“It’s just a smartwatch.” “It’s just a watch.” “Android got there first.” “It doesn’t do anything new.”
As tech fans and pundits alike clamour to make direct comparisons between the Apple Watch and various smartwatches already on the market, they miss the point.
This isn’t a game of Top Trumps; it’s not about ticking boxes on a checklist. Apple doesn’t care about getting there first - it cares only about the experience. On that basis, Apple Watch isn’t so much following in the footsteps of companies that in some cases were clearly trying to beat it to market, it’s finding a niche it can own, by delighting customers in a way few other companies can.
The smartwatch market is young, with many companies testing the water, but the majority of existing products are primarily designed to gel with tech geeks - early adopters who’ll plunge in and battle with imperfect technology and clunky interfaces, just to have that excitement of experiencing something new.
Back in time
Manufacturers scream first and foremost about specs, Android owners grin about open ecosystems, and industrial design (with some exceptions) veers towards the manly and chunky. It’s almost a mirror of digital music players in the early 2000s. And then the iPod arrived.
The Apple Watch could very easily turn out to be the iPod of smartwatches, disrupting an industry before it’s really gotten started. And it certainly has characteristics the iPod was roundly criticised for: it’s ‘too expensive’; it’s part of Apple’s ‘closed’ system; it’s as much about good looks as anything; it’s about fashion, not technology.
Of course, you’d have been a fool at the time to really believe such nonsense about the iPod, and the same’s true for the Apple Watch, which is packed full of cutting-edge technology, including its amazing display and cleverly designed chips. But while Apple mentioned these things during the Ive-narrated video, it placed more emphasis on the human aspect of its new product.
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Apple’s long argued that the company is positioned at the intersection of the liberal arts and technology, and Tim Cook introduced the Apple Watch by saying his company’s staff “love to make technology more personal and allow people to do things they’d never have imagined”. Ive added that the design was driven by a “compulsion to take incredibly powerful technology and make it accessible, relevant and ultimately personal”, where “unparalleled technical innovation” boasted a design that connected with the wearer.
So rather than cramming an iPhone interface into a tiny space, Apple rethought the customer experience entirely. Recognising that the screen needed to be uncovered as much as possible, interaction controls have often been assigned to a digital crown - an analogue to a mechanism that’s been part of watches for decades. Simplicity and elegance pervades, echoing the intuitive nature of the original iPod or the iPhone.
This has then been joined by materials and design that will appeal to the fashion-conscious and watch geeks alike. It’s not just about strapping technology to your wrist, but also wearing an accessory that suits you, that’s in context for the type of life you lead. And then there are sweet personal touches, such as being able to share doodles or even your heartbeat with another Apple Watch owner.
These are the kinds of words, sentiments and approaches that make Apple detractors gag. It directly plays into arguments that Apple is first and foremost about subjective taste, people with more money than sense, and those who don’t care about the guts of the technology.
But through being subtle and natural regarding interfaces, ambitious but intuitive regarding capabilities beyond mere notifications, premium in terms of build and materials, and appealing to the masses rather than remaining resolutely fixed on the tech-happy, there’s more of a chance we’ll still be talking about the Apple Watch in a decade than the majority of its contemporaries. And by then, the device will be to the original what the iPhone 6 is to the original iPhone, which might just even please the geeks of this world too.
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