Apple has announced that its first wearable, its anticipated Apple Watch will begin shipping In April. The company's CEO Tim Cook was enthusiastic about it. "I'm using it every day and love it and can't live without it," he said.
I'm going to guess that he actually can live without it, but I'm willing to accept some hyperbole from a CEO.
The Apple Watch will start at a bottom cost of $349 for the most basic device in the line. And I expect it to sell extremely well when it's introduced. Not for any special reason of features or that people can't actually live without it, but because the device says "Apple" on it, and the company has done a good job whipping up its fanboys into thinking they need this and can't live without Apple's first new product in almost five years. Whether the initial rush to buy is the same after a few months and reality and usage (or lack thereof) has settled in remains to be seen.
This is no aspersion against the Apple Watch itself. It's what I've written about all Smart Watches since I first came across them several years ago at tech trade shows.
I know that Apple has proved skeptics wrong in the past, and in huge ways. But when they did do this (and they've had their mis-steps, too), it's been with things like the iPhone and iPad, Apple created markets that didn't exist before and turned out to have a need for. But Apple isn't the first to the market with a Smartwatch, or second or even third. And it's not like the companies already there are small and shoddy -- we're talking companies like Samsung, LG and Sony -- or had cheesy products. The Samsung and LG Smartwatch lines especially are very rich devices. It's just that...well, they public has thus-far yawned. The watches are very well-done, there just hasn't been shown even remotely a need. Along with other issues, even if there was a need.
To be clear, I'm not saying that there is not a market for a Smartwatch one day. Just that right now, these companies haven't shown that path. And I include Apple.
First, today, you need to own a Smartphone to connect to a Smartwatch, in order to use it. So, you're being asked to spend many hundreds of dollars to buy a device that does pretty much everything another expensive device you already own does. And you have to own the same brand Smartphone and Swartwatch. So, if you see a Smartwatch that you really love that's made by LG, and you own (and love) a Samsung Galaxy Note...sorry, you're out of luck.
Second that other device you already own, your Smartphone, not only does everything the Smartwatch does -- it does it FAR better. A much bigger screen for reading messages and browsing websites and playing games and watching movies. A real keypad for typing text. A significantly better camera (and one that's far easier to use). And so on and on.
Third, oh, that screen. The bigger a screen the easier to read it -- but the more cumbersome on the wrist. The smaller on the wrist, though, the more difficult for it to be useful. And Apple itself has already acknowledged the public's move toward bigger screens by introducing its first large-screen iPhone 6.
The problem here with screens is that if you look at actual everyday watches on the market and compare those for men and women, the one's for women are tiny and elegant. I have yet to talk to many women who are anxious to strap a huge Smartwatch on their wrist. And I've asked a lot. ("Many" is herein defined as "more than one, and less than three.") So, right away, you're cutting out half your market.
But it's more than that. What about kids? The youth market helped explode the world for Smartwatches and tablets. But being kids, their wrists are inherently small -- are they going to want to strap on a big Smartwatch? And keep in mind that already the watch industry has plummeted because young people have moved away from wearing watches. So, right away, you're cutting out another huge portion of your market.
There's also the problem with battery life. That might be addressed one day, but at the moment Smartwatches have to be recharged every night. I know that many people are used to that with their phones and tablets -- but that's without necessarily using their phone and tablet all the time and having them in Sleep mode much of the day, saving on battery drain. That doesn't work with your Smartwatch, it's going to be on all day. And your watch isn't something you want to lose power on your during the middle of the day.
And then the issue of talking on a Smartwatch. Try holding up your wrist to you ear for 30 seconds. Not only will you feel incredibly stupid, but your arm is going to get tired. And this is without a big watch on it. And for only 30 seconds. When was your last 30-second phone call? ("Sorry, mom, I really can't talk now" doesn't even cut it.)
These are all generic problems with all Smartwatches, not a finger-point at Apple's. And it's not to say that the problems won't eventually be addressed at some point. But I haven't seen that yet. Nor do I know how you address the screen size conundrum. Though some day, perhaps someone will.
(Apple does have one issue unique to them. Its fans tend to love making sure others know they're using an iWhatever. And so, Apple's products all have unique looks. Hence they are Cool. But the Apple Watch looks pretty much like any Smartwatch. The watch face is a touch different, but not much at all, most-especially from afar -- and by "afar" I mean like 10 feet. And even at that, they all look pretty similar. So, it won't be clear that You Are Using an Apple Watch and Therefore Cool. You'll look like you're wearing a big, fat watch. Made by anyone.)
One way that companies have been pushing Smartwatches is making the point that what Dick Tracy used 60 years ago is finally here!!! (Samsung even had Dick Tracy in its first TV spots.) There's a big problem being overlooked with this, though -- 60 years ago, Dick Tracy didn't have Smartphones and tablets to choose from. If he did, there's a good chance he wouldn't use his two-way watch.
On Star Trek, the touchstone of all things geeky and futuristic, even Captain Kirk and other members of the Starship Enterprise crew didn't use communicator Smartwatches. They all had their flip-phone communicators.
Again, I expect initial Apple Watch sales to be very big. Just because. And a lot of journalists will be falling over themselves misinterpreting this. Because I also expect that within months, most of those people will be wondering why they bought the thing and word-of-mouth is not going to get others rushing to buy their own must-have cool device.
Smartwatch this space...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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