A $US349 gadget that needs your $US649 other gadget to work. It looks good. It comes in so many variations — including one with a body made out of 18-karat gold — that few people will own the same version.
That’s the new Apple Watch, which is starting to sound more like a luxury item than an essential gadget. And I suspect that’s exactly how the device will be seen at first when it launches early next year.
First, there’s the price. It starts at $US349, but that’s for the base model. The Apple Watch will likely cost a lot more if you choose extras like leather bands and premium case materials. I can’t imagine the solid gold version costing less than $US1,000. I wouldn’t be surprised if it even went for $US5,000. To put that in perspective, other smartwatches from Samsung, LG, and Motorola don’t cost more than $US250. (However, those watches aren’t very good.)
Then there’s the functionality. Apple isn’t finished with the Watch, so we only got a limited demonstration of what it can do. But most of what I saw yesterday largely mimicked the iPhone’s features: mapping, chatting, notifications from apps like Facebook, and so on. The Apple Watch today serves as a mini version of the iPhone already in your pocket. That will give many people very little reason to shell out $US349 or more for something that does essentially the same stuff as the iPhone.
(The exception, of course, will be the fitness-tracking features like the heart rate and exercise monitors. The iPhone can’t do that. And as app developers get more time to create stuff for the Apple Watch, I imagine it will become a lot more useful.)
Finally, there was something different about the way Apple showed the watch off for the first time. In the demo area following Tuesday’s announcement, I was flanked by will.i.am and Gwen Stefani. Angela Ahrendts, the former Burberry CEO and new Apple VP in charge of retail, wasn’t far away. I saw Paul Deneve, former CEO of French fashion house YSL and now a VP in charge of special projects at Apple, chatting with VIP guests. And those are just two recent executive hires by CEO Tim Cook that show Apple is pivoting into a luxury brand.
The demo area was inside a temporary air conditioned building with plush carpet and rows of Apple Watches on spinning pedestals, as if they were pieces of art.In short, it didn’t feel like one of the dozens of other gadget shows I’ve been to. It felt like a fashion event, complete with a carefully controlled line of people scrambling to get in.
None of this is to say the Apple Watch will be a dud. Far from it. In fact, I think the best way to get people psyched about such a pricey accessory is to wrap an aura of high fashion and exclusivity around it.
Will the Apple Watch be a massive hit on the scale of the iPhone? No way. The iPad wasn’t, either, but it was and still is wildly successful. (And there’s more coming.) The iPhone was a once-in-a-generation smash hit, one that Apple continues to feed off of by building offshoot products and services.
The Apple Watch is our first taste of that under Cook.
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