The Apple Watch: Pros and Cons


More than eleven years ago, after Bill Gates personally introduced Microsoft smartwatches at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I wrote a column in WatchTime entitled “Honk If You Want a Computer On Your Wrist!” The column asked the following simple question: “Does anyone really want this contraption?”

My answer in the column, admittedly inelegantly stated, was “Whaddya, stupid? Of course not!”

Forgive the immodesty, but I was right. Microsoft smartwatches, produced in conjunction with Citizen, Fossil, Suunto and Swatch, were all total flops. Since then, despite the arrival of various and sundry smartwatches (Pebble, i’m Watch, Martian, Galaxy Gear and more), very few people have shown any sign that they want a computer on the wrist.

We are now arrived at what is surely the moment of truth for smartwatches. On Sept. 9 of last year, mighty Apple unveiled the Apple Watch, described by the New York Times as “a miniature computer strapped around the wrist.” Finally, once and for all, we are about to get the answer to what I believe is still the fundamental question about smartwatches: Does anyone really want these contraptions? If Apple can’t convince Americans to buy smartwatches, no one can, and the smartwatch adventure will be over.

We’ll have to wait a bit for the answer, since the watches don’t go on sale until April 2015. In the meantime, let’s assess the pros and cons of the Apple Watch in terms of some crucial smartwatch criteria.

apple smartwatch

DESIGN: PRO

Previous smartwatches have been panned because of their poor design. “Geek chic,” their manufactures have learned, has a limited appeal. Apple has designed its watch with a traditional rectangular watch design, and the early reviews are positive. “The device is stunning to look at,” wrote Farhad Manjoo in the The New York Times, “with a variety of faces and watchbands that bear more in common with luxury jewelry than with gadgets.”

Tim Bradshaw noted in the Financial Times, “The impression was that here was finally a smartwatch that feels more like jewelry than technology.” Whether regular consumers (particularly women) share the fashion sense of technology reporters remains to be seen. But style-wise, Apple Watch has outdone its rivals.

apple smartwatch

 

BATTERY LIFE: CON

High power consumption and short battery life have been major problems for previous smartwatches. The fact that Apple CEO Tim Cook had nothing to say about battery life speaks volumes. Apple executives reportedly told the tech press that the watch will have to be charged every day. Ugh.

PRICE: CON

Apple Watches come in steel, aluminum and gold cases. Prices start at $349 and go up. In addition, the watches only work with a recent Apple phone. The new iPhone 6, for example, costs $200 and the 6 Plus costs $300. That kind of outlay could dissuade some consumers, who might otherwise be interested, from trying the watch.

apple smartwatch
An Apple watch paired with the iPhone 6+

FUNCTIONALITY: PRO

The Apple Watch is loaded with features and apps that justify the high price. Apple Pay, health and fitness apps, calendar, map navigation, music player, notifications, photos, Siri and voice search, and more make it the most functional wrist instrument ever.

Kevin Lynch demonstrates apps on Apple Smartwatch
Apple’s Kevin Lynch demonstrates apps on the Apple Watch.

UTILITY/PRACTICALITY: JURY’S OUT

For three decades now, micro-engineering has enabled producers to put a TV, radio, voice recorder, health monitors, GPS and all manner of modern devices into a watch. The question is whether the average American consumer wants all those options – nearly all of which are available on an iPhone – in a watch. I remain skeptical. One big problem is the size of the watch dial/screen. By definition, a watch screen is small. It is limited by the size of the human wrist. One irony of the Apple Watch launch is that at the same time the company also launched iPhones with larger screens in response to complaints that current iPhone screens are too small. If you don’t like the screen size of your iPhone 4, you are going to hate the size of the screen on your Apple Watch.

apple smartwatch
Pressing the “digital crown” brings up your apps.

Another irony: Apple CEO Tim Cook told the audience at the launch “You don’t want a phone strapped to your wrist. That’s not what the consumer wants.” But he does seem to think that consumers want a multi-purpose computer strapped to their wrists.

I am not so sure.

