Apple’s take on the smartwatch: Elegant evolution
After attending the “Spring Forward” event to get all of the remaining Apple Watch details and then getting some hands-on time with the device, I walked away with mixed emotions.
On the one hand, Apple debuted a polished product that was very responsive in my use. On the other hand, we learned few additional features or details we didn’t already know from the September Apple Watch introduction.
The Apple Watch pricing was perhaps the biggest new piece of information. A 38 millimeter Apple Watch Sport will cost $349 while a 42 millimeter version is priced $50 more.
The stainless steel Apple Watch starts at $549 for the smaller model and there is the same $50 premium for the larger size. Depending on your choice of band, you can spend up to $1,049. And the Apple Watch Editions made from gold will start at $10,000.
Aside from that, we learned a few minor details to fill in gaps. We knew, for example, the Watch would support Apple Pay but today we saw how it works. Third-party apps were shown off as extensions to what you could already do on your phone. We learned that the display of Apple Watch is off until you either raise your wrist or tap on the screen. And we saw how you could take a phone call right from the Apple Watch with its microphone and speaker.
Here’s the thing: There was no surprise or compelling feature that set the Apple Watch apart from other smartwatches, and I didn’t really see any major advancement of the device category. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. If you liked what you saw in the Apple Watch back in September, you got a little more to like today. If you were unconvinced back then, you’re likely still on the fence.
The situation is, to me, vastly different from another first generation product from Apple. The iPad. When the iPad arrived, it truly stood out and put Apple out in front of the tablet market. Yes, there were tablets available in the past, but none compelled the mass market uptake that iPad did.
I’m not so sure the same will hold true for the Apple Watch, at least in its first iteration.
Oh, I still expect Apple to sell millions of watches. Just not tens of millions for some time to come. Those looking for the convenience factor of not having to reach for their iPhone 100 times a day will strongly consider it. How much they will pay for that convenience is another question. I hemmed and hawed over a $249 Android Wear watch in December, for example, even with a $50 holiday discount. Spending hundreds more isn’t something I’d personally consider, but that’s just me.
As far as early comparisons between the Apple Watch and Android Wear, the functionality is much the same. There are some unique features on both, but at their core, both do similar things — notifications, health tracking and small app functionality — as they extend apps and data from a connected phone. The interfaces are different though, and overall, in my limited hands-on time, the Apple Watch appears more responsive than any Android Wear device I’ve used: fast, slick animations and quick transitions between screens.
Forrester analyst James McQuivey seems to feel the same, backing up my impressions in an email:
“Competitors will also be relieved that Apple didn’t really surprise anyone with its features. Samsung and Motorola don’t have to worry that Apple has leapfrogged them in many functional ways — the Moto 360, for example, already does most of what Apple showed today, though sometimes the user has to go looking for those features.”
Apple’s take on the smartwatch is what you’d expect then: Designed in a way that Apple feels is elegant and intuitive, just like its iPhone and iPad products. Apple Watch isn’t quite a smartwatch revolution but more of Apple’s stamp on the product category.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Apple Watch and competing products is the fashion and luxury tie-in between the different bands — which looked very nice — and gold casings. Turning a phone accessory into a luxury item purchase might be the real advancement here, and that might get people to shell out $549 or far more for a smartwatch.