Expected this, and expect it will not last.
Developers and product people: how often do you use the Today drawer?
Although mentioned only briefly, the Apple Watch band connector may be the most important bit of the Apple Watch’s design. The band connector solves several problems Apple faced with the iPhone and answers the most troubling design question posed by wearables.
Let’s start with the design. Why is nailing the strap system so crucial to a successful wearable?
To design a wearable we actually want to wear, Apple has to find a way to make a product which will soon become obsolete also a personal product we’ll cherish. These qualities are at odds; making a personal piece of jewelry with an expiration date limits the amount of money shoppers are willing to pay and therefore reduces the budget you can spend making the object feel precious. And if the watch doesn’t feel precious, most people won’t wear it. Especially every day.
Apple answers this problem by making the bands detachable. In doing so, they’re isolating the part of the product which will not go obsolete (at least not anytime soon) and making this the precious bit. Watch Apple’s design video and pay attention to the language they use around the straps. We’ll cycle through Watches if a new generation appeals to us, but our fine mesh or leather straps will stay on our wrists.
Mark my words: the high-end straps will be expensive. Italian artisans don’t come cheap. And most of Apple’s Watch category profit margin will come from the straps.
Which brings us to the iPhone mistakes Apple will not repeat.
To my eyes, there are two major mistakes Apple committed seven years ago when they first introduced the iPhone which hounded them for several generations:
- They left a ‘price umbrella’ in their product line. For a long time there was only one iPhone, and it was expensive. People who liked the product and wanted to join in but couldn’t swing the cost were ignored by Apple and addressed by Android. Android gained it’s initial footing by undercutting the iPhone, selling a smartphone for less. Apple was painfully aware of this fact and it took them several years to correct it.
- Apple underestimated and missed the market for iPhone cases. As a company notorious which prides itself on the perfection of the object, it’s safe to assume a case was seen as a compromise by those in charge. We certainly know they didn’t use them. But Apple eventually recognized the market for them and even blocked out 3rd parties during their first case launch and has been launching them ever since, at very nice prices. But still: this market is mostly owned by 3rd parties.
The watch band system addresses both of these problems.
There will be no price umbrellas because the practical price of the watch will vary based on the band you buy. True, we have barely any pricing information (starts at $350!), but I’m making an assumption: the most expensive bands will cost at least as much as the watch itself while the base bands (likely the sports bands) will be a modest $30-$40.
In effect, with wide range of bands Apple has a full price gradient which addresses the luxury market and the mass market. This is important. Without the mass market, the economies of scale won’t kick in and platform plays (like Apple Pay) will whither on the vine. But if they only addressed the mass, the Watch both wouldn’t be personal and precious for those who want luxury and they’d leave a ton of money on the table.
With regards to the second iPhone mistake detailed above – that Apple missed the case market – I’m going to make another assumption: Apple will not be entertaining 3rd party bands and will enforce this legally and practically. To the latter point, I seriously doubt any case manufacturer has the laser cad facilities needed to carve out the precision parts in the band’s connectors (see the image above). Even if Apple did license the dock, I don’t think 3rd parties could join in. At least for awhile.
Apple will own the band market for at least the first three generations of watches. This clever design allows Apple to put the pressure on Android Wear makers. They can move most of their margins to the bands themselves (a market they have locked up) and drop the margins on the Watch itself, maintaining competitive prices. If not driving them below the competition.
While the band mechanism itself was mentioned only briefly last week, I think it’s one of the most important components announced. The connector allows Apple to address the luxury and mass markets, allows them to ship a personal product by isolating the part which will go obsolete, and locks up a lucrative market which will provide margin cushions for the Watch itself, allowing for competitive pricing.
In the disputed South China Sea, countries are laying claim to whatever land they can find, buy or build. China is building islands on reefs and a squad of Philippines marines are holding a ghost ship, under siege. (Via The BBC)
I’d wager that Apple had a camera in the watch which parsed facial expressions into emoji responses, at some point in the prototype process. But, the software was imperfect or the camera didn’t fit in a satisfactory way, so it’s been postponed.
They’ve been laying the groundwork for facial recognition in the APIs, and many have been using similar tech (like JetPac which identified smiles in Instagram pictures to score events and venues).
The Apple Watch feels like the first iPhone or iPod. It’s too expensive, too bulky, lacks apps other than a few example Apple entries, but is good enough to convince us that a smart watch future is inevitable.
In a few years, a sub $200 device will land in a semi-mature ecosystem and sweep the holiday season. Apple’s watch will almost certainly have it’s iPod Nano moment.
The big question is whether Apple or Google will launch this ideal device.
Apple clearly will nail the hardware, but Google will lap Apple when it comes to services, contextual data, and algorithms. Most of a smart watch’s interface is invisible. It is the health, location, movement, social, scheduled, and other context data which drives the device 95% of the time. And right now I’d bet on Google Now over Siri.
But it’s close. Google products are contextually aware but socially awkward. Apple products are socially aware but contextually awkward. Google ships a face computer. Apple ships jewelry.
I’ll be thinking about our wearable future in the coming days and weeks, but my immediate reaction to Apple’s show yesterday is an excitement for the eventual change in how we interface with technology. As wearables improve, I’m looking forward to:
- Shorter, responsive emails that are more like conversations than memos.
- Contextualized decisions based on health and context data. (For example, if you use your free hour between 3 and 4 to go to the gym your fitness chart will look like if not it will look like that.)
- Biometrics based security.
- Practical dictation tools.
- Smartphone-format devices we mostly leave in our bags and pockets.
- Smartphone-format devices that don’t need to manage notifications.