Why the Apple Watch Needs to Be Expensive

Apple Watch with Link Bracelet (Apple, 2014)

This morning at 10 am Cupertino time in California, Apple held a keynote event at the Yerba Buena Centre. The company unveiled ResearchKit (an amazing way for health professionals to launch global medical research projects via iPhone) and a sexy Retina MacBook that reinvents notebook design. Impressive as both of these announcements were, the hot topic on everyone’s minds was the Apple Watch, and more importantly, when it would be made available and for what price.

Well, now we have the answers.

The Apple Watch Sport starts at AU$499 (US$349), leading up through the middle Apple Watch range all the way up to the ceramic-strengthened gold Apple Watch Edition, which at its most expensive hits AU$24,000 ($US17,000). There is a great variety of models in anodised aluminium, stainless steel and strengthened gold finishes, each with a multitude of customisable/interchangeable bands at a range of prices. Rather than list them all in this post, you can view the prices here at the American Apple Store or here at the Australian store.

There was an expectation from many in the tech and fashion communities that the watch would be priced quite high, but many still seemed surprised about the price of the bands. For example, an über-desirable Milanese Loop band costs $AU299. If tech fans are surprised, just imagine the reaction from general consumers who don’t wake up at odd hours around the world to view Apple keynotes.

Apple Watch with Milanese Loop (Apple, 2014)

In all honesty, I think that the Apple Watch needs to be expensive. Apple’s choice of high pricing is incredibly clever for two major of reasons. The first reason is the watch’s power to challenge the existing timepiece industry. Whilst I would argue that AU$499 is stil incredibly accessible as a starting price,  higher prices as you ascend through the range reflect the level of functionality, customisation and impressive manufacturing processes that Apple is bringing to the industry. No other watch (smart watch or not) can do what Apple Watch can currently do, and definitely not with the same finesse and integration with existing devices, whether they be smartphones, home automation kits or medical devices. Add to this the fact that the Apple Watch is the most accurate timepiece ever created (within +/- 50 milliseconds) and you have a truly compelling product. The Apple Watch needs to be expensive to reflect its capability and challenge existing watches effectively.

The second reason is one that I believe has been talked about less, and is just as important, if not more important: branding. The Apple brand has always historically been one for creatives, professionals and those with discerning taste. It sounds snobby, and I’m no real creative professional, but it’s true. Film studios and professional photographers, for example, generally prefer Apple’s offerings. Even through Apple’s dark years in the late 1990s when they were mere months from bankruptcy, there was a kind of ‘elite’ Apple user and developer community which stayed impressively loyal to the company.

Since returning to success (ridiculous success, at that), Apple has won over many more users and new fans through its desktop and mobile products and services. Whilst remaining more expensive than the competition in general, the company has reduced prices gradually to make their offeringsmore accessible. One of the major potential side-effects of this, interestingly, is a dilution of brand exclusivity. Democratisation of technology, whilst empowering for the masses, can spell trouble for the companies that provide it. Apple has gone from exclusive underdog to global powerhouse. When exclusivity disappears, people who are more interested in status than function and design (brand-switchers) start to look elsewhere. In the tech and fashion industries there is always the threat of someone newer, bigger and better just around the corner.

Apple Watch, as a expensive product with a huge range of uses, reinvigorates the Apple brand with exclusivity and desirability. This isn’t just a tech product, it’s a highly-customisable fashion accessory as well. I may be incorrect, and time will tell, but I predict that the Apple Watch will be a success. People may complain about some of the prices now, and Apple may end up making some adjustments, but all-in-all, human beings are social animals often hell-bent on impressing others or appearing better than others. Those who don’t jump straight onto the Watch because “there’s no real use case”, “it’s a just a pretty toy”, “I don’t need this” or “it’s too expensive” (all of which were said about iPods, iPhones and iPads), will soon start to see others wearing them. They will probably end up wanting one too. If they choose not to buy an Apple Watch and instead decide to purchase a competitor’s offering, then that’s also a good thing. Purchase of any new wearable technology breeds competition, new development and the growth of the category.

This all being said, the Apple Watch is no iPhone. I don’t think we can expect sales anytime soon that quite approach those of the iPhone, largely because the cost of an iPhone is generally spread out for most people over a two-year contract. I believe, however, that super-high sales are not the most important thing (at least at first). Apple is very future-focused though, and is happy to cannibalise its own products with new ones. It may sound ridiculous, but the watch could supplant the phone in years to come. What is important now, however, is that the Apple Watch instils further desire and design excellence into the Apple brand, which at this stage no other company can match.

Looking Forward to the Apple Watch

I’m a massive Apple fan and have been since I was five years old. My aunt recommended strongly to my father that we buy a Mac in 1997, at a time when Apple was only a few months from bankruptcy. Our first Mac was a Power Macintosh 6500, a beige machine inspired by the era prior to Steve Jobs’s return. I loved that computer. I typed stories on it, listened to audio CDs, played CD-ROM games (yay Myst and You Don’t Know Jack) and learnt how to navigate the Web.

