I have just been to try on the $US17,000 (£13,500 in the UK) top-of-the-range gold Apple Watch, and I have come away sorely disappointed. If you’ve got the cash, the device is fantastic — but the staff were totally unprepared.
Apple’s first new product category in five years is almost here. Pre-orders and try-on sessions for the Apple Watch began this morning, letting potential customers get their hands on the Cupertino company’s first ever wearable device — although it’s not available to actually take home until April 24 (or more likely, weeks later).
I had booked appointments at the Apple Store at Covent Garden, London, for both the Sport model and the standard model, and a separate visit for the $US10,000-plus Apple Watch Edition. The display models are protected by plate glass, so you can’t just walk in off the street and try one on.
First up was the “budget” Sport (which retails from £299) and standard Apple Watch (which costs between £749 and £949.) These try-on sessions are handled on the shop floor — each customer is taken to their own spot on a display table. The actual watches you try on are unresponsive and only run pre-programmed demos, but there’s also an interactive Watch mounted in a display unit you can try out.
This means you can get an idea of how the user interface works in theory, but you still can’t get an idea of how the Apple Watch works on the wrist. (Some reviews have claimed you need to do exaggerated hand motions to automatically activate the device, for example, but this is impossible to test in-store.)
Here’s the pop-out drawer the tester units are stored in, along with the display unit:
The Apple Store employee who guided me through the standard models was great. He was engaging, enthusiastic, and had something positive to say about every model. The metal link band was “sophisticated,” the Milanese band — my personal favourite — was very “personal,” and the Sport was more fun and active. He was even effusive about the Apple Watch Edition after I mentioned I was trying it on later. “If you can afford it, go for it man!”
He seemed pretty knowledgeable about the smart watch, and the only real downside was the limited selection available in the drawer for me to test (I had to opt for the 42mm instead of the 38mm blue leather strap Apple Watch, for example.)
Here’s me trying on the Apple Watch with a Milanese strap:
My experience trying on the Apple Watch Edition was very different.
Not just any Apple Store employee can help you try on the luxury device. They need to be specially trained, and there was a short wait while they actually found someone qualified to do so. Once a suitable helper was found, I was ushered upstairs to a private conference room, where I could try on the device away from the general public and the hordes of press taking photos.
I had the room to myself for the majority of my session (another customer came in for their trial session towards the end, and was seated at the opposite end of the room), I was offered the use of a Mac Pro while there, and given bottled water to refresh myself.
So far, so good.
Prospective Apple Watch Edition buyers can only try one device at a time. The watches are kept in a special safe in a private area of the store, and are only brought out when requested. A security guard guides the Apple Watch Edition through the store each time, and in practice this means a wait of several minutes for each device.
The first I tested out was the high-end $US17,000/£13,500 yellow gold Apple Watch Edition with a red leather strap. It comes in a special charging box that feels reassuringly solid and high-quality, and wouldn’t look tacky sitting on a bedside table.
Here’s that gold Apple Watch edition sitting in its case:
But the Apple Store employee I was assigned to guide me through the device was far less fluid and knowledgeable than the assistant I had when trying on the lower-end models. I started off with a simple question: What kind of leather is it? He had to look it up on the Apple website. Next: I’d heard some things about a special kind of gold used — could he explain this a bit? Again, he didn’t know, and had to look it up in the online promotional materials. I asked if he had the rose gold Edition model with the fluoroelastomer strap — he didn’t know, and had to check the website (they don’t).
Here’s me examining the Apple Watch Edition while my assistant has to look up answers to my questions:
The devices only arrived in the stores late last night, and this morning is the first hands-on experience the staff have had with the devices. But these are precisely the details that someone in the market for a luxury watch would be interested in, and you expect a higher level of customer service when you’re shopping for a product that carries a such a huge price tag.
When I asked questions about the security of the device, he had to defer to a manager who came in to check in on us.
He also put the watch on my wrist upside-down at one point, and when it came to putting it away, he couldn’t work out how the box worked.
I also tried on the rose gold Apple Watch Edition with the white fluoroelastomer strap, which felt great:
Another flaw with the Edition sales process itself is that the watches also run the pre-programmed demo found on the other devices — but unlike when trying on the regular Apple Watch, customers have no access to a working display model. This means someone in the market only for an Apple Watch Edition will come away from an Apple Store with no idea how the Watch operating system actually works.
The Apple Watch Edition experience is superior to the standard Apple Watch try-on process in other ways, however. Customers currently cannot actually buy — or pre-order — the Apple Watch or Apple Watch Sport in stores: They need to go home and order it online. But access to a Mac means Apple Watch employees can walk people through buying the Edition online while still in store and deal with any issues.
Apple Watch Edition customers also have far more time to try on the device in a quieter setting. And when my assistant noticed I was using an Android device, he offered to help me buy an iPhone there and then (an Apple phone is required to get most of the Apple Watch’s functionality).
The devices themselves are fantastic. The Milanese strap Apple Watch is just lovely, and the fluoroelastomer strap of the Apple Watch Edition feels surprisingly luxurious, despite the fact it is the exact same material utilised in the Apple Watch Sport model.
It’s just a shame that the customer service when trying on the Apple Watch Edition left so much to be desired in my experience.