Here’s another problem. One cable news anchor, on learning that you need an iPhone to use the Apple Watch, asked: “Why do you need both?” Her point was that if the watch performs the same functions as the phone, why do you need it? The short answer is: You don’t. And for many people, if they don’t need it, they won’t want it.

apple smartwatch

APPEAL: PRO

But for all those who don’t understand why they have to have it, there are legions of Apple fans who can’t wait to buy it. One staggering bit of data about the launch event: 2.4 million tweets went out during Cook’s presentation. They weren’t all about the watch, of course. But it gives you some sense of the cult status Apple products enjoy. Apple has a passionate audience ready, willing, able and predisposed to purchase a brand new product from the company. Citi estimates that an Apple smartwatch will produce $4.2 billion in revenue in 2015 and $6 billion in 2016. If so, Apple will become overnight one of the world’s biggest watch producers in terms of revenue. For Apple fans, wearing the Apple Watch could become a status symbol, an emblem that says something about who they are: smart, techno-chic, plugged-in members of the tech-savvy avant-garde. A watch is more personal than any other product; it’s the only Apple product you can wear. Which perhaps explains why the company chose to call the watch the Apple Watch rather than the iWatch. They want to brand this baby. (“Is that an Apple Watch?” your friends ask? You simply nod knowingly.)

If that phenomenon kicks in, and Apple fans, despite the small screen and tiny battery life, honk that they certainly do want computers on their wrists, then the Apple Watch will be a game changer for smartwatches. The watch world has seen a brand gain cult status before, of course. Ever hear of Rolex?

This article was originally published on September 11, 2014, and has been updated.

11 Responses to “The Apple Watch: Pros and Cons”

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  1. Fran Oldham

    I haven’t got an iPhone of any vintage so the applewatch is clearly out for me, even if I wanted one, which I don’t. I use my cell-phone as a phone, mostly in the car and using blue-tooth, pulled off to the side of the road. I wear a high accuracy quartz watch, dislike mechanicals because they are so woefully inaccurate.
    I predict that the Applewatch will sell like hotcakes for about a year and that the demand will gradually fizzle out until Apple drops it because they don’t sell enough. It’s true that Apple haven’t made many marketing mistakes but the combination of bigger screens on the iPhone 6 and 6+ with the so-called smartwatch, for which one needs a loupe, doesn’t seem to make much sense!
    My computer is an iMac, my laptop is a Macbook Air and I have an iPad mini, so I’m certainly not prejudiced against Apple!

    Reply
    • I think Fran has a good grasp on the issue. Of course the watch will sell like hotcakes right off. But what about later? Will users end up leaving their collective watches in their dresser drawers after the novelty wears off?

      Most younger people nowadays don’t wear watches at all. They’ve grown up with cell phones to tell them the time. How will they feel about something strapped to their wrists—in the long-run?

      I see the biggest possible market being women, as they don’t typically have a pocket to put their cell phone into. But I also see women as the least likely group to want to wear a piece of technology on their wrists. The stainless steel model does have a very shiny case, but the watch basically looks like a black blob on one’s wrist. Not the fashion statement most women are looking for I think.

      Reply
  2. Bruce Lowell Burke

    As a veteran and private consultant to the watch industry (Linkedin Bruce Lowell Burke), I predict the Apple cult will gobble up the Apple watch and then the fizzle. Watch connoisseurs will quietly laugh at the mob mentality of the Apple followers. Yes I have heard of Rolex and Vacheron Constantine and Breguet and the fine brands of Longines, Omega, Cartier and so many more FINE watches. LVMH and Swatch and the Richmont Group make watches— not gimmicks.

    Reply
  3. ComputerBS

    I own a Motorola Moto 360 watch. I am always surprised by everyone who says Apple devices are so much better designed. The Apple watch has some nice features the crown scrolling, however it looks like every other square smart watch. The Moto is the first smart watch worth wearing. I have my Movado on today after strictly wearing the Moto for months-it keep looking at my wrist for updates. I didn’t know how long I would be away from power so battery life on smart watches is still an issue.

