SciTech

Gilster: Watch is inevitable next step for Apple

An Apple employee demonstrates how to use an Apple Watch during an Apple media event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday.
An Apple employee demonstrates how to use an Apple Watch during an Apple media event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday. AFP/GETTY

I’ve never owned an expensive watch, and these days, with a smartphone in my pocket all the time, I see no reason to strap one on. Apple CEO Tim Cook wants to reach people like me with the new Apple Watch, recently announced and available for pre-orders on April 10, with shipping to begin April 24. Cook goes so far as to call the gadget “the most advanced timepiece ever created,” which must give European watchmaking titans like Philippe Dufour and Francois-Paul Journe heartburn. But then, they’re not making what we now call “smartwatches.”

We’ll see how the Apple Watch fares in the marketplace – the projections I’ve seen have been all over the map, ranging from 8 million to 41 million for 2015. That alone tells you how uncertain this market is. Remember that since the Pebble watch appeared in 2013, we’ve seen smartwatch entries from LG, Huawei and Samsung, while Google has tweaked Android to work with watchlike devices. None of these products has overwhelmed the market, which puts Apple in the position it’s usually in when it comes to the next big thing.

Built-in audience

Was it really all the way back in 2010 that Apple launched the iPad, vaulting a directionless tablet market into a focused buying trend that resulted in 250 million units sold? Whether the Cupertino colossus can repeat that feat will depend upon how compelling the Apple Watch proves to be, and how many people are willing to spend $350 (for the smaller sports model) ranging up to a mid-tier $550 to $1,100, and topping out (for those of you with private jets) at over $10,000, which is what having your Apple Watch encased in gold will cost you.

Two factors are at work in Apple’s first new hardware product line in five years. This is a company that knows it has a built-in audience of early adopters who serve, for practical purposes, like an army of testers for the more developed software that will follow. So initial sales should be brisk. At the back end, the Apple Watch is, like a smartphone, a device that will doubtless see new product versions every two years or so. That suggests buying at the low end because before long you’re going to want yet another generation of features.

Inevitable next step

There is no doubt that this is one snazzy-looking device, with various customizable faces offering you everything from maps and reminders to calendars and health tips. The Apple Watch lets you set alarms, tells you when sunrise and sunset are, and allows you to keep a running check on your stocks as well as monitoring your heart-rate when you see what they’re doing. All of this comes built-in, but you can imagine the third-party apps that will begin to appear. I like the physical layout, with an intelligently designed interface (no surprise there), and the inclusion of sensors to help you track your daily activity and fitness levels.

But Apple will need to emphasize how much you can do with a smartwatch that you can’t already do with a smartphone, because without an iPhone in your pocket, the Apple Watch isn’t going to deliver on its promise. You may well want to use all the tools that allow you to pay for goods, check flights, open doors – Cook showed off these features and more at the product introduction – and for all of these, you’ll need an iPhone interfacing with the watch.

The Apple Watch is clearly a driver for further iPhone sales at this point, an understandable foray considering the overwhelming dominance of the iPhone in Apple’s portfolio (it accounts for a staggering 70 percent of the company’s revenue). The Apple Watch is the inevitable next step as Apple tries to turn the wearable tech market into its private preserve. Skeptics will give the idea time to simmer, looking for the truly compelling apps the iPhone alone can’t deliver.

Paul A. Gilster is the author of several books on technology. Reach him at gilster@mindspring.com.

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