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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Apple Watch: A Giant Leap for Apple. A Small Step for Wearables

Apple Watch

Beautiful is not the word that comes to mind when you look at the new Apple Watch (AW). You don’t think of cool, edgy, or sophisticated either.The AW, formerly rumored as the iWatch, is out or, at least, we have an idea of what it is. Well, it looks like a watch and does a lot of other stuff. It blows away anything else that is in the market in the wearable/smartwatch/fitness-tracker/health-monitor category. Google Android Wear and Samsung Gear look ancient in comparison. However, it fails to evoke the emotion that Apple's other successful products like the iPhone evoked. Surprisingly, Apple failed to create an elegant design that is sophisticated, inviting, and moving. The AW looks like a giant screen on your wrist.The AW comes in two sizes. The bigger one is for men and the smaller one is for women. Apple does not state that explicitly, though. Some men may like it but I cannot imagine a fashion-conscious woman wearing an AW.  I understand that it is very, very hard to do a universal design that is personal. But that is what we have come to expect from Apple. 

There have been attempts in the past to make a watch more than a watch but no one has tried to pack so many features in the watch before.

Who wouldn't want a watch that does other things? (1980s)

Microsoft SPOT Smartwatch: Why don't you like me? (2004)

The AW performs five distinct functions: 

1. Watch 

2. Secondary Screen and Notifications for your iPhone

3. Health and Fitness

4. Payment

5. New Form of Communication 

Let's look at these five functions one by one: 

1. Watch: The AW is an engineering marvel. It is full of functions and digital personality. The watch tells you a very precise time i.e. within 50ms of the most definitive known time. Digital Crown as a User Interface (UI) is a good idea. The ability to customize the watch with different straps easily is nice. Apple shows a lot of innovation in strap design. Inductive charging with magnetic alignment is also a good idea. What the AW has in digital function and mechanics, it lacks in physical appeal. People buy things they wear based on how they look and how they make them feel. The AW does not look very appealing. 

Getting in the watch business is a bold move by Apple. In the past, when Apple launched a new product, it launched the best product: iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air. People have loved Apple and Apple products became successful because there was nothing better available. The AW is not the best watch. There are years of history, craftsmanship, brand, and emotional attachment people have for their watches. I am not replacing my Hermès watch for an AW.

There is something about Hermès

For the first time, Apple is playing in the mid-tier of the market. The high-end luxury watch will not be impacted by the AW and neither will the low-end category of watches. Also, for the first time, Apple is launching six products at the same time. The AW comes in three styles - Watch, Sport, and Edition. Each comes in two sizes (38mm and 42mm). Hence, six products. This is very different than an iPhone being available in three different memory sizes (or in three different colors in its 5th edition).

Being on the advisory board of Crimson Mim, a high-end fashion retailer, I have a learned a few things about fashion from its CEO, Christine Campbell. And, I don't see women wearing the AW. That takes away half the AW target market. 

Do you really want me to wear a gadget on my wrist?

Apple is also not positioning the watch as a product to test the market like they did with Apple TV. It has not been a widely adopted product and Apple positioned Apple TV as a “hobby” at the time of launch. The AW is positioned as the next big thing. I predicted that Apple TV services will have limited adoption and had to face the wrath of Apple fans in the comment section of my blog. Hence, you can no longer comment on my blog.

The AW comes in three editions. The Edition version of AW is “gold plated”. Is Apple’s idea of making a product more luxurious to put gold around it?

This is luxury

Watches can last for generations. Will people change watches every year now just like they upgrade their phones every year? Apple is trying to change human behavior which is always a tough thing to do. Not only you may have to change your watch every year but also you may have to charge it every night. Will people get used to the idea of charging their watches every night?

2. Secondary Screen and Notifications for your iPhone: The basic idea is that you don't have to take your phone out of your pocket/purse when you get a message/notification. And, you can respond directly from your wrist. I think the AW does a good job here. The AW requires an iPhone to work. The UI on the AW may be good but I have the iPhone right here with abetter UI. Why wouldn't I just use that for Apps/messages, etc?

On one hand, Apple is launching bigger iPhones based on people’s feedback and on the other hand,  Apple is launching a  very small “iPhone” for the wrist. Is there a market for both? Will people change their habit of looking at their phones 150+ times a day and start enjoying the physical surroundings more because of the AW? Or, will people start looking at their wrists all the time now? Will people feel comfortable talking to their wrists in public à la Dick Tracy?

3. Health and Fitness: The AW will tell you how many calories you are burning, how intense your workout is, how many miles you have walked/run, etc. The AW shows progress here. It tells people what to do. This was my key learning during the field trial of the world's first multi-sensor, consumer-fitness, cloud-connected, wearable device. Most of the other wearable fitness device makers have failed in this area. People want the fitness device to act more like a personal fitness coach. The AW presents results in a simple form of three physical activities 1) Move 2) Exercise 3) Stand. 

Are the reminders and notifications good enough for people to change their behavior? Many people are lazy. Many people do not like to exercise and it is really hard to make people do things they do not want to do. People who like to workout will like the AW but those who don't may get annoyed with the reminders and turn them off. Actually, can you turn them off?

There are practical challenges with the Health and Fitness function. Am I supposed to change my watch strap (from steel to sport) when I go running? Data visualization is still not personalized i.e. I am still seeing charts and graphs. Why can’t I see my avatar changing shape based on my activity level. I am baffled that none of the companies are using gamification and social pressure to break people's habits. The real benefits of Health and Fitness devices will come from connecting personal vital statistics data to the healthcare system. Does the AW do that?

4. Payment: I am not clear if I need to do fingerprint authentication on the iPhone before I use the AW to pay at a retail store. For now, let's assume that I can use the AW without the fingerprint authentication for payments. There are certainly some advantages in using the AW for payment but in this case it is tricky to predict if people will change their behavior because credit cards seems to work fine. How many merchants have the NFC terminals, devices that will allow merchants to accept Apple payments? And the location of the NFC terminal on the retail counter will play a big role on how people adopt payments using the AW. 

5. New Form of Communication: The AW enables you to send taps (vibrations), sketches, and your heartbeat to other AW users. I am super-excited about this category. Last year, I worked on an idea, Swedee, where my vision was to create a new vibration-based language because the subtleties and complexities of communicating emotions are lost in SMS. You can see the rough plan here. I worked with industrial, jewelry, and apparel designers but I could not find a design that was universal, inexpensive, and personal. Without the right design, I did not move forward with the idea. 

This new form of communication will happen eventually because people have a fundamental desire to express emotions. Language is not evolved enough to communicate emotions completely. There are trillions of SMSes sent every day. Younger people express emotions in these short messages with emoticons and stickers and they are not used to long-form writing. A “vibration” message brings you much closer to a physical hug or kiss than an emoticon. Hence, younger people are more likely to adopt this new form of communication but can they afford to spend $349 on the AW? 

The AW is a very complex product. It is a triumph of function over form. This may not make sense to my fellow engineers but people buy things they wear based on how they look and feel and not how they function. Maybe people will be so fascinated with the functions that they will accept the form. I doubt it. We shall see...