    Reply
  4. srhardy

    I think some SMARTS will creep into all watches. The new GPS watches could be a LOT CHEAPER if they got all that smart info from your mobile instead! Also why no solar smart watch? That would significantly extend its usefulness and add on wireless charging becoming standard and ubicudis you could even charge your watch & mobile over dinner!

    The automatic movement needs some 21st century love and so far only GRAND SEIKO movement.

    Reply
  5. Robert Harper

    If I were Swatch I would be very concerned. If I were Patek or Audemars, Rolex, Piaget I would yawn. The Apple Smartwatch is aimed at a different market segment than the high-end watches which will survive for a good many years making beautiful but redundant watches. In the end, likely a fairly small handful will remain at the highest end but the bulk of the industry will be kerplunk; maybe smart watches will not be around either since many people in the current generation see no need for a watch since they have their smart phones with them.

    Reply
  6. My opinions:

    – When we look at the straps and bracelets, it is impressive how Apple has been innovative here compared to the traditional watch industry

    – I would likely be interested in a v2, Apple’s products are always a lot better in v2, I expect more health related sensors for example. However this v1 already holds promise. I also think that eventually in a v3 or v4 it will not need a phone anymore and will have a battery that lasts say a week.

    – the price should be a PRO for the readers of this site, $349 is peanuts compared to what most watch where cost. It will be easy on the wallet to add an Apple Watch to try it out. There is also a big ecosystem of iphones out there, and the new 6 family is expected to sell a whopping 80 million pieces by EOY. Hence a good user base.

    – I originally thought that it looked soso, but when watching the keynote presentation I was impressed by the very clever user interface and the general watch materiality of the product with as I noted before fantastic straps and bracelets. For example the bracelet that you can resize without tools. Or the magnetic milano mesh. All clever and elegant.

    – In summary I think that this will hurt the sub $1000 quartz category hard. It won’t push aside fine mechanical pieces, but why would one buy, say, a generic Seiko quartz chrono, or a standard Tissot, a Casio/G-Shock, or a fashion watch when they can have the Apple watch? These other watches suddenly feel so tired.

    Reply
  7. Among all new generation guys smart watches is going to be more popular than ordinary watches. As it’s look more profession and simple to use it.

    Reply
  8. These smart watches will appeal mainly to the young generation of today and never to a serious watch collector. But let’s face it, not all of the younger generation will be interested! Why bother, when you can have all of this information on another device which just about EVERYONE already owns and carries with them everywhere! Yes, it’s called a MOBILE PHONE!!
    These smart watches will never take the world by storm! They will always just be looked at as a cheap not worthwhile repairing or serviceable gadget and nothing else!!

    Reply
    • All of these technologies can be incorporated into mobile phones which also provide a much larger and more legible screen! These smart watches look like an embarrassment to wear!

      Long live the mechanical watch!!

      Mr Tissot

      Reply
  9. AventadorDriver

    Good article. I started to count how many feature articles have been written on this site about 1 product and 1 model which is the apple watch mind you in just a few days already is an indication that this thing will change the analog watch world forever.
    I personally work in the world of designing/ installing/ and servicing very high end automation for very wealthy (not just rich, but a lot higher in status) and almost all them use an iPhone and iPad while wearing their Patek and Richard Mille at the same time. So JT I completely agree with your skepticism…let’s wait and see.
    BTW I personally do not wear a smart watch though I’m a very smart tech geek. I used to collect Patek and Rolex in multiples and desirable models. I’ve sold almost all of them because I found them to be useless and during the recent financial crisis I needed the money too to save my business and my employees. Now I see the desirable models from Rolex and Patek as investments rather than analog time pieces. Someday I will buy a smart watch but only if it’s the latest signal technology 4G++ and when you don’t have to sink it with your phone. And since I wear glasses…several in Cartier frames I would want my smart watch to have a big screen so I can wear it over my neck like the rapper “Flavor Flav” while I drive around NYC in my Lamborghini Aventador…then at that point I’d really be “Ballin”…Wazzup!… ☺

    Reply
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