Every week there’s a new story about Apple’s yet to be released multi-function Apple Watch. The latest attention on the Apple Watch is the closing and bankruptcy of Apple’s sapphire display supplier, and the Apple Watch’s attendance at Paris’ Fashion Week while debuting on Vogue China’s cover. These events, all within a week of each other, is perhaps indicative of how the Apple Watch is going to land in the market place –a fashion item with no utility, and a utility item with limited function. Apple’s attempt for this device to resonate on multiple levels might be why the Apple Watch is perceived with wary ambivalence by the watch industry.
The technology introduced in the Apple Watch is no doubt a cut above other existing smart watches. Rather than the wrist sized computer being a stand alone, independent device, it acts as an extension of the iPhone. Just as how a smart phone was originally an extension of a desktop computer that has now morphed into a stand alone device, the Apple Watch requires an iPhone for connectivity to the internet and to utilize the iPhone’s processing power for Apple Watch functions such as maps. Unlike other smart watches, the Apple Watch looks to the Swiss wristwatch industry for style and fit inspiration. The Apple Watch’s use of sapphire for the crystal, interchangeable Milanese mesh and magnetic clasps are completely new in the sports watch marketplace. Additionally, other exotic metals used such as gold, stainless steel, and potentially titanium make it clear that Apple positions this technology tool beyond the sports watch market and into the fashion world. The inclusion of a crown mimicking a winding crown clearly positions this device up against the traditional wrist watch.
From a utilitarian perspective, the Apple Watch possesses some great functionality that traditional wristwatches and some smart watches just don’t have. The Haptic feedback component indicating as what type of message landed on your iPhone, or whether to turn left or turn right from your Apple Map directions are great iPhone extensions to have on your wrist.
Where the wristwatch functionality breaks down from a traditional wristwatch is that you can’t strap it on and forget it. The traditional wrist watch function of just being able to wear it and forget it is a design problem that Apple has yet to address. Apple is conspicuously silent on battery life, intimating that the watch will require a nightly charge, and being electronic with a non-OysterLock crown, isn’t considered waterproof. Unlike a Rolex, you can’t strap on your Apple Watch and jump in the pool or wash the dishes. Also, unlike a Rolex, you can’t take it backpacking as you might as well carry a brick for a battery charger. For the watch to be completely functional requires an iPhone close by, but I’m not seeing a phone pocket in the dress sported on the Vogue cover.
Jonny Ive’s purported comment that the Swiss watch industry will be “so F..’d” when the Apple Watch hits the market seems more hype than reality. The Apple Watch certainly mimics some of the tried and true reliable watch functionality, but its’ electronic strengths are also its weakness. Other than for possible historical relevance, I doubt we will be seeing vintage Apple Watches at auction 30 years from now pulling the value that a Paul Newman Rolex does. Only time will tell..
– Sheldon Smith