I can understand the appeal of the Apple Watch. Throughout the day, I am constantly pulling out my phone to quickly check the time or the weather or my current location and then putting it back into my pocket. It would be more convenient to simply glance at my wrist which is not only faster but also leaves my hand free to hold something else. Yes, it is a small thing, but many consumer products are built on small conveniences.
There was no way the Apple Watch could live up to some of the hype that was building up before its unveiling. Before we feel too sorry for Apple, though, it’s worth remembering that previous product unveilings really were that good. The original iPhone turned the entire cell phone industry on its ear with a simple innovation that was startlingly obvious in hindsight: stop forcing users to deal with unintuitive and tiny buttons or pens, let them use a big touch screen instead, and let third party developers create software for it. The iPad was less clearly revolutionary, but it created the modern tablet market where only a few feeble products had existed before.
By contrast, the Apple Watch seems to be following in the footsteps of Samsung and Pebble. Is Apple still an innovator, and can the Apple Watch really succeed?
The best comparison is probably to the launch of the original iPod. At the time, MP3 players were nothing new and Apple was entering a field with a lot of competition. But the iPod had a superior interface (the click-wheel) and the backing of one of the most popular music download services at the time (the iTunes Music Store). The iPod was not obviously superior to all the others, but it had enough advantages that eventually Apple was able to rule the market. (It’s ironic that the iPod Classic line has now been discontinued).
Similarly, the Apple Watch is entering an existing product field, and it’s clear that Apple hopes to win marketshare on the strength of its industrial design and supporting software. To help solve interface issues, Apple added a rotating knob on the side called the Digital Crown and a touch screen that distinguishes light taps from firm presses. There are also modules on the side contacting the wrist which provides tactile feedback. These are all features which no other smart watch has (and which Apple has surely patented). In terms of software, the App Store is still widely considered the best and most comprehensive store available.
Of course, there are still important details we don’t know yet (like battery life). But it’s not going to become available until early 2015 anyhow. Unlike some other Apple product launches, the Apple Watch isn’t a clear runaway hit. But all in all, it has as much of a fighting chance as the original iPod did.