Apple’s last major product presentation, in October, 2013, closed without the unveiling of a major new product. Sure, the gang from Cupertino gave the world the iPad Air and rolled out the new iPhone 5s alongside its plastic-backed counterpart the 5c. But many were waiting for Apple’s next “big” thing. It didn’t happen. Everyone came but Apple hadn’t built it.
Back then the talk was that the new product was going to be a watch. Why wouldn’t that have been the talk? Samsung, after all, had just launched its watch. And Samsung had been breathing down Apple’s neck in the recent months. October would have been a good time to stop them in their tracks with a shiny new product that, seemingly, everyone was clamoring for.
Right? Not really. Those who believed that the iWatch was coming shrugged off the non-arrival as an attempt by Apple to highlight the other new products at the October presentation. The iWatch could wait until the next event. Others, though, just seemed relieved that Apple didn’t do it. That’s right; there are those who think the iWatch is a bad idea.
There are actually a few camps out there. There are, of course, those who think the iWatch is coming and is going to be amazing. There are those who think it simply isn’t going to happen. And then there are those who think, even if it exists, it would just be a horrible idea to release it.
Google to your heart’s content for discussions on the foregone conclusion that the release of the iWatch is upon us; read the dreamy wish lists and drool over artists’ renderings. There is plenty of that stuff out there. But there are a few reasons to believe Apple isn’t going to release an iWatch, and if they are why, it is bad idea.
First and foremost, and more important than anything else, there is no historical precedent for Apple to build something like a watch. Not that they need one. If the pesky precedent were a prerequisite, we wouldn’t have any of Apple’s revolutionary products that society now has an inexhaustible appetite for. There was no company precedent for Apple to leap from the personal computer business into the music business and give us the iPod, after all.
But the iPod filled a need. Anyone in the nineties with an even basic understanding of computers and technology, especially those who already loved hearing their favorite song burst from their computer speakers in MP3 form, knew that a new age had arrived. It was only a matter of time before that nifty little technology was made portable and stuffed into our pockets and plugged into our ears.
People had been carrying Walkmans for years. There was a demand for personal music. The platter sized Discman was hardly an improvement in that market. Something was bound to change. Sure, there were other companies making portable digital music players. But the creative and design genius of Steve Jobs and his crack team gave the world the iPod. Apple, and the world, was forever changed when that happened.
Fast forward a few years. The Blackberry now exists. The short lived Palm Pilot has made address books and day planners things of the past. Those ubiquitous white ear buds are hanging from the ears of everyone on the subway. But those people have full pockets (and maybe empty wallets). Carrying a flip-phone or a blackberry, a Palm Pilot, and an iPod, the average technology junky now weighs a few pounds more before getting out the front door in the morning.
Another identifiable need? Yes. Enter the iPhone. Another major product release for Apple and another need filled. The iPhone consolidated a growing array of “necessary” electronics into one, simple device.
Same goes for the more recent iPad. The product that meant doctors would no longer have to enter the exam room thumbing through a stack of files or balancing a laptop on an upturned palm while trying to close the door. And the iPad Mini meant the same doctor could slip the thing into a large pocket in a lab coat. No more stringing wires across the conference table to plug in laptops. That’s right; the iPad filled a need too. It meant you could hold something substantial while trying to read the digital version of your favorite newspaper rather than squinting at an iPhone.
But we know these things. What does it have to do with the iWatch? Well, ask yourself when was the last time you looked at your watch (assuming you even have one) and thought it could be doing something more for you. Who wants, or needs, to talk to their watch? Is Siri really that good at taking dictation anyway? If anything, the iPhone has given many the opportunity to shed the watch; the last personal electronic device that we have in common with our great-grandfathers.
All of this historical perspective is important because it focuses the mind and helps place the futuristic iWatch in its proper place.
The thing, if released, would be an accessory. Hardly a new, big product at all. Any speculation about the iWatch can’t get past the notion that it would merely compliment the other Apple devices many already carry. And that would be a huge departure for the Cupertino company. Apple doesn’t produce its own Bluetooth earpieces; it doesn’t produce speakers to compliment the music devices. The company barely dips its toe into the waters of the protective case market. Where it does, it merely provides a map for what others might create. As if to say, “Keep these things simple and preserve the beauty of our product.”
Accessories aren’t revolutionary. And the act of raising your forearm to your face rather than reaching into your pocket is not likely to revolutionize the way we live our lives. Historically, Apple has had bigger fish to fry. To go after the smaller fish now, especially after Samsung has already tried, would do little more than dilute its formidable brand.
Apart from brand dilution though, one point that few raise, or rather the one question that is rarely asked is, “why a watch?” Why indeed. Watches are largely considered a dying thing. Take a look around yourself right now. How many opportunities do you have, without moving, to learn the current time? Plenty. That’s why few people even wear watches anymore. For those who do, it is largely a fashion accessory.
To build and market an iWatch, Apple would be jumping into a world that has as much to do with fashion as it does with information accessibility and communication. The iPhone, by comparison, never had that problem. It was a sleek, discreet device that could be slipped into a pocket or a purse. Congressmen, construction workers, and hipsters in skinny jeans could all carry the iPhone with no concern as to whether they were dressed up or down. To pull off a watch, Apple would have to create a product desirable to both genders. A device at home on the arm of a woman in an evening dress as well as a surfer at Mavericks. That’s a tall order, not to mention that surfing with an iWatch is likely out of the question—not a handicap of other watches.
And one last question about watches in general. How many others need to be plugged in at night? Farfetched notions of solar power aside, having to plug a watch in at night or — gasp — in the office to keep the thing running further complicates life for the user. Complicating life has never been a goal of any Apple product. To create a product that did so now would be a huge misstep.
The upside of an iWatch, then, is seemingly non-existent. A new product category, perhaps. But that new category really isn’t new; it’s just the one labeled “accessory.” The iWatch would be an add-on to an existing product or products. Samsung claims to have sold 800,000 watches in the first two months (those numbers are disputed by many). Apple, by comparison, pre-sold 600,000 iPhone 4’s in the first 24 hours of their availability. Those aren’t promising watch numbers, no matter how much better the iWatch may be.
Furthermore it is just proof that there isn’t much demand for a wearable accessory. And that leaves little upside to a product that is likely to seriously harm the brand if it fails. The stakes are high for Apple during this next round of product releases. Apple, which hasn’t had a major product release since before the untimely death of Steve Jobs, would be well-advised to avoid releasing the iWatch, if it does exist. And if it does exist, it certainly shouldn’t be its next-big-thing.
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