In the wake of Apple’s Live Event this week, there’s been some understandable finger pointing at Apple Watch. Poor battery life, a strap that doesn’t slip under the sleeve, the price point. But that’s what you get with first-gen technology. It will get better with time, so let’s not waste time fretting here.
Somewhere that does, however, deserve a little more attention is the criticism Apple received for its apparent lack of a clear use case for Apple Watch and the subsequent view from many that they don’t see why they would need one.
This sort of critique will be familiar to many, including the inventors of the telephone. The radio. Even the colour TV. And it’s certainly very familiar to Apple. This sort of “Why?” take-down question always tends to be chucked at product launches that make radical departures from what came before.
Why do we do that?
Well, one slightly depressing reason is that in an impatient world, the quickest way to form a view is to cross your arms and tell the world you’re not that impressed – Stephen Fry bemoaned this behaviour at the launch of iPad.
The other reason, which is a lot more important to consider, is that it really isn’t that easy to clearly position radical new products within the current world order. Especially when this new thing is more platform than product, and that platform hasn’t been built on yet.
Given this was Tim’s first big launch and it clearly lacked Steve-style logic for how Apple Watch fits into the world, this lack of positioning left many people wondering if Apple had skipped the product strategy bit. Could this be more of a punt than Apple’s usual carefully considered, patient plans?
Obviously that’s nonsense, so this post will provide a TAB view on what the Watch is, why there are so many unanswered ‘why’ questions, and why Apple have launched it as they have.
Spoiler alert: the answer to all those unanswered questions is the huge, transformative opportunity for millions of app developers around the world, including us here at The App Business.
What is the Watch?
The answer is staring us in the face. Let’s start with what the Watch is. As is typical with an Apple product launch, whilst the world struggled to find the hidden code, the answer was printed in big bold letters at the top of Apple’s press release: “Apple’s most personal device ever.” Apple uses the word “device” because it doesn’t have the baggage of “computer”, but make no mistake, this is a very personal computing device and its eventual impact will be bigger than any personal computer that’s come before it.
Apple and Tim telegraphed this by hosting the event at the Flint Center and kicking off the event by looking back at the two other radically new computers that Apple launched there: Macintosh and iMac. Remember, Apple chooses its keynote words and behaviours very carefully and deliberately.
To be fair, a lot of people picked up on the personal aspect – but they didn’t understand what Apple really means by ‘most’ personal. ABC News’ exclusive interview of Tim and Jony dug in on the plus-two million watch/strap/face combinations that enable personalisation, but Tim and Jony said that this was something they’d only grasped very recently. And even if Apple did plug the range of combinations here during the keynote, customisation is clearly not what they mean by “most personal device ever.”
The type of personalisation Apple is talking about is the personal context this device will acquire from the wearer because it is stuck to their skin 24/7/365 (well, when it’s not charging). Apple Watch will understand who you are (authenticated via skin contact); where you are (via the iPhone’s GPS); what you are doing (via gyroscope, accelerometer, and apps); and even how you are feeling (via mind-blowing body monitoring technologies).
This will make it the most personal and powerful computer ever because it will understand more about your context and how to meet your needs than any other computer before it.
That’s kind of cool – but how’s a watch going to meet my needs?
The big idea here isn’t just the Watch. It’s also the Internet of Things, or what we at TAB call the Programmable World. This is the next mega era of computing, and in this era all objects will be online and ready to serve you automatically, based on an understanding of your needs. And that’s where Apple Watch and wearables come in.
As an incredibly personal device, Apple Watch will understand each and every one of your needs, including those your brain can’t recognise yet, and it will message the programmable world to address them intelligently and automatically. \
Use cases include everything from the obvious coffee machine that starts brewing as you soon as you step out of bed, to the doctor that pre-emptively understands your heart is at risk, and the perfect bedroom lighting scheme that’s figured out how to get you to sleep fastest. These are just some obvious examples, and it’s currently easiest to imagine its impact in the home and on your health and that’s why Apple also launched HealthKit and HomeKit.
We understand that the first-gen Watch will still leave a lot of the heavy lifting to the iPhone 6, but the two devices are going to get along nicely to start with. And make no mistake, just as the phone replaced the desktop at the centre of your digital ‘hub’, the Watch will replace the phone…but all in due course.
To sum up, what the Watch is is pretty simple: Apple’s most personal device ever (like they said). And its personalisation powers are rooted in its ability to get under, or rather onto, your skin. As a result it can understand your needs and automatically program the world to meet them.
So why did Tim skip the product strategy slides and not share some more compelling use cases?
In the build up to the keynote, a bunch of people did some very smart analyses of Apple’s previous product launch keynotes and exactly how Steve set up the big reveal.
