So anyone that knows me will tell you that I’m not the greatest fan of Apple. The technology company that is, not the once forbidden fruit.
But while I will argue that they are not the great “innovators” that most people seem to claim they are, I will admit that they do hold the ability to encourage people to buy into new technology… and by “new” I actually mean old.
In recent years it seems that Joe Public is generally unaware of anything new in the tech world until Apple have brandished one with their logo. The MP3 player had been around for a while before the iPod, the smartphone and tablet had been around long before iPhone and iPad.
Much like the product I’m going to talk about in this post, I had all of these gadgets way before they gained a lower case ‘i’ and a plain white box. I’m of course going to be talking about smart watches and perhaps more importantly, why I’m actually disappointed Apple have failed with theirs.
Most professional tech journals and blogs tend to use the word ‘flop’ when talking about the Apple Watch, even the most biased of ones, and its hard not to agree. I myself work in the technology sector and have only ever seen two people wearing one. Those two being the Guru from my local O2 Store and my area’s Apple representative. I’ve seen far more of them in the window display of my nearest branch of CeX.
I personally see Apple as less of a technology company and more of a fashion company, making gadgets appealing to the average consumer and not just early adopting geeks like me or the ‘Q’ branch of MI6. With that in mind, something that you can actually wear should have been easier for Apple to sell than uranium to the middle east.
So why have they failed and why do I care?
I don’t think anyone can really pin point just why the Apple Watch hasn’t been such a big success but since you’ve been kind enough to read this far I’ll pose to you my own opinions.
For one, its far too expensive, even by Apple’s standards. The main advantage of a smart watch over a regular wrist watch is being able to view and interact with notifications from your phone without the need to get that phone out of your pocket or bag. Really handy in places where you can’t or don’t want to have your phone in hand such as a work meeting, the gym or somewhere there could be thieves. Since the Apple Watch can only do this when connected to the phone via bluetooth, a range of about 10 meters, from my point of view this makes it strictly an accessory. No one wants to pay the same amount if not more money for an accessory for their phone than the phone cost itself. Most people don’t even want to spend more than £10 for a case or a screen protector and when the phone is usually subsidised monthly over the term of a contract, people are even less likely to hand over a £350+ lump sum on top.
Secondly, I’ll point at it’s design. Now as much as I don’t personally like their products to use, Apple gizmos are generally always pretty to look at. Their watch however is underwhelming and dated in it’s physical appearance. It looks like it was designed a few years ago, and knowing Apple, it probably was. Compared against other smart watches currently on the market, it lacks any real style and especially when paired with the cheapest option of a plastic wrist strap, it has a slight ‘Fisher Price’ look to it. It’s biggest problem in this area is that it’s square. Most other smart watches at the moment have a round face, making it hard to tell that it’s a smart watch at all, just a regular watch and that leads loosely into my last point, it’s ability to be a watch.
The thing with smart watches is that they need to be a watch first and smart second. The Apple Watch is quite simply a terrible watch. To start with, the screen is always off until you either touch it or turn your wrist over, meaning you can’t just glance at it at any moment and get the time. Also, at the time of writing, it’s also not very customisable, leaving you with only the limited set of watch face designs that are pre loaded onto it and you can only use it with the set of straps that Apple supply for it. This is something I’m sure will change in future updates or versions but for now it leaves it looking very uniform and perhaps that’s what Apple wanted in order for everybody to be able to tell that it is an Apple Watch straight away but this isn’t great for a product that you wear rather than put into a pocket.
These are all factors that Android Wear has got right. Wear devices feature ‘always on’ displays and have a wealth of watch faces that can be installed from the Play Store. They also use standard watch strap fittings and can still allow you to interact with notifications from your phone even if the two devices are miles apart. So long as your phone has a data connection and the watch is connected to WiFi, the two can still communicate with each other no matter where they are. This allows Android Wear watches to be less of an accessory and more of a watch, independent of the phone and not just an extension of it.
So if Android Wear watches are so great, why do I care that Apple’s one isn’t? It all ties in with what I wrote at the beginning of this post. Apple are able to make niche products attractive to the consumer mainstream. I have had five different smart watches over the same number of years and I am still the only person I know that owns one. The situation takes me back to the early 2000’s when I was very early to adopt Windows Mobile smartphones long before ‘iPhone’ was even a word. It wasn’t until Apple entered the market that all of a sudden everyone wanted one. Again this happened with tablet computers and I had hoped that the same story would follow for smart watches too. I would love to see them become far more popular than they are currently as I find them incredibly useful and want to see the technology progress as quickly as smartphones have over the years but that won’t happen unless they do indeed become more widely used.
Perhaps if I’m right, and the key to a great smart watch is that it’s a brilliant watch first and a smart device second, then it needs a watch company and not a technology company to bring them to the masses. With companies like Tag Heuer reportedly bringing Android Wear based smart watches onto the market soon, then maybe we’ll finally see them used by more than just geeks like me.
It’s an interesting thought and one that only time will tell.
If you would like to know more on the watch that I currently wear, take a look at the My Tech page here.