While some are already pronouncing the flop of Apple Watch, I believe strongly that it will be a huge hit for Apple. Apple is no stranger to doubts. “Overpriced”, “Not any different from the small niche products in the market”, “only rabid fanboys will buy it”, “Unimpressive specs, poor battery life, dead in the water” – wait, are we talking about the Apple Watch or the original iPhone? All of these claims could be (and have been) leveled at both, but all of them miss the mark on what truly makes these products great. Here’s why I think Apple has a win on their hands, and why I think it will grow into a strong product line for them:
Fitness is niche, Health is universal
As Neil Cybart said so eloquently, fitness is a niche market appealing to the small segment of consumers out there who interested in tracking their workouts. Runners, for instance, may want to keep track of the length and duration of their runs. The current wearables market targets these users heavily, which is precisely why we see so many users burning out and abandoning them after a few months; there are only so many runners and fitness enthusiasts out there. We normal people would love to think we can be that too, but life gets in the way. However, health is common to all of us and we all would like to do better. Apple seems to be quite cognizant of this disconnect. Things like reminders to stand and ever increasing goals based on what you accomplish are more realistic for normal consumers. Small, subtle changes in lifestyle rather than overactive new years resolutions lead us to repeatable improvements in our health. The key aspect here is the degree to which Apple can fit the health aspects of Apple Watch into normal, every day use. A big part of the reason why I’m so bullish is the careful positioning that Apple has used so far. We’ll hopefully get a more in-depth look on this aspect on Monday.
Identity is the next big game
As the world comes to grips with the mobile surge, we are starting to rethink how things change when everyone has a pocket computer with them. One of the most tedious and unsecure aspects of computer usage has been the problem of using 70s technology (username/password) to determine identity. There’s been a bunch of movement in past years with OAuth, et al. and while those lay important groundwork for aspects of identity, it still keeps username/password as the lowest level weak link in the chain. But the more we can count on phones (and now watches) being truly personal devices, the more we can start to solve the identity problem. Apple Watch is in a much better position than a phone, however, as it remains in contact with you all day. From what we know of reports, it requires you to enter a PIN when you put it on (and presumably be in range of your iPhone), but while it’s in contact it’s “live” for Apple Pay. In other words, it knows and can validate that it is in fact you when you go to pay for things without even needing the fingerprint that the iPhone does. While the Apple Pay aspect of this is a big experience win, some will be tempted to poke fun at it – asking whether it’s really that big of a deal that you take your phone out of your pocket. This too narrowly focusing on one specific experience aspect. Sure, if Apple Pay were the only advantage and maybe happened once a day or week, it’s not as big of a deal. But as new experiences accrete to this new source of identity – things like HomeKit, unlocking your phone, verifying identity on other computer systems, etc – there will be more and more of these small experience wins. Personally, I see a future where the watch is the holder of your true identity, connected to the real storage in the cloud, and accessible without user/pass on a variety of different surfaces and form factor products. This is a classic Apple move: introduce a technology which moves things forward, only slightly at first, and then iterate to much bigger wins over time. Touch ID was a delightful addition and clearly increased the number of people who actually locked their phones (because the experience was seamless enough that they could enjoy better security without a huge disadvantage). That’s a great win in and of itself. But then next year Apple Pay comes along and we see it’s actually part of a larger picture.
The computer gets more personal, again
All of this is part of a larger move in computing to more and more personal devices. We may have wasted the term “personal computer” on the PC, but mobile has made an enormous shift to a far more personal computing experience. While PCs were largely shared in a home or locked down by IT in an office, mobile has made devices that belong specifically to one person and are truly customized for the individual’s experience. Apple Watch makes another huge leap along this curve. Now the computer is not only yours, but it is actually worn by you, measures your health stats directly, and is customized with different color bands and finishes. The wrist is also a natural progression for technology we wear. Even though it’s now not even a form of utility, having the ability to keep track of time at one’s wrist was marvel of its own era. As we get into more technological innovation that we want to take with us, it only make sense for the wrist to be the next battlefield. And Apple will be the winner.