Typically, Steve spent a good chunk of time talking about an old category that was broken and then introduced a radically simple product that fixed it. Apple had benefitted from being patient enough to sit on the sidelines whilst such category formed, and then failed, and then came in best (rather than first) to fix it and clean up.
But this launch was different.
Tim just played a video, then came back on stage arms aloft, and then the guy from Adobe that everyone had forgotten about did an OK-ish demo. And this made a bunch of people scratch their heads. Was there no Steve-style logic because there was no case for this product? Was there no category take-down because there was no problem that needed fixing? Had Apple uncharacteristically hurried the launch of this?
No they had not. You see, this wasn’t a product launch. It was a platform launch. And its success requires developers to develop ideas that are beyond even Apple’s wildest imagination.
Sure Apple could have probably done a better job of explaining the virtues of this intimate, wearable canvas; and they could have done better inspiring the world with the potential of its radical new interface and haptic feedback. But that’s kind of hard when you don’t have app examples (nor Steve), and they kindly leave the challenge of coming up with the apps to us lot in the app business.
That’s why the Apple’s app demos and ‘use cases’ were a bit of a let down. The same happened with the iPhone App Store launch. With both products Apple simply showed apps for the existing computing model on the new device. With iPhone it was “Look, the eBay website is now an app!”, with the Watch it was “Look, Maps is now on a small screen!”.
My conclusion here is pretty clear: the reason there are no compelling use cases quite yet is because they haven’t been figured out yet. And you can either sit on the side lines doubting its potential, or you can roll up your sleeves and figure out how to create value. And that’s why Apple launched it early and many months before the products hits the shelves. They want to inspire us developers to get developing fast so that it launches with the full force of the App Store behind it.
The first rule of wearables: they need to be wearable
To be a highly successful platform, Apple – or rather developers – need hundreds of millions of people to wear the Watch. Sure, a lot of people today don’t wear watches, but fortunately hundreds of millions do, and more still could, for good functional and aesthetic reason.
So whilst Apple might not have a crystal clear proposition for why millions of people should buy this thing as a wearable computer – quite yet – they do have an off-the-shelf, proven marketing strategy for getting hundreds of millions of people to put this time telling device on their wrist in order to attract developers: seductive, aspirational watch marketing.
And just look at the team they assembled to help them take a crack at a more deliberately fashionable type of marketing (something pretty foreign to an Apple more used to launching technology products on plain white backgrounds).
Come to think of it, just the collection of “fashion” people on the Apple Watch team is insane, and only the sort of thing Apple (and likely its stock options) could pull off. You’ve got the former CEO of Burberry, arguably the great fashion success story of the past decade. And you’ve got the former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, one of the greatest brand names in the history of fashion. Then there’s Marc Newson, the other greatest industrial designer alive today. And there’s more: Nike Fuelband’s leading designer jumped ship, TAG Heuer’s Sales VP joined the team, and obviously Dre brings a little street cred to the endeavour too. What a line up – and that’s just the fashion people on the team.
This explicitly fashionable marketing strategy is the polar opposite of Google Glass.
Both Apple Watch and Google Glass are going to fundamentally change the way people live on planet Earth – eventually. But Google decided to make this a part of the brand’s story right out of the gate, and scrambled to fix the fashion bit after. That doesn’t work with wearable technology. If you launch a product as unfashionable as Google Glass, you’re going to have a hard job ever turning that around. However, Apple realised that fashion isn’t just important, it can actually be the number one driver for selling the device in the first place – and if they get it right, it can be a pretty robust formula for growing that developer-attracting installed base.
It’s funny to compare Google Glass’ early adopter marketing program and the mocking imagery of ‘white dudes wearing Glass’ with Apple’s sultry photography of guys and girls kissing after a sweaty work out. Jesus. What would Steve have said? I don’t think he would have recognised it as an Apple ad, but that’s the point. Tim’s actually made a very brave, and strategic leap: to market the Watch as something fashionable in order to get millions of people wearing it.
And once millions of people have it on their wrists, and it’s all juiced up with insane personal context, well, developers and end-users alike are going to be blown away with what the Watch becomes.
So how long until it gets traction?
It’s pretty hard to guess the trajectory of new product categories, but as ever with Apple, I’ll bet that we’ll be surprised by the pace of its take-off.
And we can also be very sure of one more thing: there is no time like now for individuals, organisations and businesses to start figuring out how they can create value on this new platform.
Make no mistake, this is an entirely new computing platform and it’s more personal than anything before. Dwell on that, just for a moment. These chances don’t come around often, but we’ve just been given another one and it’s why we created The App Business. We sure as heck can’t wait to take this on.