Insights

Apple Watch: developers will make or break it.

March 10, 2015

The wearables market is complicated. Hardware differences are negligable, and gimmicks aren't going to create device ambassadors. Will the Apple Watch be for the smartwatch industry what the iPad was for tablets? It's all down to development.

Had you said to someone in 2009; "next year, you'll be carrying around a really big iPhone and using it to communicate in ways you can't even comprehend right now," they would have just thrown their aging, dead tamagotchis at you until you left them alone. Yet, when it launched in April of 2010, it fitted in to a set of behaviours that already existed: watching TV with a second screen, distracting yourself on the commute, reading on the loo etc. It worked because while people didn't realise they needed it, it was the way in which it just fitted into your life, rather than forcing behaviour changes.

So when Apple gave us a full break-down of the Watch's features and tech specs yesterday, I started to think about whether this heralded a repeat of the unpredictable success of the iPad. I don't mean just a financial success either - we all know that Apple will sell out of the little wrist-pod - but a social and technological success.

There are some things that make me think it will be, but perhaps not this iteration. There are some things that made me think "WTF, why?!" when Tim Cook announced them. Overall I actually feel complete indifference which as an Apple fanboy I haven't felt about an Apple product since using the magic mouse for a week straight. Why the hell do I want to share my heartbeat. It feels so gimmicky. It feels so... Samsung circa 2012. A model at $10,000, too, that reeks of Apple buying product status rather than achieving it organically. It feels like the hardware equivalent of a PPC campaign.

It feels like the hardware equivalent of a PPC campaign.

Then there's the 18 hours battery life. Sort of. If you use it, you're never going to see that kind of longevity. It will run out of juice just as you want to go for a run with it and then you'll get distracted by wanting to charge it and you won't run and then you'll feel guilty because the thing that has wasted your time also has the specific task of telling you how much time you've wasted on it - a horrible irony for a product that Apple and co. want to fit seamlessly into your behaviours. Thing is, I can't see it working in that way. I think it calls for changes in behaviour that other Apple products haven't demanded of their users before. I think it's expensive. Most of all, I think it's a prototype.

a watch isn't something like an iPhone or iPad, you don't upgrade, the acquisition and retention models are completely different

They have succumbed to the pressures of an industry that is learning to innovate faster than Apple is, and as a result they have released, in my opinion, a device that is effectively a Beta model. Most won't bat an eyelid at this, but a watch isn't something like an iPhone or iPad, you don't upgrade, the acquisition and retention models are completely different. Existing watch behaviours suggest that people will buy a watch and keep it for often a decade before they consider changing. This "Beta" model is too expensive to just be dismissed after a year or so until the next model comes out, but it's not good enough to stand the test of time we have come to expect from that which adorns our wrists.

So how will it succeed faced with excellent competitors like the Pebble Time? The key lies in developer ingenuity. Like the iPad I expect that many uses for the Apple Watch are still concealed and undiscovered. A watch that is so average in hardware specifications needs differentiating elements and these will be the tasks of developer mojo. The intelligent masters of Swift will need to create wizardry that hasn't even been invented yet. Apple will be banking completely on a slew of keeping-up-with-the-joneses development activity to fuel use cases for their Watch. I'm more excited to see what these dev magicians come up with than I am about trying the watch on myself.