Apple Legitimizes The Smartwatch Category: Part 1 Style And Social Acceptance

By Patrick Moorhead - September 12, 2014
Tuesday, I attended Apple’s launch event in Cupertino where they announced the new iPhone 6, Apple Pay and the Apple Watch. I have followed the smartwatch market for years and, to put it bluntly, don’t think any of the smartwatches were ready for mass adoption. Additionally, I chronicled my personal use of 11 different watches, and while many had some very many awesome features, holistically, they all came up short. After listening to Apple’s presentation, seeing and using the watches in albeit a controlled environment, I think that Apple has legitimized the smartwatch market. I chronicled the missteps of the current crop of wearables here. I said, “It will take vast improvements in social acceptability, utility, battery life [and charging], displays, price and style to make these horizontal wearables as pervasive as phones.” Let me measure the Apple Watch against all these variables. For part 1, I will address style and social acceptability. Objection 1: Style Watches are more akin to jewelry and clothing than it is to a phone or computer. Therefore, one size and style definitely does not work.  Just think about all the different materials, shapes, colors and sizes of things people wear on their wrists today. Apple therefore is providing 2 sizes, 6 cases, 6 band types, 15 band colors, and 10 watch faces. With the Apple Watch, consumers can choose from:
  • 2 different sizes: 38mm and 42mm height
  • 6 different cases: Stainless Steel, Silver aluminum, 18-Karat Yellow Gold, Space Black Stainless Steel, Space Gray Aluminum, 18- Karat Rose Gold
  • 6 band types in 15 colors:
    • Link Bracelet (brushed 316L alloy in 2 colors)
    • Sports Band (fluorelastometer in 5 colors)
    • Leather Loop (Venezia leather in 3 colors)
    • Classic Buckle (ECCO embossed leather in 1 color)
    • Modern Buckle (Granada leather in 3 colors)
    • Milanese Loop (stainless alloy mesh in 1 color)
To make it simple for consumers, this all culminates into three major brands for 33 different watches:
  • Apple Watch: 18 different models, coming with Retina display with sapphire crystal face
  • Apple Watch Sport: 10 different models, coming with lightweight, 7000 Series anodized aluminum and Ion-X alumina-silicate glass face
  • Apple Watch Edition: 5 different models made from 18-karat gold with a sapphire crystal face
After that, consumers can customize the watch face:
  • 10 customizable watch faces: Chronograph, Color, Modular, Timelapse, Solar, Astronomy, Motion, Utility, Mickey Mouse, Simple, Photo
As you can see, there’s not just one Apple Watch, there are many, many different watches. Apple hasn’t fit every watch desire, but then again, no single watch maker fills everyone’s needs. In particular, Apple did not fill the style need for consumers who demand round or square faces, the thinnest watch, gigantic watches, most expensive watches or a specific 3x Objection 2: Social Acceptability Most smartwatches today actually disrupt the flow of one on one conversations. When a notifications comes in on my Samsung smartwatches, my watch lights up, the person with whom I am talking notices it, can many times see the notification and the conversation flow stops. Apple solved this problem. With the Apple Watch, when you get a notification, you get a haptic pulse to the wrist delivered by what Apple calls their “Taptic Engine”.  You know you are getting a notification, but the person with whom you are talking doesn’t. If you want to see the notification, you lift the Apple Watch to your face like you would check the time, and the Apple Watch lights up and shows you the notification. As I spelled out here, consumers have tended to reject cameras on wearables. The aversion is that someone may be recording or taking a picture in an embarrassing or compromising situation. Ironically, people don’t have the same aversion to having a smartphone sitting on the table that has multiple cameras. Nor do consumers seems to have an aversion for microphones. I believe it’s actually a benefit that the Apple Watch does not have a camera. Consumer sensitivity may improve in the future, but so far they’ve rejected it. I will address the utility, battery life, challenging charging, displays, and price objections in Part 2.
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.