Since then, I’ve followed every development in the Mac Universe very eagerly, watching Apple set the standard in every product category that it touches. They’re not always the first to market, but that’s precisely the point. Apple takes existing ideas and combines them to make the simplest package possible. Apple creates products that are designed so beautifully and made so approachable for pros and beginners alike, that every competitor, and I mean *every competitor*, copies them. Look no further than Samsung with the iPhone, or PC makers’ ultrabooks with the MacBook Air.

It is with this zeal that I await the Apple Watch. I look forward to seeing if it will be an enormous success, a dreadful failure or somewhere in between. I predict that it will succeed, but that it will sit in a similar position to the iPad. It is almost impossible to imagine that anything could take off as well as the iPhone (now the greatest business in the history of all business, following Apple’s last quarter). It will sell well, but will probably face the same scepticism that meets the current wearable market. If anyone has the power to change this, it is Apple, just as it did to the tablet market.

Models include the Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition

Since the Apple Watch was first revealed in September last year, I have been wondering what it’s most useful feature or features could be, or what would matter to me specifically. In my broad reading about the watch, it seems that some people cannot see how it could be useful. They state that it needs a ‘killer app’ to be successful, something that it can do that no other device can.

This is not the point of the Apple Watch, as I see it. I believe that the Apple Watch can be summed up with two words:

customisation + convenience.

The iPad had and still doesn’t have a real ‘killer app’. The iPad is a deliberately expanded iOS device that does all of the same things as an iPhone (except for phone calls). Apple understood that a gap could be filled. People wanted larger displays than what they had on their phones, but wanted something that was more comfortable than a laptop to carry around or nestle with on a lounge. The iPad has been a resounding success, applicable in both work and leisure situations. The Apple Watch will enable people to not only check notifications more easily and control various another devices and accessories, but also be personalised in a way that no other modern, wearable technology has before. That’s what some critics do not understand; it is not about specifications, numbers, unique hardware-enabled features and geeky stuff. These things help, but what truly matters is the marriage of good design and engaging software to create a unique experience for every individual. Apple creates magic with its products by paying attention to these small details. No other company can do this. No other tech company can inspire the same pride in its consumers.

CEO Tim Cook triumphant at the September 2014 event, unveiling Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and Apple Pay

I imagine that my primary uses for the Apple Watch will lie in social media notifications, music playback, glances at weather and other location information, plus a little bit of Siri. With the way that the Australian dollar is going at the moment and the knowledge that the Apple Watch will be starting at $349, let’s hope that I can actually afford it. #firstworldproblems

Apple can make the watch cool for younger people again, many of whom have given up on wearing watches in favour of awkwardly (and somewhat rudely) pulling out their smartphones to check the time. I’ve always loved to wear watches and see the Apple Watch as the first compelling, modern take on the traditional timepiece.

I look forward to seeing how this next device will go on to influence our lives as the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad all have. Even the Apple TV, a supposed “hobby” product, has dramatically changed my lounge room space at home and how my family consumes content.

Apple’s influence is mammoth and there is plenty more to come.

Interface @ the Powerhouse Museum

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney to check out the exhibition Interface: People, Machines, Design. Featuring both retro and recent consumer products (primarily from Apple, IBM and Braun), the exhibition focuses on the significance of consumer products in our lives today. More importantly, it illustrates the strong emotional connection that we develop with such products, due to the marriage of effective industrial design, iconography and typography. Ultimately, for a technological product to be successful, it must tell a story and be clear, simple and accessible to as many people as possible.

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My wonderful girlfriend, Natasha, was kind enough to attend with me and watch me giggle with glee as I surveyed the numerous exhibits. My Apple zealotry has (of course) infiltrated her life, and I’m pleased to say that she enjoyed it as well. 🙂

As we toured the rather small exhibition, it became clear that the space itself was constructed to reflect the products featured; everything was minimalist, considered and ordered chronologically, showing the influence of early democratic design by legends like Braun’s Dieter Rams through to today’s ubiquitous smartphones and tablets.

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The exhibition does a wonderful job of tracking the history of modern industrial design. Take for example the history of Braun: on the one hand, the Nazis’ Volksempfänger (people’s receiver) radio was used to restrict radio signals from outside Germany; in the post-war period, Rams’s Weltempfänger (world receiver) was a challenge to this former dark time, opening up to foreign frequencies and ushering in welcoming, open design.
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The original Macintosh ushered in a new era for personal computing. With the inclusion of a graphical user interface (GUI) and mouse (first implemented together by XEROX PARC), Apple popularised a new way of interacting with computers that was easier and inviting for everyday people. You didn’t have to be an enthusiast to use it.

It was fantastic to see the history of Apple laid out so well, obviously by people who understand the significance of the personalities involved beyond Steve Jobs. Jony Ive, Helmut Esslinger, Susan Kare… all were mentioned appropriately.

I would highly recommend this exhibition to just about anyone. If you own a smartphone (which you do), it’s amazing to look back and appreciate the immense change that occurred during the 20th century, and the change that continues to occur every day. We take our digital products for granted, along with the empowering connectivity they facilitate. There has never been a better time to be alive.

Rather than bang on forever, it’s best to give you some links to find out more.

To view more photos of the included products, head over to my Flickr page.

For even more information about the exhibition and the specific products, visit the museum’s website.