First Generation Is Not the Problem
Ok great, so the Apple watch has had a mediocre first 3 months on the market. What about the future? Doesn’t Apple have a track record of dramatically improving upon first generation products and turning them into ball-bustingly, gut wrenchingly, investor-palms-sweateningly efficient money machines?
Some definitely think so. They are the First-Gen Evangelists (FGE) as I’ll dub them. Here’s a cautiously optimistic FGE on the NY Times who opens with a strangely unsettling comparison between the Apple Watch and his infant daughter:
Asking if the Apple Watch will become a hit or a flop is a bit like asking if my 2-year-old daughter is destined to go to Yale or to jail. Interested parties can speculate on the basis of thin evidence — she learned to walk pretty early, though on the other hand, she still thinks cats say “bow wow” — but youth is inherently unpredictable, and anyone venturing a long-term forecast based on short-term performance runs the risk of looking quite silly.
After running through some numbers from a user satisfaction survey (97% of respondents either very or somewhat satisfied with the device) and citing the fact that “a slim majority” of the first-wave of customers described themselves as “non-techies” which is theoretically good news because it means the product will gain traction in the mass-market, he states his conclusion at the bottom of the article:
Bit-by-bit improvements are part of Apple’s modus operandi. We saw it with the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. After creating something new, the company continually adds small new features over time. Over a few years, this turns an initial burst of interest about Apple’s newest thing into a long-term tech institution that just about everyone can use and enjoy. That’s happening with the watch, and the strategy just might work.
Here’s my take: this incremental value FGE argument of “Look at the iPhone, look at the Apple watch; their growth projections will be equivalent” is fatally flawed. The iPhone and the Apple Watch are fundamentally different to an intractably large degree making comparisons of their growth trajectories nonsensical.
FGEs point out that the hardware and software of the Apple Watch will get better over time, much as the iPhone’s did. Fine. But the underlying form factor of the device — a health tracker that makes it easier to read notifications from your phone — will not change.
While the first generation iPhone started out buggy and feature-sparse, the form factor was completely revolutionary: a phone with a touch screen and internet capabilities. A mini-computer in your pocket, rather than just a phone. It set itself up for future success as wifi, 3g + 4g networks, and the app ecosystem developed over the next decade.
FGEs will argue that there will be a different ecosystem of apps for the Apple Watch. To that I would say, fine, but what are the inputs, mediums, and outputs of this new form factor? What data collection, processing, and presentation applications will be better on the Apple Watch than they are on a smartphone or a computer? What new and compelling apps are possible from these new IO and processing capabilities?
The only input that the Apple Watch gets that is different from a smartphone is from its physical location on the user’s wrist — a pulse. Otherwise, outputs will be relatively restricted and less useful than the iPhone’s outputs due to the watch’s smaller screen. Who wants to play a game, read a book, or surf the web on a watch? Nobody.4
A whole new dating experience
The Apple Watch is a glorified fitness tracker5 that obviates the need to take your phone out of your pocket to check notifications.6 Its secondary function is a marker of status, but there are plenty of other things you could buy to signal wealth to potential mates.