a rare collectible. Not like the original Apple watch from the mid-1990s. It was a cheap little battery powered watch which you got for free if you bought a Macintosh OS upgrade. Those preserved in a good condition now sell for thousands of dollars to collectors. It’s a funny old world, sometimes.