The Apple Watch could be worth all of the hyperbole and still fail terribly

By James Robinson , written on September 9, 2014

From The News Desk

We’ve all become very used to seeing usually sane, independent reporters churn out hyperbolic ad copy at each new Apple product announcement. Today was no different. But as we wait out the next four or so months between the Apple Watch’s unveiling and its on sale date, tongues panting in anticipation, there’s a good chance that through the love in a simple truth gets ignored.

The Apple Watch could be as good as lauded, worth all of those cringeworthy standing ovations, and it could still fizz out meekly.

The watch was pretty solid too, defying all the ugly Nike Fuelband meets iPhone mockups that were circulating widely. The customizable faces and straps, mean that it can swing in appearance from classic to goofy, satisfying everyone from traditionalists through to the more hyperactive. It is a slick piece of hardware. Wireless charging was a nice touch. The inclusion of heart rate sensors and the ability to track elevation as well as steps will be causing a few awkward moments over at Fitbit.

But the success of the Apple Watch will depend on whether the Apple halo is strong enough still to make people want a product that we’ve shown no inkling toward. Apple are comparatively late into the smartwatch space. Here it’s improving upon, rather than defining, the template, as it was with i’s Pod, Phone and Pad. Samsung, LG, Sony and Motorola, as well as independents like Pebble, have all put smartwatches out that accomplish a lot of what the Apple Watch will do. Maybe not as exhaustively, or with as many sensors, or with Apple’s panache for hardware. The Apple Watch is better, but probably not by as greater a margin as Apple drunk reporters would have you believe.

The first year of the smartwatch has resulted in just three percent market penetration in the USA. The general snickering and ambivalence that these products have been met with, point to a reality that not even Apple might not be able to overcome: people don’t need a phone on their wrist.

The Apple Watch is still bound by such a constraint. Sure, it may be the best activity tracker we’ve seen yet, but people still abandon activity trackers at alarmingly high rates, and activity trackers can do much of what the Apple Watch can at a fraction of the price. Activity tracking has given us so far to a lot of data -- the Apple Watch gives us heart rate! -- but it still lacks the X Factor to make that interesting in the long term. The quantified self has short term appeal.

It’s an awkward reality for smartwatch makers. The smartphone has replaced and surpassed the watch. Young people don’t wear watches anymore. The smartwatch on the other hand, wants to supplement the phone. We can get everything from our phones and more that a smartwatch can do. Reaching into your pocket or bag to look at your phone isn’t enough of a pain point to justify an entirely new product line. My phone has maps, Twitter, Siri and text messaging. And it is always on me.

In the long run, an Apple Watch that serves as payments tool, smart home remote, activity tracker and sometime phone substitute could be potent, but Home Kit and Apple payments need to reach popular adoption first.

During that interim, Apple Watch’s initial success will depend on old fashioned peer pressure and conspicuous consumption. People don’t need it, but if they see it around enough, gadget lust might just make them want one.

It will be a test of Apple’s enduring lure, against someone like a Samsung. Is the status of owning Apple gadgets enough to get us to throwdown several hundred dollars without little compelling reason?