Apple failed to explain why we need a smartwatch, but it did give us a hint

Apple watch tim cook REUTERS/Robert GalbraithApple CEO Tim Cook and model Christy Turlington at the Apple Watch launch event.

Here’s the biggest question I had leading up to Monday’s Apple Watch event:


Why do we need a smartwatch? Why do we need to spend between $US350 and $US17,000 on a device that already does a lot that the $US650+ iPhone already does? Besides being a pretty thing on your wrist, what can the Apple Watch do that will make lives better?

After watching Apple’s event for over an hour, I didn’t see a clear, concise answer.

When Apple launched the iPhone, we got an answer. It was an iPod, phone, and internet machine rolled into one. It eventually evolved beyond that to become a new computing platform thanks to the wild success of the App Store.

When Apple launched the iPad, we got an answer. It was a device in between the phone and the computer, something perfect for reading, watching movies, and consuming content in general.

So, where does the Apple Watch fit in? There have been a lot of guesses from tech pundits, but no clear rationale from Apple. However, I do think we got a hint.

Kevin Lynch, one of the vice presidents in charge of the Apple Watch project, gave a long demo of the most important things the device can do. Before he got started, he said: “Using Apple Watch during the day is about brief interactions. Many of those are just a few seconds long.”

He then went on to demonstrate how apps like Instagram, WeChat, and Uber have been adapted to work on the Apple Watch. For example, when you get a new instant message on WeChat, you can quickly respond from your watch without having to pull out your phone. With Uber, you get a glance at how close your driver is and what his or her car looks like.

It also works with basic iPhone features like Siri (for checking weather, sports, setting reminders, etc.), iMessage, incoming phone calls, etc.

In short, Apple positioned the the Apple Watch as a mini, watered-down iPhone for your wrist. It’s still dependent on the phone for all functions, but it also makes those phone functions more personal and convenient.

Based on those demos, Apple’s pitch seems to be that you should buy an Apple Watch so you use your phone less while wearing something that looks good.

I think there’s more to it. Assuming the Apple Watch sells well (and there’s no reason to think it won’t), developers have a big opportunity to come up with new use cases for the Apple Watch. Think back to the early days of the iPhone. There was no Instagram, Uber, Snapchat, Postmates, or any of the other transformative apps and services we use today. The iPhone created a platform that made it all possible.

I think once developers have time to explore the Apple Watch more, “checking your phone less” won’t be the main reason to buy one.

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