9 Mar 2015

Apple Watch: why it isn’t the new iPhone


Three points on the Apple Watch:

Why it matters:

This is the first product to be developed entirely within the reign of Tim Cook, who took over as chief exec after Steve Jobs’ death. If the watch takes off it’ll dispel any lingering questions about whether he’s fit to fill Jobs’ shoes.

The basic-level watch will cost around £220 (though inevitably there are reports of a gold-plated version costing $10,0000). If that seems pricey, consider the Beats By Dre headphones, an on-ear pair of which will set you back as much as £200.

It’s too early to say if the watch will blaze the kind of trail set by the iPod, iPhone and iPad, but at this price point it’s unlikely to be a failure. It doesn’t seem as significant a launch as those other products, but maybe it’ll be a slow burner (people forget it took the iPad some time to fully catch on).

And that’s the depressing truth: the watch doesn’t have to be a killer product to keep its place in Apple’s stable. Let’s face it, Apple TV hasn’t exactly set the world alight, but it gives Apple a foothold in an important sector, and with profits last quarter of $18bn, the company can afford to fund less-than-stellar product lines.


Why it could work:

In short: health apps. The watch combines the sort of health tech found in devices like the FitBit and Nike+ FuelBand (monitoring your heart rate, number of steps taken, etc) with the computing power to really turn that information into something you can use (mainly deciding whether to order that second portion of chips).

The health tech sector is seen as one of the biggest potential growth markets for mobile tech, and if the watch kick-starts a boom in health apps, Apple will benefit as it takes a cut of the price of every app sold. The company could also make money selling health data to insurers, governments, etc.

Why it could fail:

Battery life. Developers have reportedly been warned to make sure that interaction with apps is limited to about 10 seconds, in order to preserve power. Expect a slew of headlines when the watch goes on sale from owners distraught at running out of juice before the day is out.

The watch face will spring into life when you receive texts, emails and other updates. Then when a user unlocks the screen they’ll be able to access apps specially designed to run on the watch (so for example, the maps app might not show the level of detail you’d see on a phone screen, but it’ll operate like more of a Sat Nav guiding you from place to place). The question is whether potential buyers will see enough cool apps (given the 10-second restrictions) to drive them to buy.

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